To the Editor:
Harmeet Dhillon, a spokesperson for the California Republican Party, claims that it is “common sense that the faster you’re required to learn the mainstream language, the better off you are” (“Bilingual Education Poised for a Comeback in California Schools,” Oct. 12, 2016). This is not true. We do not acquire language because we are forced to. We acquire language when we understand what we hear and read in that language, that is, when we get “comprehensible input.”
When non-native English-speakers in bilingual schools get quality education in their first language, they learn more subject matter. This knowledge helps make the English they hear more comprehensible, which results in more acquisition of English. Bilingual programs are not taught entirely in one language, such as Spanish. Students take English-as-a-second-language classes from the first day of school, and subject matter is taught in English as soon as it can be made comprehensible.
Research consistently shows that students in quality bilingual programs outperform students with similar backgrounds on tests of English reading.
Professor Emeritus of Education
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 2016 edition of Education Week as Language Acquisition Cannot Be Forced