Term Paper: Bilingual Policies

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[. . .] They feel that a bilingual stance would encourage those in minority cultures to resist assimilation (Rubenstein, 2001).

In education, some are adamantly opposed to bilingual education, arguing that earlier immigrants went to school and simply "sank or swam," and that the great majority learned good English and became successful. All instruction was in English and "it worked." (Rothstein, 1998) Other critics believe that some laws passed by Congress, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, actually interfered with assimilation by implementing the law badly and requiring multilingual education (Rubenstein, 2001). Some of these critics go even further and state that teaching about the subcultures in public schools only encourages people to stay separate from the dominant culture (Rubenstein, 2001). In their view, the dominant culture is English (and presumably, white) and that school's responsibility is to communicate this culture to all.

However, other researchers say that the idea that previous immigrants excelled without bilingual education is a myth, and that frequently, those immigrants did not learn English in school, and that many dropped out without graduating (Rothstein, 1998).

If the goal of education is to produce citizens who can be productive wage-earners and well-informed individuals who can participate in the democracy in which they live, bilingual education begins to make more sense. The main approach in bilingual education for the last two decades has been to teach children in their native languages, while gradually incorporating English as well. In this way, their skills and knowledge would not suffer during the time in which they did not understand English instruction (Rothstein, 1998). These approaches were developed because in the past many immigrants did not succeed in school. The intent of bilingual education is to help people assimilate successfully into a country where English is the language used in both government and business.

However, some educators have noted that until now our bilingual education approaches have been based on assumptions. One assumption is that young children learn two languages as easily as one. This assumption has driven a number of approaches in preschool without solid evidence to support it. Because of this, Scheffner and Miccio (2001) are conducting a longitudinal study about these assumptions, using 100 preschoolers of Puerto Rican descent in a longitudinal study and looking at some specific issues: does the rate and quality of speech and languages acquisition and literacy develop mentof children learning Spanish and English sequentially differ from that of children learning two languages simultaneously? What oral language and home/environmental factors lead to positive and negative literacy outcomes? While the study is not yet complete, some trends are already emerging.

The study already suggests that different children learn two languages in different ways. While some acquire the two languages simultaneously, as commonly believed, others learn the two languages better if exposed sequentially, first focusing on one language and then on the other. The study will take some time to analyze, because although all the families are ethnically Puerto Rican, some speak English at home, some speak Spanish, and some use both.

In conclusion, it appears that multiple beliefs exist about policy related to bilingualism. Some who speak Spanish as their first language may have unrealistic expectations for what becoming a bilingual country would mean. While certainly public signs, such as street signs and highway markers, would be in both languages, English-speaking people would not be required to learn Spanish, although greater emphasis on bilingualism would probably be introduced into the schools. At the same time, the worries of those who are adamantly opposed to a bilingual policy may be exaggerated. A formal policy of bilingualism might be good for business, making products and services more accessible and more easily used or purchased by the significant minority of Americans who speak Spanish. However, an official bilingual policy would not by itself create new opportunities for those who presently face linguistic barriers because they do not understand English well.


Becker, Kristin R. 1997. "Spanish/English Bilingual Codeswitching: A Syncretic Model." Bilingual Review 22:1, pp. 3-31. Jan-April.

Hammer, Carol Scheffner, and Miccio, Adele W. 2001. "Biliteracy -- A Pairing of Bilingual Preschoolers." The ASHA Leader, p. 6, Nov.

Interview: Ethnographic interview with "Nikita"

Melissa Doherty, 2004.

Rothstein, Richard.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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