Sunday, October 5, 2014

Shift Happens

This TEDX talk given by Kim Potowski, an associate professor of Hispanic linguistics in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago ( offers a unique perspective to the discussion of bilingual education.  

Many people believe that every child attending a public school in the United States should be taught solely in English.  Some schools offer "bilingual education" in which students are taught in both English and Spanish; however, the problem with this so called "bilingual education" is that the goal typically ends up being to teach students with as little Spanish as possible, funneling them as quickly as possible into mainstream, English-only schooling.  This chart, presented by Potowski in her talk, brings a third educational program to the to light: two-way immersion.
In a two-way immersion program, grades K-4 are taught approximately 90% in Spanish and 10% in English.  After that, classes are taught in 50% Spanish and 50% English.  This idea might raise concern in this day and age, considering that standardized tests required for admission to most colleges (SAT and ACT) are given in English.  In response to that argument,  Potowski displays this chart: 
It shows results from a study that followed children who were learning English who were now in the 11th grade.  Students in the two-way immersion program clearly out-performed their peers who were in bilingual education or English only programs.  These programs included children whose heritage language was both Spanish and children who spoke only English.  For those who may be concerned that English-speaking children would be held back and under perform in a program taught 50% in Spanish, this study proved this incorrect.  In fact, English-speaking children in a two-way immersion program performed at the state average for English reading achievement.  
My mom speaks fluent Portuguese, Spanish, and French.  She also speaks almost fluent Italian and some German.  Unfortunately, she and my dad did not raise me to be bilingual, something all of us regret now.  I wish that I had the ability to speak two languages fluently; however, three years of high school Spanish did not allow for this.  With the results Potowski presented in her talk regarding two-way immersion programs, I wonder why there are only 400 such programs in the United States.

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