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Myths about Bilingual Education That Adversely Impact the Masses

Myths about Bilingual Education
Bilingual education has garnered severe criticism in the media, which in turn has resulted in a ripple effect which adversely influences the opinion of the masses. Let's have a look at some common myths about bilingual education which have negatively impacted the way people view its method and purpose.
Rohini Mohan
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Did You Know?
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, including the English language, there are 322 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.

The multitude of scientific research done on the subject reveals that, when designed and implemented with great care, bilingual education program models work effectively in teaching English to second language learners. Let's explore some of the prominent myths about bilingual education, regarding cognitive abilities and language assimilation of second language learners of English or foreign languages.
Myth: Bilingual education does not serve any purpose and does not work.

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

Reality: This is a common misconception which deters people from inducting their children into bilingual education programs. The studies conducted by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert, pointed at the fact that the bilingual children fared better, as compared to monolingual children belonging to similar 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 the United States, 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.
Mother and Daughter talking
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.
Grandfather and Child
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 even more necessary, is to ensure that the immigrant languages seeping into a country are not lost or destroyed, and is preserved for the future generation to learn and pass on.