Despite the growing number of multicultural families and immigrants in countries all over the world, bilingual education is still fighting to find its place in school systems. Many schools lack the resources or pedagogy skills to effectively integrate valuable and productive language curriculum into their program. Although language skills prove to be a valuable asset, several myths surrounding bilingual education stimulate some cultural discrimination toward education of this kind. With technology availability on the rise and the global environment becoming more accessible to current and future generations, education systems cannot ignore the need for advancing language curriculum in schools.
The stand against bilingual education reasonably stems from the difficulty of rewriting education curriculum. If the outcome profit margin cannot be quantified, many educators avoid the topic all together. While some don’t disparage the concept of bilingual education, they do feel there just isn’t enough evidence that proves it is superior to all-English programs (Krashen, 1997). In short, if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Introducing developed language programs into schools is not an easy task, so why rewrite a system without proven evidence? Others argue if language learning diminishes a sound education in the English-language skills required for obtaining jobs or pursuing higher education, they would rather go without (Krashen, 1997).
In Myths About Multilingualism, Susanne Mueller discusses three myths that criticize language education. One of the myths she addresses is that different languages compete for neurological resources. This argues that if you have a language knowledge maximum, you lose words from your first language as you learn words in a new language (Mueller, 2012). But, studies do not support this belief. In fact, multilingual speakers show a greater aptitude for expressing themselves orally and in writing. Other studies show that individuals with multilingual skills have a greater capacity for understanding cultural difference.
Another important piece in the discussion of language learning is the future of language development. What factors will influence the way children use and learn language? The Hurley School in Boston teaches all subjects in a bilingual method. The school’s goal is to have students graduate completely bilingual and bi-literate. The Hurley School understands the need to build a program that positively impacts learners who do not speak English at home. While over half the school’s families speak Spanish as their primary language, the remaining students come from English speaking homes, which points to the clue that many native English speaking families want their children immersed in bilingual focused curriculum.
While the United States is finally breaking down and beginning to see the value of bilingual education programs in schools, UNESCO has been working for decades to try and incorporate bilingual education into school systems around the world – particularly those of extremely low socioeconomic status. UNESCO is targeting areas where local indigenous languages are spoken as well as larger regional languages (Lopez, 2009). UNESCO is continuing to develop education plans that combine the most popular spoken world languages (English, French, or Spanish), with local languages.
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNESCO both stress the importance of children having the opportunity to receive education in their mother tongue. While many children succeed in learning in a language different from the one they speak at home, it is argued that as proficiency in the education language becomes stronger, connection between the child and family becomes more distant. UNESCO has fought for first-language education since 1953 (UNESCO, 1953). When a family has access to education in their mother tongue, they are more likely to enroll a child in school because they can be more involved with the child’s learning (Benson, 2002). GPE says research in this area is still greatly lacking. What are the desired outcomes of multilingual education and how can they be measured?
The future of language development must be considered as young learners are being highly influenced by media and technology. Children are spending more and more of their formative language years interacting with smart phones and tablets. How will speech and vocabulary morph to reflect the language they experience in technology? Education seems to have fallen behind on meeting the needs of bilingual education, but it is important to note that while people may passively wait for it to catch up, technology has already moved ahead.
Krashen, Stephen (1997). Why Bilingual Education? Eric Digest (ED403101).
Retrieved from http://www.nabe.org/bilingualeducation
Mueller, Susanne (2012). Neuromyth 5.
Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/neuromyth5.htm
Lopez, Luis Enrique (2009). Reaching the Unreached: Indigenous Intercultural Bilingual Education in Latin America. Education for All Global Monitoring Report (2010/ED/EFA/MRT/PI/29).
Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001866/18662e.pdf
UNESCO (1953). The use of the vernacular languages in education. Monographs on Foundations of Education, No. 8. Paris: UNESCO.
Benson, C. (2002). Real and potential benefits of bilingual progammes in developing countries. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 5 (6), 303-317.