Friday, September 9, 2016

California's Multilingual Education Act (Proposition 58)

California's Multilingual Education Act:  What it would change and how it would improve our educational system.
Stephen Krashen
Language Magazine 15 (11): 25-26, 2016.
Available at

If the Multilingual Education Act passes in California, it will be much easier to set up bilingual education programs, programs that use the child's first language to accelerate the development of academic English. I will try to explain why and how these programs work, and briefly discuss what the research says.

Why bilingual education works

Bilingual education helps students develop academic English in two ways. The first is teaching subject matter using the students' first language. Studying subject matter in a language the student understands leads to more mastery of subject matter. This in turn means more comprehension when subject matter is presented in English and thus more English language acquisition.

The second way is by providing literacy development in the first language, a short cut to English literacy. It is much easier to learn to read in a language you understand, and once you can read, this ability transfers across languages, even when the writing systems are different. There is strong evidence that better reading in the first language is associated with better development of reading in English. Studies have confirmed this for speakers of Spanish, Japanese, Vienamese, and Chinese, as well as for other first and second languages.
Properly organized bilingual programs also provide exposure to comprehensible English from the very first day, and introduce subject matter teaching in English as soon as it can be made comprehensible.
How it is done
Programs typically begin with academic subjects taught in the first language, along with ESL classes.  When students have enough English competence, those subjects that are the easiest to understand with the help of context (math, science) are taught in relatively simple, slow English ("sheltered") while more abstract subjects  (social studies, language arts) remain in the primary language. 
After more English academic proficiency is developed, students study math and science in regular classes with native speakers of English, and subjects such as social studies are taught in comprehensible, sheltered English.
Finally all core subjects are done in the "mainstream" and students can continue to develop their first language in special heritage langage classes.
The sheltered classes help students acquire a significant amount of the specialized language of subject matter classes.  Both sheltered classes and classes taught in the first language provide subject matter knowledge, which helps students understand mainstream classes.
This "gradual exit" model is presented below. It is called a gradual exit program because students are not placed in the mainstream all at once, but gradually, as subjects become comprehensible.
The gradual exit model

first language
art, music, PE
all core subjects
art, music, PE
ESL, math, science
social studies

language arts
art, music, PE
language arts

math, science
social studies


heritage language
Mainstream = all students together

The research

After reviewing all available comparisons of bilingual education and English immersion, McField and McField (2014) concluded that when programs provided subject matter instruction and literacy development in the first language and comprehensible input in English, and when programs were evaluated correctly, students in bilingual programs did better on tests of English reading, and the effect was considerably larger than that reported in previous analyses. 

Free voluntary reading

A powerful way of increasing the power of bilingual education is to include free voluntary reading in both languages, allowing and encouraging students to select pleasure reading materials for themselves, with no “accountability” of any kind. Studies have repeatedly confirmed that free voluntary reading vastly improves reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing style, spelling, and grammatical competence in both first and second languages.
Crawford, J. and Krashen, S. 2015. English Learners in American Classrooms: 101 Questions, 101 Answers. Portland: DiversityLearningK12

McField, G. and McField, D. 2014. The consistent outcome of bilingual education programs: A meta-analysis of meta-analyses. In Grace McField (Ed.) 2014. The Miseducation of English Learners. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing. pp. 267-299.


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