Submitted by: Autumn Brown
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 http://www.e-sante.fr/bilinguisme-comment-cerveau-filtre-t-il/actualite/422
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 http://www.ifc.unam.mx/pdfs/investigacion_cerebro/011.pdf
Wolf, M. (2007). Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
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?