Bilingual Education in the northeastern United States and Canada serves many advantages and benefits for students of limited English skills. Since the early sixty”s, it continues to serve a great advantage to foreign students. This is important because it gives these students the opportunity to achieve the “American Dream”.
American educators have argued that the aim of education should be to assimilate a foreign student into the American mainstream, become good American citizens, and not keep their ethnic identity. The proponents of bilingual education believe that this form of instruction belittles a child”s ethnic and cultural heritage, creates low self-esteem, and fosters a high dropout rate. Therefore, certain bilingual education approaches encourages students” to maintain their language, ethnic and cultural identity, while at the same time learning a new language and culture altogether.
Bilingual Education provides instruction for students in two languages. The primary goal of bilingual education in the United States is to teach English to students who don”t speak English or have limited English proficiency (LEP). Although Florida and California have decided to do away with this educational approach, the controversy regarding bilingual education will never end.
In this paper different bilingual education approaches will be defined and the history of Bilingual Education will be touched upon. The Proposition 227 controversy and several views towards bilingual education will be discussed. The final conclusion will show my feelings toward bilingual education.
There are many approaches that are used to instruct LEP students. Transitional bilingual education (TBE), which is currently incorporated in the NJ school systems, is geared to move LEP students into monolingual classes within two or three years. Programs such as this instruct students” in their native language in the same academic level as their monolingual peers. After appropriate English proficiency level is achieved the LEP students” are able to transfer skills to function successfully in a monolingual class. At the same time students” are also enrolled in classes that teach them English as a second language (ESL) (CQ Researcher, 1996).
Bilingual proponents who prefer the developmental bilingual education (DBE) believe that the transitional approach defeats the whole purpose of bilingual education, because it doesn”t maintain a student”s native language. The critics prefer DBE because it is designed to teach both the students” native language and English. Using this approach the student is able to enhance his or her skills in their native language and also be able to learn English up until sixth grade. “The idea, they say, is to teach additive bilingualism, which makes students fluent in two languages while making them more nimble learners” (CQ Researchers, 1996).
According to the article, “Teaching English to Non-English Speakers offers a Wide Range of Techniques” in the CQ Researchers (1996), the most sophisticated developmental approach is called two-way bilingual education. This approach mixes non-English speaking students with roughly an equal number of English speakers in the same classroom. Students are taught in one language in the morning and the other language in the afternoon. This approach gears to make both sets of students bilingual at levels of fluency that allow each to advance in language as well as in other subjects.
Such programs are rare, but where they exist, and where they have well trained bilingual teachers (teachers fluent in both languages and who use interactive or group-learning techniques), most researchers and observers say that students perform better at every energy level of learning than their peers, no matter what kind of instruction the non-two-way students receive (CQ Researchers, 1996).
Immersion education is another kind of teaching approach to bilingual education. In these classes, known as special alternative instructional programs, the most popular being structured immersion – students learn their second language from instructors who teach them subject matter presented in the new language. While immersion is based on instruction in the student”s second language, it is not what they call “sink-or-swim”. “Sink-or-swim” is when the teacher offers no extra help in learning the new language. The United States Supreme Court, in Lau v. Nichols(1974), declared that not offering extra help was a violation of federal civil rights law (CQ Researchers, 1996).
The St.Lambert French immersion program was inaugurated in 1965 in Canada. It was designed to provide proficiency in both aspects of the French language, to promote English proficiency, to ensure an appropriate developmental level of achievement in academic subjects, and to have the students understand and appreciate the French Canadian without taking away from the students” identity for the English Canadian culture. These goals were shared by most of the immersion programs in Canada (cited in Paulston, 1988).
The final approach is called alternate immersion, also known as sheltered English or sheltered subject-matter instruction. In sheltered classes children learn their second language first by studying subjects. My aunt, Odainy Tansey, who teaches in a bilingual school in Passaic New Jersey, says that the school board is attempting to introduce sheltered English into the classroom. She stated that sheltered English is not going to be a good approach in introducing a new language to foreign students.
The language learning situation contains the necessary ingredients for second-language learning. There are three major components: (1) learners that realize that they need that target language (TL) and are motivated to make that move to learn English; (2) instructors who know the target language well enough to provide the learning tools needed to be able to learn English; and (3) a learning environment that allows both the students and the instructors together to be able to put the learning process to work. All three components are crucial in the learning process of a language. Although there are many different approaches, these three major steps are important. The three learning processes can be described as (1) social, (2) linguistic, and (3) cognitive (cited by Bialystok, 1991, 52).
There are many questions concerning bilingual studies. For those whose families speak only Spanish, “it provides an inconsistent and not terribly successful process of remediation” (Kozol, 1985). For many of the most successful English-speaking students, on the other hand, foreign language study is a sign of excellence, preeminence, and academic promise.
The law declares that classes conducted exclusively in English are “inadequate” for the education of children whose native tongue is another language and that bilingual education programs are necessary “to ensure equal educational opportunity to every child” (Pialorsi, 1974).
Massachusetts became the first state to require and provide bilingual programs for children whose first language is not English. Soon after New York, California, Illinois, and Texas had laws permitting local school districts to provide bilingual education (Pialorsi, 1974).
Although bilingual education still does exist in many states. Florida has completely done away with it, and California is in the process of also getting rid of bilingual education. The ballot initiative, Proposition 227, will soon end bilingual education in California public schools. Bilingual education was fully designed to involve immigrant parents in the education of their kids or to meet the needs of a sudden influx of refugees. Under this new ballot, children will receive no more than one year in English instruction of what is called sheltered English. Though the sheltered method is untested as a means of moving large numbers of kids into the mainstream classes, it is now the law (The New Republic, 1998).
Proposition 227 was written by Ron Unz, a Republican multimillionaire from Silicon Valley, he got the idea from a group of Mexican-American parents. Most of the parents thought that the bilingual education system was holding their children back. Polls taken before Tuesday”s election indicated that anywhere “between 30 and 60 percent of Latino voters on California approved of the measure (The New Republic, 1998). Latinos agreed with this ballot as opposed to Proposition 187, where they took it as a form of immigrant bashing.
In a monograph published by the New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages-Bilingual Education (NJTESOL-BE), Professor Collier shares some of her less publicized insights. “We must encourage language-minority parents to speak the first language at home, not to speak English…to deny a child the only means of communicating with his parents…is tantamount to physical violence to that student” (Amselle, 1996).
Bilingual Education can be a rewarding experience if instructed by the right people in the right manner. Sheltered English seems to be a terrible way to introduce English to a non-English speaker. The student will not be able to learn the language correctly and will not be able to get their correct thoughts across. Learning just pieces of a language is not good enough. That is just like going to a country that does not speak English as a first language with only one year of practice in that language. It will be difficult to ask where the bathroom is let alone take a test in that language.
The only way for Bilingual Education to work is if they use the two-way bilingual education. This approach will allow both non-English speaking and English speaking students to learn each others” language. This approach will not make either student feel inferior to one another.
Bilingual Education in the northeastern United States and Canada serves many advantages and benefits for students of limited English skills. The program has many good points and positive outcomes that out weight the negative outcomes. Most of the students result in success. Every child has their own style of learning and no matter what you are teaching there will always be one or two students that need special attention. Instead of doing away with the Bilingual Education program, they should design it so that it is full proof for the most part.
The United States of America is considered the “melting pot”. There are so many different cultures and languages. There are people who are willing to put in extra effort and assist in making the Bilingual Education approach a successful one, and that is what should be put into perspective.
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