Conclusion: Productive Alternatives

A. Resuscitating Bilingual Education

      Much confusion and misunderstanding exists regarding what bilingual education is and whether it works. Overall, research supports “‘strong” ‘ forms of bilingual education, “where a student's home language is cultivated by the school.” “‘Weak’ bilingual education programs, which focus on replacing a student's native tongue with English, have proven less effective.” Immigrant children learn English faster if they can take advantage of their heritage language skills while they are tackling the new language. Maintaining and building heritage language skills not only accelerates the rate of English acquisition, but also makes it possible for English language learners to continue learning other academic subjects in their native tongue while still improving their English language skills.

      Language learning research also indicates that people “appear to have an infinite capacity for language learning, but previous knowledge of one language can help the learner pick up a second language better and faster because it means not having to start from scratch.” Languages are interdependent, and full bilingualism is attainable at no expense to either language; academic skills, such as reading, transfer between languages, and bilingual education actually provides a faster transition into English. The stronger a student's educational background in their native tongue, the stronger the foundation he or she will have to build upon during English acquisition. A child accustomed to being in a classroom will already have the tools they need to understand common school tasks, so they will be able to focus more on learning the language than adjusting to schooling. Indeed, research by Stephen Krashen of the University of Southern California has highlighted that the critical difference between Asian and Latino immigrants, in terms of academic success, is not the cultural heritage of the students but the quality of the education they received in their home country. It is unreasonable to expect poverty-stricken political or economic refugees with little prior access to education to perform or progress academically at the same level as immigrants from affluent, highly-educated family backgrounds.

      Despite the evidence supporting “strong” bilingual education programs, NCLB and Unz Initiatives continue to support variations on the “immersion” approach, which aim to teach English to LEP students as quickly as possible, without any regard for maintaining their native tongues. On the other hand, immersion programs are essentially a sink or swim method in which LEP children spend a very short period in a “sheltered English” classroom, and are then promptly mainstreamed into English-Only classrooms with no support. The underlying premise is that the linguistically unfriendly environment will cause the LEP students to either succeed or fail due to the urgency of the challenge. Second-language acquisition research contradicts the premise of these programs and actually argues in favor of extending the time period in which students receive instruction in their native language. Bilingual education provides a pedagogically sound alternative to “sink or swim” English-Only schools.

B. English Plus

      Though sociolinguistic and language planning scholars have embraced the “language-as-resource” perspective, a philosophical schism remains in political and social spheres, and powerful groups continue to tout the language-as-problem agenda. Despite its loud advocates, English-Only is not the only option. Cristina Rodriguez has advocated a somewhat idealistic concept of cultural burden sharing in the workplace, and the broader concept of social burden shifting. With respect to language rules, Rodriguez notes that since linguistic minorities are obliged to communicate with their English-speaking customers and colleagues in English, a reciprocal obligation should exist requiring “monolingual English speakers to engage in a bit of personal accommodation of their own - to tolerate the speaking of non-English in their presence.” As there is a reasonable and widespread expectation that linguistically diverse immigrants will learn English, there is too a reasonable expectation that everyone will share the cultural consequences of immigration. Rodriguez advocates that society at large must alter its expectations with regards to “aesthetic and linguistic surroundings in light of an evolving population.” In altering expectations and promoting linguistic tolerance in the schools and in the workplace, one also promotes such tolerance in society.

      However, social burden shifting and linguistic tolerance will not occur on its own. Reforming bilingual education policy is a reasonable starting point to change social norms that will have long-term benefits on American businesses, the economy, and individual liberties. This will only be possible if Congress embraces the language-as-resource view expounded by the English Plus movement. While the English Plus goal of creating a fully bilingual or multi-lingual society is a long-term goal, it is the direction in which language policy in this country should be moving. English Plus recognizes that English “is and will remain the primary language of the United States,” but advocates “for an expanded network of facilities and programs for comprehensive instruction in English and other languages.”

      This approach must begin with a pedagogical paradigm shift in education policy, focusing on conserving and developing heritage language skills alongside, and to the same extent as, English language skills. Congress may begin this shift by revisiting No Child Left Behind, and perhaps elaborating upon the framework developed in Castaneda with refined educational goals. It must not only require school programs be based on a sound educational theory, but also oblige that the educational theory promote language as a resource that should be developed and maintained. Not only would English Plus encourage ethnic tolerance, it would develop a new generation of truly bilingual members of society and the workforce. Their bilingualism and biculturalism would result in personal and societal benefits, including a decrease in the need and desire for oppressive English-Only rules, and an increase in America's international competitiveness.


. J.D. Duke University School of Law, 2011; B.A. Duke University, 2007.