Monday, August 07, 2006

What are the best bilingual programs?

Bilingual education means many different things. For some it means the opportunity to learn in two languages and to become fluent and literate in both. This is not the definition of bilingual education as it has been used in the state of California or as seen in the eyes of bilingual education opponents. For the majority of those in favor or against it, bilingual education is a tool with which to teach children English. The use of a child's primary language is a means to transition them slowly into English only classes. Gone is the goal of developing children who are completely fluent in two languages. Unfortunately, this form of bilingual education is really a means of creating students that do not attain full proficiency in their native language and frequently fall behind in English skills.

So what are the alternatives? Transitional Bilingual Education was replaced with English immersion after the passage of Proposition 227 in California. Certainly, spending all day in an English-speaking environment, as long as it is combined with ESL classes, can be a very effective means of learning English for many children. It certainly seems like common sense. Anyone who has tried to learn another language knows that it is much easier when one has many opportunities to use it.

Unfortunately, this sink or swim approach can be traumatic for many children who spend quite some time listening to the teacher speaking in gibberish. Also, those children who receive no instruction in their native language will lose it. They will never have the chance to become completely fluent or literate in their native language. And what a waste that is! Don't forget that learning a second language is a requirement for getting into college. Many children lose their native language and then have to spend years re-learning it when they are older. Also, the benefits of being completely bilingual are immense and it is a real shame to not take advantage of the resources that so many bilingual children could provide this country.

So if Transitional Bilingual education doesn't work and English immersion is a great loss, what is the best balance? What would be the best program for these students to learn both their native language and English and become academically proficient in both?

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