When you think about bilingual education, do you picture your tax dollars going down the drain?
Do you fear a Tower of Babel?
That’s how many critics of bilingual education view those programs, and yet the benefits for this country vastly outweigh unfounded fears.
Bilingual education has gotten a bum rap because a few flawed programs have received the news media’s attention and because many people seem not to understand that those programs can be just as beneficial for English-only speakers.
Indeed, some schools are bringing together students who speak only English with students who speak predominantly a foreign language, such as Spanish or Japanese. Classes are conducted in both languages.
“That’s one of the most exciting things that’s happening around bilingual education,” said Rick Lopez, spokesman for the National Association for Bilingual Education. “The students learn from each other and very quickly. Both groups are immersed in two languages.”
The majority of bilingual-education programs are working so well that most children are “mainstreamed” into English-only classrooms within three years. Those successes aren’t spotlighted often enough.
Nor do we hear much about the success of “dual-language” programs that are being tried in progressive school districts to help American children who speak only English become proficient in a second language.
A lack of historical knowledge about past immigrants’ experiences with learning English also seems to permeate the anti-bilingual-education movement. There were, in fact, bilingual-education programs for children who spoke German, Italian, Polish and other languages in 1800s America.
The concern today seems to be that bilingual-education programs promote another country’s culture at the expense of American culture. That seems to be the motivation behind legislation in Congress to make English the official U.S. language.
That fear comes at an odd time. Learning a foreign language, particularly one that can give the American worker an edge in a growing global economy, would seem to make perfect sense.
English may seem like the language of international commerce, but that simply isn’t so. Consider this little story, told by Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois. Simon asked a Japanese businessman if most trade-business is conducted in English. After all, the foreign business people the senator had met all spoke English. “The most important language is always the language of the customer,” the Japanese businessman replied.
This week, the National Association for Bilingual Education is meeting at the Orange County Convention Center. On Saturday, a free “Orlando Community Day” will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Why not find out more about bilingual education? It can only lead to success.