14 Pros and Cons of Bilingual Education

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A bilingual education provides two languages to students simultaneously. Most programs are structured to teach in one language during one part of the day, then the other language for the other portion of the day.

Is this an educational structure that is beneficial Here are some of the key pros and cons to discuss.

What Are the Pros of a Bilingual Education?

1. It is easier for children to learn a second language.
Children who are exposed to a bilingual education pick up that second language much faster than an adult. Learning is part of the brain chemistry of a child. There are lower levels of complex information that must be absorbed. There is less embarrassment went practicing the new language. The process of learning a first language works with the process of learning a second, which encourages development as well.

2. It creates an opportunity for early diversity.
Ask the average child what they care most about and it won’t be cultural issues, same-gender marriages, or the status of religion or immigration. It will be about making friends, having fun, and being challenged at school. Bilingual education offers a chance to celebrate the diversity found in human cultures. It is a chance to learn from differences instead of being scared of them.

3. It provides children with future opportunities.
Being fluent in two languages instead of one provides numerous professional opportunities to the modern worker. Learning the second language while still in school sets up a child to take advantage of those opportunities when they are ready to pursue a vocational path. Depending on the local market, a language differential can add up to 20% to a worker’s salary per year.

4. Learning one new language makes it easier to learn more.
Once a second language has been learned, it becomes easier for that individual to learn a third language. Every additional language learned makes it easier to learn another language fluently. Bilingual education opportunities encourage brain growth, triggers student concentration, and reduces the amount of time required to transition between task switches.

5. Working memory is also improved.
A bilingual education can also improve a child’s working memory. This improvement provides for better processing capabilities when exposed to new sounds, new concepts, and new experiences. At the same time, students in a bilingual education program experience lower levels of anxiety, are less likely to experience a mental health disorder, and tend to have more friends when compared to single-language students.

6. It encourages wisdom.
Wisdom develops from personal experiences. A bilingual education provides students with more of those personal experiences over time. Being fluent in another language can also create overseas studying opportunities, first-hand exposure to new cultures, and a brighter overall future. With greater wisdom, improved decisions can be made, which can create the foundation of a better life.

7. It can be turned into an after-school activity.
In the 1990s, the school district in New Glarus, WI offered students an extra-curricular program that included an opportunity to begin learning German. Numerous districts across the United States have started enrichment programs that introduce students as young as 6 to a second language. Although these programs are not as long or involved as full bilingual education, it can be the start of the learning process.

What Are the Cons of a Bilingual Education?

1. Education in a second language can be inconsistent.
Some school districts stop their bilingual education in high school. Some school districts don’t offer a bilingual education as an option. Because of this inconsistency, some students may lose some of their second language abilities simply because they aren’t using it every day. For a bilingual education to be effective, it must continue on throughout the career of the students who choose to participate in it.

2. Learning specific content can be extremely difficult.
For younger children, learning specific second-language content can be someone difficult. That is because there are difficult concepts being taught at the same time. Many districts that offer a bilingual education teach one language for half the day and the other language for the remainder of the day. If a student is struggling with division and is also struggling with second-language grammatical concepts, it could be a negative impact on their education.

3. A bilingual education is not cheap.
Foreign language programs are being cut around the world because of their cost. Unless the course is mandated, it is often removed. A single-language program is easier and cheaper to operate and can still provide the essential skills that the student may require. Many schools are already cutting artistic and creative classes already, so the cost of adding a bilingual component is something that many schools just can’t do.

4. It prevents student involvement in local culture.
A foreign language may provide several advantages, but it also causes the disadvantage of isolation. Many students in a bilingual educational program find themselves making friends only with those who are in the same class. That may expose the student to new cultures, but it also widens the culture gap being experienced at the local level because it is created a unique culture between two language extremes.

5. Bilingual education can shift a student’s focus.
If a bilingual education program is broken into a standard 50/50 split during the school day, students who do struggle with the new language may find themselves focused on the second language only. Schools provide vocational skills, creative opportunities, athletic opportunities, and much more. If the student falls behind on the second language and struggles to keep up with their coursework, their only option is to try to catch up on the second language instead of learning essential life skills.

6. There may be a lack of qualified teachers and assistants.
For a bilingual education to be effective, it must be immersive. It must have teachers and teaching assistants who are fluent in both languages being taught. At the same time, the bilingual teachers and assistants must have patience, but firm expectations, for their students so that progression can be achieved. With modern educational requirements, many teachers are struggling to meet the minimum requirements in many subjects. There just isn’t the time to add another language into the mix.

7. It comes with a stigma.
Bilingual educational opportunities are often associated with the topic of immigration. Some communities see this structure as a way to cater to those who come to their community instead of having immigrants embrace their own way of life. In some ways, a bilingual education might cause some students to resist becoming part of the local community, especially if they can learn what is needed in their own primary language.

The pros and cons of a bilingual education show us that it can be a foot in the door for the next generation. There are certainly challenges which must be met, including funding and finding experienced teachers, but these are not impossible tasks. Learning a second language is much easier for children to do, so it only makes sense to include it in their student curriculum whenever possible.