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Types of Bilingual Education

Bilingual education is the practice of teaching academic content in two languages. In the U.S., it often means teaching students in two languages. In bilingual education programs, children are taught in both their native language and the English language. This approach promotes biliteracy, cultural awareness, and high academic achievement.

There are an increasing number of English Language Learners (ELLs). This is especially true in states like California, Texas, and New York., so it's important to understand the different methods of bilingual education. Public school systems across America vary in how they offer bilingual education.

The following information covers the basic types of bilingual education.

A Background of Bilingual Education in the United States

Historically, bilingual education in the U.S. has its roots in civil rights movements. The U.S. Department of Education introduced policies to support non-English speaking students. They did this through Title VII of the Education Amendments. This was an important educational amendment, especially in states with large multilingual populations.

Over time, various states have modified their education policies, including Arizona, Massachusetts, and California. They have allowed for the introduction or restriction of certain bilingual approaches.

In the 21st century, about three million children in the U.S. were Limited English Proficient (LEP). These students would need to take part in so-called "immersion programs." These programs lasted for much of the 20th century. Here, students received English-only instruction. There was no integration between English and their native tongue. Many believed this was the fastest way to integrate a child.

Beginning in the 1960s, there was a gradual shift toward bilingual education. This meant students could master English while retaining their native-language skills. The shift toward bilingual education reflects a growing recognition of the benefits of multilingualism. Schools across the nation are now emphasizing the importance of acquiring a second language. This goes along with mastery of the student's native language.

This evolution is particularly evident in secondary education. The curriculum often includes courses tailored to enhance both linguistic and cultural competencies. By embracing both a student's native language and a second language, the education system acknowledges the richness of diversity. It also recognizes the invaluable skill of bilingualism in a globalized world.

Types of Bilingual Education

The following are different types of bilingual education offered in the U.S.:

  • Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE): Here, students receive initial instruction in their primary language. As they achieve English language skills, they transition to English-only classrooms. The goal isn't long-term biliteracy but rather English-language acquisition. Specific content areas are taught in the student's first language, like language arts and math. Others might be taught in English. This ensures they don't lag behind in academic content while they are learning English.
  • Dual Language Programs or Two-Way Immersion: This approach is ideal. It is best for both English speakers and English language learners. They receive instruction in both languages. The aim is for high language proficiency. The goal is also grade-level academic achievement. This method promotes biliteracy. These programs can be seen in elementary schools through high school.
  • English Immersion: Here, ELL students are immersed in English instruction from the start. They may receive some support in their home language, but primarily the emphasis is on rapid English language acquisition.
  • Sheltered English Programs: These programs provide English learners with tailored instruction. This helps make academic content more accessible while they develop their language skills.

Students who become proficient in English are transferred to English-only classes. Bilingual education is not generally a goal in ESL programs.

Conflicting Philosophies About Bilingual Education

Bilingual education in the United States is a complex cultural issue. This is because there are two conflicting philosophies. On one hand, there is the idea that the U.S. welcomes people from all places. Immigrants have long seen America as the "Land of Opportunity." 

At the same time, America is a great "melting pot." Immigrants are somewhat expected to assimilate if they wish to succeed. Many opportunities for freedom and success come from assimilation into the American culture. Everyone who comes to the States, so they are told, should want to become American.

Some strongly oppose ignoring a person's native tongue. They believe that erasing their language erases a key cultural element. They argue that having fluency in more than one language is an advantage in the modern world.

Others believe equally strongly in the preservation of the English language. They argue that those who live and work in the States should speak, read, and write in English. They argue that students who aren't able to do so are at a disadvantage in America.

There is no uniform opinion, even among immigrant parents of LEP children. Some parents want their children to be taught in their native tongue. They believe this helps preserve their culture. Others want their children to learn English from the outset. They want their children to have the same opportunities as other students.

Building Bilingual Programs in the United States

The debate around bilingual education isn't just about language. It's tied to culture, identity, and beliefs about integration. Some argue that keeping a student's minority language enriches their academic experience. This includes many educational service providers in California and New York.

These schools build programs for Spanish-speaking students or offer other foreign language classes. These schools also offer bilingual instruction to students. States like California are awarding teachers with special certifications, especially those proficient in dual language immersion. This helps promote bilingual education and enhances student learning in language instruction.

Furthermore, there is a question of educational equity. For example, special education needs intersect with ELL services. School districts must navigate these intersections. They must do so without compromising a student's right to quality education.

There is one point on which everyone seems to agree. LEP children deserve the best educational opportunities available. Any language program must be structured enough to give them a good foundation. It also needs to remain flexible enough to meet their varied needs.

Getting Legal Help With Bilingual Education

Bilingual education aims to meet the diverse needs of today's students. Multilingualism is on the rise globally. Understanding these methods helps create a more inclusive learning environment for all students.

Parents may believe their child's right to appropriate bilingual education is being denied. If this describes your situation, you should consult a legal professional. These professionals should be knowledgeable about education law.

With laws varying from state to state, it's essential to be informed. For instance, Texas might have different provisions than Massachusetts and California. Groups advocating for civil rights can often provide resources and help. They can help you understand the complex landscape of bilingual education policy.

Talk to an education attorney in your area today.

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