In the Educational Leadership March 2015 edition, Patricia Gándara explores the positive aspects of Rethinking Bilingual Instruction. Envisioning language diversity as a national asset is coupled with evidence of the cognitive advantages of bilingualism.
Cognitive advantages of bilingualism include: enhanced executive function of the brain which results in better focus and attention, increased short-term memory, and enhanced problem solving skills. Additionally, there are social and psychological benefits to students who are supported in the acquisition of English while maintaining and strengthening their native language. Incorporating native English speakers into bilingual education programs, i.e., dual language programs, builds cultural empathy, understanding and fosters engagement among cultural and linguistic diverse students. Gándara writes, “Maintaining the home language appears to strengthen students’ sense of self and increases educational motivation among adolescents.” Understanding cultural and linguistic diversity through student engagement begins at an early age.
I’m a bilingual educator myself, now in an administrative position. One of the things I always tell parents, teachers and administrators is that bilingual education is a lot more than just being able to communicate in two languages. It is about identity, therefore self-esteem. It is so important that our students’ background is valued and accepted in our schools. When we try to teach all English from the beginning we send the message that their language is not important, therefore their culture. I hope bilingual education continues to gain strength nation wide for the good of our students.