Dual immersion can improve learning ability

Proposition 58 is one of the most important education initiatives on this election cycle’s ballot. It would allow school districts to create dual immersion programs. Proposition 58 would replace Proposition 227, which currently mandates that English is the only language allowed to be used in classrooms, besides foreign language courses. Proposition 227 required English Language Learning students to transition to mainstream English classes within one year. Given that multiple applied linguistics studies suggest that it takes approximately six years for students to attain academic language at a high enough level to be successful in classes, transitioning English Language Learners to a mainstream English class within only one year woefully fails to prepare them for success. While Proposition 227 does not make it illegal to attend a bilingual school, such schools have to jump through multiple hoops in order to gain the funding necessary to operate. Though about one in four students in California speak a language other than English in their homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, very few alternative language programs exist in California. Proposition 58 would replace Proposition 227, and allow schools and communities to decide what kind of language program their students should participate in. Thus, a vote yes on Proposition 58 is a necessary step toward allowing students to reap the benefits of enrolling in a dual language immersion program.

Under the current system dictated by Proposition 227, English Language Learners perform worse on standardized tests than native English speakers, which demonstrates how our current English language acquisition classes for non-native English speakers is failing to prepare these students accurately. However, research has shown that dual language immersion students outperform native language students on standardized exams, irrespective of the dominant and nondominant language. In other words, regardless of a student’s age, socioeconomic status or ethnicity, a student whose native language is English, but is in a dual language program to study Spanish, will succeed on par, or better, on reading and math exams than students who only speak English. Moreover, dual immersion programs that enable students to learn their home language while they learn English enhance language acquisition skills of both languages. Studies have proven that students are able to achieve greater fluency in both languages because second-language proficiency enables students to develop higher levels of thinking related to how various parts of language function. Bilingual children also develop key problem-solving abilities at a younger age than their counterparts who only speak one language.

At a time when the economy is becoming increasingly globalized, being bilingual affords students greater opportunities to be successful in the marketplace. English Language Learners do not reach the same levels of achievement in English-Language Arts or math as their native English-speaking peers, even if the English-Language Learners had reached a level of proficiency to be moved into mainstream English classes. This startling statistic not only shows the shortcomings of current English Language classes, but also illustrates how high the achievement gap is for students of nondominant versus dominant language practices. Proposition 227 forces students to learn a new language while ignoring the language skills they have already acquired through their first language. Bilingual education helps close the achievement gap by utilizing the language skills students have already learned through their home language and applying it to the second language acquisition.

Current English-only teaching largely ignores the cognitive and social benefits of being able to speak multiple languages. Proposition 227 is problematic because if students are told that their home language is incorrect and secondary, it puts a negative affective stance on that language, and students can develop a negative feeling toward it. Moreover, Proposition 227 puts non-English speaking students behind because they do not speak English, though they may be ahead of the curriculum without the language barrier. Proposition 58 has the ability to create greater educational opportunities for students who were previously held back because their native language was not English, while also encouraging students to develop language proficiency in two languages through dual immersion programs, which have been shown to increase a student’s overall language and cognitive skill acquisition.

Julia Lawler is a senior majoring  in history and social science education. Her column, “Get Schooled,” runs Fridays.