Bilingual Education refers to the professional teaching of academic content in two languages, usually a majority language and a native language.
Varying levels of language input are used, depending on the outcome goal of the model. In this bilingual education article, we aim to provide clarity on what is bilingual education, how it works, what are options available for your child and cover some of the benefits of bilingual education.
How does bilingual education work?
Bilingual education broadly has two types, one focused on helping children learn the English language as quickly as possible while the other is to help them maintain their native language while learning how to speak English.
Transitional Bilingual Education
Transitional bilingual education is when the school partially or completely uses a child’s home language as a method of instruction when they enter school and slowly phases it out in favor of English. Also referred to as early exit bilingual education, the goal is to transition them into English-only classrooms as quickly as possible.
Maintenance Bilingual Education
Maintenance bilingual education involves the use of a child’s native language when they enter school, then gradually moving to a different language (English). The goal is the maintenance of the native language while helping students get proficient in English. Some subjects are taught in one language while others are taught in a second language.
When we talk about bilingual education in the United States, we refer to the maintenance of bilingual education programs, where the majority language of half of the students, is English, and for the other half it's a foreign language.
Dual language education
Dual language education is where students are taught literacy and content in two languages. This is the most prevalent style of bilingual education in the United States. Most bilingual education programs in the United States teach students English and Spanish. However, lately, an increasing number of programs are using a partner language other than Spanish, including French, Arabic, Hawaiian, Korean, Japanese, or Mandarin.
How do dual language programs work?
Dual language programs use a partner language for at least half of the instructional day in the elementary years of school. In dual language programs, classrooms are made up of one-half of the students speaking the majority language (English) and the other half speaking a foreign language (generally, Spanish). These programs begin in Kindergarten and run for at least 5 years, while many continue until middle school and some into high school as well.
Neighborhood schools have such programs, and many charter and private schools have Dual language programs as well.
Dual language programs help students be bilingual and bi-literate while having a greater awareness of linguistic and cultural differences. They are also said to have a greater degree of academic achievement due to instruction in two languages.
4 types of dual language programs
There are 4 primary types of dual language programs, which differ in population:
Developmental bilingual programs
Commonly termed maintenance bilingual programs, these programs enroll students who are native speakers of a partner language and the goal is to help them learn the English language.
Two-way immersion programs
They enroll a balance of English speakers and partner language speakers, with the instructional methods split halfway between English and the partner language. The goal is to develop English language proficiency in one half of the classroom while the other half becomes proficient in the partner language.
Foreign language immersion programs
These programs are also known as one-way immersion programs. In programs like these, the classroom consists of primarily English speakers with the goal of building proficiency in the partner language.
Heritage language programs
These include children who are primarily proficient in English but whose parents, grandparents, or other ancestors previously spoke a partner language. The goal is often to help preserve their cultural background by maintaining their proficiency in the partner language.
What are some of the benefits of bilingual education?
We have discussed the benefits of bilingualism, in some of the previous posts on this website, and here we will explore the benefits of bilingual education. Most of the benefits overlap, but there are certain social benefits that formal bilingual education can bring to your child.
When an individual is bilingual, the ability to use one language actually comes from being able to suppress the other language in the brain. This means that bilingual individuals are actually using their brains more actively when speaking one language, as compared to monolinguals who have one default majority language.
In scientific terms, this is called the executive function, meaning, based on environmental cues, an individual can determine the best approach, and act on it. This means a child who speaks Spanish at home and English at school, knows both languages, but can contextually change what they speak. Contextual changes can be the people, the environment, moods, or emotions.
This constant switching leads to stronger control over the mind, and this ability then helps them channel attention better. They can easily mute distractions when necessary and channel their attention toward the task at hand.
Based on social cues, bilinguals have to change the use of language and tonality. At the same time, they need to understand variations in tonality to determine the mood and emotion of the speaker. This leads to bilingual children in bilingual education programs being more empathetic toward their classmates, their teachers, and all other speakers of the partner language.
Reading in English
When a person is bilingual, they are said to have a higher multilingual awareness, this is the awareness of how language works. Foreign language speakers who learn English take to reading and decoding a text in English quite naturally. Even when they may not be fluent in English.
Their understanding of a text is not limited by a lack of vocabulary and grammatical rules. Children in two-way immersion programs learning English as a partner language develop the ability to solve problems better simply because they can piece different parts of the language together. This means that bilingual education can speed the process of understanding a language, even when speaking it might not be possible at that stage. This is why we hear that people can read a language but can’t speak it.
Engagement in school and overall performance
In studies that cover over 30 school districts in America, it was observed that children in dual-language programs have higher average test scores, seemed happier in school, had better attendance, their behavioral problems were low and the degree of parental involvement with the child was higher.
There is no direct reason for this but the observation, but it was substantiated by a thorough review of millions of student records of monolingual and bilingual students.
Diversity and integration
Bilingual education can prevent the segregation of classrooms because they are based on the premise of combining native English speakers with immigrants. This means that they are ethnically and socioeconomically balanced. This leads to children being comfortable and open to each other's differences.
Children and parents, especially from Non-English dominant families, feel that in a bilingual education setup their home languages are heard and valued, as compared to a traditional classroom where they have to leave their home language at the door.
This can improve a child’s sense of belonging as well as increase parental involvement in a child’s education. All of which is great for language development and overall character development of the child.
Beyond the benefits of bilingual education, there are alot of benefits of bilingualism itself. Bilingual children have been shown to have a greater degree of cognitive control, which boosts attention and problem-solving. They have larger grey and white matter in their brains, simply because language switching leads to a higher number of neurons (brain cells) in the brain. This enlargement of white and grey matter then helps slow down the rate of cognitive decline with age. In some hypotheses, it is also believed that bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
There are alot of practical advantages to being bilingual as well, which largely include a greater number of job opportunities and better travel experiences when visiting a destination abroad.
We now know that bilingual Education refers to the professional teaching of academic content in two languages, usually a majority language and a native language. Bilingual education primarily has 2 types: transitional bilingual education and maintenance bilingual education. Maintenance bilingual education is the more prevalent of the two and has 4 distinct types. Bilingual education has alot of advantages both in and outside the classroom, which helps children to be more well-rounded individuals. They perform better academically, are more empathetic, and are better integrated into their surroundings. The benefits of bilingual education can’t be overlooked and are now being made available in more schools across America. The question shouldn’t be if it's for your child, but to determine what bilingual education program is the best one for their needs.