Importance of the Bilingual Education

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Advances in technology, increased mobility, and globalization have facilitated the development of multiculturalism across the globe yet some deeply ingrained cultures persist to date. Indeed, many countries have maintained an official language, yet their inhabitants may have different first languages, or what is commonly known as mother tongues. However, it is expected that people strive at becoming global citizens whereby they acquire highly developed cultural intelligence. Indeed, cultural intelligence has been shown to facilitate the integration of people from diverse cultural origins thus enabling them to engage in global economic, social, and political activities effectively. However, many schools continue to enforce the official language culture by insisting that students therein be taught in one language, which is touted to not only facilitate the assimilation of diverse people but also foment uniformity among them. As such, one widespread belief is that when children in school are multilingual rather than monolingual, particularly in the language of instruction, they may suffer from impaired language and mental development, which would result in poor performance at school. The ensuing discussion argues for bilingual education as an educational approach that would in fact enhance performance in school. As such, an argument for the beneficial effects of proficiency in both the mother tongue and the official language among school-going children shall be made, with the expectation that the misconceptions regarding the detrimental effects of using more than one language of instruction at school shall be dispelled.

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Dominant cultures of the world such as English, French, German, and Chinese among others have dominated the languages of instruction in educational institutions in their countries and in the countries they colonized. For instance, the United Kingdom and all other countries that were once colonized by the British, including countries such as the United States, Australia, and numerous African countries employ English as the official language and thus the language of instruction in their schools and colleges. As such, students in schools in these countries are not only taught in English but they are also expected to perform tests and examinations in English and even use English in their workplaces once they graduate. The thinking behind the monolingual culture is that it facilitated the development of cultural uniformity by eradicating ethnicity, which in turn helped the colonial masters govern their colonies better. In fact, in countries where cultural diversity was significant, students would be taught in their mother tongues in the early stages of elementary school while being weaned gradually into English, the official language. However, over time, children in these countries are taught English at the onset of schooling, with their indigenous languages being relegated to the home and interaction outside school. Indeed, the transitional bilingual education model has been anchored in this concept (May 2013). The justification for adopting English in school was that some subjects such as mathematics and sciences could not be taught in any other language effectively.

However, with the advancement in the understanding of the learning processes, bilingual education has gained acceptance as a facilitator of the learning process in children and can, in fact, assist in the learning and comprehension of mathematics and science concepts. As such, it should not be viewed negatively that a child who has been born and reared in one language would be disadvantaged in school if the use of mother tongue was perpetuated throughout the learning process alongside the official language. Indeed, this is a belief that is dominant among immigrants who may not be familiar with the benefits of bilingual education. The cross-linguistic transfer theory has helped design school programs that help students derive the benefits of proficiency in two languages with the effect of improving learning outcomes. Specifically, the theory suggests that when learning two languages, transfer of language proficiency occurs concurrently rather than sequentially, and remains a continuous process throughout the learning experience. As such, when children that are proficient in one language of birth are undergoing the learning experience in a second language while learning the second language, the learning process becomes enriched, facilitating the learning of new concepts alongside when both languages are used for instruction. For instance, a Spanish-speaking learner taking classes in English while learning content alongside, the use of both languages simultaneously can facilitate the comprehension of the content (Chin, Daysal & Imberman, 2013).

Indeed, this conceptualization has led to the development of bilingual education programs that have been proven more effective in enhancing the learning process compared to programs that teach the second language first then using this language to learn new content. Two operational bilingual educational models in employment currently include the two-way bilingual education programs also known as the dual language immersion bilingual education programs and the dual-language programs. The two-way bilingual education program starts by using the more familiar language more during instruction while developing proficiency in another language. However, over time, as proficiency in the second language develops, education instruction advances towards using both languages equally. However, the dual language program employs two different languages for instruction in different aspects of the education process, which enables the use of two different learning approaches.

Bilingual education delivers more benefits than monolingual education. For instance, bilingual children had higher cognitive abilities and higher academic achievements than monolingual children. Indeed, Lauchlan, Parisi, and Fadda (2013) were able to exhibit that bilingual Scottish children performed significantly better than Sardinian bilingual children because the Scottish children received formal bilingual language while the Sardinian children used one of the languages at home. In addition, bilingual education helped children develop language skills faster as well. Further, bilingual education not only helped children retain their diverse cultural identities but also helped them better understand the cultures of others, a pertinent requisite for the development of cultural intelligence and appreciation of multiculturalism.

Bilingual education engaged parents more in the learning process of their children. Indeed parental involvement in the learning process was pertinent because it motivates children to pursue higher education achievement levels. Indeed, for young children, parental involvement helped children with the learning process at home in addition to helping the teachers and the school address learning challenges experienced by their children.

The effectiveness of bilingual education programs was challenged by the large language diversity of students without a corresponding amount of skilled teachers in the different languages. Specifically, classes with children from more than two language origins were difficult to teach in a bilingual class, considering that one of the languages used should be the mother tongue of the students. As such, language heterogeneity challenged the effectiveness of a bilingual education program. In addition, although teachers may be bilingual themselves, they may not be professionally prepared to teach a second language other than the official language. As such, many teachers did not know how to handle the second language professionally enough to teach content or implement curricula in schools. From another perspective, cross-linguistic influence emanating from the use of two languages for educational instruction purposes can lead to reverse transfer whereby the use of one language negates the use of another or avoidance whereby a learner thinks in one language when using the other (Schwartz, Mor-Sommerfeld & Leikin, 2010).

However, to overcome the aforementioned challenges, it is imperative that teacher training be updated to accommodate the training of bilingual teachers, or at least provide existing teachers with professional development that would help in the implementation of bilingual education. In addition, the bilingual education programs should allow for flexibility such as team teaching as would be dictated by the linguistic diversity of their classes (Palmer, et al., 2015).

Bilingual education has been proven beneficial to children, particularly to their early learning experiences. Indeed, bilingual education facilitated the learning of language, enhanced the cognitive development of the learner, and yielded better educational outcomes. In the long term, bilingual education prepared learners for a multicultural society and sets the foundation for developing cultural intelligence, which is pertinent to the functioning of people on the globalized stage. Indeed, bilingual education prepared students to become global citizens by facilitating the preservation of individual cultural identities while appreciating cultural diversity alongside.   

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