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Should Bilingual Education be Mandatory?

Matthew Lynch wrote an interesting article in the Huffington Post which argues for mandatory bilingual education right here in the States. While I think that he makes a number of persuasive points, and I strongly agree that bilingualism gives massive benefits to our children, the USA is not, and won’t ever be, a bilingual country. Here’s why:

 

We don’t have the resources to provide a dual-language curriculum

The US spends more money on it’s education system than most other countries in the world, yet neither our students nor our teachers are above average. Of course I am speaking in generalities here – there are millions of exceptional students and countless fantastic teachers right here in the States, in both the public and private school system.

But in general and with increasing frequency, we are recruiting our teachers from the bottom half or even the bottom third of their college classes. When we look at countries with an excellent academic record, such as South Korea and Finland, we find that they tend to recruit their teachers from the top ten percent.

A dual-language curriculum is one where not only do the children learn Spanish, French or another language, but they learn in those languages too. They might have half of their lessons conducted in the target language, so a Math lesson taught in French and a Science lesson taught in English, for example. Dual-language curriculums are proven to work and many have done right here in the States. But for a dual language curriculum to work on a larger scale, we need high quality dual language teachers and sadly we don’t have enough of those to satisfy the demands of the labour market.

Second and third generation immigrants lose their language

This may come as a surprise to some people, but in my professional experience, most second generation Latin American immigrants are not bilingual at all, generally speaking. English is their dominant language, and their Spanish is much weaker by comparison. By the third generation, many will have lost their Spanish entirely. The same holds true across a number of immigrant groups.

There are a whole host reasons why Spanish is, or should be, an important second language to many Americans. Remaining competitive in a booming central American market being just one of them. Yet having said that, many of the benefits of bilingualism are accessible to us and our children no matter which language is learned. Languages such as German, Chinese, Arabic and countless others, are, in some ways, just as important.

Being bilingual is beneficial, but costly

I strongly recommend becoming bilingual, and the sooner the better. It seems as if new research supporting the benefits of bilingualism comes out everyday. Parents especially can do a lot to increase the opportunities of their children by giving them the gift of a second language.

Yet there is a financial cost to learning another language, and it seems to be one that we are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to meet in our public education system as a country. Should our children come out of schools with two or three languages? If money were no object, then absolutely. Are we close to making that dream a reality with our current system? Sadly not. Private lessons remain are the only way that the majority of our children will have the chance to learn another language in this country, and unfortunately not everyone can afford them.

The crucial difference between what should happen and what is happening is not shrinking – it’s growing.

Matthew Lynch is the editor over at the Edvocate. If you would like to read my guest article on gamified language learning, and other interesting articles on the state of education, you can follow the link.

Photo Credit: primeeducation

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