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Bilingual Education. In this essay I examine the issues at the heart of both the academic and political discourse and try to establish the value of bilingual education. To achieve this I will look at three countries; the USA, Hong Kong and Pakistan.

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Introduction

Introduction Bilingualism needs defining before we can begin to assess its usefulness. Often quoted is the Russian linguist Weinriech(1968:1) who defined bilingualism as 'the practice of alternately using two languages'. To understand how widespread the phenomenon is we should consider that in no less than 55 countries the official state language is not the language of choice for the majority of its citizens. In 38 countries there are two state languages and in a number of others there are three or more. There are a number of 'world' languages that are widely spoken around the world English is spoken in 52 countries, French in 35, Arabic in 32, Spanish in 20 (Kornakov 1997). Two worldwide drivers behind the spread of bilingualism have been mass immigration and globalisation. At state level we can see that bilingualism is well established but we should understand that this is not the same as individual bilingualism as this depends on the individual person alternating between two languages. Here we move from socio-political considerations and on to the personal and cognitive considerations. It is also here that we should begin our look at bilingual education. Bilingual education is a form of education under which instruction is delivered in two different languages, predominantly English and one other language. It can be found in operation in many countries from the USA to Pakistan and from Hong Kong to Spain. As language is so intertwined with culture and society the subject of Bilingual education has become a highly politically charged one with the Research undertaken being scrutinised from opposing political perspectives as much as from an academic standpoint. ...read more.

Middle

We can see in this debate a clear example of how the issue of bilingual education goes beyond public education and academic considerations and into the areas of language as power and the tensions between ethnic identity on the one hand and cultural integration on the other. The California vote was seen as a victory for those who argued that a successful society needed to share, by and large, the same cultural values and underpinning this, should have the same language. We should also bear in mind that particularly in the USA the Bilingual education sector has been a substantial one as an article in the LA Times contemporary with the Proposition 277 debate highlighted that There's big money in bilingual education. The state each year kicks in at least $244 million; the feds a minimum $50 million. Actual figures are elusive. Many jobs are involved. About 85,000 teachers are assigned to students deemed "limited English proficient," according to the state Department of Education. Of these, 24,000-including 9,700 in L.A. County-are purely bilingual teachers, instructing children solely in their home language. The other 61,000 use various bilingual tools-visuals, tutors-while teaching in English. Since the substantial vote in favour of Proposition 277 similar popular votes have been passed in Arizona and Massachusetts replacing education programs that taught academic subjects in two languages with those offering short term immersion in English to enable ongoing education in the English language. Bucking the trend, in 2002, Colorado rejected the ending of bilingual programs with the support of their own wealthy benefactor. ...read more.

Conclusion

This is backed up by significant if not overwhelming research. On the other hand, there seems to be a certain logic behind the notion that social and cultural cohesion is served by a common language. Though accepting this leads immediately to the question - 'Whose language?' and the domain of power relationships. If Foucault is right in suggesting that 'power is everywhere' then it is certainly present in language. It is perhaps as a result of this that whilst academic opinion overwhelmingly supports bilingual education this support is not reflected in the non-academic commentary found in opinion articles in newspapers and magazines. To accept the efficacy of bilingual education is to accept that language learning skills are transferable from one language to another. It then follows that it is desirable to let a learner develop their L1 to the furthest extent so that they are in the best possible position to learn the L2. Krashen asserts that giving children top quality teaching in their L1 also gives them 'knowledge [which] helps makes the English they here more comprehensible' and 'literacy, which transfers across languages'. It certainly seems that the best examples of bilingual education have been shown to produce significantly positive results but then so have the best examples of any learning program. Whether or not we can yet assert that bilingual education is beneficial on a mass scale is less certain. We can, however, be sure that whether it is in a remedial situation, as in the USA, or in an elective one as in Hong Kong or Pakistan, bilingual education is inevitably a political and socio-economic issue as much as a linguistic one. ...read more.

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