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Bilingual Education

Bilingual Education is referred as to the use of two languages, one is the person’s native language and the other is English that is required for instruction and interaction in the United States. Bilingual programs began over two decades ago when the first Bilingual Educational Act was passed in 1968. These programs have been federally funded. Since, English is consider the “mother tongue”, schools are expected to teach the newcomers English and to socialize them to the American way of life. Therefore, bilingual educational programs are designed to assist and help limited English proficient students to adjust to life in the United States. It has been said, that these programs have not been successful. However, debates and controversies surrounding bilingual education programs have been whether or not should these programs be excluded from schools.

Bilingual education consists of various programs. One of the programs used in the United States is the maintenance model, where students develop fluency in their native language while they learn English. The transitional model which uses students’ non-English languages to facilitate the mastery of both content area skills and English fluency. The ESOL refers to the English of speakers of other languages. The ESL model is when students learn English as their second language. In addition, the immersion, structured immersion and the submersion programs have had a great impact on limited English proficient students to become proficient in English. Immersion is described as the second language instruction where students have no knowledge of the language and which is the medium of interaction. In these programs instruction varies, some can have English instruction the entire day, others half a day or even less. The outcome of these programs is that students can learn faster to function at level in the second language. Some limited English proficient students are placed in submersion programs. In submersion non-English speakers are placed in English speaking classrooms to help them develop their skills in English. The outcomes are that students will learn faster and will pick up the language if they are exposed to the language all day. On the other hand, structured immersion programs are designed to help students become quickly proficient in English. This method is successful because students are provided with English instructions in special English developmental languages classes allowing them to become fluent in English. The model mainly used in the United States is the transitional model. Through this model, students’ native language is paired with English instruction until students develop sufficient English to function successfully in regular classrooms.

According to the 1980 Census, 15% of the total population is language minority people. Research has found that the largest minority group in the United States is Spanish- speaking people. Out of those fifteen percent there were 7.9 million school-age children who were enrolled in bilingual programs. Since the majority of these students did not know English, they were placed in bilingual programs to help them learn English. However, the main objective of bilingual programs was to provide English instruction while using the student’s native language. In most bilingual programs students are transferred to regular classrooms after three years. At this point, “all instruction in the students’ native languages ceases, and students are expected to function entirely in English”. Opponents said that these programs do not work; however, bringing bilingual education to debates and controversies. By demonstrating points of both groups people could decide whether or not these programs work.

Proponents of bilingual education say that these programs are effective because “teaching non-English speakers students in their native language helps them keep up their studies while they become proficient in English”. One of the proofs that bilingual education work was –the Dominican, Roberto Feliz, who is an anesthesiologist. He came to the United States when he entered his sixth grade where he was placed in regular classes. He was a student who loved school but then he got disillusioned in his classes. Since he did not understand his teachers Roberto fell out of place and wanted to drop out of school. The following year he was placed in a bilingual class where he was taught both languages Spanish and English. He learned to speak English quickly which ena bled him to interact with the rest of the children. He graduated from junior high school and was able to enter regular classes in high school. His success allowed him to enter college and finish a career there. Now Roberto supports bilingual education by saying that they work and citing “I am the proof”. Proponents feel that the diversity of languages and customs enrich the United States culture stew; therefore, they should allow them to flourish. One benefit that bilingual programs provide is that they raise students’ self- esteem. Some parents do not want their children to loose their native language, so they enroll them in bilingual classes to maintain their language as s learning the second language. Although people know the importance of learning English in order to succeed in school and in society, they also find relevant to keep their native language. Educational supporters say that bilingual programs are necessary to prepare students for an ever-changing multilingual and multicultural world. In addition, educators support bilingual programs because they say that without adequate skills students have little hope of succeeding in the American society. Many students tend to get frustrated and discouraged when they do not understand the language and this cause a great range of dropouts. If they do drop out, they do not have any choice but to get a future in unskilled jobs earning low wages. It has been said that bilingual programs are designed to keep students in school. According to educators “ bilingual education offers the best way to give non-English speaking students an education while enhancing their ability to master English”.

On the other hand, opponents say that using a language other than English in school raises the possibility that other languages will be maintain instead of English. Opponents say that bilingual programs also prevent students from developing language skills and it slows their academic progress. Instead they recommend the introduction of the English curriculum from the beginning because it would help the students’ comprehension. Others say that non-English speakers learn better according to their acquisition of their native language and then they build upon that base.

One of the reasons why bilingual programs are not totally effective is due to the lack of parental support. Parents have been skeptic that if their children do not learn English they would not succeed in school. However, this is the reason why they believe in the sink or swim method and this is why they want their children to be totally submerged in the language. In addition, studies have proven that programs such as ESL have been very effective to teach English instead of the overall academic development.

One disadvantage bilingual students experience is that they are not provided with the same treatment as monolingual students. Students are not provided with the same activities, textbooks, teachers or even an equal curriculum. Another disadvantage stated is that they want to remove ESL programs from schools. Teachers say that this is not a good idea because it would make limited English proficient students fall behind in other subjects, which do not require English. Considering these issues one could decide what is the right solution for non-English speakers students.

Therefore, I contend that bilingual programs should remain because they are effective and my husband is proof of that. My husband came to the United States and was placed in a seventh grade bilingual class. He thanks that the bilingual classes existed because he says, “ if not I would definitely have been a dropout.” I believe this would have been true because being an adolescent, having a cultural shock and not understanding a new language are three very common descriptions for people to drop out. He entered high school and was able to and function well. Actually, he is proud of being in a bilingual class for all those years and thanks it for his success in college. This is the reason why I would always support bilingual education. I do not think is fair for students to be put a grade behind just because of the lack of the English language. I feel that they have the opportunity to learn the adequate skills for English without falling behind in other subjects. Bilingual education makes a difference in some students’ life who have had disillusions in monolingual classes.

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