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myths about bilingual education

Myths

MYTHS ABOUT BILINGUALISM:

MYTH:

Learning 2 languages confuses children and impairs their ability to think and learn

REALITY:

Many people think that there is only room enough in the brain for one language, however if we look around at other countries, we easily see that in many places children grow up learning two languages or sometimes more languages without any cost to their educational development.  For example, in Switzerland, the home language may be French, Swiss or English or Ramansh, but most children learn one additional language very easily and by the time they graduate from secondary school, the majority of students are fluent in both.

Contrary to the idea that two languages confuse people this is evidence that fully developed bilingualism actually enhances ones “cognitive flexibility”.  They are able to see things from two or more perspectives and are able to understand better how other people think. (Hakesta 1986)

MYTH:

Parents who speak a language other than English to their children hinder their children’s chances for academic success,.

REALITY:

In general it is best for parents to speak the language they are fluent in to their children. This could be the native language or a language they know very well.  If parents speak to their children in the language they are proficient in, then they are providing a good model for children to develop that language themselves.  Sometimes wishing to give children more exposure to English, parents may force themselves to speak English at home even through they are not proficient in it, but this may actually have the undesired effect of delaying language development and hurting their children’s chances for academic success.

MYTH:

The more exposure one has to a language the more quickly one learns that language

REALITY:

Simply being exposed to a language is no guarantee that we will gain in-depth knowledge of it as we will be exposed to language input that we cannot understand.  Much of what is said and written will be “over our heads”. 

In order for language learning to take place, we must receive “comprehensible input” – that is, language input must be modelled and specifically taught so that we can understand it. (Krashen 1981)

MYTH:

Bilingual Education has been proven ineffective.  It only serves to hinder the learning of English and slow students down academically.

REALITY:

Bilingual Education is not one thing; it is many.  There are different models of bilingual education.  While all of them provide equal access to the curriculum and promote success they differ greatly in the degree to which they promote true bilingualism which strengthens student’s academic success.  Therefore when we question whether bilingual education has been successful we have to first know --what programme was used --what it was designed to do and then we can ascertain if it has accomplished those goals. (See page 6 Models)

MYTH:

Many immigrant children have learning disabilities, not language learning delay.  They speak English just fine but they still are failing academically.

REALITY:

Many such children appear to speak English in playground activities with little problem but when they are in the classroom situation they just don’t grasp various concepts.  There are different levels of English language proficiency.  The language needed for face-to-face communication is very different from the language needed to perform in cognitively demanding situations such as classes and lectures

It takes a child about 2 years to develop skills to  communicate in a
 second language in the playground but 5-8 years to develop age appropriate academic language i

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