Bilingual education has become very popular lately, with perhaps the most compelling reason for bilingual education being the concept of equality of education in our country. How is it possible for someone to obtain a great education when he or she doesn’t fully understand the language the lessons are being taught in? Isn’t that student going to become a second-class citizen? Should we just allow that to happen or should we teach them in their native language and worry about assimilation at some later time? The fact is that there are a lot of pros and cons about the subject.
On the positive side, there are many benefits of students learning another language at a very early age. It has been proven that children who learn to speak another language early in life have an easier time grasping the vocabulary, grammar, and nuances of both languages. It has also been shown that these same students will be able to move on to learning third and fourth languages just as easily. The reasons for this are varied, but one of the principal reasons is that many languages have their roots in a single ancient language such as Latin or Greek. As the nationalities have developed, their languages changed but kept a lot of the same words and word structure. Also as the world shrinks and everything becomes more global in nature, it is going to become ever more important to be able to communicate in more than one language.
There is no denying that bilingual education lessons should be taught to students at the elementary level. Waiting until high school will only make it more difficult on the children. Once a student becomes familiar with a second language it is much easier for him or her to master it as they grow older. It is also a good thing when students learn about the culture of different countries, which is enhanced by learning the language. Studies have proven that the ability to speak multiple languages does not confuse the mind. In fact, it helps to develop it faster and lead to a well rounded future.
On the negative side, there are people who feel that bilingual education is a bad idea because it takes away our sense of national identity. The United States has always been known as a “melting pot” of cultures where everyone is treated equally and every culture becomes assimilated into the primary culture of the United States. Historically, newcomers to this country have been forced to learn our English language and many of our ways, all the while contributing parts of their historic culture and making the entire culture better as a result. The argument is that by retaining the language of their old country, they are no longer as easily assimilated into this country.
Bilingual education is a concern in other countries as well as in the United States. For example, there is currently a movement underway in France to ensure that French remains the dominant language and that all citizens learn to speak French. Similarly in the United States many people feel that we as a country have gone too far overboard in making all the other cultures comfortable by printing everything in their home languages. The problem that is brought up is that, by printing everything in multiple native languages, the newcomers don’t have to learn English. And if they don’t learn English they will never be fully assimilated into the United States. By thus creating nationalistic cliques some people say that we are potentially creating the same type of societal issues that are found in other parts of the world and that those who are immigrating to the United States are frequently running away from. My personal belief is that children from other cultures who may speak other languages at home need to become familiar with English and that English should be the required language for all governmental affairs.
In summary, bilingual education is not a way to take anything away from American students. In fact, it is just the opposite. Language is an important part of the learning process. Young students are in position to learn a second language early on, which will benefit them greatly in the future. This is why so many school districts are implementing bilingual education criteria at lower grade levels. However, let us all recognize that there are issues to be faced in bilingual education and our schools and our society will need to face these issues fully.