Bilingual Education

Bilingual education in the U.S. focuses on learners of English as a second language. In certain states, the term also is used for dual-language immersion programs which, school wide, seek to educate all children in two languages simultaneously.

According to the U.S. Department of Education web site a bilingual education program is “an educational program for limited English proficient students”. Furthermore, the term Limited English proficiency, when used with respect to an individual, means an individual whose primary language is other than English and whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English or the opportunity to participate fully in society.

In the 50 states of the United States, proponents of the practice argue that it will help to keep non-English-speaking children from falling behind their peers in math, science, and social studies while they master English. Opponents of bilingual education argue that it delays students' mastery of English, thereby retarding the learning of other subjects as well. In California there has been considerable politicking for and against bilingual education.

In 1968 U.S., with Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or, informally, the Bilingual Education Act, Congress first mandated bilingual education in order to give immigrants access to education in their “first” language. (The Act was amended in 1988).

A 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Lau v. Nichols gave further momentum to bilingual education. Here, the Court held that California schools violated minority language students' rights when they educated students without special provisions.

There are two different approaches to this form of instruction. One is called ‘bilingual education’ and it involves teaching in the students’ first language and also English. The other is known as an ‘immersion program’ where the teachers instruct predominantly in English, and use the students’ native language only for explanations.

The majority of U.S. high school students in the United States are required to take at least 1 to 2 years of a second language. The vast majority of these classes are either French or Spanish. In a large number of schools this is taught in a manner known as FLES, in which students learn about the second language in a manner similar to other subjects such as Math or Science. Some schools use an additional method known as FLEX in which the "nature of the language" and culture are also taught. High school education almost never uses "immersion" techniques.