Bilingual education has been practiced in many forms, in many countries, for thousands of years. Defined broadly, it can mean any use of two languages in school – by teachers or students or both – for a variety of social and pedagogical purposes.
According to NABE (National Association for Bilingual Education), “In today’s context, a period of demographic transformation in United States, bilingual education means something more specific. It refers to approaches in the classroom that use the native languages of English language learners (ELLs) for instruction. ”
It is sometimes claimed that research does not support the efficacy of bilingual education. Its harshest critics, however (e.g., Rossell & Baker, 1996), do not claim that bilingual education does not work; instead, they claim there is little evidence that it is superior to all-English programs. Nevertheless, the evidence used against bilingual education is not convincing.
One major problem is in labeling. Several critics, for example, have claimed that English immersion programs in El Paso and McAllen, Texas, were shown to be superior to bilingual education. In each case, however, programs labeled immersion were really bilingual education, with a substantial part of the day taught in the primary language. In another study, Gersten (1985) claimed that all-English immersion was better than bilingual education.
However, the sample size was small and the duration of the study was short; also, no description of “bilingual education” was provided. For a detailed discussion, see Krashen (1996). On the other hand, a vast number of other studies have shown that bilingual education is effective, with children in well-designed programs acquiring academic English at least as well and often better than children in all-English programs (Cummins, 1989; Krashen, 1996; Willig, 1985). Willig concluded that the better the experimental design of the study, the more positive were the effects of bilingual education.
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