Re: Pros & Cons of Bilingual Ed

Philip Cain (
Sun, 19 Jan 1997 22:44:31 GMT (Linda E Lombardo) wrote:

>Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't current research
>suggest that immersion is the best way overall to
>help students become fluent in a new language?
>And wasn't that always true?
>I believe they found that bilingual education became
>teaching in only the native language because when
>given a choice they will only listen to what is easier.
>Who wouldn't? I truly feel that you are doing a
>great disservice to students when you don't help
>them to become fluent as quickly as possible.
>Sometimes you have to be "cruel" to be kind. If
>you really care about your students you will give
>them the tools they will need for school, career,
>and life in this country.

Current neurobiological research says that the best time to learn a
new language is before 8 years old. Before then, the speech center of
the brain is still developing and is eager to acquire all kinds of
language information.

There is no such thing during this time of a language that is
'easier'. After 8, when the speech center is finished developing,
there is a sense of 'easier' in that the brain can no longer deveop
new brain structures for language and a new language that the current
structures can't absorb is not as 'easy'.

We have to be careful here, though. If an 8-year-old child has heard
only one language in life, then any new language will be percieved as
harder because there are no brain structures for leaning variants in
grammar, syntax and pronunciation. But if a child is bilingual by 8,
then learning a third language may come naturally because the brain is
already programmed to accept variants.

Even more subtle is the idea that the speech center may be affected by
stimulus that is not related to obvious 'new' languages. An 8-year-old
with one language may find the acquisition of a second language easy
because the brain was stimulated by language-like variants (moving
from one part of the country to another or reading and role playing
that included acting out different speech patterns, for example). If
this stimulation was rich, a child may not have much difficulty in
learning a new language.

If the goal is to develop languages skills in students, my take is
that elementary education has, at most, three years to do the job with
starting first-graders and that secondary teachers haven't a prayer. I
would further suggest that exposure should be by immersion from the
first day.

And the language chosen makes no difference at all if it has a fully
developed grammar. Pig latin won't do but Sanskrit, Mandarin, Greek or
Latin would do nicely<g>. Of course, the language chosen would
probably be one that is more immediately useful, but he central
educational goal should be to send the brain, while it can do
something about it, the message that there is much more to prepare for
than it has in the past.

Philip Cain