To the Editor:
It was disheartening to see the suggestion that bilingualism is an area of study in which researchers are only recently “beginning to chip away at some long-held notions about second-language acquisition and point to potential learning benefits for students who speak more than one language” (“Pathways Seen for Acquiring Languages,” Oct. 27, 2010). To suggest that research on bilingualism is simply in its nascent stages of proving its positive social, cognitive, and economic benefits is an incorrect statement made without investigation. This body of research has been alive with activity for decades.
It is true that there exists a school of thought which suggests negative effects of bilingualism, but this is much more often refuted by studies with strong and purposeful methodologies. We are so familiar with the idea of bilingualism causing problems because we are often pelted with a barrage of frenzied pop-culture news proclaiming that bilingualism is a sign of confusion, laziness, or inconsistency. Those that promote this paradigm wish to advance their elitist, monolingual, and monocultural hegemonic society that denies access and power to those who possess a more diverse way of thinking and speaking.
What our society needs is more accurate information regarding the benefits of bilingualism, as you have begun to provide. It is true that neuroimaging is just emerging as a welcome addition to the field of bilingualism, but we must acknowledge the work that has come before now. Quantitative and qualitative researchers alike have previously contributed to the study of bilingualism, revealing the often-fallacious claims of anti-bilingualism.
It is true that we must be purposeful when raising our children bilingually, but there is certainly nothing inherently wrong or detrimental with a life lived through two or more languages. We must continue the work of those scholars before us, and we must present this existing knowledge to other scholars, practitioners, and the general public.
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2010 edition of Education Week as More Recognition Needed for Benefits of Bilingualism