Benefits of Two-Way Immersion
The United States population is increasingly more diverse ethnically (Cohn & Caumont, 2016); and, linguistically (Rumbaut & Massey, 2013). As a result, interest in building bilingual skills in students has grown. Many bilingual education programs are one-way programs, which means that one specific group of students is provided instruction in a language other than their native language.
Within the variety of bilingual programs available, Two-way immersion (TWI) has emerged as a very effective approach. TWI programs are designed for all students to reach proficiency in both languages, demonstrate high achievement in all core academic areas which are taught in both languages, and gain greater cross-cultural skills. Research on TWI programs indicate that there are educational, cognitive, sociocultural and economic benefits of bilingualism (Calderón & Minaya-Rose, 2003; Calderón & Carreón, 2000; Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000). A brief summary of these benefits include:
All TWI students reach the same proficiency in English and achieve the same levels of competence in core academic subjects (e.g., math and science) as comparable to English-speaking students who attend monolingual programs. They are able to do their schoolwork and classwork in both languages. TWI is also effective for students who struggle in school and have low levels of academic achievement. Additionally, English language learners are able to establish a solid foundation in their native language, especially in area of literacy. They are then able to apply these same skills to the acquisition of English literacy. TWI students acquire advanced levels of functional proficiency in both languages so they can communicate in and outside of school easily in English and the partner language.
The cognitive benefits associated with bilingualism seem to start early - researchers have shown positive influence of bilingualism on attention and conflict management in infants as young as seven months. Bilingual students have enhanced levels of metalinguistic awareness, as well as better memory, visual-spatial skills and even creativity. Bilingual students outperform monolingual students on tasks that require divergent thinking, pattern recognition, problem solving and multi-tasking. Bilingual students often perform better on tasks that require conflict management, as they are better than monolinguals in ignoring irrelevant information. This is called inhibitory control. Additionally, studies have shown that being bilingual and multilingual individuals might stave off some of the effects of dementia or other cognitive diseases later in life (https://www.twin-cs.org/blog/the-bilingual-brain-lifelong-benefits-of-bilingualism).
Bilingual students have expanded understanding of other cultural groups’ values and social customs. Bilingual students have greater intercultural understanding, tolerance, appreciation and respect for those outside their own home cultures.
As a result of these educational, cognitive, and sociocultural benefits, bilingual students may have enhanced employment opportunities. In the global marketplace, conducting business in more than one language is the norm. While English remains prevalent in many business and professional realms, a mastery of an additional language gives job candidates a competitive edge. Increasingly, business, cultural, political, educational and social activities around the world call for individuals with multilingual competence.
Busting Three Myths About Bilingualism
MYTH 1: Bilingual education may impede children’s acquisition of the English language.
False. Research has shown that speaking and learning a language other than English will not delay bilingual children’s English acquisition. In fact, although simultaneously learning two languages seems to be a challenging task in the beginning, once certain levels of fluency are achieved, skills in the two languages start to transfer and become mutually beneficial. Research has shown that there is no significant difference in bilingual children’s English language development when compared to their monolingual friends.
MYTH 2: Bilinguals are two monolinguals in one brain.
False. Bilingual practices are complex, flexible, and fluid. The two language systems are permeable without fixed boundaries. Bilinguals draw upon their entire linguistic system to make meaning to achieve different communicative and expressive ends in different situations.
MYTH 3: Language mixing or code switching shows bilinguals have disorganized thoughts and get confused in their use of language.
False. Language mixing or code switching is not indicative of disorganized thinking. Code switching shows bilinguals’ complex thoughts and their sophisticated use of languages. Thus, code-switching is nothing problematic, but rather a way to show your identity and feeling.
Calderón, M.E. & Minaya-Rowe, L. (2003). Designing and implementing Two-way bilingual programs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Cloud, N., Genesee, F., & Hamayan, E. (2000) Dual language instruction: A handbook for enriched education. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.
Cohn, D., & Caumont, A. (2017). 10 demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2017. Retrieved from http://scholar.aci.info/view/14bd17773a1000e0009/15bb061abb100013a85f10a
Cummins, J. (1979). Linguistic Interdependence and the Educational Development of Bilingual Children. Review of Educational Research, 49(2), 222-251.
Hernandez, D. J., Denton, N. A., & Macartney, S. (2009). School-age children in immigrant families: Challenges and opportunities for America's schools. Teachers College Record, 111(3), 616-658.
Grosjean, F. (2010). Bilingual life and reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rumbaut, R., & Douglas S. Massey. (2013). Immigration & language diversity in the united states. Daedalus, 142(3), 141-154. 10.1162/DAED_a_00224 Retrieved from http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/DAED_a_00224