Understanding Bilingual Education
1. Analyzing Purposes of Bilingual Education (This paper)
2. Analyzing Types of Bilingual Education
3. Analyzing Cases of Bilingual Education
Introduction to Bilingual Education
Bilingualism is the study of languages in contact, typically in situations where people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds share the same space. Bilingualism was analyzed into four levels in another paper: individual, family, societal, and school levels (McCarty, 2010b). Bilingual education is bilingualism at the school level. It is not to be confused with bilingual child-raising (Pearson, 2008; McCarty, 2010a), such as speaking two languages to an infant systematically at home, which is bilingualism at the family level. Bilingual education should involve teaching in two or more languages in a school, that is, more than one language as the medium of instruction for students to learn regular school subjects.
However, other levels of bilingualism, including their cultural dimensions, do influence bilingual education. All people have a cultural identity and a linguistic repertoire, the languages they can use to some extent. Grosjean (1982) explains that "language is not just an instrument of communication. It is also a symbol of social or group identity, an emblem of group membership and solidarity" (p. 117). As a result, the attitudes people have toward different languages tend to reflect the way they perceive members of the other language groups.
Furthermore, languages have a relative status or value as perceived by the majority of a society. Languages are regarded as useless or attractive according to the economic power or cultural prestige attributed to them by the mainstream of a society, which tends to privilege national or international languages. Native languages of children of immigrants may seem to be of no use, and tend to be disregarded, while languages that are valued by the mainstream society tend to be used in education. However, Sweden has offered educational support in 100 languages (Yukawa, 2000, p. 47), while Japan's limited support has been nearly all in the Japanese language. This shows that it is not a matter of wealth but of the dominant way of thinking in the nation. The contrast in treating minority students can be as stark as a choice between assimilation and multicultural policies (Grosjean, 1982, p. 207).
Various Purposes of Bilingual Education
There are "varying aims of bilingual education" because it "does not necessarily concern the balanced use of two languages in the classroom. Behind bilingual education are varying and conflicting philosophies and politics of what education is for" (Baker, 2001, p. 193). These different purposes then lead to various actual school systems of monolingual or bilingual education. Ten typical aims of bilingual education were cited by Baker:
|Varying Aims of Bilingual Education|
As can be seen from the above list, there are many and diverse purposes for conducting school programs that are called bilingual education, according to the way of thinking of decision makers in different cultures. Grosjean summarizes how implicit government policies affect the languages used in education: "Depending on the political aims of the authorities (national or regional), some minority groups are able to have their children taught in their own language, while others are not" (1982, p. 207). "If the government's aim is to unify the country, assimilate minorities, or spread the national language, more often than not minority languages will not find their place in education" (p. 207). Whereas, "if a society wants to preserve ethnic identities, give equal status to all languages and cultures in the country, revive a language, teach a foreign language more efficiently, or make its citizens bilingual and bicultural, it will often develop educational programs that employ two languages and are based on two cultures" (p. 215).
Conclusion to the First Paper on Bilingual Education
As Grosjean identifies the key issues above, the concerns of bilingualism researchers and practitioners shine through. A society may be judged by how it treats its minorities or protects the human rights of its vulnerable members. Some purposes for selecting languages to use in education may be better than others from both ethical and pedagogical perspectives. In any case, analyzing the diverse purposes behind the languages that appear in schools can deepen the understanding of resulting educational systems in the world, and possibly suggest improvements in terms of bilingual education.
- Baker, C. (2001). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (3rd ed.). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
- Grosjean, F. (1982). Life with two languages. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- McCarty, S. (2010a). Bilingual child-raising possibilities in Japan. Child Research Net: Research Papers.
- McCarty, S. (2010b). Bilingualism concepts and viewpoints. Child Research Net: Research Papers.
- Pearson, B.Z. (2008). Raising a Bilingual Child. New York: Living Language.
- Yukawa, E. (2000). Bilingual education in Sweden. In S. Ryan (Ed.), The best of Bilingual Japan, (pp. 45-47). Osaka: Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Bilingualism SIG.