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This research paper deals with the objectives and types of bilingual education, from traditional models such as immersion, submersion, and dual language curricula to current initiatives. Among the goals, assimilation of linguistic minorities, heritage-language maintenance, and linguistic empowerment are prominent. Reasons for the success or failure of various approaches are discussed, and it is shown how controversies and attitudes reflect dominant ideologies. It is argued that evidence from research on bilingualism/multilingualism in general and, in particular, on bilingualism in early childhood underscores the superb human ability to deal with more than one language at a time and, therefore, encourages efforts of implementing bilingual language programs throughout the educational system.
- Motivation and Aims of Bilingual Education
- Prototypes of Bilingual Education: a Brief Overview
- Strong Candidates
- Weak Candidates
- Further Options along the Strong–Weak Continuum
- Findings and Challenges
- Bilingualism and Education: a Brief Historical Excursion
- Bilingual Resilience
The majority of the world’s population knows, speaks, and sometimes even writes in more than one language. Given the human cognitive capacity of managing multiple linguistic systems fairly effortlessly, educational curricula employing two or more languages of instruction, with schools profiting in turn from the linguistic and cultural resources of bilingual and multilingual individuals, should be quite common and find wide acceptance. However, to this day, bilingual or multilingual education is a controversial topic, with positions ranging from active promotion to more or less subtle resistance – the latter often camouflaged by liberal and pluralist rhetoric. While researchers no longer question that children can be raised with and schooled in more than one language without negative consequences for their linguistic, emotional, and cognitive development, prejudice, xenophobia, or simply ignorance raise the stakes for bilingual or multilingual programs. Their fate is intricately linked to attitudes toward bilingualism in general and also toward the languages involved. The European Commission, for instance, encourages European citizens to acquire two languages besides their first language(s), and it celebrates the cultural and linguistic diversity of its community as an added value, sure to guarantee a return on investment within the global market. At the same time, the multitude of immigrant languages and cultures originating from other parts of the globe does not appear to count, and the linguistic competence of children growing up with non-European languages and cultures is dismissed or treated as an obstacle and handicap. As pointed out by Stubbs (1991 (1995: 30)), “there is likely to be an enormous waste: allowing languages already spoken in the home and community to be eroded, whilst starting from scratch to teach other languages in schools and colleges.” Even though my contribution can only marginally deal with contradictions and double standards of this kind, they nevertheless form a part of the backdrop for what follows.
After an explication of relevant terminology, an overview of the objectives and major types of bilingual education, such as the ‘classics’ Immersion, Submersion, Transition, Dual Language/Two Way models, and a recent offspring of immersion, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), are provided, and some parameters determining their effectiveness are identified. A brief historical sketch, mainly based on developments within the United States, then illustrates how the political climate swings attitudes in favor of or against the goals and types of bilingual education. The final section brings together what we have learned from more than five decades of documentation and assessment of bilingual programs with current research on language acquisition and bilingualism.
In a strict sense, for educational programs to qualify as ‘bilingual,’ the following conditions should be met: (1) at least two languages serve as media of instruction in subjects other than language classes, and (2) bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism are explicit goals and emphatically supported by all stakeholders.
These criteria are not always adhered to by schools and programs claiming the label ‘bilingual’ for their various efforts in language teaching. Throughout the literature, bilingual education is also used in connection with bilingual families raising children with two or more first languages from birth. While my main focus here is on the fate of languages in schools, this research paper also mentions which findings from the research addressing bilingualism in early childhood and the study of bilingualism and multilingualism in general could be particularly pertinent to bilingual education as well.
For the purpose of this contribution, reference to bilingualism is meant to subsume multilingualism, and acquisition and learning are employed synonymously. L1 refers to a child’s first language(s), hence includes the simultaneous acquisition of two or more first languages, and L2 is used as a shorthand expression for any language(s) acquired after age 3–4. Two additional terms need explication because usage is, to some extent, counter-intuitive: majority and minority (languages). Regardless of actual numbers, majority refers to linguistically ‘powerful’ speakers whose language rights are not in question. Their L1 typically reflects a society’s accepted default, the socially dominant, and possibly, the constitutionally guaranteed official language. For majority children – even though one or two foreign languages, that is, languages not part of the local environment, may be mandatory subjects within their educational system – bilingualism is a matter of choice, in the ideal case a culturally and cognitively enriching experience, and it typically involves other, equally high-status majority languages. The result is considered additive, not subtractive (Cummins, 1991; Baker, 2011). This means that becoming bilingual entails no threat to majority children’s L1, their sense of identity and their social and cultural networks. Minority children, on the other hand, have no real choice since their L1 competence is irrelevant within a majority-language context. If they are to have a future within the mainstream educational system and beyond, they have to acquire the linguistic currency needed within the majority-dominated symbolic market.
Motivation and Aims of Bilingual Education
Over the past 50 years, bilingual curricula have emerged in many parts of the world (cf the overviews in Baker and Jones, 1998; Garcia, 2009). Alongside globalization and internationalization, the following factors have been conducive to this development: (1) the coexistence of two or more official languages, as in Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Northern Italy, and Switzerland; (2) the coexistence of any number of indigenous languages alongside a non-indigenous, former colonial language functioning as a ‘neutral’ official language, such as English in Ghana and Ethiopia, French in the Ivory Coast, and Portuguese in Mozambique; (3) immigration and dramatic dropout rates of minority-language children in schools originally designed for majority children; and (4) grassroot movements rekindling interest in the revival of ethnic cultures and heritage languages.
Against this general background, three different educational objectives can be identified:
- assimilation of immigrant and indigenous minority groups into mainstream society;
- maintenance and development of the first language of minority children (immigrant and indigenous); and
- linguistic and cultural enrichment and empowerment for any learner, that is, of minority and majority children alike.
Assimilation acknowledges at least a phase of transitional bilingualism. For Skutnabb-Kangas, assimilation reflects a linguistic variant of racism, ‘linguicism’ (1988 (1995: 40)), since it results in the “dominance of one language at the expense of others,” for her a clear violation of linguistic human rights (1988 (1995: 45)). In transitional bilingualism “[l]anguage loss appears to be recommended” (Stubbs, 1991 (1995: 33)), which explains the critical stance taken by most, though not all, linguists (Hayakawa, 1992). For those favoring the second goal, maintenance and further development of children’s L1, the following arguments play a particularly prominent role:
- Children’s sense of identity, awareness of their family’s cultural roots, and their self-esteem are strengthened.
- A curriculum with contents taught through their L1 allows minority children to keep in step with majority children as far as school subjects, world knowledge, and – if literalized in the L1 – cultural tools like reading and writing skills are concerned.
- Language maintenance helps revitalizing minority languages threatened by extinction. This aspect matters particularly from the point of view of indigenous minorities.
The third general objective mentioned above, namely the enrichment and empowerment of all, is very much in line with current insights into cognitive advantages of bilingualism, such as enhanced metalinguistic awareness, theory of mind development, flexibility, executive control, and self-confidence with respect to language learning in general.
Prototypes of Bilingual Education: a Brief Overview
According to Baker (2011) and Baker and Jones (1998), educational policies can be positioned along a continuum from weak to strong, depending on how seriously and effectively they endorse bilingualism.
One intensively studied form of bilingual education consists in the immersion of whole classes of majority children in a second language, such as English L1 speakers in French L2 programs in Canada, which may begin in kindergarten (early immersion) or later grades (late immersion). Teaching in the L2 may be partial in the beginning, starting with a small selection of subjects (such as math and geography) or total, encompassing all subjects. In the case of early total immersion, a shift toward teaching at least some or half of the subjects in the L1 follows in later years. Maintenance or Heritage programs have also been counted among the strong educational options. Minority children are taught in their L2 and also in their L1 at least 50% of the time. Successful programs have led to the revitalization of Navajo in the United States, of Catalan, Gaelic, Finnish, Welsh, Ladinian, and other minority languages and dialects in Europe, of Maori in New Zealand, of immigrant languages in Israel, and of aboriginal languages in Australia.
Two Way or Dual Language education teaches through both minority and majority languages. Ideally, balanced numbers of native speakers of each language share a classroom, as in English–Spanish schools or in tandem with English and other languages in North American contexts. Languages employed may alternate, either by subject, day, or some other consistent principle. Baker (1993 (1995)) describes Welsh–English programs where native speakers of both, aged 11–16, are jointly taught in Welsh for at least 70% of the curriculum. Because equal attention is given to the languages, cultures, and speakers involved, Dual Language curricula have also been implemented as part of the peace process in ethnic conflict zones (Tankersley, 2001).
Instruction via two or more parallel languages, sometimes offering different choices of language pairs, is an important characteristic of International Schools and European Schools. The languages to choose from are, in most cases, high-status majority languages. Predominantly enrolled are children of internationally mobile families (e.g., diplomats, academics, members of international companies) and of local socioeconomic and intellectual elites.
With its explicit double focus on subject content and medium of instruction, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has turned into a very popular European immersion variant over the past 20 years (cf Coyle et al., 2010). It deserves a place among the strong forms of bilingual education, even though it may also be implemented on a small scale, that is, by individual teachers and within the microcosm of specific subjects classes in schools that don’t offer a long-term or in-depth bilingual program. CLIL pedagogy stimulates authentic L2 communication among students in task-based interactions, and explicitly acknowledges the bilingual potential available in the classroom. Thus, the purist dogma of keeping languages strictly separate is replaced by a communicative style welcoming code-switching, which makes CLIL approaches very congenial to the goal of fostering the resourcefulness of bilingual speakers.
A ‘sink or swim’ educational policy known as submersion is the most widespread way of schooling individual minority children, both immigrant and indigenous. The child is placed in mainstream classrooms, sometimes assisted by additional instruction in the majority language, in the North American context called withdrawal or pull-out classes. Classes containing only minority children, while superficially looking very much like the immersion of majority children (often referred to as structured immersion) differ in the outcome, a point I return to in the following section.
An equally ‘weak’ form in terms of results and – by definition – goals consists in transitional models, which start by teaching in the minority child’s L1, but as soon as possible, move over to instruction via L2.
Further Options along the Strong–Weak Continuum
Throughout childhood and beyond, language learners may well experience a mix of different teaching strategies and types of exposure to new languages or mother tongue instruction. Language policies aiming at mainstreaming may well tolerate bilingualism as a personal privilege, confining the ‘other’ languages to the invisible, private domain (cf also Stubbs, 1991).
Without support of minority languages at school, L1 instruction may be sought in other ways. This was, and sometimes still is, the case for children and grandchildren of the ‘Gastarbeiter’ (immigrant worker, ‘guest worker’) families, who first came to Germany about 50 years ago. Consulates of countries of origin, parental initiatives, and religious organizations may provide L1 classes in addition to submersion in the majority language.
Apart from motivation and long-term goals, implementation of the types of bilingual education mentioned here may differ significantly in conceptual, organizational, and administrative detail (cf Mehisto, 2012). Since terminology may differ too, it is not always easy to recognize where on the weak–strong continuum individual programs should be placed. In many countries, the French and English expression immersion has been borrowed as a superordinate term for what, especially in preschool settings, is considered to be the ideal assimilatory and submersive strategy for dealing with large groups of young minority children and, independently of any migration background, with children from socioeconomically disadvantaged milieus.
Additionally, there has been a rapidly increasing demand on the part of middle-class parents requesting foreign language programs for daycare centers and kindergartens. In response to this pressure, more and more preschool institutions offer various foreign language or second language activities, from an occasional, minimal encounter in the form of songs, games, and communicative routines to total immersion programs. Sometimes, bilingual kindergartens emulate the one person–one language strategy employed by bilingual families, with teachers, ideally native speakers, strictly requested to stick to only one language. Quite understandably, many middle-class bilingual parents who have consciously decided to raise their children with two simultaneous first languages are very eager to find family–external support for a non-dominant language spoken at home. The European Community also explicitly encourages parents from monolingual families to expose their children to additional (especially European) languages as a key to success in a globalized world. What is not often communicated (or simply not known), however, is that an offer of isolated lexical items (as in picture naming), or even recurrent songs and rhymes, while fun and harmless, does not provide effective keys for cracking the many codes of a new language unless these activities are supported by authentic communicative experience and guaranteed continuity, ideally within the educational system.
Findings and Challenges
In his overview of European initiatives Baetens Beardsmore (1993 (1995: 147)) concludes that “[n]o single model of bilingual education is universally applicable and no single existing model should be transplanted to a totally different context.” He also cautions against unrealistic expectations: “The message to the educational planner, then, is not to expect bilingual education to produce native-like competence in two languages if the contextual variables do not allow for this to develop” (Baetens Beardsmore, 1993 (1995:148)). This last point stresses the basic unfairness of expecting an outcome simply impossible under unfavorable circumstances, such as gaps and a reduced spectrum of registers and styles in the input.
The weak–strong metaphor proposed in the literature and employed above is based on the relative success of forms of bilingual education, especially in the light of their aspirations. One of the most important findings emerging from the pioneering Canadian immersion experience, justifying its position at the ‘strong’ pole, was that L1 English majority children enrolled in French L2 immersion programs did not lag behind control groups of monolingual native speakers of English in their L1 proficiency. This means that in the case of majority speakers, length of exposure to L1-taught classes did not seem to matter. Neither did teaching science or math through children’s incipient L2 interfere with their academic progress in these subjects. With respect to their emerging L2 proficiency, best results were achieved in early total immersion.
Maintenance programs, with instruction in both L1 and L2, also proved successful, but while they support children’s L1 and ethnic identity, they may also segregate them from their majority peers. This is where Two Way/Dual Language schools have the clear advantage of bringing together relatively balanced numbers of students from both linguistic and cultural backgrounds and by giving equal status and rights to both languages. Since Two Way/Dual Language schools typically rely on parental involvement and on the support of their communities, they offer – quite literally – a ‘common ground’ for families as well.
These various positive findings are in stark contrast with the results for learners participating in the other, hence ‘weaker’ group. To this day, it is puzzling that the average minority child performs below the norm in submersion classes and responds less well to what superficially look like challenges identical to those mastered by majority children, namely the simultaneous exposure to a new language and new contents, and that they do not even perform well in transition classes. To make things worse: it turned out that minority children underperformed not just in their L2 but also in their L1. To be sure, there are many individuals from minority cultures who manage to thrive even under submersion conditions, and who consequently believe that everybody else should be able to succeed as well, and that any special language-related treatment of minorities is some new racism in disguise (for instance Hayakawa, 1992). All in all, available evidence allowed the conclusion that simply more majority language instruction did not pay off, at least not to the extent expected, and not for the average minority child.
Cummins (1991) and in many other publications explains this majority–minority achievement discrepancy by proposing that cognitive benefits of bilingualism could only emerge once both languages had reached a certain threshold or level of proficiency, and that an advanced level of L1 before L2 exposure was a good predictor for successful L2 acquisition as well, an assumption known as the interdependence hypothesis. That a relatively advanced L1 should prove more resistant to the growing pressure from a prestigious L2, and that skills and concepts already mastered in L1, including literacy-related expertise, should be transferrable from L1 to L2, sounded entirely reasonable and has had a huge impact on pedagogical studies. World knowledge acquired via L1 as well as domain-general cognitive skills relating to memory organization, problem solving, inference, etc. should remain accessible. However, the attempt to identify concrete linguistic system properties which could offer themselves as a basis for transfer, quickly leads to an impasse since in many cases the result would hardly be helpful and would have to be ‘undone’ again. To mention just one concrete example, an L1 without articles (such as Russian or Turkish) does not offer itself as a fruitful model for a language which requires them (e.g., French, English, and German). In this case, ignoring L2 articles results in negative transfer (interference). As we know from older L2 learners of any target language, negative transfer due to solidly entrenched L1 properties which represents a problem rather than a solution.
One important overall message to be gained from years of studying the effectiveness of bilingual education is that positive effects require time. While learners very quickly (within 2– 3 years) pick up elementary communicative routines, which Cummins (1991) refers to as Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS), decontextualized registers relying heavily on written styles (Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency, CALP) require more time (5–7 years; numbers proposed differ across studies). As argued by Baker (2011), BICS and CALP cannot be distinguished in a clear-cut manner. From a linguistic point of view, the distinction underestimates the inferential know-how and the intention-reading needed for the interpretation of informal speech. That is, in terms of their pragmatics, BICS are far from simple. One additional drawback Baker stresses is that “[s]uch terms may be used to label and stereotype students, especially if BICS are seen as inferior to CALP [.]” (2011: 171). Learners who have never been exposed to academically oriented varieties simply have no reason to even miss them.
One is forced to conclude that the outcome of bilingual education depends on many interacting variables, some of them poorly understood to this day. What complicates matters is that developmental L1 norms are available for only a tiny fraction of the 6000 to 7000 existing languages known today. In the case of L2 development, there are hardly any norms based on large samples taking into account the age of onset and the duration of exposure. This also means that most assessments of bilingual children’s competence is based on L1 norms, which makes poorer results highly predictable and raises, once more, questions of fairness.
One particularly relevant variable stressed in virtually all evaluations concerns the teachers and their professional competence, commitment, and, ideally, their function as convincing role models. For some researchers, the involvement of bilingual teachers is an absolute essential. Skutnabb-Kangas goes as far as to suggest that “[a] teacher, monolingual in L2, can never be a really good L2 teacher! A good L2 teacher knows both languages” (1988 (1995: 51)). While this is a desirable goal in general, providing all minorities with teachers who also know their L1 may well be too much to ask in the case of linguistically heterogeneous classrooms with children from many different first languages. Not only is the spectrum of first languages in contact within the same classroom a daunting pedagogical and linguistic challenge. Children born into families with an immigrant history may have most likely been exposed to some linguistic variety at home which already underwent significant change due to loss of close contact with a pre-immigration dialect of origin and due to intensive contact with new languages. Polinsky and Kagan (2007) argue that it is this variety that should be used as an appropriate and fair baseline against which a learner’s competence ought to be compared, not some idealized norm that he or she has never been exposed to. It is crucial therefore that teachers involved in L1 instruction have a rough idea at least of how the variety he or she takes to be an appropriate target, differs from the heritage language internalized by learners. Polinsky and Kagan (2007: 374) describe what typically happens when even highly motivated heritage speakers who had shifted to some L2 early on, attempt to build on their rudimentary L1 competence: “[.] the heritage learner’s competence is always suspect, and both instructors and curriculum designers take stock only of their deficiencies” and “[t]he problem is acerbated in cases where language instructors are biased against the language variety that served as the home language” (Polinsky and Kagan, 2007).
The question of which variety to pick as language of instruction in a bilingual educational setting and how to make sure that individual learners can relate what he/she knows to the instructional medium is far from trivial. It raises the question of how one can do justice to all children’s linguistic rights in the absence of bilingual curricula and material, appropriate tests, and competent bilingual teachers for each and all language combinations already spoken by children in schools and preschools all over the world. Educational contexts involving learners with diverse language backgrounds and differing degrees of proficiency in their heritage languages therefore pose a tremendous challenge for any educational system, but it also holds a great promise. In the light of this diversity it would seem sensible to start with a strong focus on a general subject, Language or Language awareness, as an appropriate forum where all learners could be encouraged to reflect on their linguistic repertoires and, in particular, on their bilingual resourcefulness.
Bilingualism and Education: a Brief Historical Excursion
In their overview of the history of bilingual education in the United States, Baker and Jones (1998) (see also Baker, 2011; Lyons, 1990) distinguish four overlapping periods characterized by what they call (1) permissiveness, (2) restrictiveness, (3) opportunity, and (4) dismissal. Before World War I, tolerance of linguistic diversity prevailed. Many ethnic communities taught children in languages other than English. But the Nationality Act of 1906 required immigrants to learn English in order to become naturalized citizens. World War I and new immigration waves led to calls for assimilation and Americanization, a development strongly reinforced by World War II, and to the restriction of public school instruction in languages other than English. This attitude relaxed in the wake of the Civil Rights and Equal Education movements in the 1960s and a growing interest in ethnic values and traditions. In addition, the persisting academic failure of children considered Limited English Proficient Children raised the issue of equal opportunity and led to calls for compensatory measures. Courts mandated bilingual education for minorities, and amendments to Education Acts made federal funds available. A next period, starting in the 1980s, took a turn in favor of submersion and transition programs, vigorously supported by pressure groups such as US English, English First, or English for the Children and, most recently, No Child Left Behind (see respective websites). Currently, yearly assessments are supposed to guarantee that schools and teachers make sure that students move into mainstream classes as soon as possible. As a consequence, L1 maintenance is typically dismissed.
The overall history of bilingual education for both immigrants and indigenous minorities in North America clearly reveals an intricate connection between ideology, power, and educational policy. Without doubt, conservative forces anywhere will continue to consider bilingualism in the public domain “a costly and confusing bureaucratic nightmare” (Hayakawa, 1992: 44) and a source of political disloyalty and destabilization. While nobody seriously objects to teaching high-status foreign languages to elites, bilingual education involving low-status minority languages is seen as the cause of scholastic underachievement. It may be a small comfort to supporters of bilingual (maintenance) programs that Dual Language education/Two Way immersion programs continue gaining recognition. Not only do they represent ‘the antithesis of assimilation’ (Baker, 2011: 229), but they also demonstrate that empowerment of minority and majority children is possible. It will be interesting to observe how the European commitment to ‘unity in diversity’ and Europe’s vision of sustainable multilingualism and, moreover, a proclaimed ‘consolidating’ factor will fare in the future. The attempt to motivate children and adults to go for the languages of the smaller European countries is also meant to soothe concerns within these countries that their languages and cultures may be ‘assimilated’ as well and hence marginalized and wiped out in the long run. Given the rate at which threatened language die out, this expectation is not unrealistic. At the same time it can be shown that interest in the revival and survival of ethnic languages can be rekindled through well-thought-out educational planning in which strong bilingual programs play an important role.
In the past, supporters of bilingual education have had to contend not just with those who fear that multilingualism and cultural diversity lead to societal disintegration and social unrest, but also with those who, in principle, value the mastery of additional languages, especially those carrying prestige, as a cultural ideal and an important cognitive asset but who are nevertheless concerned about negative consequences for young children’s cognitive, linguistic, and emotional development. Hence, in addition to concerns about an early shift to some majority language and the subsequent deterioration and attrition of minority languages, there is the more general question of an optimal time of first exposure, regardless of status differences. While myths fed by ideology and xenophobia are hard to eradicate, anxieties about children’s ability to cope with coexisting languages can take comfort from decades of experience with bilingual education, and, in addition from our current understanding of bilingualism in general and in early childhood. Psycholinguistic experiments involving both children and adults have by now revealed a number of advantages of bilingualism in comparison with monolinguals with respect to executive control, metalinguistic awareness, divergent thinking, and self-esteem, to mention but a few (cf Bialystok et al., 2004); but some drawbacks can be identified as well, for instance delayed lexical access and somewhat slowed-down lexical decisions (cf de Bot et al., 2005; Grosjean, 2008).
Bilingualism is a natural state of the human brain, and due to its demands on self-monitoring and control – after all, the language not needed at any particular moment has to be inhibited – it keeps us mentally agile and appears to delay cognitive aging (cf Bialystok et al., 2004). Nevertheless, the long-term coexistence of more than one linguistic system within a single head hardly remains without consequences. Grosjean (2008: 9; see also 1982) criticizes what he calls a ‘fractional view’ according to which bilinguals are expected to behave like two monolinguals in one body and to keep their languages neatly apart. A more realistic view of bilingualism acknowledges the existence of tight cross-linguistic networks, with coactivation and competition a natural result of the coexistence of different linguistic systems within a single head. Perfectly balanced repertoires are unlikely, especially in bilinguals employing their languages according to some division-of-labor principle, aligning their languages with different contexts, topics, or functions. Cross-linguistic coactivation and priming enhance the smooth and fluent transitions between languages known as code switching (cf Bullock and Toribio, 2009; Gardner-Chloros, 2009). Of course, what starts as formally and functionally highly skilled performance due to coactivation may eventually lead to a convergence of subsystems and, hence, to individual language change. The result would be some new, hybrid system, hopefully acquired as an L1 or an L2 by future generations.
Finally, it is instructive to look at very early bilingualism, especially at children growing up with two simultaneous first languages (cf Genesee and Nicoladis, 2007; Meisel, 2004). Since it is unlikely that their input is evenly distributed across different languages, we would not expect children to come up with perfectly balanced and equivalent systems. Longitudinal case studies show that children exposed to simultaneous first languages are very good at constructing parallel albeit separate representation systems. Evidence comes, for instance, from the asynchronic development of grammatical subsystems, with different languages in the lead for specific subsystems (Tracy and Gawlitzek-Maiwald, 2005).
Clearly, children are not thrown off track by the very presence of two (or more) linguistic systems in their environment, even though language pairs may make it easier or more difficult for them, or for learners of any age, to work out similarities and differences. It must also be recognized, though, that not all children exposed to two languages from birth will embrace them actively, speak them equally fluently, or maintain them throughout their lifetime. Whatever happens in the long run will depend both on opportunity (provided by the environment) and relevance (possibly a very personal decision). Crucially, and relevant within the current context, early bilingualism is living proof that there is no need for one system to reach a certain threshold before another is allowed to enter the stage. The ability of preschool children to cope with more than one language at a time is also stressed in recent studies of early L2 exposure, that is, of cases where the encounter with a second language takes place around age 3 to 4 within kindergarten settings (cf Rothweiler, 2006).
The relevance of all these findings to the topic of bilingual education should be clear. Bilingualism from birth and the early successive acquisition of a second language show that the cognitive and emotional capacity for handling multiple linguistic systems simultaneously exists from early on. On the basis of what we know about bilingual competence and performance, that is, about the cross-linguistic coactivation of resources in adults and in children alike, we should be able to develop a more appreciative perspective of what learners can achieve in bilingual education programs.
There is a vast body of publications on bilingual education. This short overview could not even begin to do justice to the overall spectrum of approaches. The topic is naturally complex because language and language behavior are complex, and because bilingual education involves a multitude of variables, not all of them well understood. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to support the conclusion that bilingual education in the strict sense, as presented in the first section works, if given a fair chance. Whether one wants it to work, given its ambitious goal of sustaining bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism, is an entirely different matter. The fact that bilingual education, in particular for minority children, still has a questionable reputation is remarkable and means that it is still not appreciated that “[b]ilingual education, when effectively implemented, is not the cause of underachievement; rather it is the cure” (Baker, 2011: 201).
In the past and sometimes well into the present, schools have prohibited and punished the use of minority languages on their grounds (Grosjean, 1982: 27ff). What we should have learned from bilingual education programs is that banning or ignoring resources children already bring with them to schools is not just wasteful and unfair but also counterproductive. Bilingual education can be much more than an educational objective or a gateway for careers in a tightly interconnected world. If done well, it explicitly allows all children to be proud and confident of what they know and to build on the natural fascination of young learners with language-related puzzles. Finally, it is to be hoped that more and more bilingual children grow into adults willing to cast their votes – quite literally, and in whatever language it is called for – in favor of high-quality education welcoming all languages and enriching their speakers.
- de Bot, K., Lowie, W., Verspoor, M., 2005. Second Language Acquisition. Routledge, London.
- Baetens Beardsmore, H., 1993. European models of bilingual education: practice, theory and development. In: Jones, G.M., Ozog, A.C.K. (Eds.), Bilingualism and National Development. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, pp. 103–121.
- Baker, C., 1993. Bilingual education in Wales. In: Baetens Beardsmore, H. (Ed.), European Models of Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, pp. 7–29.
- Garcia, O., Baker, C. (Eds.), 1995. Policy and Practice in Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, pp. 152–165.
- Baker, C., 2011. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, fifth ed. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, UK.
- Baker, C., Jones, S.P., 1998. Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, UK.
- Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Klein, R., Viswanathan, M., 2004. Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and Aging 19 (2), 290–303.
- Bullock, B., Toribio, A.J. (Eds.), 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Codeswitching. CUP, Cambridge.
- Coyle, D., Hood, Ph, Marsh, D., 2010. Content and Language Integrated Learning. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Cummins, J., 1991. Interdependence of first- and second-language proficiency in bilingual children. In: Bialystok, E. (Ed.), Language Processing in Bilingual Children. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 70–89.
- Garcia, O., 2009. Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Blackwell, Oxford.
- Gardner-Chloros, P., 2009. Code-switching. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Genesee, F., Nicoladis, E., 2007. Bilingual first language acquisition. In: Hoff, E., Shatz, M. (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Language Development. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 324–342.
- Grosjean, F., 1982. Life with Two Languages. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Grosjean, F., 2008. Studying Bilinguals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Hakuta, K., 1986. The Mirror of Language. The Debate on Bilingualism. Basic Books, New York.
- Hayakawa, S.I., 1992. Bilingualism in America: English should be the only language. In: Goshgarian, G. (Ed.), Exploring Language. Harper Collins, New York, pp. 42–47.
- Lyons, J.J., 1990. The past and future directions of federal bilingual education policy. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 508, 66–80.
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