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Bilingual Education

Bilingual education (aka Dual Language Immersion or Bilingual Immersion) is becoming more popular in the U.S.. Many parents and students are seeking schools that offer a ESL (English as a Second Language) and bilingual education opportunities. Learn what bilingual education opportunities are available here.

The Basics of Bilingual Education

Even children who were born to English-speaking parents and grow up surrounded by native speakers have to take English in school. With many non-native English-speaking children moving into the United States, and many children being born into households in which the first language is not English, there are additional challenges in language education.

Because language mastery is so important to work, social life, and exercising the responsibilities and enjoying the privileges of citizenship, as well as because first language is so closely tied to cultural and ethnic heritage and family life, people have strong feelings about language education, and these strong feelings color the debate about the best approaches to take.

Basically, there are two pedagogical approaches that are espoused for students whose first language is not English - often referred to as English Language Learners (ELL) or Limited English Proficient (LEP) students:

1. ESL (English as a Second Language) programs instruct students in English.

2. Bilingual programs instruct students in both the student's first language as well as English while they are gaining enough proficiency in English for it to be an effective language of instruction for them. If bilingual programs make a transition to English-based instruction, then they can be considered to have an ESL element.

All types of Bilingual Education are generally undertaken by teachers who have specialized training in the program being used. But, like other teachers, they are licensed by the state in which they are professionally active, so if the state does not have requirements, people giving instruction may not have the desired qualifications. In a 1999 survey, 10 states did not require certification or an endorsement for ESL and 25 states did not require certification or an endorsement for bilingual instruction educators.

However, even in those states in which there is certification and licensing, a study published in 2001 found that there were insufficient teacher preparation programs at Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) to train the number of teachers needed for the dramatically increasing student population.

Types of Bilingual Education

Different types of bilingual education strike different balances between use of the student's native language and English, which may be governed by the student's English proficiency as well as age and the program philosophy. The balance may be 90% native language to 10% English, or it could be a 50-50 split.

In Transitional Bilingual Education or "Early-Exit," instruction is offered to a group of students who share a native language, and initial instruction uses both their native language and English, but quickly progresses to delivering the majority of instruction in English, using the student's native language only when necessary. The goal is to transfer the students into an English-only classroom as soon as they are proficient.

In Developmental Bilingual Education or "Late-Exit," instruction is offered to a group of students who share a native language, and initial instruction uses primarily their native language. As students become more proficient, English is used more and more, but the goal is to continue fluency in the first language while attaining fluency in English.

In Dual Language Immersion (also called Two-Way Bilingual Education or Bilingual Immersion) is intended to be used in a mixed classroom composed of about half native English-speaking students and half native speakers of a different (single) language. For example, a classroom set up for this pedagogy might have 50% native speakers of English and 50% students whose first language is Spanish. All Language Arts instruction (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), as well as all other content instruction (e.g., in math, science, and social studies), is delivered in both languages, with the object of all students becoming fluently bilingual. Instead of the native English speakers simply becoming tutors for their classmates (since they have the expertise), they also become language learners. Additionally, unlike other bilingual educational set-ups, the non-native speakers in this program are not simply deficient in the subject matter: they, too, have expertise to share in their knowledge of their native language. So instead of one group of students being knowledgeable and the other being in need of knowledge, they are all both learners and experts.


An Overview of the Preparation and Certification of Teachers Working with Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students