2 Languages, One Aim:'Two-Way' Learning

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Washington--One day last month in a 2nd-grade classroom at the James F. Oyster Elementary School here, Eveline de la Nuez, a native of Cuba, injected holiday spirit into her lesson by teaching children the Hanukkah song, "I have a Little Dreidel"--in Spanish.

Later, Margaret Martin, the teacher she was teamed with, helped the children translate the song into English and identify the verbs in a passage on the origins of the Jewish holiday.

Across the Potomac River at the Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Arlington, Va., Evelyn Fernandez, a teacher who is a native of the Dominican Republic, pointed to a sketch of Santa Claus and asked her 1st-grade children to identify, in Spanish, the names and colors of his garments. Floe Bingham, in a neighboring classroom, explained, in English, the concept of a uniform.

Known as dual or bilingual immersion, or "two-way" bilingual education, the approach in use at the two schools is becoming increasingly attractive to schools under pressure to teach immigrant children English while improving language instruction for English speakers.

Double Benefits

Unlike transitional bilingual education, which taps students' native languages for instruction only until they have learned enough English to join mainstream classes, bilingual immersion teaches most subjects in two languages and aims for fluency in both.

Bilingual-education supporters say that feature gives the method broader appeal than t.b.e. and may be the best hope for preserving native-language development for limited-English-proficient pupils.

To skirt the controversies of bilingual education while promoting the benefits of bilingualism, language educators in recent years have been "looking for alternatives to t.b.e. that meet the needs of language-minority and English-proficient students," says Kathryn J. Lindholm, an assistant research psychologist for the Center for Language Education and Research at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Although the number of students participating in two-way programs is considered relatively low, Ricardo Martinez, a legislative analyst for the House Education and Labor Committee, comments that "this is a trend that people who work in the field would like to emphasize more."

A directory of "bilingual immersion" programs prepared by Ms. Lindholm and recently published by clear identified 30 programs, some involving more than one school, spanning seven states and the District of Columbia.

The directory lists only the programs it identified that serve roughly equal numbers of English and non-English-speaking pupils, use the non-English language for at least half of the day, and designate separate periods in which only one language is used. But Ms. Lindholm said many other schools are experimenting with similar approaches.

While a handful of progams, including the Oyster school's, began in the 1970's, another 19, like the one at the Key school, are fledgling efforts launched in the last three years.

Perhaps the most established two-way programs are those in Dade County, Fla., which were set up in 1963 to cope with the influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants after the Cuban revolution.

Assimilation and Integration

Limited resources and a lack of widespread support have impeded the adoption of two-way bilingual programs in the past. But "there is a growing sense now that it is more imperative" in view of demographic and economic trends, notes James Lyons, counsel for the National Association for Bilingual Education.

First, proponents cite the need for innovative techniques to cope with the rising proportion of language-minority pupils nationally. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the Hispanic population alone grew by 30 percent between 1980 and 1987.

"There is a great need for an expansion of opportunities to bring people into this society," and, conversely, to "expand the cultural understanding of monolinguals," says Martha Jiminez, a policy analyst for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Because it brings together English-speaking children and their limited-English-proficient peers for language instruction, the method also has been characterized as a powerful desegregation tool.

For example, as part of an effort to spur integration in school districts under court-ordered or voluntary desegregation plans, the Massachusetts Bureau of Educational Equity since 1984 has provided funds for two-way immersion programs serving about 1,500 children in five school districts.

The integration of linguistic minorities is a "very strong focus" for the state board of education, and two-way programs are part of that effort, says Ernest Mazzone, director of the Massachusetts Department of Education's bureau of transitional bilingual education.

Two-way immersion addresses a "legitimate concern" that t.b.e. tends to segregate pupils by language ability, adds Mr. Lyons. Although not an "invidious" form of segregation, he says, "this creates a tension, because the ethic of American society is integration."

In the Same Boat

Two-way programs, in contrast, foster "interaction of children of different cultural and language groups from an early age, so both groups have an opportunity to learn from one another and develop positive attitudes," says Miriam Met, foreign- language coordinator for the Montgomery County, Md., schools.

The method "sensitizes the English-proficient student to the diffi8culty of learning another language" and creates the understanding that "they're in it together," adds Carmen Perez Hogan, chief of the bureau of bilingual education for the New York education department.

Proponents also cite the academic benefits of having children practice a second language with peers who are native speakers. G. Richard Tucker, president of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, says that element was "noticeably lacking" in the French-immersion programs for English speakers that were launched in Canada in the 1960's. He helped implement those programs as a professor of linguistics and psychology at McGill University.

Language Is 'In'

Bilingual-education advocates say it is illogical to allow l.e.p. children's native languages to lapse while stressing the merits of second-language instruction for English speakers. To downplay students' native languages is to "squander the natural resources of children," according to Ms. Jiminez.

In recent years, many colleges and universities have restored foreign-language entrance or exit requirements. And the Congress, citing a link between language skills and economic competitiveness, has proposed new programs to recognize exemplary foreign-language programs and teachers in an omnibus trade bill.

"Foreign-language learning at the moment is 'in' because economic competitiveness is 'in,"' notes J. David Edwards, executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages, an umbrella group of 36 organizations that study language-education issues. In a position paper last May, the organization urged support for two-way bilingual programs as a means "to share the resources of both [language] groups in improving language learning."

'Unifying Focus'

Such developments underscore the sense of language professionals that new areas of cooperation are emerging among groups that traditionally have shared little common ground.

In the past, the differing philosophies and methodologies of bilingual-education and foreign-language specialists have sometimes sparked "open and marked confrontations," according to Mr. Martinez.

The techniques of bilingual education were developed by school professionals driven by civil-rights concerns, he points out, while efforts to improve foreign-language teachel10ling were spearheaded by universities amid fears of Russia's technological superiority following the 1957 launch of its Sputnik satellite.

Now, however, the dual-immersion method offers a "potential unifying focus" for the two groups, according to Mr. Tucker.

"I don't think the second-language teaching community feels threatened by this," adds Mr. Edwards. "They see it as one more way of teaching language that works" in the appropriate setting.

For their part, bilingual-education advocates are promoting dual immersion as a promising alternative to transitional bilingual education.

Fighting for Survival

Lori Orum, who directs education projects for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, says that while bilingual-education proponents have always supported bilingualism for both l.e.p. and English-proficient pupils, they have backed the transitional method to ensure that l.e.p. students would receive support even if two-way bilingual education did not.

"This is not a new idea," she says. "We knew all along that it was a great idea, but everybody was fighting for the survival of the program."

Those seeking improved services for l.e.p. children "have always seen transitional bilingual education as a short-sighted model: remedial and compensatory, but better than nothing," Mr. Lyons says. They recognize, however, that t.b.e. is "fundamentally irrelevant to English-speaking children. That's not a good situation to be in for anybody."

Paquita Holland, principal of Washington's Oyster School, says she has received inquiries from an increasing number of school officials who share that concern.

"More and more school systems are willing to explore options other than transitional bilingual education and are looking at two-way immersion as a possibility for including English-speaking children," she contends. "It's not that t.b.e. isn't working, but that people don't think it's enough."

Two-way programs also are being billed as a way to improve the status of l.e.p. students.

Arturo Vargas, senior education-policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, notes that the approach supports the council's aim "to treat native language not as a liability but as an asset."

"Instead of being stigmatized" as compensatory, two-way programs are "labeled as enrichment pro4grams," explains David Dolson, assistant manager of the California Department of Education's bilingual-education office.

Fending Off Critics

Advocates of dual immersion hope to deter critics, including members of the English-only movement, who contend that bilingual education impedes English acquisition or unduly retains l.e.p. students in segregated classrooms.

Spokesmen for two groups that have led an assault on bilingual education and lobbied to make English the official language say their prime concern is that l.e.p. students learn English as quickly and efficiently as possible.

To the extent that two-way programs can achieve that goal and garner local support, "we would favor them," comments Thomas Olson, media-affairs director for U.S. English.

"If parents are willing to have that type of program and feel there's a need, I don't see that we would explicitly oppose it," but it should be voluntary, says George Tryfiates, director of governmental relations for English First.

Advocates also say two-way immersion programs are consistent with two separate goals of the Reagan Administration: to stress the importance of foreign-language instruction and to give school districts more flexibility in choosing a method of instruction for l.e.p. students.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has said that two years of foreign-language study should be required of every high-school student and that additional study should be encouraged. And Mr. Bennett, who maintains that research has not proven t.b.e. to be effective in all circumstances, also has sought to lift restrictions on the share of federal funds that can be used to underwrite English-only methods.

As part of HR 5, an omnibus reauthorization bill that awaits a House-Senate conference, both chambers have proposed funding formulas that would channel more funds to "alternative" methods.

In light of the federal government's interest in pursuing alternative methods, "it seems timely to be focusing on one rather important, different approach that has been ignored," says Mr. Lyons.

Supportive Research

Apart from the political, sociocultural, or practical appeal of two-way programs, proponents say research results may be their best marketing tool. Although comprehensive, long-term research on two-way programs is lacking, language specialists point to the success of Canada's French-immersion programs.

Two decades of monitoring "have confirmed that immersion students do indeed become functionally bilingual, and equal or surpass their monolingual peers in English-language development and scholastic achievement," says a monograph on innovative second-language programs written by Marguerite Ann Snow, formerly with clear and currently a visiting professor of applied linguistics at u.c.l.a.

Two-way programs have the po4tential to produce "those exciting outcomes for both groups," Mr. Dolson argues.

Many of the programs in the clear directory have not yet undergone evaluations, but existing data show "high levels of language proficiency in both languages and normal to superior academic achievement" for both groups of students, says Ms. Lindholm.

For example:

L.e.p. and English-proficient pupils in San Diego's 11-year-old bilingual immersion program generally outperform those not in the program in both languages.

Eighth graders at the Inter-American Magnet School in Chicago, one of the few two-way programs extending from kindergarten to 8th grade, in 1986 ranked in the top 8 percent of Chicago schools in English reading and in the upper 5 percent in math.

Most students at the Oyster school are reading in both languages midway through the 1st grade, program officials say. By the 3rd grade, they are performing two grade levels above average and scoring in the 93rd percentile on a standardized test.

Copies of the "Directory of Bilingual Immersion Programs: Two-Way Bilingual Education for Language Minority and Majority Students" are available at no cost from the Center for Language Education and Research in care of Irene Acosta, 1100 Glendon Ave., # 1740, Los Angeles, Calif., 90024.

Vol. 07, Issue 17

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