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Bilingual Education in the US

April 28, 2009 2 Comments »

The subject of bilingual education in the US is a hotly debated topic, but news source are frequently unclear in their definitions of what exactly bilingual education is. The general public is largely unaware that there exist a wide variety of programs for students whose native language is not English and assume that bilingual education means a fifty-fifty split in their two languages. Neither of the two most common programs, English as a Second Language programs and traditional Bilingual Education programs, uses this kind of system.

The traditional bilingual education program teaches core courses such as science and history in the student’s native language, be it Spanish, Chinese, etc. English is also taught, but as a special course. Programs vary by state, but students in traditional bilingual education programs generally spend only a small percentage of their time at school learning English. These are intended to be temporary programs that provide students with a foundation in their native language before they learn a second language.

English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are also temporary, but are more of an adapted immersion program. ESL students also take special classes on the English language, but core courses are also taught in English. These classes are modified to the needs of the students whose first language is not English, but instruction is in English and there may be a wide variety of cultures and languages represented in the class.

These two programs are quite different, but the distinctions frequently get lost in the cries of xenophobia and the lamenting of the supposed deterioration of American culture.

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