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The Bilingual Education Dilemma

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Bilingualism can generally be defined as “the ability to speak two languages easily and naturally” (James 2007). However in a place like the US where English is assumed to be the only official language, bilingualism is defined as the endorsement of another language especially Spanish as an additional official language. Bilingual activists have wanted to promote its use in the classrooms of public schools as a unit known as “bilingual education” which involves teaching academic content in two languages; in a native and secondary language with altering amounts of each language used in accordance with the program model (Hayakawa 2007). Bilingual education continues to receive criticism in the national media. In support of it, I purpose to examine some of the criticism, and its effect on public opinion, which often is based on misconceptions about bilingual education's goals and practice, as well as elucidating the rationale underlying good bilingual education programs and summarizes research findings about their effectiveness.

The topic on bilingual education has been dominated by controversy on different levels. On the individual level, debate has centred on the possible costs and benefits of bilingualism in young children, on the societal level, fiery argument can be witnessed in the United States about the wisdom of bilingual education and the official support of languages other than English in public institutions. Critics such as S.I. Hayakawa and Rodriguez, claim that bilingual education impedes non-English students’ mastery of English, their academic improvement, and their incorporation into typical America. In his essay, Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood, Rodriguez claims that English replaces one’s own language and later on becomes forgotten, that person should not let it fade away completely since it results in loss of childhood reminiscences. He employs childhood nostalgia to create an image of America’s social setting in the readers mind. He points out that English helped him achieve many things. He began doing well in school, made friends and felt relaxed talking to people. This however had a negative effect on him and his family (Rodriguez 93). Richard holds a strong belief in assimilation and conforming to a culture.

The wisdom of bilingual education and the official support of languages other thn English in United States make emotions run hot because of the symbolism contained in language and its connection with ethnic group membership. When schools provide children quality education in their primary language, they give them two things: knowledge and literacy (Hakuta and Garcia 1989). The knowledge that children get through their first language helps make the English they hear and read more comprehensible. Literacy developed in the primary language transfers to the second language. It is easier to learn to read in a language we understand. Once we can read in one language, we can read in general. In the aftermath of the bilingual education initiatives argue strongly that bilingual education is both a civil and human right. Amid regular attacks on the privileges of immigrants and the corrosion of the gains made by English language learners on the central level -thanks to the anti-bilingual education requirements in the ESEA-people must prop up the right of all children to learn two languages, including their mother tongue (Crawford 2002).

The combination of first language subject teaching and literacy development that characterizes good bilingual programs indirectly but powerfully aids students as they endeavour for a third factor essential to their success: English proficiency. In advanced levels, the only subjects done in the first language are those demanding the most abstract use of language like social studies and language arts. Once full mainstreaming is complete, advanced first language development is available as an option.

A frequent disagreement against bilingual education is the remark that many people have succeeded without it. Children who turn up with a good edification in their primary language have already gained two of the three objectives of a good bilingual education program--literacy and subject matter knowledge. Their success is good evidence for bilingual education benefits. Opponents of bilingual education tell us that the public is against bilingual education. This impression is a result of the way the question is asked. One can easily get a total negative response of bilingual education when the question is biased (Krashen 1999).  When people are made to understand what bilingual education truly is, its remuneration and how one can obtain it, it’s definite that people will generally appreciate it.

The numbber of people opposed to bilingual education is probably even less than these results suggest. The critics of bilingual education do not assert it does not work; instead, they allege there is slight substantiation that it is better than all-English programs. Nevertheless, the evidence used against bilingual education is not persuasive.  Contrary to that, supporters of bilingualism argue that when non-English speaking students obtain several years of instruction using both their native language and English, they learn English more hastily and develop their general academic progress. In addition, they dispute that these students can maintain their native language and as well as their cultural legacy (Crawford 2002).

Looking at language, we realize, simply helps to facilitate the identification of problems and potential solutions, but additional steps are needed to provide adequate education to linguistic-minority students (Berriz 2000). Berriz, a third-grade teacher describes how she uses children's script to inflate cultural responsiveness and educate Spanish and English in a two-way bilingual program. She describes how teachers can generate a learning atmosphere that honours the assorted family cultures of students within a xenophobic society. There is, indeed, more to issues confronting the bilingual personality than can be summarized by language aptitude capacity. Crawford examines the basic arguments adjoining the subject of bilingual education. In his report he says that bilingual education is counterintuitive. Most people wonder: How could teaching students in their native tongue help them learn English? (2000)

As community scientists and educators, it is our responsibility to detain the complexity of the situation and in the process, enhance our own science and practice. Although there are challenges facing bilingual programs, supporters have given their honest appraisal of what must be done to move such programs forward.  Most bilingual schools especially those in California have managed to survive despite the anti-bilingual voter initiative passed in California in 1998 that virtually banned bilingual education in the state. It is important that progressives stress the value of bilingual programs in learning English. Nevertheless, we should also frame the issue in terms of power and the basic human right to maintain one's mother tongue.

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