These are the reasons we need bilingual education:
Learning English is very important for speakers of other languages living in the United States. However, students need to learn all the other vital core subjects that their English-speaking peers are learning at the same time reading, writing, social studies, science and math. If these subjects are taught in English, limited-English- proficient students will not understand the concepts taught. They may learn a few English words, but they will not learn the other concepts necessary for success in school and professional life. English cannot be taught at the expense of other necessary subjects.
Common underlying proficiency.
A person only needs to learn to read and write once. The literacy skills they learn in their native language transfer to other languages. Literacy skills and thinking strategies transfer to a second language. Students who are literate in their own native language have strong word recognition skills to bring to the reading of English. They understand the concept of letter/sound associations (and many are the same in English and Spanish).
They know to read from left to right and top to bottom. They understand punctuation, word spacing and how to read new words by using context. But it is imperative that they be taught to read first in the language that they best understand. Otherwise, they are just identifying and repeating nonsense.
Didnt our ancestors get along without bilingual education?
The world is a very different place today. America used to be a mostly blue-collar society. Before 1920, less than 15 percent of all Americans completed high school. Not only is a high school diploma necessary in todays technological society, a college degree is needed for most professional careers. We cannot afford to teach our countrys future adults a watered-down curriculum and basic English communication skills.
At present, there are more than 752,000 limited-English-proficient students in Californias schools alone. These are our future doctors, teachers, astronauts and senators their potential is the potential of the United States. We cannot afford to waste it.
Does learning in ones native language hinder the acquisition of English?
No. The fundamental principle governing all growth in language is: Language learners need to understand the meaning of the message. When students learn subject matter in their native language, they gain knowledge about the world. They then have a larger number of understandable messages, which makes it easier for them to learn English.
The benefits of biculturalism
Students need to have a healthy sense of self-esteem in order to succeed in school. Students whose language is looked upon as second best or inferior in the classroom often feel ashamed of themselves and their native culture as well as resentful and ambivalent toward the dominant society English speakers. Bilingual education raises the prestige of the childs native language by using it in the classroom and by studying the native cultures literature and traditions.
Students then take pride in their native culture and language and also in their ability to learn the second language and function within a new culture. They are better adjusted and, therefore, more motivated to learn English and to succeed in all other subject areas.
Cultural and cognitive enrichment for the English-only students.
Being exposed to different cultures and languages is a great advantage for an English-only student. Our world has an increasingly global economy. Our country is increasingly diverse in cultures and languages. A person who is able to relate to people of varying cultures, who respects and accepts these cultures and who can communicate in one or more languages other than his or her own has a great asset.
The advantages are economic because of the great need in the job market for bilingual people, emotional because of the pride one feels in having a special ability and increased knowledge, intellectual because bilingualism increases cognitive ability, and spiritual because of the feeling that one is truly a citizen of the world.
Test scores prove the success of bilingual education.
Studies done of bilingual programs in the Baldwin Park Unified School District, Eastman Avenue School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, San Jose Unified School District, Fremont Union School District, San Diego city schools, Rockwood Elementary School in Calexico and the Carpinteria Preschool program showed that students performed on English CTBS tests at a comparable or more often superior level than limited English proficient students in other programs.
The time taken to reach grade level in formal English (not just basic communication skills, but academic language) was from three to six years. Children in these programs who were once considered limited-English-proficient scored at grade level on formal, academic English, which means that they scored as well as average native-English-speaking children.
In conclusion, bilingual education is a program based on educational practicality. It is, simply, the most efficient tool for teaching limited-English-proficient children in order for them to achieve their full potential as students, professional adults and citizens of the United States.
It benefits not only these students, but everyone whose future in this country depends on the well-educated, culturally and linguistically adaptable adults that our educational system must produce.
Lisa Rodriguez lives in Moorpark.