Language Distribution Issues in Bilingual Schooling


A great number of people argued upon the necessity of introduction of special methods which would improve the children’s achievements in class and the discussions concerning bilingual children were the most lively and vital ones. There exists the idea that if children were allowed to speak their native language in the classroom environment they would significantly benefit from it in both forming their personality and improving their educational achievements. Just like any other issue of this kind the issue about bilingual education is also very controversial and there exists a diversity of opinions whether it is more of harm or more in favor. All the opinions and results taken into account as well as the studies the conduction of which is discussed and analyzed further proved that children who were allowed to use their native language in the class showed better results than those who were not. Moreover, it was proved that communicating with the fellow-students in native language makes a positive influence on the development of personality of the Hispanic students.

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To conduct certain studies and to find out more about bilingual education a number of books as well as newspaper, journal and magazine articles were analyzed. The most informative were the books ‘The Culture of Education Policy” by Sandra J. Stein, the book which tells about the introduction of bilingual education and the opinions of people who supported it, “Puerto Rican students in US Schools” Sonia Nieto, which is written by Puerto Rican authors who focus on history and experience of Puerto Rican children who study in the US. Tom Stritikus in his “Immigrant Children and the Politics of English-Only: Views from the Classroom” gives different views on the bilingual education and also parents’ and teachers’ ideas about the benefit or harm of such education. “Language Distribution Issues in Bilingual Schooling” by Rodolfo Jacobson and Christian Faltis and “Policy and Practice in bilingual Education: the Reader Extending Foundations” by Ofelia García and Colin Baker contain information about the studies on the influence of bilingual education on Hispanic students. The newspaper, journal and magazine articles tell about people’s opinion about the use of children’s native language in the classroom and their reaction to the introduction of bilingual education. Each book, newspaper, magazine or journal was very informative and valuable. This literature helped enlarge the knowledge on the subject in general and gave proofs that using the native language in the classroom can be beneficial for Hispanic students.

To begin with, it would be very useful to provide a proper background about the introduction of the bilingual education as the purpose of this research is to find out whether it made sense to introduce it in general. The goal of any school or some other educational establishment is to make sure that the conditions in which the students acquire their knowledge correspond to all the existing standards and help the students form their personalities and gain experience which they are going to use further in their lives. Taking into consideration the fact that “Nothing matters more in school than the quality of the teacher” (Carola Suárez-Orozco, Desiree Baolian Qin, Desirée Qin-Hilliard, 2005) it would be fair to notice that apart any teacher’s contribution in proper development of the students there exist extra factors which may influence their learning process. The thing is that Non-English-Proficient or Limited-English-Proficient students or children require special conditions for a successful learning process and something was to be done in order to make this process at least a bit easier. For this in 1968 the United States Congress enacted a special act for such children and students called the Bilingual Education Act which caused a lot of disputes because this piece of legislation had its supporters as well as opponents. Its main destination was to let the instructors “teach core curricular materials in the students’ primary language…” (Sandra J. Stein, 2004). Nevertheless, the number of supporters prevailed and this act was recognized as the one which “would rectify the low achievement levels and high dropout rates among Hispanic students” as well as it will help “increase Hispanic’s participation in the economic, political, and social life of the nation.” (Karen L. Adams, Daniel T. Brink, Karen L. Adams, Daniel T. Brink, 1990). Moreover, bilingual education allowed comprising a couple of activities at one and the same time: “You’re teaching language and subject matter at the same time.” (Stephen Goode, 2001).

Strange as it may seem, but opponents to the adoption of Bilingual Education Act were namely people for whom this act was issued. They considered it insulting for them as they thought they and their children were capable to study in the conditions they used to and should be treated equally with the children whose native is English: “Are we now considered so stupid that we now have to be taught in non-English-speaking classes?” (K. L. Billingsley, 1997). A number of people noticed that “students graduating from Eastern District High School were illiterate in both English and Spanish.” (Linda Chavez , James J. Lyons, 1996). What’s more some of people concluded that if Hispanic students were allowed to speak their native language in class they would be reluctant to study in general and to improve their English language skills as such. Knowing English is vital for the Hispanic students’ further career and if they had a chance to speak their native language most of them would stop taking pains in learning English. Moreover, some of the teachers who teach Hispanic children and students were also against the bilingual education: “I can’t be optimistic about our program because we’re not letting the kids absorb the language.” (Tom Stritikus, 2002). And there were also people who spoke about this act’s negative influence on students: “The graduates” of bilingual education are generally stuck in remedial classes with no hope of ever graduating.” (Jorge Amselle, 1997). And finally there were those who considered the program unsuccessful: “Bilingual education supporters may claim that it aims to teach English, but high dropout rates for immigrant children and low rates of transition to full English instruction prove that, even if educators’ intentions are genuine, the program is a failure.” (Richard Rothstein, 1998) and claimed that “bilingual education appears to be having no effect” (Thomas D. Elias, 1998). This is how some justified their negative attitude toward the Bilingual Education Act adoption.

What is important now is to find out whether the bilingual education can indeed be beneficial for the Hispanic students and children and whether it will or will not positively affect their learning process, a “process that includes work at all three levels — personal relationships, institutional policies and practices, and societal priorities and expectations”. (Sonia Nieto, 2002). To achieve some results in this, a number of studies conducted should be discussed and taking into account the outcome of these studies it will be possible to state where Hispanic students will succeed and gain stronger confidence if they will be using their native languages within the classroom environment.

A thorough research was conducted shows different results but still they have to be analyzed in order to find out the achieved results and by the quantity of successful instances to figure out whether the bilingual education proves to be efficient.

The first to discuss will be a research conducted by Wong Fillmore in 17 bilingual classrooms. She and some other researchers conducted the studies by “use of a rating scale where the frequency of an event is recorded on a continuum from low to high.” (Rodolfo Jacobson, Christian Faltis, 1990). They observed the groups of children who studied in the third and fifths grades during a year. At this they made some audio and video recording as well as live recording from time to time. When the studies were completed they divided the classrooms into successful and unsuccessful relying on the results of the children’s achievement tests and on how much they improved their speaking skills. It turned out that Chinese and Hispanic students achieved completely different results. The research showed that “interactional opportunities, or contact with peers, appeared to be beneficial to Hispanics but not to Chinese students.” (Rodolfo Jacobson, Christian Faltis, 1990).

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Another study was conducted in Rivera Middle School. The school administration in this area supported the bilingual, namely Spanish/English program. In the course of the study “the School District’s Policy for bilingual education called for Whole Language as the preferred approach for literacy instruction , with English to Speaker of Other Languages (ESOL) as the official medium of instruction for reading and writing.” (Ofelia García, Colin Baker, 1995). Such classes as maths, science, social studies were conducted in Spanish whereas books and other materials for this subject were available in English as well as in Spanish. For the academic year when the studies were conducted the student population counted 550 students of sixth, seventh and eight grades. 73 percent of these were Hispanic. The researchers divided the students into several groups, or teams and at this “most teams received traditional English-only instruction. The 6th, 7th and 8th grade students enrolled in bilingual classes received Spanish and English instruction and comprised the ‘Toltec’ team. This team was subdivided into nine classes grouped homogeneously by English language proficiency. The 7th and 8th graders attended mixed classes, but the 6th graders were taught separately.” (Ofelia García, Colin Baker, 1995). The group of 6th graders showed better results as it was taught by the instructors who were bilingual and could read, write and speak both in English and Spanish and they permitted their students to write in both these languages.

Therefore it can be stated that according to the studies there indeed was some sense in enacting the Bilingual Education Act. Bilingual education is of great benefit for the students and if the right strategies are used and proper methods are applied it can improve the students’ educational achievements. Nevertheless, there are some other difficulties the Hispanic students can face during their studies. At this, their native language usage within the classroom environment can help them overcome these difficulties.

What should be mentioned above all is that difficulties in adjustment to the foreign environment may lead to problem behavior proneness. The language plays a very important part in the course of forming the child’s personality. If the use of the native language is restricted in can inflict a certain damage to the forming personality and result in problem behavior proneness in future. The scientists proved that “engagement in problem behaviors during childhood and adolescence tends to place individuals at a higher risk for poor adjustment during adulthood, such as involvement in criminal activities, drug and alcohol abuse, and poor interpersonal relationships.” (Khanh T. Dinh, Mark W. Roosa, Jenn-Yun Tein, Vera A. Lopez, 2002). So, the insignificant at the first sight language restriction may involve serious consequences which can ruin a person’s life.

Secondly, to improve the students’ achievements and to help them become more confident a special atmosphere should be created in the classroom, especially when it comes to Hispanic students. Allowing them to speak their native language will make them feel more like home, thus more relaxed and eager to learn something new rather then thinking of how important it is to speak English at the moment: “A body of evidence suggests that instruction shaped by children’s home and community culture is vital to supporting children’s healthy self-esteem, strong identity development, and a sense of belonging” (Jennifer L. Gilliard, Rita A. Moore, Jeanette J. Lemieux, 2007). Thus, letting the students feel like home and speak their native language the teachers make a significant contribution into development of their identity.

And the last point, not only forming of personality but the learning process as such depends on the language used within the class. Disproving the idea that if Hispanic students speak their native languages it would lessen their striving to learn English, it should be mentioned that maybe the students will learn English eventually but their results in the rest of the subjects may turn out to be not very high. The ability to use their native language in the class will help them improve their achievements and enlarge their knowledge on this or that subject.


All this taken into consideration it would be reasonable to suggest that the use of the native language in the classroom environment will not only help the Hispanic students gain necessary knowledge at each subject and improve their educational achievements but make the learning process easier and will contribute greatly to the appropriate development of the students’ identities. The studies conducted show that the use of the native languages by Hispanic students in class positively affected their learning process. Letting the students speak their languages will make the process of their adaptation to the new environment easier and getting a possibility to communicate with others in the language they got used to from the very childhood is sure to help in forming of a confident and strong personality.

Reference List

  1. Carola Suárez-Orozco, Desiree Baolian Qin, Desirée Qin-Hilliard. (2005). The New Immigration: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Routledge.
  2. Karen L. Adams, Daniel T. Brink, Karen L. Adams, Daniel T. Brink. (1990). Perspectives on Official English: The Campaign for English As the Official Language of the USA. Walter de Gruyter.
  3. Sandra J. Stein. (2004). The Culture of Education Policy. Teachers College Press.
  4. Tom Stritikus. (2002). Immigrant Children and the Politics of English-Only: Views from the Classroom. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing.
  5. Sonia Nieto. (2000). Puerto Rican Students in U.S. Schools. NJ: Mahwah.
  6. Rodolfo Jacobson, Christian Faltis. (1990). Language Distribution Issues in Bilingual Schooling. Multilingual Matters.
  7. Ofelia García, Colin Baker. (1995). Policy and Practice in Bilingual Education: A Reader Extending the Foundations. Multilingual Matters.
  8. Journal Khanh T. Dinh, Mark W. Roosa, Jenn-Yun Tein, Vera A. Lopez. (2002). The Relationship between Acculturation and Problem Behavior Proneness in a Hispanic Youth Sample: A Longitudinal Mediation Model. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30, 295.
  9. Richard Rothstein. (1998). Bilingual Education: The Controversy. Phi Delta Kappan, 79(9), 672.
  10. Jennifer L. Gilliard, Rita A. Moore, Jeanette J. Lemieux. (2007). “In Hispanic Culture, the Children Are the Jewels of the Family”: An Investigation of Home and Community Culture in a Bilingual Early Care and Education Center Serving Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Families. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 9.
  11. Jorge Amselle. (1997). Adios, Bilingual Ed. Policy Review, 86, 52.
  12. Linda Chavez , James J. Lyons. (1996). Q: Is Bilingual Education Failing to Help America’s Schoolchildren? Insight on the News, 12(21), 24.
  13. Stephen Goode. (2001). Porter Challenges Bilingual Education. Insight on the News, 17(34), 36.
  14. K.L. Billingsley. (1997). Anti-Bilingual Ed Effort Gains Hispanic Support. The Washington Times,p.10
  15. Thomas D. Elias. (1998). Calif. Snubs Clinton in Bilingual Education Fight. The Washington Times, p.6.
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