Bilingual Education Can Benefit All Students

This is the title of Alexandra Sabater’s post in the Dallas news opinion blog.  She writes eloquently about the benefits of bilingual education from her perspective as a teacher. It got me thinking about beliefs about bilingual education for children who have language impairment.

Despite evidence to the contrary, people seem to think that continuing to provide support in the home language will slow down English language learning. For children with language impairment especially there is a common belief that they need EVEN MORE English for them to “catch up.”

We’re running into this a bit for a study we want to do where we will be providing English or Spanish intervention to children with language impairment or with risk for language impairment. (Incidentally, we’ll be providing high-quality, evidence-based, curriculum related, language and literacy intervention for FREE– if they let us). Some school district folks (not everyone of course, but some of the administrators of the schools) seem to think that if we pull these bilingual kids out of class three times a week to provide services that they’ll get behind. THEY’RE ALREADY BEHIND. And, as we know there is already a shortage of bilingual SLPs (or even monolingual English SLPs with training in second language learning). So, it’s unlikely that the services they’re getting in speech therapy will be of the same quality as what we can offer.

Some people think that since they’re already providing say Spanish-based language arts that they’ve done enough and the rest of children’s services need to be in English. The logic of this again is that if they receive MORE Spanish they’ll get behind in English.  That makes no sense at all, but I can understand the logic. It does seem somewhat counterintuitive that if you support the home language MORE that children can make connections in the second language more readily. Think of it this way, if you don’t know ANYTHING about a topic can you learn that topic in a language you don’t know? You’ve got two tasks to learn the language AND the topic. But, if you can make some connections between what you know already and the second language that can help you.

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