Bilingual education involves teaching academic content in two languages, in a native and secondary language with varying amounts of each language used in accordance with the program model.
Need for Bilingual Education
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, proficiency in only one language is not enough for economic, societal, and educational success. Global interdependence and mass communication often require the ability to function in more than one language. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 9.7 million children ages five to seventeen–one of every six school-age children–spoke a language other than English at home. These language-minority children are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. school-age population. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of language-minority children increased by 55 percent, while the population of children living in homes where only English is spoken grew by only 11 percent.
Language-minority students in U.S. schools speak virtually all of the world’s languages, including more than a hundred that are indigenous to the United States. Language-minority students may be monolingual in their native language, bilingual in their native language and English, or monolingual in English but from a home where a language other than English is spoken. Those who have not yet developed sufficient proficiency in English to learn content material in all-English-medium classrooms are known as limited English proficient (LEP) or English language learners (ELLs). Reliable estimates place the number of LEP students in American schools at close to four million.
5 WAYS CHILDREN BENEFIT FROM A BILINGUAL EDUCATION
A large amount of research is being done to discover how being exposed to a bilingual education benefits individuals as they grow up.
Evidence from recent research is beginning to show that if you are exposed to a bilingual education and grow up with a high degree of literacy in both languages, you are more likely to develop better cognitive skills that provide advantages for learning and progress in later life. Although many parents worry about their child ending up with weaker skills in both languages and feeling confused, according to the New York Times, the conflict caused by learning two languages early on is actually a good thing:
“This interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.”
Pre-school children learning in a bilingual environment tend to be more flexible in their cognitive behaviour and begin to understand more deeply at an early age the subtleties of how language works. This is thought to be one of the reasons why those exposed to a bilingual education develop better mental acuity early on, growing the tools to solve complex mental puzzles. Other research suggests that bilingual students are better at processing sound and therefore are much more likely to pay attention in class, whatever the subject.
There are, of course, many cultural benefits to having a bilingual education. Moving between two different worlds means children come into contact and identify with the traditions and identities of each one. This is particularly the case with immigrant families and expat communities, where children may grow up with dual cultural identities.
The added level of communication skills and the necessity of developing keen listening skills can also lead to improved social competence that can help bilinguals to adapt more easily to different multi-cultural environments, as well as making them more attuned to subtle cultural sensitivities.
FINANCIAL AND CARER-RELATED BENEFITS
Being able to speak proficiently in two or more languages has always been hugely beneficial across different professions, but is increasingly so in the modern, “globalised” world that we hear so much about.
The ability to adapt to and absorb different cultures is in itself a precious commodity to companies operating across multiple countries, with clients in different locations. Within these global companies, employees with multiple languages are likely to be valued more, and often paid more. In these huge companies, there are often opportunities to work in their offices in around the world, usually an incredibly rewarding experience.
Even if the corporate world is not for them, with two languages, they will rarely be out of a job. From the creative industries to the charity world, companies want employees with an innate sensitivity to cultural trends, to be comfortable interacting with a variety of people, and to have great communication skills. They can also feel safe in the knowledge that they can always support themselves through translation work.
You would expect those with a bilingual education to be higher academic achievers than their monolingual peers, on average. Research at Cambridge University adds to the evidence that bilinguals have the edge in cognitive ability, social interaction and communication skills. It is no wonder then, that universities themselves prize language skills highly in those applying.
LONG-TERM HEALTH BENEFITS
There is a growing body of research into how the cognitive benefits of bilingualism extend to fighting off neurological diseases. For example, researchers in Wales are looking at whether being educated in both English and Welsh can help delay dementia and even Parkinson’s disease in later life.
Wales is not the only place where research into bilingualism and long-term mental health is of interest. Research in California found that, as well as earning more money, on average.