Benefits Of Bilingualism
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Dear Readers,

Bilingual Education has been, for many reasons, controversial to say the least. Not all Bilingual programs out there are the same or even beneficial. The following excerpt, however, doesn't focus on the controversy of bilingual education or its programs, rather on the benefits that programs such as Dual Immersion (or Two-Way Immersion) provides.

1. Cognitive and Language Development Children who are bilingual and biliterate have also shown the benefit of increased cognitive and language development (Gonzalez, Bauerle & Felix, 1996). These authors support theoretical and practical implications of important methodological problems affecting the assessment of bilingual children’s cognitive and language development. In other words, the way in which a bilingual child thinks and processes language affects and influences his or her cognitive and language abilities. A home-language survey, a locally designed teachers’ and parents’ rating scale of creativity, and the qualitative use in English and Spanish tasks were the instruments used to identify gifted students among seventeen Hispanic bilingual students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. After analyzing the data, patterns such as the complexity of the developmental process of becoming bi-cognitive, bicultural, and bilingual, the influence of evaluators’ personalities on assessment, and the importance of the children’s primary language were found to be of importance in determining how Spanish bilingual students process language and the development of their cognitive abilities.

Baker (2006) also reported on various studies (Hudson, 1966; Torrance, 1974; Cummins, 1975) suggesting that cognitive and language development are increased by bilingualism. Bilingual children showed increased divergent and creative thinking. That is, bilingual children scored higher on fluency, originality, and elaboration of answers to different language categories (Baker, 2006, p. 153). Furthermore, Baker suggests that bilingualism also increases metalinguistic awareness and that the “size of their total vocabulary across both languages is likely to be greater than that of a monolingual child in a single language” (p. 154).

2. Cooperative Grouping Another benefit of Dual Immersion programs that expands to students, parents, and society starts with cooperative learning. Cooperative learning calls for students to collaborate in groups most of the time. Numerous research studies in k-12 settings, (White-Soltero, 2004), have revealed that students who complete learning tasks in cooperative learning groups tend to have more positive self-concepts, better social skills, fewer stereotyped perceptions of others, and greater comprehension of study content skills (p. 92). Thus cooperative learning tends to increase learners’ motivation by providing peer support and facilitating the contribution of all students, regardless of their linguistic or academic levels and emphasizing accomplishments of each individual and the success of all members of the group (White-Soltero, 2004). In Dual Immersion programs, cooperative learning is crucial because it provides students with the opportunities to experience a rich language environment for English learners (Lessow-Hurley, 2009). Hence, the skills students learn while working in cooperative grouping in the school setting will likely be able to transfer to their daily lives.

3. Heritage Language and Culture Being bilingual and maintaining heritage and culture are important benefits for students, parents, and the community as well; programs such as Dual Immersion encourages and promotes maintaining the original heritage and culture. As Butler & Gutierrez (2003) observe, being able to speak another language is valued by students. In their case study they observed how the learning climate within the classroom and at school relates to student achievement, particularly to reading comprehension and the perception of students with regards to speaking another language. Buttler and Gutierrez also state that students who are explicitly and implicitly supported and encouraged to maintain their heritage language, in this case Spanish, and culture demonstrate pride in these aspects through their actions and words. Thus, if students feel proud of who they are and where they came from, their self-identity, confidence, and esteem will be more positive.

4. Biliteracy and Bilingualism Often biliteracy and bilingualism are confused. Bilingualism is the ability to speak and understand two different languages with native-like capability; while biliteracy is the ability to read and write two different languages (Malkoff & Hakuta, 1991). Many of the second language learners are eventually able to speak and understand two languages: their native language and English. However, oftentimes they are not biliterate. As Lessow-Hurley (2009) points out, this is due to the assumption that for English learners, it is enough to be able to communicate in and to speak their native languages. However, just as English speakers will develop literacy in their language in school, speakers of other languages benefit from the language instruction in their own language at school settings. They [English learners] need formal instruction in their own language to perform comparably to English speakers. Baker (2006) affirms that English learners are expected to become literate int heir native language as well as in the majority language. Biliteracy then, includes the development of a full range of understanding and skills appropriate for an educated speaker of two languages. Thus, language learners who are successful readers and writers in their own language are able to use their knowledge to help them make sense of their world.

WHY NOT?

As a mother of two young bilingual children, I believe, besides teaching my children how to read (and other important live skills), that speaking more than one language is one of the best skills and ADVANTAGES I can offer to and provide for my children. So I would like to challenge you to consider teaching your children ---or yourself--(or having them in a Dual-Immersion program) another language. Why not? The benefits and advantages of being bilingual and biliterate are obvious and palpable.

Best Regards,

Maya


Street Talk

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