Brattleboro, Vt.—“What’s the matte with these meat-head immigrants anyway? [Archie Bunker speaking.] Our grandparents came to America without knowing English, and they were just shoved into school like every other kiddo, where they could sink or cling to the side of the pool. Why can’t these dingbats do it? Who needs bilingual education?”
Unfortunately, this type of thinking is quite prevalent today. It does not take into account that there are many more non-English speaking people in the US today than ever before. It is estimated that there are some 10 million Spanish- speaking Hispanics children of school age. Our monolingual system — using English as the language of instruction — is not meeting their needs.
What can go wrong? The immigrant child, unable to keep up with classmates, may become discouraged, accept a negative image of himself, feel ashamed of his own culture, and reject his native language. This negativism has a disastrous effect on the immigrant youngster, causing hundreds of thousands to drop out of school.
On the other hand, what happens when the immigrant child enters a bilingual school? He gets instruction in both languages, often being taught subject matter in his native language while working on mastery of English.He doesn’t drop behind the other students, avoids the negative-image trap, doesn’t become ashamed of his own culture and language, and, when the school system provides maintenance instruction in his own language, becomes fluent in two languages.
There are several myths about bilingual education which need clearing up. Here are four:
* Bilingualism causes separatism.
Canada is cited often as an example; whereas Switzerland could be cited as an opposite example.
* Bilingual education is too expensive.
It does cost more than monolingual education. But if, through bilingual teaching, we can keep immigrant children in school, prepare them for self-sufficiency and productive citizenship instead of unemployment and deviant behavior patterns, the savings to the taxpayer would far outweigh the cost for the special schooling.
Bilingual education detracts from normal education.
There are studies which show that children progress in cognitive ability better in two languages than in one. It has been determined, as well, that bilingual students are creative, resourceful, have large vocabularies, and an enriched cultural background.
Bilingual education will make our children un-American.
Quite the contrary! Bilingual education makes better citizens of both immigrant children and native US children.
The author, mother of three bilingual daughters, grew up in Uruguay (her parents were British), and is presently studying at the School for International Training with a double major — English and Spanish.