English-Only Versus Bilingualism

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 30, 2008 1 min read
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Maryland’s governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has recently signed into law a bill that sets up a task force to preserve “heritage-language skills,” or the language skills of people exposed to a language other than English at home, according to a June 23 commentary in the Baltimore Sun.

Catherine Ingold, the director of the University of Maryland’s National Foreign Language Center and author of the piece, explains how this simple step by Maryland’s governor is unusual. She contends that the No Child Left Behind Act is one policy that makes it harder to develop skills of heritage speakers because it reduces the amount of classroom time that might be used to develop language skills. (Let me note that there’s nothing in NCLB that actually limits the time for the teaching of languages other than English, but I take her comment to mean that the emphasis on other skills such as reading and math in the act may leave less time for the teaching of heritage or foreign-language skills.)

“Calling a Rose by Its Other Names,” an article in the 2007 annual report of Teachers College at Columbia University, which was published in May but just landed in my mailbox, also spells out the benefits of developing the language skills of children from immigrant families.

Meanwhile, supporters of the English-only movement have recently been busy circulating their arguments as well. See “The Case for English Only,” a commentary sent to me from the GOPUSA.

All three of these pieces contain arguments based on the careful selection of statistics and examples. Which of the commentaries rings most true with your experience, and why?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.