Bilingual Education

Argument in support of bilingual education programs

More than three decades after its inception, bilingual education is still entangled in myriad controversies. Although the initial structure of bilingual education program has been changed severally, the debate about whether bilingual education should or should not be practiced is not likely to die away in the near future.

Most importantly, these conflicting parties have been unable to agree on whether bilingual education yields any considerable value for L2 English speakers. On one hand, the intransigent proponents of bilingual education argue that, the program provides a common ground upon which non-English speaking children can compete favorably with their English speaking counterparts in technical subjects such as science and mathematics.

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Contrastingly, opponents argue that bilingual education system impede the acquisition and development of English language among L2 speakers; thus, delaying their assimilation into the American society. Furthermore, this debate has also attracted the attention of multiculturalists who perceive bilingualism as an effective method of preserving immigrants’ language and cultural identities.

Conversely, this perception has also been criticized in that, immigrants already in the United States should not retain their language, but should be assimilated into American society through exclusive English language teaching. Nonetheless, in spite of the inconclusive research findings about accrued benefits of bilingual education, this essay will explore these controversial presuppositions, with an aim of proving the worthiness of bilingual education.

To begin with, opponents of bilingual education argue that various people have succeeded without bilingual education (Duignan). The latter author underscores that, although the above claim have taken place under some special circumstances, the individuals owe their success to other second language inputs.

This implies that, whereas these individuals’ may not have been subjected to bilingual education per se, they experienced de facto bilingual programs. According to Cummins (255), proponents of this claim often cite Richard Rodriguez (1982) and Fernando de la Pena (1991) to support their argument against bilingual education. Rodriquez claimed that he succeeded to attain high level of English proficiency even though he never received bilingual education (Duignan).

However, Cummins (256) argues that Rodriquez claim is not entirely truthful because he had two crucial advantages that led to his success in English language proficiency. For instance, Rodriquez was not an immigrant and he grew alongside other English speaking peers in Sacramento, California. This interaction exposed him to informal English language inputs.

Apparently most immigrants’ children do not have this advantage as most of them rarely use English outside their school setting (Duignan). Moreover, Rodriguez had access to numerous English books, which further improved his English language skills. Therefore, his success should not be adopted to eradicate the essentiality of bilingual education.

On the same note, de la Pena allege that having immigrated into United States at the age nine, he succeeded to attain superior competency in English language without undergoing through the bilingual education system (Cummins 257). This occurred in spite of the fact that he did not have prior encounter with English language prior to immigrating to the United States.

However, his case is weakened by the fact that, back in Mexico he was in fifth grade, thus had a good grasp of Spanish language and advanced subject matter.
Correspondingly, opponents of bilingual education base their argument on the fact the system has attracted augmented negative public opinion.

However, Cummins (262) accentuate that this negativity is as a result of biased questionnaires that are adopted during those surveys. The latter author highlight that these questionnaires are often subjective and most questions are confusing to the respondents. For instance, questions are constructed in a manner that portrays mother tongue education as a great hindrance to the pursuance of higher education, and that it reduces employability of such students (Duignan).

On the other hand, Cummins (261) accentuates that if the questionnaires were not biased most parents would support bilingual education. According to Cummins (262), prior research has positively indicated that most respondents concur that L1 provides a solid foundation for L2 acquisition. Furthermore, most respondents support the notion that bilingualism yields both economic and psycho-cognitive benefits (Garcia 128).

The above analysis implies that the number of those against bilingual education is much less than what is often depicted in the public opinion surveys. Apparently, most opponents are frustrated with some specific practices of bilingual education, but not the entire system (Cummins 262). Most importantly, some opponents could be opposed to some regulations associated with bilingual education, thus their opinion would be different if those regulations were to be modified (Duignan).

Furthermore, research has indicated that most academic publications supported bilingual education except for some newspapers and magazines articles, which have often expressed a negative opinion. Needless to say, the fact that some people hold a negative perception about bilingual education is fallacious and should not be adopted to downplay the essential benefits of bilingual education.

In his article, Garcia (pp. 126-129) supports bilingual education due to the numerous benefits associated with the program. The latter author underscore that opponents of bilingual education in California blame the program for poor academic achievements, yet international and national researches have indicated that bilingualism attract myriad psycho-cognitive advantages.

In addition, Garcia (127) cites previous studies conducted among Hispanic descent students, which showed that bilingual children who interacted with bilingual programs showed greater potential in academics than monolinguals who attended English only programs. Most importantly, the latter group was shown to have faired poorly on standardized tests, portrayed a poor school attendance trend and their drop out rate is slightly higher than those attending bilingual education programs.

Furthermore, Garcia (128) cites several other studies that have portrayed that first language is an essential tool in promoting academic excellence among children and adults with inadequate formal education background. As a matter of fact, first language accelerates the acquisition of second language and promotes its’ usage in academic activities (Garcia 126). Thus, bilingual education programs should be given the precedence it deserves due to the numerous societal benefits attached to its’ practice.

Similarly, the practice of bilingual education has often been criticized due of insufficient studies to support its’ effectiveness. Conversely, although some studies have supplied negative results about the effectiveness of bilingual education, most of these conclusions are not entirely against bilingual education, rather researchers are concerned with scanty bilingual education efficacy studies (Duignan).

However, this allegation against bilingual education is not convincing and more often than not the problem is mainly on semantics than the actual practice of bilingual education. Cummins (265) underscores that the concept of bilingual education is rather dynamic and the controversies could because the parties are discussing different forms of bilingualism.

Nonetheless for the purpose of this paper, bilingual education is regarded as the transitional bilingual education whereby an L2 English learner receives academic instruction in his/her L1 in the lower grades in preparation for complete immersion in English instruction classes in latter grades. The idea behind this argument is that learning in L1 will enable the learner to achieve competency in English language based on literacy transfer concept.

Moreover, although some studies have often quoted the immersion programs in Texas, McAllen and El Paso as superior than bilingual education, Garcia(127) accentuates that the cited studies are actually bilingual education, but with a different practical approach.

On the same note, the latter author also underscores that the sample size for the above studies was extremely small and was carried out within a very short time frame, thus their results are anecdotal. On this note, the fact that a vast number of researches support bilingual education efficacy is evident that children exposed to these programs are more successful that those in all-English programs. Perhaps, these criticisms should be directed at the programs design than on the entire system.

To quote my own personal experience, bilingual education programs have enabled me to attain high level of French and English fluency although none of these languages is my native language.

This situation would not have been possible if I was immersed in English only or French only programs thus bilingual education has brought immense benefits to me; such that, I am able to utilize these languages in the classroom and they might come in handy in my afterschool life. The fact that globalization is opening new opportunities designate that bilinguals will have a greater advantage over monolinguals, who are immersed in English only programs.

Thus, the opponents should be perceived as individuals’ who are only concerned with instant results. This is based on the fact that, they cite that bilingual education delays assimilation of students into the American society. Although bilingual education process might be perceived as long and daunting, the end results justify the means. Hence, there is no reason to deny immigrants students a program that is beneficial to their lives both in the present and in future.

In a nutshell, in spite of inconclusive studies on bilingual education efficacy its’ significance cannot be overemphasized. On this note, obtainable studies indicate that bilingual education has performed exceptionally well and that with proper program improvement strategies, it has the potentiality of yielding even better results.

Although the author does not deny the fact that some elements of bilingual education might be wanting, the biggest problem is not about the practice of bilingualism, but on the availability of books to facilitate the adaptation of L1 and L2 within the bilingual education programs. As indicated above, Richard Rodriguez success was due to his exposure to vast English literature books, which enhanced his English language proficiency in the absence of bilingual education instruction.

Similarly, the current bilingual education systems can borrow a leaf from Richard Rodriguez case and ensure that students have unlimited access to books in order to cultivate a reading culture that would enhance the students success in attaining English language proficiency. As a matter of fact, learners can utilize these books to enhance their literacy levels of both L1 and L2.

Against this backdrop, bilingual education practices should be allowed to continue owing to the numerous benefits outlined above. Furthermore, the shortcomings of this program should be identified and dealt with conclusively in order to pave way for better bilingual systems.

Works Cited

Cummins, Jim. “Bilingual Education in the United States: Power, Pedagogy, and Possibility”. Review of Education, Pedagogy & Cultural Studies, 20. 3, 1998, 255- 270.Print.

Duignan, Peter, J. Bilingual Education: A Critique, 01 September 1998. Web 21 Nov. 2011.

Garcia, Ofelia. “Bilingual Education Is Beneficial.” In Williams, Mary E. ed. Are Multicultural Approaches Good For Education? Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000.pp. 126-129.Print.

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