Bilingual Education Essay, Research Paper
What is Best For the Children?
The controversial debate over English immersion and bilingual education programs has effects in almost every school system. Advocates of bilingual education believe that it is necessary for children to be instructed in their native tongue and gradually be introduced to English or else they may fall behind in school. Supporters of English immersion say that bilingual education programs hinder the learning process of the English language, thus retarding the learning potential of a child. English immersion supports the ?sink or swim? idea of immersing a limited English proficiency (LEP) child in an almost completely English-speaking environment. English immersion supporters then rely on the idea that LEP children will ?swim? after being thrown into such a situation, and eventually catch up to the rest of their classmates. Are bilingual education programs a hindrance to learning English? If they are, should programs where children are forced to learn English through almost complete immersion be used in place of bilingual education programs? To answer these questions correctly, a full understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of both programs is required.
It is important to first understand the techniques and goals of the bilingual education program before deciding if the program is harmful to a student?s potential to learn English. The creators of bilingual education strongly believe in the idea that teaching technical subjects, such as math and science, in English can be harmful to a child?s development in that subject. The goal of bilingual education is to teach children mathematical and scientific concepts in a child?s native language while teaching him or her conversational English on the side. Several noted scholars support this technique and feel that students learning the English language should be taught all academic subjects in their native language for no fewer than five, and preferably seven, years (The Changing Face of Bilingual Education). The knowledge and skills that are acquired after five to seven years of instruction in a student’s primary language will transfer to the his or her English speaking ability (Research Agenda for Adult ESL). The same scholars also believe that such academic instruction in the student?s native language is necessary for students to benefit from typical classrooms (The Changing Face of Bilingual Education). Like most contemporary models of bilingual education, children will gain competency needed to survive in a normal classroom.
Supporters of English immersion programs feel that an approach where children spent a great deal of their academic time using English would bring a child closer to proficiency at a more rapid pace than a bilingual education program. English immersion supporters think that the best way to become comfortable with a language is to use it as much as possible. Supporters say that the only times that a child not proficient in English should be spoken to in his or her native language would be to clarify a point, to help a child to complete a task, or to answer a question (The Changing Face of Bilingual Education). After approximately a year in English immersion programs children should be fluent enough to enter into regular classrooms (Put a Stop to Bilingual Education? Manana). Unlike bilingual education, the creators of English immersion believe that English instruction in an academic class, even a technical one, will benefit a child that is in the process of learning English, because the terms used in technical classes will almost always be new to both proficient and non proficient children.
While evaluating both programs it is important to remember that some problems that cannot be solved by immersion or bilingual education. One such problem is finding the perfect age to start teaching the English language to a person. Some scholars have argued that at an early age it is easier for a child to learn a new language through immersion because the child has not fully developed his or her native language. These same scholars have agreed that for older people who have substantially developed their native language, a bilingual education program would be more beneficial. Both immersion and bilingual education programs argue that their program is the best way to teach any child at any age. In actuallity, both groups are right and both are wrong.
There has never really been an age set in stone as the best age to start teaching a person English. Most immersion programs stand by the philosophy that ?You have to cram all the English you can into immigrant kids while they are young and it is still easy for them to learn a language? (Bilingual Education Goes Beyond Teaching a Language). It is true, to some extent, that children have an advantage over adults to learn a new language. However, children also have some significant disadvantages.
Children’s disadvantages compared to adults have to do with their life experiences. The younger the child, the fewer the experiences (Bilingual Education Goes Beyond Teaching a Language). And experiences mean linguistic experiences in at least one language, which makes it easier to learn another (Bilingual Education Goes Beyond Teaching a Language). The more education a person has, in general, the easier it will be for him or her to learn a new language.
To truly understand this situation, consider these hypothetical questions. Assuming the same exposure to the language, who will know more English at the end of the year, the father or one of his kids? The father may speak with an accent and his spelling may not be perfect, but his ability to say what he wants to say will be far greater because of his higher level of education. Who will know more English six years later? In some ways, the father, insofar as language reflects a sophistication of concepts and life experiences. However, in the end, the children will quite likely surpass their father, assuming they stay in school and become at least as educated than their father. From these examples, it should be clear to see that there are too many factors that vary from person to person to get an accurate estimate for the ideal age to begin English instruction.
Not only is there no specific age to start teaching English to LEP students, but there is no proof that native language instruction benefits a students? cognitive and academic growth. The cornerstone of most contemporary models of bilingual education is that content knowledge and skills learned in a student’s primary language will transfer to English once the student has experienced between five and seven years of native language instruction (The Changing Face of Bilingual Education). Research performed by the National Academy of Sciences gives absolutely no concrete, empirical research that would support this proposition. The National Academy of Sciences, however, supports the use of native language instruction. The National Academy of Sciences is aware of the contradictory nature of their support and acknowledges: ?It is clear that many children first learn to read in a second language without any serious negative consequences? (The Changing Face of Bilingual Education). The National Academy of Sciences? support is largely due to political pressure and should not over shadow the fact that there is no direct proof that links native language instruction to academic success.
Bilingual education programs use native language instruction to make an LEP student proficient in English while maintaining the student?s confidence and emotional stability (Bilingual Education). Senator Tom Johnson, from South Dakota, agrees that ?Developing bilingual skills will allow students and families to strengthen cultural understandings and improve professional programs for educators at Batesland School. Also, bilingual program[s] will provide students with a greater understanding of their culture and will enhance their sense of identity and self esteem? (Johnson, Daschle Announce Grant for Batesland School?s Bilingual Education Program). Self-esteem that is gained from bilingual education programs leads to confidence. The confidence is a result of the LEP student being able to communicate better in his or her native language. The student will therefore be more receptive to teaching because of good communication between the teacher and the student.
Consider the following scenario to understand the positive effects of bilingual education:
School is at first bewildering, but Senora Roman and Ms. Miller and all your Spanish-speaking classmates make you feel OK. Books in Spanish and English and your classmates? stories about life in your Mexican hometown are all over the school. Social studies and language arts incorporate rich bicultural knowledge gathering and problem solving into the standard grade-level curriculum. Your class writes e-mail messages and shares projects with a class in Mexico through the network Orillas. You can see that knowing how to read and write well in both English and Spanish is an advantage for getting a good job, and the school unit on careers gives you many new interests to explore (Accelerated Schooling for English Language Learners).
The described scenario is an example of a common situation in which an LEP student would benefit from bilingual education.
English immersion programs place their emphasis on learning the English language, by giving almost all academic instruction in English. Goals for English immersion are geared more toward the child learning English as soon as possible, rather than considering the students emotional situation. The advantage of immersion is that a student will learn English well enough in about a year to be moved into a regular classroom. Most parents believe that a schools? first priority with immigrant students should be to teach English. Two in three parents overall say it is more important for the public schools to teach English as quickly as possible to new immigrants, even if those students fall behind in other subjects(Being An American Is a Privilege). In a bilingual education program the same LEP student could take as many as seven years get to the same level of speaking and understanding English. Several teachers agree that students in immersion classes are picking up spoken English faster than students in bilingual education programs. Ron Unz, a politician who fervently supports immersion, ?. . .[I]s convinced that when statewide test scores are released on July 1 they will show that students who spent the year in English immersion classes fared dramatically better than those who stayed in traditional bilingual programs? (Put a Stop to Bilingual Education? Manana). Students in immersion programs may become frustrated but the result will be a higher familiarization with the English language and a higher level of communication and competency.
Bilingual education and English immersion programs both have strengths over the other. Bilingual education uses native language insruction to make a familiar and comfortable learning environment for an LEP student. The student is also able to confidently communicate in his or her native language instead of having to struggle with words he or she has most likely never used before. communication in a native language increases the student?s self esteem and confidence. English immersion helps a student to learn the English language at a faster pace than bilingual education. The student will then have a higher familiarization with the English language that will lead to a higher level of communication and competency. It is usually quite simple to determine which program will suit the needs of an individual student. The challenge is to determine which program will benefit the majority of LEP students. Even after millions of dollars in research, the question of which program is best for the children is still unanswered.
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