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What Is Bilingual Education In The United States? Past, Present, Future

What Is Bilingual Education?

Bilingual education is when a person is educated in two languages. Generally speaking, bilingual education is used when talking about immigrants receiving at least partial education in their native tongue. For example, a Mexican family moves here and enrolls their child into school. Once in school, their child struggles because they don’t speak the common tongue (English) at a high enough level to keep up. Therefore, they are educated bilingually; partly in Spanish and partly in English.

What Is Bilingual Education: A Brief History Of Bilingual Education In The United States

    The most common form of bilingual education is what I have described above: mother tongue plus English as a way to help educate and develop immigrants or non-native English speakers speaking skills while allowing them to stay caught up with their peers as far as grade and school work are concerned.

    Bilingual education in the US started in the 1960’s when congress passed the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. This attempt to solve the issue of immigrants falling behind in public school was the first real action taken to help improve the situation.

    What Is Bilingual Education Today?

    Bilingual education is still fairly common today with about 20% of people speaking a language other than English at home. However, answering the question ‘what is bilingual education’ has changed slightly these days. The United States, and other traditionally monolingual English-speaking countries, have slowly started to realize the importance of multilingualism. They are starting to allocate funds, resources, and starting new dual immersion schools and other institutions focused on teaching children another language. The role is starting to reverse, slightly, from non-English to English to English natives being educated in another language with the hopes that they learn that language.

    The recent research is clearly showing many benefits of bilingual education. This bilingual edge is something that children in modern-day America will hopefully enjoy more in the coming generations than in the past generations.

    What Is Bilingual Education Going To Look Like?

    In a brief email interview I did with an expert a while back, Mr. Francois Grosjean claimed bilingual education will see a slight trend upwards in the coming years. He also, however, stated that we shouldn’t be overly optimistic. With only about 18% of children in bilingual education programs currently, we have a long way to go to truly become a bilingual nation.

    Whether you are a proponent for or opponent against bilingual education in the United States, I don’t think the benefits of it can be denied. The negatives often stated are usually not true, antiquated, and even down-right deceitful. Slight drawbacks may exist in certain situations, however I like to liken this to something like working out. Is it fun to struggle through a workout and be sore afterwards? No. Is it fun to be healthier, happier, and better equipped to take on the modern world? Yes.

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    About Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson is a husband, father, author and bilingual living and working in the Midwestern United States. He lives with his Mexican wife and their son, Liam, who is currently being raised bilingual in English and Spanish.

    5 comments… add one

    1. Jonathan

      It was really interesting reading this and finding out more about bilingualism in the US. I live in the UK in a part of Wales where the majority of people speak Welsh as their first language and a lot of the education in local schools in bilingual or primarily through Welsh. Nationally, a lot of parents in Wales have decided to send their kids to bilingual or Welsh medium schools as they feel that these types of establishment provide a better education.
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      1. Jeffrey Nelson

        I think that trend is slowly starting here in the US as well. We still have a ways to go, but bilingualism is definitely respected and desired… I think people just lack some basic knowledge on how they can achieve it.


    2. stephen

      There was no bilingual education when I was a child in the early 60s. I was a Dutch speaker thrown into a class full of Mexicans. Well, I learned English with a Mexican accent. My Dutch cousins were all required to learn 4 languages by the time they graduated from high school. Just about every Educated Filipino can speak at least 3 languages and I have met some that speak 8 languages. The USA being mostly a mono-lingual nation is a bit of an anomaly.
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    3. James Robinson

      I found my bilingual education really useful. Especially when I’m in Germany.
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      1. Jeffrey Nelson


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