Forget Bilingual Education, Here Comes Biliterate Education!

Bilingual education is the third rail of public education politics. On one hand, proponents argue that kids should learn in whatever language is most accessible to them. On the other, English-only advocates argue that children won't learn to speak English properly unless they're forced to do so.

Enter into this fray another method: biliterate education. But before you get to your respective high horses, read this article by Claudio Sanchez over at NPR about one such bilingual school in Miami, Florida:

"When parents come to Coral Way, they already know what they're buying into," Otero says. "We have proven that our methods here at Coral Way do work, and that our students are successful and prepared to face the challenges ahead of them."

Most of the 1,500 students at the school are low-income, but their test scores are among the highest in the city. After eighth grade, many go on to Miami's top private and public high schools. Some take up a third and fourth language.

For parents like Allen Miller, Spanish is academic enrichment — just as important as being well-read and talented at math.

"We're an English-speaking household," Miller says. "Our son now is becoming fluent in Spanish. He loves it, and that's a skill he would not get normally in a traditional school system."

There are about 440 public bilingual immersion schools across the country, up from only a handful in the 1970s. A growing number today teach Mandarin and French, not just Spanish.

But in some states — California, Arizona, Colorado and Massachusetts — bilingual immersion programs are banned because a majority of voters don't think children can learn proper English and hold on to a foreign language and culture at the same time.

It's an issue that gets caught up in the angry debate over illegal immigration, especially from Spanish-speaking countries. Even in Miami, when Rosa de La O tells people her kids attend a bilingual school, some always ask, "Are we loyal? Are we not? Is a child is going to absorb that?" she says. (Photo: Claudio Sanchez/NPR)

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The problem with foreign language education in the US is precisely that there is no immersion. Within the traditional curricula no fluency is maintained, and the coursework only nominally helps you understand the structure and nuances of English, which should be a natural, and desired, by-product. I understand some of the objections to bilingual education as it was originally proposed. Many times it was only a stopgap measure that did not help students gain proficiency in both languages. But having students gain fluency in two languages? Who would object to that?
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I really don't understand who in their right mind would think that learning another language would be a hindrance in any way. I could be wrong but I thought that learning another language (especially the Romance Languages when you already speak English)were considered to be helpful because of all the Latin roots in English. But maybe I'm just a crazy liberal who is trying to bring America down. ;)
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I went to a bilingual school district, Gadsden High Schools in Anthony, New Mexico, where, gasp, Mexican kids and Anglo kids all went to the same classes together. We all learned English together and we all learned Spanish together, for twelve years, and the best part is, we all were friends. Sad to say that could probably never happen again. I am so lucky I read and speak both languages fluently in this day and age. People miss out on so many things because they are scared.
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Laughable -- in Canada, particularly Montreal and Ottawa, kids go to immersion schools, and have no problem maintaining whatever culture they have from home. What about in Europe, particularly Switzerland where 3 or 4 languages are common. No one raises a fuss.
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