Before Bilingual Education, how was English teaching/learning approached in classrooms with ELLs in the U.S? How did Bilingual Education emerge? Name some of its programs and discuss one in detail. Remember to include scholars who contributed to the topic, and classroom applications.


Initially schools had adopted the sink or swim approach also known as submersion . In these programs, ELLs were placed with mainstream students in classrooms and had no systematic instruction for learning English. They were expected to “pick up” the language on their own. These conditions were extremely stressful for the learner in that they had to learn content matter, and keep up with the native English speaking teachers and peers at the same time. In addition, this approach questions the right of the children to equal access to education. The federal government decided to address the issue by the Title VII Act (Bilingual Education Act) in 1968 requiring schools to facilitate English learning for these students. However, they did not mandate bilingual education. In 1974, Chinese parents in San Francisco took the case to court saying their children were denied proper education due to lack of language programs in schools. The court ruled that bilingual education programs be established so these students could benefit from meaningful education.

There are several kinds of bilingual education programs including:

1.      Transitional (early exit)

2.      Developmental (late exit)

3.      Immersion programs

4.      New comer

5.      Maintenance programs

I will discuss DBE.

Bilingual education programs based their systems on Cummins’ (1970) “Common Underlying Proficiency Theory” which explains that all languages seem very different on the surface, but cognitively demanding tasks such as thinking, reasoning, … are common in all languages. Therefore, if a learner is proficient in these skills in his/her L1, there is no need to re-learn them; they are easily transferred to the L2. This is called the “interdependence hypothesis”.  Based on these notions, bilingual education programs set their goals to teach English language skills, and academic content at the same time using L1 to clarify the subjects. This is also in line with Krashen’s (1982) input hypothesis (i+1) where he says the input the learner receives (i), needs to be comprehensible and just above the learners’ level of competence (+1). Also, according to Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis, when learners are in a relaxed and non-intimidating environment, they learn easier and with better results. The lower the affective filters, the faster they learn and obtain the desired proficiency, and the better the material gets through to the LAD (Language Acquisition Device, Chomsky 1965),

DBE is somewhat similar to TBE in that L1 is the initial means of instruction, and subject matter is taught in sheltered and L1 classrooms. The difference between the two is that TBE is considered as a remedial treatment for curing minority students and to compensate for what they lack; whereas, DBE values and uses the students background to help them become true bilinguals and to promote biliteracy. In DBE, instruction begins with the L1 and English is gradually incorporated during primary grades. In grades 4-5 English becomes predominant. Even when learners are fluent in English, they still receive instruction in L1. It is obvious how much emphasis DBE puts on the students’ L1, it is always considered as part of their development and instruction.

This is completely explainable through the “Threshold Hypothesis” by Cummins (1979) where he states that learners need to have obtained a certain level of L1 academic proficiency that can support academic achievement in L2. TBE, which is also known as early exit programs, rushes students to enter mainstream classes as soon as possible. This interrupts the full development of CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, coined by Cummins himself) in L1 and causes poor academic competency in both languages (limited or partial bilingualism) or subtractive bilingualism; whereas, DBE is a late exit program where students are gradually transitioned into English only instruction; however, even in advanced levels of English proficiency, L1 is always present. This allows full development of cognitive abilities and language competency in both L1 and L2 (additive bilingualism).


Give the history and policy of bilingualism in the US and discuss its present position.  Argue your position on this topic and give substantial reasons/evidence why you hold this position.


The language policy in the United States has been quite amorphous since its inception owing in part to immigration and changing demographics, yet one thread remains through hundreds of years of policy; it is shaped by those who find themselves as the dominant group.


In the early 1800s, there was much discussion about what to do about a language policy in the U.S.  Some argued that English should be the official language, while others argued, for instance, that German should be the official language.  Those in positions of power, for example the Catholic Church, tried to impose their influence by creating anti-German sentiment, trying to influence those who may have been in favor of German.  German gained a strong hold in some schools in America, but eventually gave way as English became mandated as the official language, and German was banned as a language of instruction in schools.


Through the 1900s, as the United States began their imperialist expansion and began annexing Spanish-speaking countries, such as Puerto Rico, and more Spanish-speaking immigrants began their immigration into the U.S., from Mexico, for instance, Spanish came to be a minority language in the U.S. In order to accommodate its speakers, some states allowed for bilingual instruction to be given in Spanish, and also government documents were made available in Spanish.  However, in fear that Spanish may overtake English as the national language, dominant cultural leaders aimed to quell the rising tide of Spanish, and began campaigns which played on people’s nationalistic sentiments and the history of the United States, arguing that English has always been the official language, and it should remain so.


1978 was an important year for bilingual policy in the U.S. as Laus vs. Nichols, a piece of legislation which made it mandatory for schools to provide students with instruction in their native language should they need it, was put in place.  This was in response to Chinese immigrants claiming that their children were being denied basic right by not being able to have instruction in their native language.  Laus vs. Nichols held for some 15 years until another important moment in bilingual policy happened, the passing of proposition 227 in California, which in effect, reversed Laus vs Nichols and banned bilingual instruction in California.  Other states soon followed suit, banning bilingual education in many parts of the country.


It is unfortunate the Laus vs Nichols was reversed as a growing body of research has demonstrated that bilingual education has a number of benefits over English only instruction.  Proponents of English only instruction, claim that time-on-task in English is one of the most important factors in English development, and thus argue that the more time spent on English, the more a student’s English will develop.  Proponents of bilingual education argue that time spent on the L1 helps students develop literacy and language skills which can then be transferred to the l2 (Cummins, 1979; Krashen, 1981).  What does the research show?




In a comparative study of English-only programs vs. bilingual instruction, Baker and De Kanter (1980) claimed that bilingual education showed no significant gains over intensive instruction.  Baker and Rossel (1985) performed a similar study, reaching similar findings.  Cummins(1999)has criticized these studies for poor evaluative techniques, claiming that many of the ‘intensive’ programs reviewed in the studies, were actually either transitional bilingual education or early-exit programs.  Cummins argues that these researchers, as well as those who use this research to support English-only instruction are engaging in a form of double speak in order to confuse the public and gain sympathy for English only instruction.  On the other hand, a longitudinal study undertaken by Thomas and Collier (1991), in which thousands of students English achievement was measured over a 5 year period, found that TBE and EEBE were the only programs in which students were able to reach the level of 50th percentile in comparison to their native speaker peers, while also demonstrating that sink-or-swim and other immersion programs showed the least amount of gains relative to native speaker peers.


It appears to me that those who argue in favor of English-only instruction do so not out of concern for the language development of the children, but rather because of fear that bilingual education in schools may lead to official bilingualism in society, and thereby challenge the existing power structures, a xenophobia and propaganda, which can be seen in the anti-multicultural writings of Hayakawa (1980s) and Schlesinger (1990s).  Teaching children in bilingual settings, I believe, does not promote official bilingualism, but instead respects the student’s identity, and provides them with a tool to help them learn the l2 (Vygotsky, 1978).  It seeks to add another language to a child’s repertoire, not subtract one.  In this era of globalization, bilingual, multicultural citizens should not be viewed as a national threat, but a national resource (Cummmins, 1999).