Chapter XII Language and Literacy

Bilingual Education

Submitted by: Autumn Brown

Chapter XII

Language and Literacy


“A nation’s language, so we are often told, reflects its culture, psyche, and modes of thought…The Babylonians would have been hard-pressed to understand Crime and Punishment, because their language used one and the same word to describe both of these concepts. The craggy fjords are audible in the precipitous intonation of Norwegian, and you can hear the dark l’s of Russian in Tchaikovsky’s lugubrious tunes…English is adaptable even promiscuous, and Italian-ah, Italian!”

– Guy Deutscher

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

Contemporary experts aver that learning two or more languages represents a tremendous cognitive investment for children, which is further complicated by age, schooling, and proficiency in one’s native tongue (Wolf, 2007). With the continuous rise of immigrant populations throughout our communities, some schools have sought out bilingual education programs in an effort to ensure the success of their students. In the past, it was thought that teaching children two (or more) languages could result in a panoply of detrimental neurological effects (UNAM, 2004). However, current research largely confutes this claim by extolling the manifold cognitive benefits of multilingualism, including greater memory, higher IQ scores, and an increased ability to conceptualize abstract ideas (Lara, 2002).  Seeking to capitalize on these esteemed assets, some enterprising school districts have attempted to cultivate bilingualism within their student body, an endeavor which often consists of injecting large sums of capital into the development of said programs.  However, it is worth noting that bilingual education models vary in both scope and effectiveness. It is, therefore, fundamental that each program be carefully scrutinized prior to adoption.

The submersion model (sometimes erroneously referred to as the immersion model), mainstreams non-native English speakers into regular English-speaking classrooms. This particular paradigm has the expressed purpose of assimilating the student within the realms of both language and attitudes, as they relate to the dominant culture. As it is atypical for the first language to be supported throughout this process, researchers consider this model subtractive. Despite not being exactly the same, ELL pullout models closely parallel this approach. Experts argue that by failing to buttress the student’s native language prior to introducing the new language, students are at risk of developing profound cognitive deficits, which may prove to be irrevocable (Roberts, 1995). Although this model is not technically a legal option in the U.S., it is nonetheless utilized due to lax enforcement (particularly in schools with a low population of language minority students).  Additionally, for various reasons of circumstance, parents or guardians of these children are generally loath to demand services for which their children are entitled (Roberts, 1995).

In lieu of the aforementioned programs, some schools have shown a propensity for favoring transitional bilingual approaches, which –in contrast to other models- are more additive in nature. The hallmark of this educational design is that students are afforded the opportunity to receive content area support in their native language while English is being taught.  Concurrent teaching (or team teaching with bilingual staff) is one method of achieving this goal; however, there are some notable disadvantages, including lack of true balance (English tends to dominate) and redundancy.   Enrichment bilingual programs would also fall within the purview of this framework, though they are often prohibitively expensive (Roberts, 1995).

For some, the merits of bilingual education have been heralded as a welcome shift in what had become an antiquated pedagogical paradigm. For these individuals, the addition of dual languages adds much needed texture to the diverse tapestry of individuals who comprise our nation. For others, it simply adds more confusion to an already intricate mosaic, encroaching on the sacred foundation of educational tradition. However, independent of these views, lays the incontrovertible reality that our society is rapidly changing, and we must be prepared to adapt with it, both in theory and in practice.


Deutscher, G. (2010). Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company.

Lara, A. (2002). Bilinguisme, Comment le Cerveau Filtre-t-il? Retrieved on November 5, 2013 from

Roberts, Cheryl A. (1995). Bilingual Education Program Models: A Framework For Understanding. The Bilingual Research Journal. 19 (e.g. 2), pp.369-378

UNAM. (2004). El Cerebro Bilingüe. Retrieved on November 5, 2013 from

Wolf, M. (2007). Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York, NY: Harper Collins.


Discussion Questions

1. Are you an individual who spoke (or speaks) another language at home? If so, to what degree has this experience shaped your identity?

2. Should schools be compelled to allocate resources aimed at preserving a student’s native language (L1)? If so, to what extent?

3.  Does your school promote bilingual education? If so, which model do they support? Do you think that it is effective?

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7 Responses to Chapter XII Language and Literacy

  1. Jimmie Jo says:

    1. Are you an individual who spoke (or speaks) another language at home? If so, to what degree has this experience shaped your identity?

    I did not have the experience of speaking another language in my home. My parents were both raised as Mennonites and spoke German in the home, church, and with other Mennonite community members. However, when going into town they were required to speak English. My parents chose not to teach us German (which is very sad). I do remember sitting at the Christmas table with my mother’s parents and listen to everyone speaking German and not understanding a thing that was said. I also remember that when my Grandparent’s spoke German around the grandchildren it was usually because they were fighting! It is interesting to me that my mother did not speak German for years, but when Grandma was at the point in her life that all she could speak was German that Mom was able to pick it right back up. I hope the same doesn’t happen with my mom because I won’t be able to communicate with her. I have many relatives who are missionaries around the world. The children are all bilingual. The time to teach a second language is definitely in the early years.

    • Autumn says:

      I would offer that it is never too late, Jimmie Jo. I taught myself Spanish and Italian when I was in my mid to late twenties. Learning these languages has enriched my life in unimaginable ways and has prompted me to continue with others as well. My most prized personal achievement in this realm is being able to read in said languages. I have always felt that books really capture the essence/voice of a people, something which unites us all and adds amazing dimensionality to the human condition. Don’t give up :)!

  2. Sinclair says:

    1. Are you an individual who spoke (or speaks) another language at home? If so, to what degree has this experience shaped your identity?
    No, in my home of origin we only spoke hillbilly/redneck English. As my “Reflections on Practice” answer this week indicates, we grew up very rural, with a mother that butchers the English language worse than Granny Clampet. Even now after years of education, I talk so differently from even many other Tennesseans. My thick accent and misuse of words gives me away even on phone conversations. My relatives all speak the same way and are all very well educated, but we have always felt belittled by others that look down on our accents and slang. As a child, our culture was never celebrated at school, but frowned upon as if we were all stupid. We might as well have been speaking another language. It is odd how our accent was recently voted the most pleasant in the United States!

  3. Karen says:

    1. Are you an individual who spoke (or speaks) another language at home? If so, to what degree has this experience shaped your identity?
    I was never given the opportunity to speak another language at home because all my parents know is English. I didn’t start to try to speak Spanish until I needed to take it in middle school and I can’t remember any of it now. On the other hand my husband grew up in Aruba and speaks several different languages. His father is from Chicago, but his mother is from Aruba. He lived in Aruba for 16 years and learned Dutch, Papiamento (the official language of Aruba), and English. When he spent a summer in Brazil he also learned Portuguese. Knowing all of these different languages has definitely shaped his life. He is a people person for sure and with the ability to speak with different people from many different places has certainly helped him. In his career he is often asked to work with populations that speak different languages because he can relate to them. However, even though he learned how to speak English at about the same time as he learned to speak Papiamento he still struggles with it at times. There are many words that he uses out of context, but he believes he is using them correctly. He gets frustrated when he does not use them correctly, but even at 31 still gets very excited when he is able to use them correctly. Sometimes not being able to use the correct words in the right context has hurt him socially and professionally. I would say that being multilingual has shaped his identity in that he loves talking to all different types of people, yet at the same time he lacks confidence when put in new situations with new people that he is trying impress because he is not 100% of his English skills.

  4. anonymous50 says:

    1. Are you an individual who spoke (or speaks) another language at home? If so, to what degree has this experience shaped your identity?

    When I was nine months old, my father received an assignment to Spain, and for almost the next four years, we lived first in the heart of Madrid, and then in base housing for a while. I was immersed in Castilian Spanish, with playmates, maids, and even my siblings. Home movies from that time reveal a little blonde girl transitioning seamlessly between Spanish with the maid or my younger brothers and English with my parents (who I had apparently identified as “American” and with whom I refused to speak Spanish, for some reason). Just before I started kindergarten at age 4 ½, we moved back to the US, residing in the Michigan U.P. for the first year, then Mississippi, and, by the middle of second grade, to Oklahoma. Initially, I was proud of my bilingualism, demonstrating my knowledge of another language to my teachers and classmates whenever possible– and being met frequently with disinterest and even scorn, surprisingly most often from the teachers. I was told that “we don’t speak like a foreigner in school”. This was in the mid to late 60’s.

    For some time, my siblings and I used many Spanish words, sang Spanish songs and nursery rhymes, and, enjoyed showing off our language skills to a few friends who would indulge us, but eventually, because of the general disinterest and occasional hostility from others in the community (even at grocery or department stores), we grew more embarrassed than proud, and I added “speaks Spanish” to the long list of traits that made me self-conscious and/or insecure. By fourth grade, living in Mississippi again, my once fluent bilingualism was reduced to counting to 30 and a dinnertime prayer (“Dios bendiga cada Rincon de esta casa . . . “), and I never shared with anyone outside my inner circle of closest friends that I had ever spoken another language, for fear of ridicule, as absurd as that now sounds.

    During my adolescence and younger adulthood, I would awaken, knowing I’d been dreaming in Spanish or would occasionally suddenly be fully aware of the content in the conversation of a table full of foreign-exchange students (both of which I never revealed to others), but by the time I hit my 30’s, even that residual linguistic ability had receded. Unfortunately, I waited until my late 40’s to attempt to re-learn Spanish, and I have found it frustrating and fairly unsuccessful to date (although I have not abandoned the project altogether – yet).

    However, even though I no longer speak Spanish and am fearful that I may have waited to long to learn it again, I do believe that the early exposure to multiple language structures imbued me with an affinity for the semantics and syntax of my native tongue and instilled an innate ability to successfully communicate that understanding to my students. That is, at least, my hope.

  5. Mary Decker says:

    3. Does your school promote bilingual education? If so, which model do they support? Do you think that it is effective?

    My school does not promote bilingual education. Instead, we have a pull out ELL program. Our students in the program mostly come from homes where Spanish or Mandarin is spoken as a first language. Although this is the model that my district has chosen, I do not believe that it is particularly effective. When students enter the program, they are assessed to see what level of proficiency they possess. The amount of ELL minutes that they receive depends upon their proficiency level. However, I do not believe that one test can accurately and thoroughly can give one this precise level. For example, I have a student who has “graduated” from the ELL program in my class. Her conversational English is very good, but her academic English is definitely lacking, especially when it comes to writing. She often uses incorrect tenses and fragments instead of complete sentences. I would really like her to get more support. I would also like to see the ELL teacher push in to classes, instead of always pulling out. This would give her the opportunity to observe how students perform in the natural classroom setting. I believe that this would be beneficial information when determining proficiency, as well.

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