LATINO VOICES
04/12/2014 11:52 am ET Updated Jun 23, 2014

The Fight For Bilingual Education Programs In The U.S.

Anyone who felt the ice was thinning regarding the controversial nature of bilingualism education took it on the chin after the fallout from Coke’s recent Super Bowl commercial featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in eight languages. Yeah, there are still plenty of myopic folks who simply believe, “Either speak English or leave.”

The anti-bilingual wall

Still, there are cracks in the anti-bilingual wall in terms of K-12 education with California legislators currently debating the elimination of Prop 227, which in 1998 effectively ended bilingual education in that state.

Florida International University Assistant Professor of Linguistics Phillip M. Carter told VOXXI the irony is the smoking gun in favor of bilingual education is tied directly to Prop 227’s effect in Northern California, where such programs were allowed if more than 50 percent of parents signed waivers.

“There are very successful bilingual education programs in San Francisco City Schools for languages like Mandarin and Japanese,” Carter said. “The data from those programs is very, very good. Those students do better than their peers in non-bilingual programs within the same district.”

The reason why bilingual education programs produce higher-achieving students has to do with cognitive benefits such as enhanced understanding of mathematics, creativity and selective retention.

What’s currently being proposed in California is to allow bilingual education, thus benefiting millions of Spanish speaking students who right now are taking English-only classes.

“The proposal is for dual language immersion (DLI) programs, which differ slightly from bilingual education programs,” Carter said. “The goal is to give students education in all core areas in both languages – acquiring English and maintaining the home language if you’re an immigrant student or acquiring the second language and maintaining English if you’re U.S. born.”

He added that DLI programs, which begin with young children, actually increase the cognitive benefits for students. This also effectively dispels the introduction of foreign language study in high school.

“You get less benefits the older you are when you learn the language, so that means it makes very little sense to block use of both languages until high school,” Carter said. “That’s a huge missed opportunity, not only for Latino students who come to school probably speaking Spanish and they forget it, but also in terms of the cognitive benefits all students regardless of language background will receive.”

One of the more devastating byproducts of the bilingual education debate is its affect on the Latino family, which sends kids to school to learn English. The result is not only do the young students lose their cultural heritage and the ability to speak to their extended family in their native tongue, but deny themselves career opportunities.

“There’s an astounding number of cascading effect on Latino families where parents and grandparents only speak Spanish and kids who only speak English or have receptive bilingualism, where they can understand their parents but aren’t comfortable responding in Spanish,” Carter said. “That’s how language attrition takes place.

“Which you can say, ‘OK, who cares? Do we need Spanish in the U.S.?’ And you can say, ‘Yeah, we do.’ It’s good for the students, and it’s good for the local economies. Imagine if all of the millions of U.S. Latinos had full education in both languages, what kind of economic benefit that would usher in. It would be tremendous.”

It’s one thing to be able to communicate bilingually but what’s lost on, say, Latino students who no longer study Spanish is literacy – these are skills that are desperately needed in places such as Southern California, the southwest and Miami.

Considering a bilingual education benefits all students – Latinos, African Americans, whites – Carter remains hopeful the concept will soon be embraced by all sides.

“The page is turning on account of globalization,” Carter said. “I think that people from across the political spectrum are recognizing the globalizing forces on the economy and political systems of putting people in contact with one another from diverse places in ways that are unprecedented.”

“Despite that inherent political nature of language issues, I think the tide is turning and people are starting to say ‘OK, yes, actually this does make sense.’”

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Because lots of Americans speak Spanish
    As of 2012, approximately 38.3 million people in the U.S. spoke&nbsp;Spanish at home, according to the <a href="http://www.ce
    Getty
    As of 2012, approximately 38.3 million people in the U.S. spoke Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census. That's 13 percent of U.S. residents ages 5 and older. 
  • 2 Because a bunch of our states, cities and streets have Spanish names
    Nevada, Colorado, Los Angeles, Florida, Montana, San Antonio, California and Sacramento are all Spanish words or names. The l
    Getty
    Nevada, Colorado, Los Angeles, Florida, Montana, San Antonio, California and Sacramento are all Spanish words or names. The list goes on and on.
  • 3 Because Spanish was spoken in what is today the United States before English
    Spanish colonizers first set foot in the area that would become the United States in the 16th century, <a href="http://www.st
    Getty Images
    Spanish colonizers first set foot in the area that would become the United States in the 16th century, founding a permanent colony in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 -- well before the English set up Jamestown. All European languages, on the other hand, are more foreign to North America than Karuk, Cherokee, Natchez or the scores of other languages of the indigenous peoples of the continent.
  • 4 Because the U.S. has more Spanish speakers than Spain
    In 2013, the U.S. had the 5th largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. However, in 2015 it moved up to the <a href="
    Getty Images
    In 2013, the U.S. had the 5th largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. However, in 2015 it moved up to the number two spot behind Mexico.
  • 5 Because it’s the most-spoken language on the island of Puerto Rico
    And Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    And Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
  • 6 Because the U.S. does not have an official language
    English is not the official language of the United States.&nbsp;Though <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/
    Getty Images
    English is not the official language of the United States. Though several states across the nation have adopted legislation establishing English as their official language, no such legislation has been adopted on a federal level.
  • 7 Because even English-speaking people use Spanish words on a daily basis
    Words like "cafeteria," "vanilla," and even "ranch" are derived from Spanish.&nbsp;
    Creatas via Getty Images
    Words like "cafeteria," "vanilla," and even "ranch" are derived from Spanish. 
  • 8 Because this Spanish-language network is a ratings beast
    Spanish broadcast network Univision regularly <a href="http://corporate.univision.com/2016/05/may-sweeps-to-date-univision-ra
    Photo by Alexander Tamargo/WireImage
    Spanish broadcast network Univision regularly outperforms English-language networks, especially on a local level. Univision stations in Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Sacramento closed out the May 2016 sweeps period as the most-watched early and late local newscasts among Adults ages 18-49, regardless of language.
  • 9 Because Spanish is becoming the second-most important language in politics
    Even candidates vying for political office recognize the fact that many of the nation's citizens speak Spanish, many releasin
    Getty
    Even candidates vying for political office recognize the fact that many of the nation's citizens speak Spanish, many releasing Spanish-language ads in an effort to connect with voters. 
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