An overview of bilingual education: Models and success stories

Abstract. Bilingual education or language immersion education is a second language teaching approach in which the medium of classroom instruction is the learners’ second language. The term ‘immersion education’ was widely used when Canada first initiated the French immersion program in St-Lambert, Quebec which has become a major bilingual education model for many countries to replicate or refer to for their education innovation. This study reviews definitions of bilingual education, highlights what the literature says about bilingual education models, and describes success stories from around the world.

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HNUE JOURNAL OF SCIENCE DOI: 10.18173/2354-1075.2017-0144 Educational Sci., 2017, Vol. 62, Iss. 6, pp. 192-200 This paper is available online at AN OVERVIEW OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION: MODELS AND SUCCESS STORIES Nguyen Thuy Nga, Nguyen Thi Mai Huong, Nguyen Thi Thu Ha Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. Bilingual education or language immersion education is a second language teaching approach in which the medium of classroom instruction is the learners’ second language. The term ‘immersion education’ was widely used when Canada first initiated the French immersion program in St-Lambert, Quebec which has become a major bilingual education model for many countries to replicate or refer to for their education innovation. This study reviews definitions of bilingual education, highlights what the literature says about bilingual education models, and describes success stories from around the world. Keywords: bilingual education, immersion, immersion model, immersion education. 1. Introduction The terms ‘bilingual education’ and ‘immersion’ are used interchangeably because both refer to the model of education in which the child not only learns the second language, but also is educated through the medium of this language. Thus, the target language is used as a means of instruction to deliver the content of the curriculum. There have been various versions or types of bilingual education or immersion. Different types of immersion such as total immersion, partial immersion, and two-way immersion are offered to students in different age groups. They are distinguished both by the enrolment age and the extent of the second language use in the course. A further difference is whether or not the instruction involves both the first and second languages as the medium of instruction. This study reviews the definitions and models of bilingual education and additionally provides an overview of successful bilingual education in Canada, Finland, and the US where the local context of each country is carefully considered to maximize the effectiveness of the particular bilingual immersion model. 2. Content 2.1. Definitions of bilingual education Bilingual education is not easy to define. Broadly speaking, bilingual education means using two languages for instructional purposes. Since it is impossible to separate language and culture, bilingual education also entails bicultural education [1]. The 20th and 21st century witnessed the conceptualization and reconceptualization of the term ‘bilingual education’. To begin with, bilingual education referred to the use of two languages Received date: 15/4/2017. Published date: 25/6/2017. Contact: Nguyen Thuy Nga, e-mail: thuynga.nguyen@hnue.edu.vn. 192 An overview of bilingual education: models and success stories in schooling [2]. This was then further divided into ‘subtractive’ and ‘additive’ bilingualism. The subtractive approach aimed at replacing learners’ L1 with a majority language while additive bilingual sought to add a new language alongside the students’ mother tongue; hence, promoting bilingualism and bi-literacy in the long term. Later, bilingual education became known as immersion language education and was confined only to programs whose aims were to “achieve, foster and/or maintain longer-term student bilingualism and bi-literacy, adding another language to the student’s existing language repertoire”[3]. According to May [3], all programs belonging to the subtractive continuum cannot be considered bilingual education. In other words, bilingual education must adopt the additive orientation. Bilingual education helps students to achieve bilingual competence by using both languages in teaching the non-language-related academic content (no less than 50% of the curriculum in one year or more) [4]. Immersion programs can be categorized as early immersion (starting in kindergarten or grade 1), middle immersion (starting in grade 4 or grade 5) and late immersion (in grade 7). In brief, although different definitions have been offered, they share one common feature, that is, bilingual education requires the use of another language other than the mother tongue language at school. The general aim of bilingual education is to foster students’ bilingual competence. 2.2. Bilingual education models Back in the 1970s bilingualism was broken into four types: transitional, monoliterate, partial and full bilingualism [5-6]. The conceptual framework of three education models as transitional, maintenance, and enrichment was later offered by Fishman [7]. The transitional model encourages language minority students to shift to the official language, assimilate to mainstream culture norms and then be incorporated into the national society. The maintenance model encompasses programs encouraging language minority students to maintain their native language and strengthen their cultural identity. The enrichment model fosters the development of minority languages on the individual and collective levels, cultural pluralism at school and in the community, and national society based on the autonomy of cultural groups. In terms of linguistic goals, there seems to be general consensus among researchers [8-10] that there are three major groups of bilingual education: 1. Monolingual forms of education for bilinguals: The programs of this type aim to assist ethnic minority children in the first phase of their education until they master the majority language. The language used in the classroom is the majority language. The aim therefore is to assimilate the children into the mainstream. Being able to use the majority language is the ultimate outcome of these programs. 2. Weak forms of bilingual education for bilinguals: The target learners in the programs of this type are still minority children. However, there are some dynamics in the use of the minority language and the majority language. The aim of education is assimilation into the main stream, but some elements of enrichment of both languages can be found. The language outcome therefore is limited bilingualism. 3. Strong forms of bilingual education for bilingualism and biliteracy: This is true bilingual education. The programs of this type aim to produce relatively balanced bilinguals who are proficient in both languages. Thus, the outcome of this education model is bilingualism. In this type of education, appropriate attention is paid to both languages and cultures and therefore can create diversity with positive effects in the classroom. This educational model is often found in bilingual countries (e.g. Canada, Luxembourg, Indonesia, etc.) or countries with a highly developed social culture (Nordic countries, Japan, etc.). 193 Nguyen Thuy Nga, Nguyen Thi Mai Huong, Nguyen Thi Thu Ha 2.3. Successful bilingual education practices 2.3.1. Bilingual education in Canada French immersion is a form of bilingual education that has prevailed in Canada since its inception in 1965, in St-Lambert, Quebec [11-12]. In this kind of bilingual education model, a child whose first language is not French receives instruction at school in French. In most French-immersion schools, children will learn to speak French and learn most school subjects such as History, Music, Geography, Maths, Art, Physical Education and Science in French. Evidence shows that French immersion is an effective way for Anglophones to achieve French proficiency [12]. It is worth looking at the history of the development of French immersion model in Canada. French immersion education in Canada has gained a great amount of attention from educators in the country and all over the world. It was supported by the release of a landmark report made by Canada’s Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1969. Among many other things in this report, the recommendation of making French an official language alongside English was a salient point that soon encouraged the Official Languages Act to become a part of Canadian legislation not long after that. These events served as an initial motivator for this bilingual education model to be developed. Canadian people have seen a number of benefits of being bilingual including economic, cognitive and cultural benefits and have strongly supported bilingualism. Canadians who can speak both English and French earn more on average than those who can speak only one language [13]. Being bilingual has proved to help improve problem-solving skills and enables the bilingual person to discriminate between relevant and misleading information more effectively than the person who speaks a single language [9, 14]. Being bilingual also leads to improve participation in Canadian society. According to the statistics from the Centre de Recherche sur L’Opinion Publique (CROP) made in 2004, a majority of Canadian people strongly support bilingualism and want Canada to remain a bilingual country. They also think that it is important for their children to be bilingual in English and French [11]. Even though Canadian people are well aware of the benefits of bilingualism, very few Canadians, particularly the Anglophones, learn a second language. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, the rates of French–English bilingualism have steadily increased since the early 1970s with nearly half of Francophone Canadians being able to speak English. However, this is not the case for Anglophone Canadians. Fewer than 10% of the Anglophones can speak French. CROP made a survey to investigate the reasons why so few Anglophone Canadians learn French and indicated that the lack of interest and the lack of learning opportunities were the main causes. The latter was taken into consideration and French immersion education was thought to be an effective method to create the learning opportunities for Anglophone Canadian people. There are several types of French immersion depending on the age of first French instruction and the intensity of French instruction. They can be summarized in the following tables: Table 1. Age of first French instruction [11] Immersion types Age of first French instruction Early 5-6 years Delayed or middle 9-10 years Late 11-14 years 194 An overview of bilingual education: models and success stories Table 2. Intensity of French immersion [11] Immersion model First 3 years Subsequent years Total immersion 100% Decrease from 80% -40% Partial immersion 50% 50% As seen from the table, the early immersion starts from the very beginning of the child’s schooling, whereas the delayed immersion commences a few years later and the late immersion when the children are 11-14 years old. Thus, the French language training precedes the mother tongue training in the early immersion, but for the delayed and late ones the training of French takes place after the training of their mother tongue. Likewise, in the total immersion, since the child receives full education in French during the first 3 years, the training of French comes before the mother tongue, which is gradually increased in the amount of exposure in the next years of their schooling. The question about the effectiveness of French immersion has been a central concern in a large body of research. Whether or not this bilingual education model affects the fluency of the child’s native language or whether French skills can be developed properly in this bilingual model or whether the focus on language might discard academic skills have attracted a lot of attention from researchers [11; 12; 15]. In terms of French skills, evidence shows that students in French immersion schools outperform students learning in regular core French programs on all types of French language tests. This finding was shared by both Ragoonaden [12] and the report made by Canadian Council on Learning [11]. It should be noted that total- immersion students’ proficiency in French tends to be higher than that of partial-immersion students [16; 17]. By the same token, early-immersion students outperform late-immersion students in the four French language skills and grammar 18]. This seems to indicate that the more and the earlier students are exposed to the language environment, the higher proficiency they will be able to achieve. A natural concern, however, is that the French immersion students’ native language will suffer and will lead to lower score in English, their native language, since the focus of their curriculum is on French. Notwithstanding this concern, studies show that these students, especially the total and early immersion ones, show the same level of proficiency in English literacy when measured against their counterparts in regular English school after one year of introduction of the English language. Interestingly, a recent report based on data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) suggests that 15-year-old French-immersion students perform better on reading (tested in English) than non-immersion English students [11]. Evidence also shows that when compared with non-immersion students, the French immersion score the same in academic subjects, such as Science and Mathematics, and even better in some cases [11]. The downside of this bilingual model as suggested by some studies is the inaccurate French oral and written production skills (expressive skills) and a high dropout rate at the secondary level [11;12]. 2.3.2. Bilingual education in Finland The Finnish education system consists of early childhood education, pre-primary education, comprehensive education (a nine-year basic education), upper secondary education (3 years consisting of vocational and general education), and higher education (provided by universities and polytechnics). Finnish and Swedish are two national languages of the new republic; out of the 460 urban and rural municipalities in 1990, 395 were officially Finnish-speaking, 21 were bilingual with Finnish as the majority language, 20 with Swedish as the majority language, and 24 municipalities were Swedish-speaking [19]. Following the Canadian bilingual education model, Swedish language immersion for 195 Nguyen Thuy Nga, Nguyen Thi Mai Huong, Nguyen Thi Thu Ha Finnish speaking children was first introduced in Vaasa in 1987 and it has become part of the mainstream system. The immersion program in Vaasa, also known as early total immersion, started for Finnish speaking children at the age of 5 for two years and continued in the comprehensive school. Teachers in this program used only Swedish to talk and teach pupils with the support of non-linguistic communication although they could understand Finnish. Before the initiative immersion programs started in Vaasa, Finnish teachers had visited immersion school in both Canada and Catalonia to observe how immersion was carried out and sought advice and insights to help them start the program [20]. When immersion students entered comprehensive schools, teaching was increasingly held in Finnish and students were taken to Finnish language classes to enhance their mother tongue and keep their culture identity [21]. Since the early 1980s the Finnish government has issued several policy documents aiming to diversify the range of foreign languages studied (partly to combat the dominance of English in relation to pupil/student’s subject choice) and to improve the general standard of language proficiency. One such measure was the introduction of an optional second foreign language in grade 5 (age range 11-12 years) to follow the introduction of the first foreign language in grade 3 (age range 9-10 years) [19]. Despite the fact that besides Swedish and Finnish, bilingual education in Finland today also offers many other languages such as Chinese, Sami, German to meet the diverse language needs of the country, English quickly becomes the only foreign language studied [22]. Currently, three basic types of bilingual education are being put into practice in Finland, they are total immersion, partial immersion, content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Early total immersion usually starts between 3 and 6 years of age and continues from kindergarten to grade 9. Although early total immersion is the most popular program in Finland, another type of immersion, i.e. partial immersion is offered by many other municipalities. In partial immersion, instruction time is distributed evenly (50%: 50%) between the first and the second language from the beginning of the program. Unlike total and partial immersion CLIL program offers the possibility to learners to use a foreign language so that after some learning they will be interested in the subject itself. In this method, students are encouraged to use the foreign language they do not normally use. The aims of CLIL are to learn the subject and to learn to use the foreign language [21]. The type and age of immersion education in Finland can be summarized in the following table. Table 3. Types of immersion education model in Finland (Summarised from [19; 20; 21]) Type of immersion education model Age of immersion Language of immersion program Total immersion Kindergarten (age 6) or Grade 1 (age range from 7 to 8 years). All subjects are taught in a foreign language in kindergarten or in grade 1 and reduce to 50% at grade 6 (age range from 12 to 13 years). Partial immersion Grade 1(age range from 7 to 8 years). Instruction time in first and second language/foreign language is distributed evenly with the ratio 50:50. CLIL Can start from Grade 1(age range from 7 to 8 years). Some subjects are taught in a foreign language. The percentage can vary. 196 An overview of bilingual education: models and success stories Research has been carried out to investigate the effectiveness of immersion education and the results showed that 90% of immersion pupils had results as good as the monolinguals in the international reading comprehension test for grade 3. In story telling test, immersion pupils even had better results in retelling stories. The findings also showed that immersion students did not lag behind in their L1 development [20]. Furthermore, the results of exams support the argument that immersion develops strong L1 competence of students and the immersion experience seems to give students more confidence even when their proficiency is limited [23]. Although immersion education in Finland has shown its effectiveness in education system, some concerns have been raised on language education. For example, it is claimed it is critical to develop skills in other languages rather than just English. Another issue is how they could strengthen and develop the language immersion in Finland and how they could benefit from this method in other language classes [24]. 2.3.3. Bilingual education in the United States of America Bilingual education is an issue which stimulates heated debates in the US. Supporters of nationalism maintain that Americans should solely speak English while others hold the view that it is necessary for their citizens to be bilinguals or multi-linguals [25]. The first bilingual programs in the US were created for the so-called Limited English Proficiency (LEP) learners to boost their English competence for academic success at school [26]. Initially, most of them were based on the transition model. These programs, despite enjoying immense popularity at the time, aimed at replacing students’ L1 (mostly Spanish) with English instead of developing their bilingualism [3]. Research suggests that the optimal duration for a transitional program is between five and seven years. In the US, however, most programs take three years [27]. Another model implemented was the maintenance bilingual program for minority language students and the majority of clas
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