A Case For Bilingual Education

According to a 2006 report by the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science and Education in France, “[B]ilingual education based on the mother tongue is the basis for long-term success.” Citing many of the known and accepted benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy, the Committee makes the case that bilingual education should be supported whenever possible, to help minorities retain their native language – and moreover increase their potential for higher levels of academic achievement in the process.

Concerns that children who grow up with two languages will either fall behind academically because of it, or are at risk of not mastering either language well, have largely been disproved by research, the committee stated.

“The language which is the vehicle of instruction has a crucial role in that command of it is the key to classroom communication and consequently to pupils’ acquisition of knowledge. A great deal of research has confirmed that types of education based on the mother tongue significantly increase the chances of educational success and give better results,” they concluded in their report.

What is Bilingual Education?

Bilingual education programs teach speakers of other languages academic subjects in their native language while gradually transitioning them into English-only classrooms. The majority of these programs in America teach to native speakers of Spanish, Chinese, or Navajo. Bilingual education is different from ESL because ESL programs are meant only to teach speakers of other languages English, while bilingual education programs are meant to encourage further retention and development of the native language while teaching English, enabling the child to develop fluent bilingualism and biliteracy.

What are the benefits of Bilingual Education?

Bilingual education teachers generally transition students from the bilingual classroom to the English mainstream classroom over a period of 1-6 years. This can be beneficial for one because it allows the students to continue their own academic advancement while learning the dominant language, whereas students who must learn a language and other academic subjects in that language often fall behind. By teaching children academic subjects in their native language while acquiring English, the students learn the language while continuing to progress academically. Furthermore, they become fluent and literate in both languages.

Studies have shown that quality bilingual education can be an effective approach for teaching second language learners. Successful programs have found that developing and maintaining the student’s native language does not interfere with English language acquisition, but instead enhance it.

The advantages of bilingualism are not highly debated. Some of the advantages plurilinguals have, cited by the Parliamentary Assembly, include:

• An enhanced faculty for creative thinking

• More advanced analytical skills and cognitive control of linguistic operations

• Greater communicative sensitivity in relation to situational factors

• Improved spatial perception, cognitive clarity and analytical skills

Furthermore, bilingual programs encourage the preservation of a minority group’s linguistic and cultural heritage. Children who are put into English-only schools from a young age will greatly lose their mother tongue and culture unless it is taught and frequently spoken at home – however it is all too common for second and third generation Americans to lose their heritage language.

If the benefits of bilingualism are not highly disputed, why is bilingual education highly disputed?

Common arguments and sentiments against bilingual education in America include the following:

Immersion

The argument is that if a person is not totally immersed in the new language, they will not learn it – that immigrant children should be totally immersed in the language and therefore be taught entirely in English right away, instead of learning gradually, because they will not learn as well with a gradual approach. Critics of bilingual education often believe that retaining and developing the first language inhibits the child’s ability to learn English. However, bilingual education supporters maintain that retaining the first language will facilitate learning in the second. Opportunities for immersion, moreover, are all around, whereas quality bilingual education opportunities are not.

Insufficient mastery of the English language

Some express doubts about the success of bilingual programs in teaching language-minority students mastery of the English language, citing low test scores and poor reading skills in both English and the native language as a result of the programs. However, low scores can be attributed to the child’s social context more than to the effectiveness of bilingual education, according to the 2006 report by the Parliamentary Assembly.

Furthermore, according to a 1987 study commission by the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), children in “properly designed” bilingual education programs learn English quickly and meet grade-level standards in English and mathematics in three to five years. The report used data collected from 25 schools in seven California districts to dispute the claim that bilingual programs slow the acquisition of English and keep children out of the mainstream longer.

Bias

Spanish as well as other minority languages have not historically been valued as highly as they should be due to prejudice and xenophobia. One and two generations back it was not acceptable for immigrants or natives to speak a language other than English in school, and parents did not teach their children for fear they would not excel or that it would hold them back. This prejudice still haunts us today.

Fear

In 2010 Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) banned Mexican heritage and cultural study in their high schools. They claimed that the courses were teaching Mexican-American children to resent white Americans and encouraging them to want to overthrow the US government. Although the school was seeing rises in academic achievement, the program was teaching minority students about their culture and not the mainstream one, and so the programs were cut. This closely mimics the battle bilingual programs have faced in America as well.

Insufficient research
Moreover, it does not help that research on bilingual education presents its own set of problems. “Research on the effectiveness of bilingual education remains in dispute, because program evaluation studies – featuring appropriate comparison groups and random assignment of subjects or controls for pre-existing differences – are extremely difficult to design,” wrote James Crawford, researcher on bilingual education. Crawford, however, maintains that there is strong empirical support that native-language instruction does not inhibit or slow the acquisition of English, and that well-developed skills in the native language are associated with high levels of academic achievement.

A 1997 press release from a committee of the National Research Council formed perhaps a more well-rounded conclusion. They stated that political debates over how to teach children with limited English skills have hampered bilingual education research and evaluation efforts. The committee recommended that research focus on identifying a variety of educational approaches that work for children in their communities based on local need and available resources. And indeed this availability of resources can be a major concern when talking about constructing quality bilingual programs, as well as the scarcity and demand for quality bilingual teachers.

“In recent years, studies quickly have become politicized by advocacy groups selectively promoting research findings to support their positions,” said Kenji Hakuta, committee chair and professor of education at Stanford University. “Rather than choosing a one-size-fits-all program, the key issue should be identifying those components, backed by solid research findings, that will work in a specific community.”

If bilingualism has an educational advantage, why don’t our schools support this advantage?

Another often disregarded advantage of bilingual education in America is that native English-speaking children can enroll and acquire a second language. America is known for being one of the least dual-tri lingual countries in the world, with a bias toward English-only, while most other countries in the world teach many languages from a young age. The interesting thing is that most Americans would recognize the benefits of speaking two or more languages, although bilingual education remains a highly debated topic.

Bilingual education programs have the potential to help encourage and support plurilingualism in America and ultimately improve our nation academically.

“The view that bilingualism or plurilingualism is a burden on pupils is… incorrect – they are assets,” the 2006 Parliamentary Assembly Committee reported. “‘Strong’ bilingual educational models which aim to equip the future adult with real bi/plurilingual proficiency and, in particular, bi-literacy, have many advantages over ‘weak’ models which treat bilingualism as an intermediate stage between mother-tongue monolingualism and official-language monolingualism rather than as an end in itself.”

Hong Kong Heritage Museum – Uniting Hong Kong’s Rich Heritage

The largest of the 12 museums found within the city of Hong Kong, the Heritage Museum is more than simply a museum. It is a testament to the culture and legacy of Hong Kong. It depicts the history, art and customs of Hong Kong through 6 permanent exhibition galleries and a further six galleries housing temporary thematic exhibitions.

Built following the traditional Si He Yuan Style, the building is a series of integrated houses situated around a common courtyard.

Opened in 2000, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum is in the town of Sha Tin and the museum itself is in a secluded spot away from the hustle and bustle of the town, bordered by the Shing Mun River.

The permanent exhibition galleries are the Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall, New Territories Heritage Hall, the T.T.Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art, the Children’s Discovery Gallery and the Chao Shao-an Gallery. These give a very thorough foundation of the many cultures found in this city and the heritage of each.

The temporary exhibitions vary from time to time. Apart from the galleries, the Heritage Museum complex also holds a theatre used for various arts purposes. The museum features comprehensive and interactive sessions that educate in an entertaining manner the history of the country and its origins. This makes the visit enjoyable even for young children.

The museum’s own cafe serves delicious food and beverages which you may enjoy after the educational museum experience.

Be sure to pay particular attention to the special features such as the exhibition that traces the Cantonese Opera development and Zhao Shao’an’s, the renowned artist’s, impressive work of Chinese paintings.

Heritage Language Maintenance Alongside English Language Acquisition

One mechanism that can overturn many unfavorable outcomes may be the expansion of heritage terminology maintenance programs. Studies by Carl Bankston and Min Zhou, Russell Rumberger and Kathryn Larson and Wallace Lambert have shown that heritage terminology maintenance alongside English language acquisition is a significant predictor of greater cognitive flexibility when compared with English monolingual students.

Across grade levels, children who continue to develop reading and writing skills in their heritage language have been found to have higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores in math and in English (see work by David Dolson, and Alejandro Portes and Lingxin Hao), lower drop-out rates and more positive attitudes toward high school (Kathryn Lindholm-Learly and Graciela Borsato; Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier), higher educational expectations (see work by François Nielsen with Steven Lerner), and more ambitious plans for the future (see work by Homer García) than do their counterparts who have lost proficiency in their heritage language.

This is especially noteworthy in families that have a tradition of literacy. The results differ somewhat among children from environments of multi-generational poverty whose families have little or no formal schooling and whose parents are illiterate in the heritage language. There is a suggestion in this regard that biliteracy makes a greater contribution to education than does bilingualism.

At one point in the past, the prevailing theory was that maintaining one’s native language was detrimental to a child’s cognitive growth. Teachers were advised to tell parents that they should not speak the heritage language at home, and use only English to facilitate its development.

The belief that bilingualism is detrimental for children’s cognitive development has affected scores of children, interfered with generations of family relationships, and contributed to the considerable shortage of the nation’s pool of proficient heritage language speakers. For all that and many more reasons, Heritage language maintenance alongside English language acquisition should be a very important point to be considered in our culture.