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Bilingual Education and Code-Switching
by Zainab Al Bulushy
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Bilingual Education Programs

The basic characteristics of the best bilingual education programs, as Krashen (1999) suggests, include English as a second language instruction, sheltered subject matter teaching, and instruction in the first language. In other words, non-English-speaking children initially receive core instruction in the primary language along with English as a second language instruction. Then as learners grow more proficient in English, they learn subjects using more contextualised language in classes taught in English. This way, they move from instructions in the mother tongue to a more proficient use of English.

Tucker (1999: 2) provides some common threads, which were identified in successful programs that aimed to provide students with multiple language proficiency and with access to academic context materials:
• Development of the mother tongue is encouraged to promote cognitive development and as a basis for learning the second language.
• Teachers are able to understand, speak and use with a high level of proficiency the language of instruction, whether it is their first or second language.
• Teachers are well trained, have cultural competence and subject matter knowledge, and continually upgrade their training.

Why bilingual approaches?

Researchers such as Nicholls and Hoadley-Maidment (1988: 82) assume that there are many practical, educational and political reasons for adopting a bilingual approach in the teaching of ESL, which include:
a) Valuing and building on the knowledge that learners already have and bring to the classroom: the cornerstone of good practice in adult education.
b) Raising language awareness. Learners already have some linguistic skills and knowledge; by thinking about their own and other languages (e.g. their history, structure, syntax, writing systems), a class will learn more about language and languages in general. This can speed up aspects of learning and increase learners' tolerance of one another's difficulties.
c) Using learners' first language improves the pace of learning – an important feature for adult learners, for whom time is always at a premium.
d) There is less likelihood of the lesson content being trivial, patronizing or childish where the contributions students can make in their own languages are recognized as significant and valued.
e) Enabling learners, no matter how limited their knowledge of English, to contribute to the lesson in a variety of ways, depending on their experience.

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