Bilingual Education Essay, Research Paper
Arguments For and (Bogus) Arguments Against
by Stephen Krashen
University of Southern California
Georgetown University Roundtable on Languages and Linguistics
May 6, 1999
It is helpful to distinguish two goals of bilingual education. The first is the development of academic English and school success, and the second is the development of the heritage language. Good bilingual education programs achieve both goals, but my focus in this report is on the first.
Confusion about the first goal is understandable: How can children acquire English, their second language, while being taught in their first language? This occurs for two reasons: First, when we give a child good education in the primary language, we give the child knowledge, knowledge that makes English input more comprehensible. A child who understands history, thanks to good history instruction in the first language, will have a better chance understanding history taught in English than a child without this background knowledge. And more comprehensible English input means more acquisition of English.
Second, there is strong evidence that literacy transfers across languages, that building literacy in the primary language is a short-cut to English literacy. The argument is straight forward: If we learn to read by understanding the messages on the page (Smith, 1994; Goodman, 1982), it is easier to learn to read if we understand the language. And once we can read, we can read: The ability transfers to other languages.
The empirical support for this claim comes from studies showing that the reading process is similar in different languages, studies showing that the reading development process is similar in different languages, and that correlations between literacy development in the first language and the second language are high, when length of residence is controlled. All the above is true even when the orthographies of the two languages are very different (Krashen, 1996).
Good bilingual programs thus have these characteristics:
(1) They provide background knowledge through the first language via subject matter teaching in the first language. This should be done to the point so that subsequent subject matter instruction in English is comprehensible.
(2) They provide literacy in the first language.
(3) Of course they provide comprehensible input in English, through ESL and sheltered subject matter teaching. In sheltered classes, subject matter is taught to intermediate second language acquirers in a comprehensible way. (Sheltered classes are for intermediates; they are not for beginners and not for advanced acquirers or native speakers. It is extremely difficult to teach subject matter to those who have acquired none or little of the language. Beginners should be in regular ESL, where they are assured of comprehensible input. Including more advanced students in sheltered classes is problematic because their participation may encourage input that is incomprehensible to the other students. There is substantial evidence supporting the efficacy of sheltered subject matter teaching for intermediate level, literate students; Krashen, 1991).
A sample program
The “gradual exit” model is one way of doing a bilingual program that utilizes these characteristics (Table 1). In the early stage, non-English speaking students receive all core subject matter in the primary language. At the next stage, limited English proficient children receive sheltered subject matter instruction in those subjects that are the easiest to make comprehensible in English, math and science, which, at this level, do not demand a great deal of abstract use of language.
Putting sheltered subject matter classes at this stage insures that they will be comprehensible. Students in sheltered math, for example, have had some ESL, giving them some competence in English, and have had math in the primary language, giving them subject matter knowledge. These two combine to help make sheltered math comprehensible. Those forced to do subject matter in the second language immediately, without any competence in second language, have neither of these advantages. The gradual exit program appears to be the fastest way of introducing comprehensible subject matter teaching in English.
Note also that while the child is doing sheltered math, she is developing additional background knowledge and literacy through the first language in subjects that are more abstract, social studies and language arts. This will serve to make instruction in English at later stages more comprehensible.
In later stages, math and science are done in the mainstream and other subjects, such as social studies, are taught in sheltered classes in English. Eventually, all subjects are done in the mainstream. In this way, sheltered classes function as a bridge between instruction in the first language and the mainstream.
Table 1. A sample bilingual program
Mainstream ESL/Sheltered First Language
Beginning Art, Music, PE ESL All core subjects
Intermediate Art, Music, PE ESL, Math, Science Social Studies,
Advanced Art, Music, PE, Math, Science ESL, Social Studies Language Arts
Mainstream All subjects Heritage Language Development
Once full mainstreaming is complete, advanced first language development is available as an option. This kind of plan avoids problems associated with exiting children too early from first language instruction (before the English they encounter is comprehensible) and provide instruction in the first language where it is most needed. This plan also allow children to have the advantages of advanced first language development.
In the gradual exit program, the second language is not delayed. It is introduced as soon as it can be made comprehensible. Quite early on, students in these programs do a considerable amount of serious academic work in English, well before they reach the very high levels required for official reclassification. The gradual exit model is thus not subject to the criticism that bilingual education programs delay exposure to English for years.
The evidence for bilingual education
Evidence supporting bilingual education is of several kinds: (1) the results of program evaluations; (2) the effect of previous education on immigrant children’s academic performance; (3) the effect of measured first language ability on immigrant children’s second language acquisition. This framework also helps explain the strong impact of SES on school success for immigrant children and why some are successful without bilingual education.
Program evaluations. I would like to suggest a somewhat different approach in evaluating and reviewing research on bilingual education, relaxing one requirement that others adhere to strictly, but insisting on others. The one I insist on is the definition of bilingual education: A program can be considered a properly organized bilingual education program when it provides (a) subject matter teaching in the primary language without translation to the point that subject matter instruction in the second language is made comprehensible; (b) literacy development in the primary language; (c) comprehensible input in the second language. My prediction is that full bilingual programs, with all three conditions met, will be superior to those with fewer conditions met. I also insist that studies have adequate sample sizes and that the programs run for at least one year (which may be far too short to show an effect).
Other reviewers have required that th