Bilingual Education and Code-Switching
by Zainab Al Bulushy
Bilingualism plays a significant role in bilinguals' educational lives. There are some positive points about the status of being a bilingual in the process of second language learning. Winsler and Lucinda (1994: 508) state, "Children who acquire two languages have access to a wide range of resources that are largely unavailable to monolingual English speakers". Gibbons (1991) presents the following positive points of bilingual programs:
a) They allow children to draw on their total language experience and so continue their conceptual development.
b) They facilitate the development of teaching basic concepts and make it easier to understand.
c) They allow teachers to evaluate their students' learning more thoroughly since students can draw on their skills.
d) They help to provide a social emotional environment, linking the learning process to the language of the home and family.
So, when schools provide children quality education in their primary language, they give them two things: knowledge and literacy. The knowledge learners get through their first language helps make the English they hear and read more comprehensible. Literacy developed in the primary language transfers to the second language, and therefore helps to develop and acquire it easily.
This is actually one face of the coin. The other face, however, shows oppositions to those bilingual programs. A common argument against bilingual education is in the observation that many people have succeeded without it. Krashen (1999) gives an example of a particular person, Rodriguez, who tells that he succeeded in school without a special program and acquired a very high level of English literacy. So the need for the mother tongue is lessened this way.
People argue as well that if students are deficient in the school language, henceforth English, then they need intensive instruction in that language. Cummins (1986) follows that attempting to remedy English language deficiencies through instruction in the first language in bilingual programs appears against the ideas of many policy makers and educators. They say that using the mediation of the native language to render input meaningful can make the students totally dependant on their mother tongue and thus prevent them from thinking in English.
There is also opposition based on the principles that since first language and second language proficiencies are separate, then content and skills learned through the first language cannot transfer to the second and vice versa. The public is also against bilingual education according to some survey results by (Krashen 1999). He explains that many parents are not committed to having the schools maintain the mother tongue if it is at the expense of gaining a sound education and the English language skills needed for obtaining jobs or pursuing higher education. He adds that publications appearing between 1984 and 1994, especially in magazine and newspaper articles, tended to be anti bilingual education, which as a result, influenced the public opinion.
Research studies, however reveal the idea that critics do not claim that bilingual education does not work; instead, they claim there is little evidence that it is superior to all-English programs. A research study, for instance shows that as learners progress through the grades their use of the first language decreases and their English proficiency increases as a result. In another case where Spanish was used as the medium of instruction and the language of writing, (Winster and Lucinda 1994), data indicate that a shift towards English did indeed appear, most learners who began the year writing in Spanish had switched to English by the end of the year.
The previous research findings, accordingly, prove the success of such bilingual programs and support them. But, this at the end depends on how these programs are managed, to what extent the mother tongue is used, and the amount of exposure to English students' get. People have different views and studies will not stop at a certain point. A lot more is being conducted in this area and purposes differ according to the specific cases and circumstances around them.
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