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English-Language Learners Letter to the Editor

Studies Dispel Fears Over Bilingual Education

May 11, 2010 2 min read
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To the Editor:

Your article “Bilingual Education, Immersion Found to Work Equally Well” (April 21, 2010) describes two recent studies using different methodologies that came to the same conclusion: When tested after a few years in school, children in bilingual programs learn about as much English as do children in English-only programs. I would like to add several points to the information provided in your article.

First, these two studies are only the most recent showing that bilingual education works. Dozens of studies have been done over the last few decades comparing bilingual and all-English approaches. In most of them, children in bilingual education did better on tests of English reading than comparison students did.

Second, both of the recent studies show that the children in the bilingual programs made the same progress in English literacy as did comparison students, despite having less exposure to English. This suggests that the time spent in Spanish instruction made a real contribution to English-language development.

The results of these studies have serious policy implications. A little over 10 years ago, citizens in three states voted to dismantle bilingual education, largely because of fears that it was delaying the acquisition of English. The results of these and previous studies show that this fear was unfounded.

Stephen Krashen

Professor Emeritus

Rossier School of Education

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, Calif.

To the Editor:

The two new studies demonstrating that bilingual education and immersion can work equally well for English-language learners should help further dispel misconceptions about the value of bilingual education for ells. But a concluding statement in your article by University of Kentucky economist Christopher Jepsen, to the effect that he did not think “we should be that worried” about whether students receive bilingual education or English immersion, is surprisingly shortsighted.

Research findings like these should lead to a discontinuation of immersion programs for ells. Why? The answer is simple if we remove, for just a moment, the monolingual blinkers that appear to be standard issue among many educators and policymakers: An English-language learner who receives bilingual education is academically proficient in two languages, not just one.

The economic, academic, cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural benefits of multilingualism are very clear and incontestable. They have been demonstrated by numerous studies in this country and in other parts of the world. There is a cure for monolingualism.

Leo van Lier

Professor of Educational Linguistics

Monterey Institute of International Studies

Monterey, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2010 edition of Education Week as Studies Dispel Fears Over Bilingual Education

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