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Alternatives to Bilingual Education

There are many alternatives to Bilingual Education such as submersion, english as a second language (ESL), structured immersion, and two-way bilingual immersion. Each of these methods have their pros and cons and have been found to be effective in certain studies.

While Bilingual Education is the most widely used term to describe programs involving instruction using both a native language and the dominant language of English, there are studies that show Bilingual Education as not being as successful as other methods and vice versa, therefore it is important that schools cater their program layout to the specific needs of their students. 8

All of the following methods should be given equal consideration when structuring an educational program because they all contain pros and cons.

  • Submersion: “Language minority students are placed in an ordinary classroom where English is spoken. There is no special program to help them overcome the language problem. Submersion is aptly described as ‘sink or swim' The minority home language (L1) is not used at all in the classroom. In Lau v. Nichols the Supreme Court found that the submersion approach violated the civil rights of language-minority students and that schools had to make an extra effort to help overcome the language problems of these students.” 9
  • English as a Second Language (ESL): “ESL students are placed in regular submersion instruction for most of the day. During part of the day, however, these students receive extra instruction in English. This extra help is based on a special curriculum designed to teach English as a second language. L1 [the native language] may or may not be used in conjunction with ESL instruction." 10
  • Structured Immersion: “Instruction is in the second language (L2), as in the case of submersion, but there are important differences. The immersion teacher understand L1, and students can address the teacher in L1; the immersion teacher, however, generally replies only L2. Furthermore, the curriculum is structured so that prior knowledge of L2 is not assumed as… [material] is taught. Content is introduced in a way that can be understood by students." 11
  • Two-Way Bilingual Immersion: Students are taught in two languages; both their native language and English. "Two-way bilingual immersion programs that follow the 90-10 models begin by immersing students in instruction through the non-English language. As children progress through the program, the amount of English language instruction is increased until the two languages attain parity in the delivery of instruction." 12 "90-10" denotes that 90% of teaching in Kindergarten and first grade are done in the native language and the other 10% of the day is taught in English. 21

A brief highlight of the positive and some of the negative attributes of these methods along with some data from empirical research will help solve any deliberations among which method is most favorable under certain conditions.

  • Submersion:
  • Pros - Children may learn the English language because they are forced to do so.
  • Cons - During the time the child is struggling to learn a new language he/she may be falling behind other children in other academic areas. 13
  • ESL:
  • Pros - "Concentrated additional instruction in English - language skills will keep students from falling behind in other academic areas." 14
  • Structured Immersion:
  • Pros - "Although the curriculum assumes no prior knowledge of English, language-minority students in effect learn English as they learn math, and learn math through English instruction that is understandable at their level of English proficiency." 15
  • Two-Way Bilingual Immersion:
  • Pros - "The primary goal of two-way bilingual immersion programs is to develop language and academic proficiency in both languages for both groups of children [both non-English and English speaking ]." 22To many it is now a positive that an emphasis is being made on retaining the native language alongside the dominant one instead of completely replacing it. 23

There is one method that has been found to be completely detrimental to language development and it is called "Concurrent Translation." This method is implemented in a fashion where the instructor will say something in English and then immediately translate it into the native language or vice versa. 24 This has been shown to be counter-productive because the child will tune out what they do not understand because they know that an immediate translation will soon follow. 25

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