Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion

Since the mid 1900’s there has been a debate as to which form of teaching is most effective for English Language Learners (ELL), Bilingual Education or English Immersion. In a Bilingual Education classroom the students are taught primarily in their native language then gradually transitioned into mainstream English classes. In an English Immersion classroom the students are taught in English only, and within a set amount of time are expected to have gained enough knowledge of the language to then be switched into mainstream English classes.

Both teaching methods have their advantages and disadvantages which is why this debate has continued for so many years. History of the Conflict The state with the biggest conflict in how to teach ELL students is California. Many Spanish speaking immigrants migrate to this state and in doing so have sparked up a debate on which way of teaching them works best. In 1967 the Bilingual Education Act was introduced and in 1968 it was passed. This act mandated schools to provide Bilingual Education programs to students, because bilingual students weren’t being offered any alternative form of teaching.

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After years of Bilingual Education, studies were conducted and they found that Bilingual Education was failing. A study in 1978 by the American Institutes for Research found that Spanish-speaking students in bilingual programs have less success in learning English than students receiving no special help at all. Another study Baker by deKanter from the U. S. Department of Education showed that the case for the effectiveness of Bilingual Education is so weak that reliance on this teaching method is not clearly justified.

The majority of people would say Bilingual Education does not work but some schools still want to use this program to teach their students. Bilingual Education seemed to be failing in schools so a new way of teaching presented itself, which was English Immersion. Many states started implementing English Immersion in their schools and getting rid of Bilingual Education. A 1992 California State Study showed that after 20 years Bilingual Education the programs were poor and nothing proved it to be beneficial. On June 2, 1998 Proposition 227 was passed in California.

This required all public school teach students ELL students in English, they would be placed in an Immersion program for one year and then placed in mainstream English classes. There have been many studies that show English Immersion students outperform student in a Bilingual Education class, but there are also many studies that show it to be failing. Advantages of Bilingual Education “It’s a beautiful form of education as the minority speakers can learn English even while being able to strengthen their cultural bonds by being proficient in their mother tongue. (Pandey) Kundan Pandey appreciates the art of Bilingual Education because he believes it helps students strengthen their cultural roots, while also being able to learn a new language. In a part of his article “Bilingual Education Pros and Cons” he discusses a few advantages of Bilingual Education. One advantage is that students can easily learn English, owing to his language development, in his native language as well as English language. What he means is that a student’s ability to learn English can depend on how developed they are in their native language.

If they have a better understanding of their language, those same skills can easily be used when learning the English language. If a student has very little language development in their native language then it’ll be more difficult to learn English. Another advantage of Bilingual Education according to Pandey is that students are taught over a period of time in their native language, and English is treated as a second language. It is taught side by side, but only when the student has attained proficiency in their native language.

This is beneficial to ELL students because they would still be on the same level educationally as mainstream English classes. Even though they have yet to master the English language they are still able to master the English curriculum. Teaching the both languages side by side is effective because they can always reference the English to their native languages for them to have a better understanding. Students self esteem are fostered because it is a low risk environment and both languages and cultures are valued.

I agree with this statement because everyone in the classroom is trying to reach the same goal, learn the English language and better the skills in their native language. (Grant, Meeler, Misak) The students would feel comfortable to raise their hands and answer questions, even if they risk getting it incorrect because they know their fellow students would’ve don’t the same. If put in a mainstream English classroom, the ELL students may not be as confident to answer or ask questions if they don’t understand the work and will end up falling behind or not learning anything at all.

The reason being they feel the native English speakers are smarter then them or may make fun of them if they don’t understand as well as they can. Advantages of English Immersion English Immersion which is also referred to as the sink or swim form of teaching, despite its criticism according to some, it has its advantages. English Immersion helps children develop initial literacy in the immersion language, and then develop complete understanding of the foreign language. Chen) What Grace Chen is stating is that ELL students will fully understand their native language through English Immersion. She also believes that understanding the relationship between spoken language and written word transfer from one language to another through English Immersion. So through English Immersion what they learn through spoken language and written word would easily relate to their native language and be useful. Other then English Immersion helping students educationally it can help them socially as well.

English Immersion exposes children to cultures they may not regularly encounter daily and it develops in them an ability to make friends and connections with a variety of classmates. (Chen) If students were in a Bilingual Education classroom they would befriend only ELL students and not be exposed to anything new. In an English Immersion classroom and when transitioned into mainstream English classes they can befriend students of different cultures. They can also connect with students they would never have thought they’d had something in common with, so its a different experience and socially it is very beneficial.

Progressing in an English Immersion program can give students more confidence in themselves as students, because they are able to take on something new and difficult but still master it. Students would also feel comfortable and more willing to take risks. (Misak, Meeler, Grant) English is used, modified and taught at a level appropriate to the class of English learner. Disadvantages of Bilingual Education Bilingual Education has plenty of advantages, but it comes with its disadvantages as well. Additional time and money is used because teachers are required to learn and become fluent in the foreign language. Misak, Meeler, Grant) About $12 billion nationwide is being spent on ELL students; with over 55% being spent on Bilingual Education (Volume 5) Bilingual Education is very expensive to teach and with students wanting to learn English but making no use of it makes it a waste of time and money. Minority speakers want to learn English but no enter mainstream society, so they stick to their native language. (Pandey) If minorities don’t plan on needing English in life then there’s no point in teaching it, those funds could be going elsewhere.

Another disadvantage of Bilingual Education is that by the students having instruction in their native language they become very dependent on it, instead of wanting to learn English. It’s easier for students to understand their own language so it’s what they grasp onto, and become disinterested in learning English. With Bilingual Education having these disadvantages, makes this teaching method look unsuccessful and it’s something in this educational debate that can be used to make English Immersion seem better. Disadvantages of English Immersion

Although a lot of people portray English Immersion to be the best way to teach ELL students, there are plenty of reasons why it can fail. Even though ELL students need to learn English they still need to become fluent in their native language as well. There are concerns that a child may not be able to fluently master both immersion and the English simultaneously. (Chen) It’ll be very difficult for ELL students to take on two languages, if they are struggling in their own language how hard would it be to learn a new one. Students need to master one language first before trying another.

Being that they already are accustomed to their native language it would be easier for them to master it, and then learn English. English Immersion is also referred to as a sink or swim form of teaching. The students in the class will either learn what they are being taught or they don’t, and there is nothing that can be done about it. The students may be mainstreamed even before they are ready. (Misak, Meeler, Grant) If the students are put into mainstream English classes and they are not fully prepared for it they will fall behind in class and end up being left behind. My Observations

From all the research I have gathered, I do not have a clear opinion on which form of teaching works best for ELL students. I believe different factors play a great part in determining how well they would work for each student. One factor is age, depending on the students age when they begin either English Immersion or Bilingual Education weighs heavily on if it either one would prove to be successful for them. I think if a child starts English Immersion as a young child then it would be extremely effective whereas if they started English Immersion as a teen it wouldn’t work as well.

Students are already set in their ways at high school age so however they’ve been learning is what they are used to, so to switch from Bilingual Education to English Immersion would be very difficult. I also believe another factor that determines the effectiveness of both teaching methods is how qualified the teachers are in teaching either Bilingual Education or English Immersion. All the research I have read, I didn’t find anything on how qualified or unqualified the teachers were in what they were teaching.

Therefore I feel it plays a factor because maybe Bilingual Education and English Immersion could’ve proven to be successful or unsuccessful solely based on the teachers. A student’s willingness to learn can also be a factor in whether each teaching method is going to be a success or failure. Some students might’ve been eager to learn either English Immersion or Bilingual Education and some students might’ve been discouraged to learn, which is why either one could’ve failed or worked in certain schools.

Other then these factors, I believe that part of the reason this has been and will continue to be an argument for so many years is because of money. Bilingual Education is more costly then English Immersion for schools, when it comes to money many people get involved, even people not associated with the school system and start making decisions which complicates things. Ultimately, I can’t pick a side on which teaching method works best, I just believe certain factors and circumstances play big parts on whether Bilingual Education or English Immersion will be a success or failure.

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Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion. (2017, Jan 09). Retrieved from