Why Bilingualism Benefits our Children and the Country

Photo Credit: Harris County Public Library

As our country becomes more diverse due to a constant influx of immigrants, children must learn to accept and adapt to a variety of values and cultural backgrounds, including languages. Bilingualism gives students the necessary tools to thrive in a multicultural society. Extensive research proves that bilingual education, such as dual immersion programs, greatly benefits the students, as well as the country as a whole for the long run. For those of you who are not familiar with dual immersion, Sonia W. Soltero defines it as “a long-term additive bilingual and bicultural program model that consistently uses two languages for instruction, learning, and communication” in the classroom (Soltero 2).

In the book, Dual Language: Teaching and Learning in Two Languages, Sonia W. Soltero argues that students who learn two languages at an early age—which is when they acquire the most knowledge—for a minimum of six or seven years, excel academically, “outperform…monolingually schooled students,” and are far more likely to continue to pursue a post-secondary education (Soltero 15). Since these students are more likely to continue practicing two different languages through the upper levels of school, they will grow up to be far more competent in a “diverse working world” (Language Immersion Programs). When the time comes for students to join the workforce, employers value and seek out employees who can communicate in more than one language, according to the article on Language Immersion Programs.

Since dual immersion programs integrate a diverse student body in the education of two tongues, the students enrolled are exposed to an environment that inculcates tolerance and acceptance for others’ differences and similarities. When children grow up around other students who are not always like them, they come to appreciate cultures unlike their own, which later leads them to become socially active and well-informed adults who are accepting of others’ values and beliefs. This type of interaction is exactly what our country needs in order to move forward as a united nation and to set the example for other countries to follow.

There are many proven benefits to learning to communicate and interact in two different languages, including the advantages of excelling academically and becoming appreciative of other cultures. And, although there may be misconceptions that lead parents, educators, and even students to believe that dual immersion is not a fair or efficient program, as demonstrated by Table 6 below from the essay Does Research Matter?, there exists strong evidence to the contrary. Dual immersion teaches students much more than how to speak, read, or write in a second language. These popular programs prepare today’s children to become better educated, bilingual, and biliterate adults who will form an even more interconnected and diverse world tomorrow. Dual immersion is a sound alternative to monolingual education. It is important that the implementation of two-way additive bilingual programs continues so that future generations also learn to accept and tolerate different cultures and languages.

Table 6

Frequency of Issues Mentioned in Opinion Pieces in Favor or Against Bilingual Education

Issue Opinion Pieces Mentioning Issue
In Favor of Bilingual Education Students learn English faster 38% (33)
Helps academic achievement 24% (21)
Bilingualism as national asset 13% (11)
Helps cognitive development 8% (7)
Against Bilingual Education Not effective in helping student learn English/ overall academic achievement 51% (44)
Leads to segregation of students 20% (17)
Leads to anti-Americanism and is unpatriotic 19% (16)
Is too expensive 13% (11)
Goes against public opinion 10% (9)
Allows for no parental choice in child’s education 10% (9)

Note: Percentages are of total number of editorials and letters (n=87).

6 responses to “Why Bilingualism Benefits our Children and the Country

  1. Proven through several studies effective, dual immersion programs benefit bilingual children both academically and culturally. However, the major controversy regarding how American or un-American it may be pervails today. In January of 2012, during the GOP presidential elections Newt Gingrich states, “I think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people to learn and to be able to communicate with each other in”. In support of Gingrich’s claim, Mitt Romney proclaims, “English is the language of this nation”. In addition, Mitt Romney’s support for English-only immersion in Massachusetts public schools, xpressed through his book “No Apologies: the Case for American Greatness,” led to the state law against bilingual education. In fact, California and Arizona have similar laws that enforce English-only immersion programs before the children can be integrated into the regular classroom.
    The successful results of dual immersion or two-way language programs have definitely been reflected through the growing support for these programs by educators accross the country. Who better to determine the effectiveness of an educational curriculum than the individuals who dedicate their lives toward educating children? Edcators’ approach to offering children an education differs from that idealized by various politicians, who seem to emphasize just how “disloyal” to American nationalism they percieve the practice of dual immersion, instead of acknowledging its benefical impacts on the lives of many children living in America.
    Despite th opposition to dual immersion programs from various political figures educators and school districts have implemented these programs into their academic curriculum. Studies reflect a major growth in immersion education across the country. The Center for Applied Linguistics estimated there are about 1200 programs in schools across the nation. Most are Spanish and English programs, but the Mandarin Chinese, Korean and French programs have been recently increasing. These dual immersion programs are favored by schools and educators because they can serve to improve English skills for the 21% of school-age children in the country who speak a language other than English at home, or encourage bilingual skills for English speakers, as well.

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  3. It’s interesting that regardless of all of the facts you stated above, there is still opposition to bilingualism in the United States. However, opposition to bilingualism is ironic considering that in order to graduate from high schools, it is required for students to complete at least one year of foreign language. Similarly, almost every college/university requires at least two years of foreign language taken during high school in order for a student to be accepted into their programs. Some colleges go beyond two years, for example, Harvard University recommends students take the same foreign language during all four years of high school to insure their knowledge of such language. In a way, learning a foreign language is almost forced upon a student that wants to succeed well in school. So, is the U.S.A. for or against bilingualism? I would hope that the United States wants its citizens to be at least bilingual because having multilingual citizens is a sign of a high educational level, it helps people communicate with each other better, helps professionals with their careers and most importantly, it shows our respect towards diversity in the country and abroad.

  4. I went to a Spanish immersion elementary school and I’d say that it was the smartest decision my parents ever made for me. My dad is an immigrant from Peru, but my family lives in Portland where there is not too much diversity and not too many outlets for Latin American culture. We mainly spoke English at home except on the weekends when my grandparents were around, and we didn’t really know too many other Latin-American families. I know my parents mainly put me in a bilingual school because learning Spanish woud be a useful asset, and It definitely has been, but I got so much more out of it than that. I was able to develop a broad worldview at a young age despite my fairly homogeneous city, and connect with my heritage on an intimate level that I woud not ave been able to if I had not learned Spanish and gained an appreciation for Latin culture. I owe so much of who I am today to that school and would recommend bilingual or immersion school to anyone who has that option!

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