Myths about Bilingual Education That Adversely Impact the Masses

Rohini Mohan Jun 30, 2019
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Bilingual education has garnered criticism in the media, resulting in a ripple effect, adversely influencing opinion of the masses. Let's see some common myths about bilingual education which have negatively impacted people's view of its method and purpose.

Did You Know?

As per latest research, along with the English language, there are 350 languages spoken in the United States of America!
Bilingual education is the practice of teaching in an academic setting in two languages. In United States, bilingual education is the imparting of education to English-language learners (ELLs) for whom English is their second language. Such second language learners are taught in English as well as their native language.
There is evident skepticism about the aims, methods, and utility of bilingual education, and whether it is actually an effective medium of imparting education to our children or not.
Scientific research done on the subject reveals that, when designed and implemented with care, bilingual education program models work effectively in teaching English to second language learners. Let's explore some myths about bilingual education, about cognitive abilities and language assimilation of second language learners of English or foreign languages.
Myth: Bilingual education does not serve any purpose.

Reality: The U.S. Department of Education released in 1991 revealed that children who were taught native language in schools, fared better in English-oriented academics than students in immersion programs. Such learners got written and verbal fluency in both languages and showed progress in school life.
Myth: Learning two languages impairs the child's cognitive functions or the ability to think and learn.

Reality: It is a fallacy that deters people from inducting their children to bilingual education programs. Studies of Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert, stated that bilingual children fared better than monolingual ones, from same socioeconomic backgrounds.
Kenji Hakuta's 1986 research paper 'Cognitive Development of Bilingual Children', revealed that bilingual children have greater cognitive flexibility and are able to see things from more than one perspective. The studies conducted by Ellen Bialystok, also revealed that the bilingual children were better at verbal and nonverbal tasks based on problem solving.
Myth: Bilingual education is sidelining the English language.

Reality: According to National Association for Bilingual Education, "Teaching English is among the chief goals of every bilingual program in US along with promoting long-term academic achievement in English and - in some cases - enabling children to develop fluent bilingualism and biliteracy."
The various U.S. programs for bilingual education are designed to teach the native language to second language learners, so that it is easier for them to learn English. The psycholinguist Frank Smith in 1994 stated that, "it is easier to learn to read in a language we understand. Once we can read in one language, we can read in general."
Thus, bilingualism makes it easier for students to grasp English, once they have gained sufficient literacy in their first/native language, and thus can become proficient in both languages.
Myth: Bilingual education discourages parents to speak to their children in their native language.

Reality: It is incorrect to claim that parents are being discouraged from speaking to their children in their native or first language. The process of teaching and learning begins first at home and thereafter progresses into the classroom.
Parents must encourage their children to speak in their native language so as to increase fluency. Even if the dominantly spoken language at home is not the first language or native language, it must be one that the parents are proficient in.
On the other hand, parents who force themselves to speak in an unfamiliar language such as English or a second language, inadvertently cause more harm than good to the child's language learning process.
Myth: A majority of parents do not support bilingual education because they feel that English is more important than their native language.

Reality: While it is true that learning English is crucial for the academic and career success of children, it is unfair to say that parents do not give any importance to their native language.
This misinformation has been spread by pollsters who have tactfully framed the question. Professor Stephen Krashen states in 'Why Bilingual Education?' (ERIC Digest), that "when respondents are simply asked whether or not they support bilingual education, the degree of support is quite strong.
From 60 - 99 percent of samples of parents and teachers say they support bilingual education (Krashen, 1996)." It would be sad for anyone to watch their native language be lost forever, or have their children and grandchildren not be able to speak or be familiar with their actual native language.
The reason bilingual education is more necessary, is to ensure that the immigrant languages seeping into a country are not lost or destroyed, but preserved for future generations.