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Bilingual Programs in Early Childhood Education


Integrating bilingualism in early education enhances the learners’ abstract thinking abilities, problem-solving skills and prepares them for the increasingly globalized and diversified world. Bilingual learning is a form of teaching in which literacy and content are delivered in two or more languages. In today’s world, learning institutions are providing their services to children from heterogeneous backgrounds. In this regard, using a second language has become a growing phenomenon as schools increasingly embrace and encourage multiple dialects. The trend is influenced by social processes and movements worldwide, such as immigration, immersing learners in a community where the new language is spoken. Generally, bilingual education is categorized into one and two-way programs. Although integrating bilingualism in early education can shift a learner’s focus and overshadow the absorption and cognition of specific content, it enhances the student’s adaptability and the ability to attain high levels of academic achievement.

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Bilingual Education

The following paper explores bilingual programs in early childhood education, the definition, and the types of these strategies. It also enumerates and discusses the benefits of this learning system, including the ease of attaining fluency due to early exposure, cognitive advantages, and equipping students with high adaptability and flexibility. Additionally, the paper will highlight how bilingualism provides opportunities for English learners to attain higher academic achievements than using other types of educational programs. The discussion will provide insights on the counter arguments for implementing bilingual education in early learning and the associated implications.

Definition and Types of Bilingual Education

Bilingual education is a widely practiced model of learning in many countries across the globe. It refers to the system and structure of providing and delivering content to learners in two dialects, where one of them is invariably the child’s arterial language (Rodriguez-Tamayo & Tenjo-Macias, 2019). This teaching and instruction framework recognizes the indispensability of language as the foundation upon which all communication is anchored. From this dimension, bilingual education encompasses bicultural learning, acknowledging the inseparable and intertwined nature of culture and language (Krasniqi, 2019). The principal objective of bilingual education is to ensure that a learner who is proficient in their mother tongue achieves the same level of expertise and mastery in the other language. In this regard, students enrolled under dual language education programs simultaneously learn literacy and academic content delivered in English and their mother tongue, known as partner language. The bilingualism learning model is designed to support the integration of immigrants and other minorities into the dominant society and progressively adjust to the new country’s ways of life.

Types of Bilingual Education

Generally, dual language education is categorized into one- and two-way program models. The former targets learners predominantly from one expansive group and is further subdivided into three classes, including the one-way or world language immersion, which primarily serves English speakers. Under this model, learners develop academic skills in their native dialect while building and enhancing skills in a different language, thereby supporting such learners to become bi-literate, bilingual, and bicultural (August et al., 2015). Conversely, maintenance or developmental bilingual programs principally enroll learners who are the native speakers of the partner dialect (Téllez, 2018). This strategy targets English as a Second Language (ESL) and former ESL learners. The heritage or native language programs target learners who are dominant in English but have family or cultural links to the partner language.

The two-way dual language immersion model is anchored on the premise that two groups of learners, each with a distinct native language and one being English, can study together in a systematic and structured manner. This program combines English-speaking and partner-language-speaking students, preferably on a ratio of 1:1. According to Li et al. (2016), this language immersion program is a promising strategy through which educators and policymakers enhance students’ ability to become bilingual and bi-literate. Therefore, the parents, grandparents, or other ancestors spoke the partner language, although the pupils are dominant English speakers.

Benefits of Implementing Bilingual Programs in Early Education

Incorporating bilingual programs in early childhood education provides numerous benefits to the learners. According to Bialystok (2016), bilingualism for young children enhances their cognitive abilities, positively impacting their ease of gaining fluency in the new language. This perspective reflects the beneficial influence of bilingual education models regarding their effectiveness in reinforcing knowledge acquisition and conceptualization. Notably, bilingualism alters the human brain’s structure, making the cognitive mechanisms more flexible than in the conventional education systems (Wong et al., 2016). Bilingual learners bring rich, diverse, linguistic, and cultural experiences from their communities and homes and transition to the second language with ease (Zehr, 2007; New York State Association for Bilingual Education, 2017). For instance, native French speakers introduce their culture and customs in the bilingual classroom settings, triggering curiosity and exchanging experiences during interactions with their English–speaking counterparts. This multiplicity triggers unique and complex processes associated with developing strong cognitive skills, including attention, memory, and concept development.

Additionally, early exposure to a second language enhances the student’s ability to achieve fluency easily. Generally, gaining competency in another language becomes more difficult as one’s age advances. Hartshorne et al. (2018) contend that it is considerably challenging for students to reach native-level fluency if they delay learning the second language. This dimension incorporates bilingual programs in early childhood education, facilitating fluency and competency in the second language. In this regard, early childhood is the prime phase at which the acquisition of fluency and mastery of a second language is easily accomplished (Hartshorne et al., 2018). This view illustrates the decline in the learning abilities due to various occurrences, including changes in the brain’s plasticity, which significantly impairs the learners’ ability to achieve fluency at later ages.

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Further, bilingual education provides children with a broad outlook and brings them close to diverse races and nationalities. Notably, exploring multiple cultural concepts in the classroom through language allows students to learn and grow alongside classmates from different backgrounds. Rodriguez-Tamayo and Tenjo-Macias (2019) assert that dual-language experiences help students to become comfortable engaging and interacting with their counterparts from various ethnographic groups. Similarly, the educational programs create cross-cultural school settings, which effectively ease the pressure and tensions between diverse language groups and communities. Consequently, these learners become highly adaptable and distinctively aware of the diversities of the world around them. Moreover, these students generally handle change easily since they are more accommodative to differences and are willing to adjust their behaviors and ideas. Also, learners who are enrolled in a bilingual program in early childhood education register remarkable brain development, enhancing their ability to switch easily and transition between tasks, environments, and circumstances.

Bilingual programs provide ESL learners with the opportunity to attain higher levels of academic achievement compared to other types of programs. Dual-language immersion strategies significantly minimize educational inequalities by helping non-native English speakers gain communication skills to learn and conceive the delivered content. Indeed, language constitutes one of the most prominent barriers which hinder the minority students from excelling and finishing their education (Li et al., 2016). Equipping learners with solid language and communication skills improves their comprehension of the issued instructions and the content, effectively stimulating their desire and willingness to study more. From this perspective, high-quality bilingual programs are a critical pedestal on which non-native English learners can effectively compete with their peers, study content, and engage in constructive discussions, contributing to higher educational attainment. Although other programs, such as No Learner Left Behind, eliminate these systemic disparities and structural inequalities, they do not enhance students’ specific abilities. In this regard, bilingualism in early childhood education provides opportunities for English learners to excel and reach high academic levels than other programs.

Counterarguments for Implementing Bilingual Education in Early Childhood Settings

Although bilingualism in early childhood education provides numerous advantages to learners, various counterarguments impede this model’s implementation. Among the prominent drawbacks of these programs is the progressive but subtle loss of cultural identity. Notably, culture and languages are intertwined and draw from one another. This implies that the aggressive levels of cross-cultural interactions through language lead to competing and conflicting cultures. Antonela and Sanja (2017) posit that dual-dialect educational programs place learners in a multicultural setting where contextual social pressures steadily erode their identity. For instance, students will feel compelled to adjust how they express their thoughts and emotions to fit in the new environment. Additionally, foreign languages’ influence may prevent learners from participating and involving themselves in their native cultural activities. This phenomenon exposes them to new lifestyles, customs, and habits and widens the culture gap experienced at the local level. Therefore, bilingualism in early childhood education significantly contributes to the loss of cultural identity.

Additionally, bilingual education programs can potentially shift the learner’s focus from the academic content to the new language. Notably, the effective delivery of the subject matter and content is anchored on the teachers’ and students’ ability to communicate successfully. This implies that disproportionate levels of effort should first be directed at ensuring that learners understand the language being used (Goldenberg & Wagner, 2015). As a result, the young students may find themselves fixated or pushed to obtain language literacy at the expense of the academic content. This scenario is worsened in situations where a student struggles with the knowledge acquisition of the new dialect.

Moreover, bilingual education may be difficult at the commencement, which may exert pressure on learners. Notably, young schoolers may experience difficulties absorbing content delivered in the second language since two unfamiliar concepts are being introduced taught at the same time. In many schools, tutors teach one language during a specific part of the day then switch to the other dialect for the remainder of the session (Li et al., 2016). In this regard, students may require extra effort and additional time to learn the basics of the new language, which may impede their focus on content areas. This is closely associated with the potential increase in stress levels as the learners juggle between absorbing the academic matter and language literacy concepts. Additionally, the focus on language fluency may generate confusion due to mixing languages, which may impede or delay content cognition. In instances where learners may prefer one language over the other, this challenge becomes a major hindrance to acquiring fluency, comprehension, and mastery of the other dialect. Overall, students will generally excel in one language than two dialects.

Further, bilingual education programs are often associated with immigration, attracting some degree of stigma and ethnic prejudice. Some communities perceive this education model as a structured way of integrating immigrants and minorities into society instead of encouraging them to embrace their culture and languages. In this regard, bilingualism is viewed and considered a strategy for the local community to help the immigrants fit in the new environment, generating prejudicial thoughts (Goldenberg & Wagner, 2015). This creates stigmatization, particularly for the non-native English speakers who may be deemed inferior due to their inability to communicate effectively in the dominant language. This stigma has also contributed to the unavailability of trained and fully qualified teachers.


Bilingualism in early childhood entails the simultaneous delivery of academic content and language literacy. Educators using this model teach the learners in their native language in conjunction with a second dialect known as partner language. Generally, bilingual programs are categorized in one- and two-way dual-language models and are associated with numerous benefits, including high academic attainment, appreciation of diverse cultures, and learners’ adaptability. However, second languages are inconsistent and may not transcend beyond the lower education levels, are significantly challenging for students at the commencement, and limits learners’ participation in local cultures.

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Bilingual education is increasingly gaining traction and is widely practiced across the world. Its primary objective is to ensure that children proficient in their mother tongue obtain similar expertise and mastery levels in other languages. Notably, most countries feel compelled to adopt and integrate bilingual education programs in early childhood settings due to the growth patterns of immigration and increasingly globalized and diversified society. Notably, bilingualism recognizes and respects the prevalent diversities in modern communities and creates a system which perpetuates multiculturalism. Additionally, it acknowledges the indispensability and the integral role of language in the process of knowledge acquisition. This scenario implies that, as communities become extensively globalized, there is a pressing need to embrace this diversity and create inclusive systems, including a non-discriminatory education.

Additionally, bilingual education promises better academic outcomes than other programs, which seek to eliminate the prevalent, educational inequalities and disparities. In this regard, it is imperative for government agencies and other relevant bodies to increase the funding and support for this kind of educational program. Moreover, adjustments and appropriate interventions in such areas as teacher training should be escalated to improve their effectiveness in delivering content areas in multilingual settings (Houston Independent School District, 2019). The support can be extended to other critical areas of bilingual programs in early childhood education, such as the most appropriate student ratio, content delivery methodologies, and mitigation of the adverse implications of this model of learning.

Overall, although substantial evidence highlights the numerous benefits associated with implementing bilingual immersion programs, their success is primarily dependent on the fidelity with which they are executed. This implies that policymakers and other stakeholders should develop appropriate structures and strategies to enhance adherence in effecting the programs. Also, researchers should explore ways to capitalize and transfer the cognitive benefits associated with bilingualism to other areas.


Bilingual education is the use of instructions and delivery of academic content using two languages. This education model is premised on the indispensability of language as a tool of communication and an inseparable component of culture. Teachers using this approach promote the academic attainment of immigrants and other minorities, thereby eliminating educational inequalities and disparities. Bilingualism in early childhood enhances the learners’ cognitive abilities, promotes their adaptability, and stimulates the ease of attaining competency in a new language.


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Bialystok, E. (2016). Bilingual education for young children: Review of the effects and consequences. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 21(6), 666–679. Web.

Goldenberg, C., & Wagner, K. (2015). Bilingual education: Reviving an American tradition. American Educator, 39(3), 28-32. Retrieved April 6, 2021, from Web.

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Hartshorne, J., Tenenbaum, J., & Pinker, S. (2018). A critical period for second language acquisition: Evidence from 2/3 million English speakers. Cognition, 177, 263–277. Web.

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Li, J., Steele, J., Slater, R., Bacon, M., & Miller, T. (2016). Implementing two-way dual-language immersion programs: Classroom insights from an urban district. International Multilingual Research Journal, 10(1), 31–43. Web.

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Rodríguez-Tamayo, I., & Tenjo-Macías, L. (2019). Children’s cultural identity formation: Experiences in a dual language program. Gist Education and Learning Research Journal, 18, 86-108. Web.

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Zehr, M. A. (2007). N. J. Bucks tide on reading for English-learners: State cites studies finding advantage for bilingual approach. Education Week, 26(18), 1–12. Web.

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