Opinion
Education Opinion

Should Bilingual Learning be Required?

By Matthew Lynch — September 16, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This generation of K-12 students is growing up in a society that is increasingly bilingual. Foreign language requirements have long been a core requirement for high school graduation and are also part of most arts-based college degree programs. Along with Spanish, languages like French and German are common options for students.

But just how “foreign” is Spanish in today’s society? The U.S. Census estimates that there are 50.5 million Hispanic people living in America, and another 3.7 who are residents of Puerto Rico. This number represents a 43 percent increase in the recorded Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010 at a rate four times faster than the rest of the U.S. population. Further, 35 million children 5 and over spoke Spanish at home in 2010. English as a second language K-12 programs have existed for decades, but maybe that program should be expanded.

Should English-speaking K-12 students be required to learn Spanish? Let’s take that question one step further: should bilingual learning be part of every U.S. classroom, no matter what the subject?

Some individual school districts have already taken the initiative to make dual-language programs a reality. The Irving Independent School District in Texas started a bilingual elementary program 10 years ago. Students can opt to learn in an environment that is taught 50 percent in English and 50 percent in Spanish. In Irving, 70 percent of the student population is Hispanic. Critics of the program cite the usual reason that my grandmother may have listed against American students learning a foreign language in school classrooms: Americans should speak ENGLISH. There is also some concern about whether each language can truly be mastered if it is sharing classroom time with the other.

Studies in language development, however, show that the more exposure young children have to all languages actually gives them a distinct academic advantage throughout life. Bilingual children are able to focus more intently on the topics at hand and avoid distractions from academic pursuits. They are also able to demonstrate higher levels of cognitive flexibility, or the ability to change responses based on environment and circumstances.

For children to truly see the full potential multi-lingualism has on learning, exposure to non-native languages should actually begin long before Kindergarten. Even children who learn their first Spanish words at the age of 5 can benefit from dual language curriculum though. Learning is learning. The more that children can take advantage of new concepts, the more in tune their brains will be to all learning throughout life. Some studies have also found that the aging of the brain is slower and the employment rate is higher in adults with bilingual capabilities. Why not set kids up for success and strengthen long-term brain health while we are at it?

There are also the cultural benefits to children learning two languages together. The children who come from English-speaking homes can lend their language expertise to friends from Spanish-speaking homes, and vice versa. Contemporary communication technology has eliminated many global barriers when it comes to socialization and even doing business. It makes sense that language boundaries should also come down and with help from our K-12 education system.

Dual language programs show students a broader world view, whatever the native language of the student, and lead to greater opportunities for collaborative learning. We should not limit what children learn based on outdated principles masked in patriotism. All K-12 students should have Spanish and English fluency by graduation.

What is your opinion on mandating bi-lingual education programs in the future?

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP