Send to the South China Morning Press, November 10, 2017
“Speaking in two tongues” (Nov. 8) begins with a statement of “well-established” basic principles of bilingual education: The statement seems reasonable, but does not include principles supported by theory and research, reported in a number of professional publications. Underlying these principles is the idea that we acquire language and develop literacy by understand what we hear and read, when we get “comprehensible input.”
For early bilingual programs in which second language acquisition is an important goal, a primary principle is to provide comprehensible input in the second language, first in the form of special language classes, and eventually in the form subject matter teaching, as soon as instruction can be made comprehensible.
The second principle facilitates the first: Provide subject matter teaching in the primary language. This will make input in the second language more comprehensible. A child who has had math instruction in the first language will find math in the second language much easier to understand than a child who has not.
Third: Provide literacy instruction in the primary language. Literacy will develop more quickly this way and will transfer rapidly to the second language, even when the writing systems are different.
In a recent review of research, Professors Grace and David McField concluded that when these principles are satisfied, and statistical analysis is done correctly, the data shows that students in bilingual education acquire the second language (English in these studies) significantly faster than those in “immersion” programs, and the size of the effect was considerably larger than that reported in earlier studies.
Another important principle is the continuing development of the home language, which has been shown to have cognitive and economic advantages, and also allows the student to fully benefit from the wisdom of the heritage culture.
It would be of interest to know whether the programs described in “Speaking in Two Tongues” are consistent with these principles.
Original article: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/2118281/speaking-two-tongues