Bilingual Education in the USA

Subject: Education
Pages: 11
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Study level: Master


Bilingual education in the United States refers to a school system where instructions in the classroom are given in two languages: English and any other language. Some of the languages offered include Chinese, French, and Spanish. The United States has a diverse population comprised of people from several ethnic origins in the world. Most people originate from countries that are not inhabited by native English speakers, thus being subjected to a linguistic barrier, especially while enrolling in a school. Nevertheless, there is a solution to ensure that educational institutions eliminate language gaps. Learning institutions should implement bilingual education programs since they would be beneficial for children’s future development. Most parents and educators opt for such projects due to various reasons, in particular, the enhancement of students’ social, psychological, and academic aspects due to the benefits obtained from multiple languages. However, some people oppose the bilingual education program despite the numerous benefits it provides.

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Development History of Bilingual Education in the US

The Bilingual Education Program in the Past

Several historical records demonstrate the origin of the US’s bilingual language system since the nation’s founding. There have been numerous legal statutes passed over the years to support bilingual education adoption and offer a legal framework to assist students who have a different first language. Ohio was the first state in 1839 to endorse a system that taught German immigrant schoolchildren both German and English in public schools (Spring, 2018). Louisiana followed by enacting legislation in 1847 to cater to the French-speaking population’s needs, and New Mexico allowed instructions to be passed in both Spanish and English in 1850 (Spring, 2018). By the start of the 20th century, most states had an existing bilingual education system, which has particularly attributed to the rise in immigrants and categories (Gándara & Escamilla, 2017). Unfortunately, non-English speakers were perceived as un-American and disloyal to the nation, leading to the eradication of bilingual programs.

However, the end of the Second World War led to an increase in the number of students studying in the US who were not native English speakers. The situation led to the government’s need to re-introduce bilingual education programs to help the students who were often left behind by their counterparts (Spring, 2018). In response, Congress enacted the Bilingual Education Act in 1968, requiring schools to take necessary measures to overcome language barriers (Spring, 2018). The 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act federal statute passed by Congress further established a bilingual education framework supported by the government (Spring, 2018). The Lau v Nichols ruling in 1974 further affirmed the need for a bilingual program due to the sink-or-swim English syllabus in San Francisco, which made it difficult for Chinese-speaking children to participate on the same level as their fellow students.

The Bilingual Education Program in the Recent

There is an in-depth analysis of the bilingual education program’s current position based on media opinion. The study adopted a comparative approach where various articles from six main U.S. media companies were compared against academic articles to analyze bilingual education and bilingualism characteristics. 45% of articles from the news outlets favored a bilingual system compared to 95% of academic articles (Lewis & Davies, 2018). Between 2006 and 2016, there was an increase in academic articles advocating bilingual education, arguing that language was a valuable resource (Lewis & Davies, 2018). The research shows that there is a discrepancy between popular news outlets and academic institutions on the need for the program.

Similarity and Difference, and How It Changes (My Perspective)

There has been a shift in the utilization of bilingual education programs in the US as one analyzes the numerous aspects revolving around the program previously and currently. One of the major elements that have remained constant is its status as a first-world country which attracts people looking for better opportunities. When parents immigrate with their children who are not native English speakers, they enroll them in schools, hoping that they will acquire the relevant knowledge. A surge in students’ scholarships has also increased the number of pupils from non-native regions who require the benefits offered by the bilingual program, thus making it necessary to ensure that they do not experience linguistic barriers in the classroom.

A significant difference between the past and the recent state of bilingual education is the availability of technology, which offers non-native English-speaking students an opportunity to learn English faster and translate the instructions on the spot. Today, many applications in the market train people in foreign languages such as Spanish, English, Chinese, and French. There are also translation programs accessible on Google with an audio format, allowing people to interact easily with minimal language challenges. As a result, students have a viable option of furthering their mastery of the English language at their convenience and with more ease.

Development History of Bilingual Education in Other Countries

South Africa

The common case in South Africa is additive bilingualism, which involves retaining one’s mother tongue as one learns English as their second language. The native languages spoken are Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans, which are mostly used in the pre-primary level. However, children are prepared for their medium primary level through instructions from teachers in English, and students are expected to use this language to respond. Additive bilingualism improves children’s intellectual and conceptual development due to the added thought complexity as they can view situations from multiple perspectives.

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The model differs greatly depending on the child’s background, giving rise to elite bilingualism. It exists in rich backgrounds, where parents can afford books in both the native and the English language, using their leisure time to support both and encouraging children to understand them clearly. On the other hand, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds find it difficult to acquire English language proficiency since, in some cases, their parents lack formal education and often work for a long period away from home. Thus, children develop bilingualism or common bilingualism, only acquiring basic interpersonal skills.

The language spoken by the dominant social class in South Africa is English, which was adopted during the colonial period. The use of English demonstrates power and a higher social status in society. As a result, there are limited mechanisms used to enforce indigenous languages at the grassroots level. In most instances, parents encourage their children to communicate in English at home even when their language prowess is limited. As a result, children acquire a negative attitude towards their mother tongue due to the powerlessness it portrays. (Saneka & de Witt, 2019). The study concluded that the choice of language in South Africa is based on access to greater economic opportunities hence creating grounds for discrimination against others who do not speak English due to poverty, race, or poor education status.


Researchers conducted a study showing the application and the impact of the bilingual education program in Turkey on protecting ethnic, cultural inheritance, religious identity, and the linguistic knowledge of the minority groups. The country is comprised of several diverse ethnic groups creating a challenge during interaction for the students who do not understand or speak Turkish. Special programs are absent in the country to assist the children in facing language barriers. All the students, regardless of their languages and cultural backgrounds, are kept together with children whose first language is Turkish. As a result, the disadvantaged pupils fail in the first year, creating a need for bilingual education since they have minimal class participation, literacy capacity, and higher chances of leaving school (Ozfidan & Toprak, 2020). Bridging the cultural and language barriers is crucial to prevent systemic failures such as difficulty finding a job and retaining it.

Quantitative and qualitative data from the research were used to provide insight into the need for a well-established bilingual program. Analysis of the data showed a direct correlation between protecting the cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic identity of the minority groups with a bilingual education system (Ozfidan & Toprak, 2020). Other advantages include a higher comprehension of language and cultural diversity and school attendance. A bilingual education system offers children from minority groups the same education platform, which facilitates a seamless integration into society due to the reduced ethnic conflicts. Therefore, non-native Turkish people should not be discriminated against; instead, the country should adopt the program to help the minority group learn effortlessly through a bilingual system.

The Trend of Globalization

Globalization in the 21st century has influenced the adoption of a bilingual education system in the US since the world has become a global village. Technological advancement has influenced communication between people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds due to their workplace interactions and schools. As a result, parents choose bilingual education and why schools offer the bilingual program based on several considerations. The major reasoning relates to the improvement in an individual’s social, academic, and psychological aspects which can give a competitive edge in various spheres of life.

Reasons Why Parents Choose Bilingual Education

There are several reasons why parents opt for a bilingual education program for their children. They include acquiring stronger interpersonal skills, language advantage compared to monolingual children, success in college and the workplace, and the availability of more learning opportunities (Dos Santos, 2019). The study was conducted to determine why parents send their children to study in private primary schools, training students in a bilingual program after completing kindergarten studies in the Chinese language. The thirty-five parents interviewed gave answers that offered individual reasons broadly categorized into personal satisfaction, career development, globalization, and greater English skills for further education.

Twenty-seven parents stated that English proficiency prepared the children to sit for national and international exams such as TOEFL, IB, GCE, and SATs, which determine admission into various international colleges and universities. Passing the exams prepares the students for entry into American, British, and Australian schools. Due to globalization, the students need to communicate with other people, hence obtaining better job opportunities. For example, the financial and commercial business sectors with multinational companies expanding into several countries require qualified personnel who can communicate with the local community and the management. Also, taking the children to a school with BELP was the parents’ sole decision without enquiring whether their kids wanted to take that direction. As a result, it was an option that satisfied the parents since it was in their interest.

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Reasons Why Schools Conduct Bilingual Education

Schools conduct a bilingual education program for several reasons, such as understanding cultural and linguistic diversity, supporting immigrant families’ language disabilities, creating an earlier global environment for children, and helping them in future academic achievement. The study conducted by Ozfidan and Toprak (2020) on the impact of a bilingual program in boosting cohesion within a multiethnic society shows that the program facilitates cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity among minority groups. The bilingual program ensures that their identity is not erased even when they interact with native Turkish speakers. Immigrants experience linguistic barriers when they move into a country with a different language. Immigrant students find it difficult to progress at the same speed as native speakers. To minimize challenges such as dropping out of school and ethnic conflicts, schools adopt a bilingual program to help the students understand the concepts they are taught hence harmonious integration with society. Once students comprehend the subjects and concepts at school, they can obtain favorable academic achievements, which will help them get a job and a source of self-sufficiency.

Improvement in the Social Aspect

A bilingual education system plays a crucial role in improving a person’s social aspects, such as interaction through proper communication skills, expression skills, and group belonging. Upon learning a different language, students can express themselves clearly due to the removal of linguistic barriers. They can understand the recommended social cues within the culture hence the utilization of the required communication skills. (Lewis & Davies, 2018). As a result, they obtain a sense of belonging since they cannot be discriminated against based on their language. Thus, pupils form meaningful relationships since they can understand each other, leading to minimal social antagonism caused by ethnic conflicts.

Improvement in the Psychological Aspect

The bilingual education program improves students’ psychological features such as cognitive abilities, learning interest or motivation, concentration, anti-interference ability, memory, problem-solving skills, adaptability, and self-confidence (Calderón Jurado & Morilla García, 2018). Understanding several languages enables students to acquire greater cognitive and interpersonal skills due to the improved ability to perceive situations through multiple lenses. The increased perception helps them retain information longer, helps them concentrate more with a single-minded sense of focus. Memorizing vocabulary and rules from a second language is a mental exercise that helps the students remember details due to their advanced memory ability. Alternating between two language systems keeps their minds alert, which assists in concentrating on relevant information. As a result, various aspects of a person’s psychological element are boosted, leading to a greater ability to process different scenarios and retain information. Thus, pupils have a positive attitude and greater interest in learning because of the languages’ dynamics, which gives them self-confidence due to the ease of processing and retaining the information relayed to them, leading to greater academic performance and social interactions.

Improvement in the Academic Aspect

There are several advantages of a bilingual program that relate to the academic context. They include understanding other cultures, the presence of equal learning opportunities, language advantage, language transformation, better development through exchange programs, education opportunities abroad and high salary jobs, and laying a foundation for more languages (Dos Santos, 2019). Students who can understand and speak several languages are more likely to understand other cultures through interaction with diverse students. Therefore, they can foster cohesion among different ethnic groups hence leading to minimal ethnic conflicts because language can facilitate co-existence by creating harmony due to mutual understanding and tolerance between parties.

Understanding other languages enable students to have equal learning opportunities with English native speakers since they can attend international universities and Ivy League institutions. As a result, they can compete with other students in education and obtain high-paying jobs after graduating. Enrolling in the bilingual program, especially at a young age, enables students to acquire an extra language that forms a third or fourth language foundation since they can study an extra language at ease. Bilingual and multilingual persons have a language advantage since they can readily interact with people from various parts of the world effortlessly (Schwartz & Palviainen, 2016). Due to the diminished linguistic barriers, they can comfortably seek employment opportunities globally.

Opposite Opinion: Reject the Bilingual Education Program

Opponents of the program argue in favor of elements such as anti-immigration, language and culture superiority, and protection of the dominance of local language and culture. They argue that immigrants resist cultural assimilation since they have the option of retaining their cultural identity. The bilingual system is regarded as unpatriotic and un-American due to its leniency in training students from minority groups in their native language instead of English, the American national language (Spring, 2018). The system also fails to uphold the local culture and language’s superiority since it is not compulsory for immigrants. Other reasons for opposing the system include its ineffectiveness in helping students acquire optimum English proficiency, expensive cost, segregation among students, and the superiority of English immersion.

Conclusion & Remaining Question for Thinking

Despite the numerous benefits that accrue from bilingual education programs, their implementation is affected by poorly paid teachers and insufficient teaching materials. In most countries, the bilingual program is offered by private institutions, which renders it quite expensive. In China, for example, there is a limited number of ESL teachers. Upon student enrollment, there is a heavy workload for teachers who are often overworked and underpaid due to the limited funding of the bilingual programs and inadequate resources. They resign in pursuit of a friendlier working environment, leaving the students stranded. Teaching materials are usually expensive and insufficient, especially when the government has not adopted the curriculum. The limited materials make it difficult for the teachers and the students to cover all the areas required adequately.

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Nevertheless, bilingual education programs differ greatly across countries. In foreign nations, the programs are offered to prepare students for international examinations, whereas in the US, it is provided to help immigrants adapt to their new environment. Therefore, the challenges experienced in the country are different from those in other countries since the bilingual program faces criticism from opponents who advocate for the supremacy of the American system. In other countries, the program is affected by the prevalent socioeconomic factors and the parents’ interests in ensuring their children have a language advantage which offers them an equal education opportunity with the native English speakers.

An analysis of the situations poses a question on the kind of students who can adapt to the bilingual education program. Whereas the program is often offered to people who are not native speakers of the major language used in a particular country, it is not favorable for all persons. Young children can learn several languages easily since they are not burdened with challenging subjects such as mathematics and sciences. Mature people often have difficulties due to the various activities and responsibilities they have to complete. Therefore, it is more advisable to introduce the program to children at the primary school level.


Calderón Jurado, B., &Morilla García, C. (2018). Students’ attitude and motivation in bilingual education. International Journal of Educational Psychology, 7(3), 317–342.

Dos Santos, L. M. (2019). Bilingual English education: The expectation of parents who enroll their children in bilingual primary schools. International Journal of Instruction, 12(4), 747–766. Web.

Gándara, P., & Escamilla, K. (2017). Bilingual education in the United States. In García O., Lin A., May S. (Eds), Bilingual and multilingual education (3rd ed., pp. 1–14). Springer.

Lewis, K., & Davies, I. (2018). Understanding media opinion on bilingual education in the United States. Journal of Social Science Education, 17(4), 40–67. Web.

Ozfidan, B., & Toprak, M. (2020). Cultural awareness on a bilingual education: A mixed method study. Multicultural Learning and Teaching, 15(1).

Saneka, N. E., & de Witt, M. (2019). Barriers and bridges between mother tongue and English as a second language in young children. South African Journal of Childhood Education, 9(1).

Schwartz, M., & Palviainen, Å. (2016). Twenty-first-century preschool bilingual education: facing advantages and challenges in cross-cultural contexts. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19(6), 603–613.

Spring, J. H. (2018). The American school: From the Puritans to the Trump era (10th ed). Routledge.