Language Teaching - Bilingual v Immersion Programs

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¿Hablas Inglés? Bạn có nói tiếng Anh? Вы говорите по-английски? هل تتكلم الإنجليزية؟

When we think about learning a language, we generally think about language taught as an add-on – like an ESL class for non-native English speakers or a class that is separate from academic content instruction. You learn German, Spanish or French in your language class, and knowledge and skills are taught in the native language. For example, math and history are taught in English here in the US or in the native language in other countries. But this approach, bilingual education, has been controversial since 1960s and is all about effective strategies for teaching and learning language.

Speaking in Tongues, a film by Ken Schneider and Marcia Jarmel explored this issue. In a time where 31 states have passed "English Only" initiatives, one urban school district is exploring the provocative notion that speaking a foreign language can be a national asset. Speaking in Tongues follows four diverse students and their families as they encounter the challenges and delights of becoming fluent in two languages. Witness how speaking more than one language changes them, their families, their communities, and maybe even the world. The film was presented on KQED's Truly California. Here's the trailer:


In a dual-language English immersion program, all instruction is given in English and teachers adjust the English level to the proficiency level of the class. Students develop language skills as they learn subject material. Similarly with Mandarin or Spanish – students would be taught math and other subjects in Mandarin or Spanish. The important difference is that the immersion teacher is able to speak the non-English native language, so that the teacher can tell if problems arise from understanding the language or from content. They can then use this language to explain further.

The California Department of Education estimates that there are 318 bilingual immersion programs in the state, up from 201 in 2006, with “about 50,000 students enrolled in dual-language programs …and about half of them are English learners. Ninety percent of the programs offer Spanish as the second language, followed by Mandarin (4 percent), Korean (3 percent) and other languages (3 percent).” - Eleanor Yang Su, KQED’s MindShift (March, 2012)

“We have more research now that shows students who develop two or three languages to a high level have certain cognitive advantages,” said Julie Sugarman, a research associate with the Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington, D.C.-based organization. “They do as well or better than their peers in English-only programs.”

And it seems California is leading the way.…