Why Malherbe (1946) Is NOT Evidence
Against Bilingual Education

by Stephen Krashen
University of Southern California

In their review of bilingual education research, Rossell and Baker (1996) categorize Malherbe (1946) as an instance of "structured immersion" students showing more progress in second language reading than students in transitional bilingual education. It is important to reexamine this conclusion in detail, because it is one of ten studies interpreted as showing "immersion" to be superior to bilingual education. Thus, it constitutes 10% of the case against bilingual education and for immersion. In addition, Malherbe's study is not widely available and has not been described in the professional literature by other scholars.

In this note I argue that Malherbe's study violates criteria for inclusion in research reviews suggested by those on both sides of the issue. There is no control for pre-existing differences and no statistical tests are performed, violations of Rossell and Baker's criteria. In addition, a variety of "bilingual" programs are included, none of which appears offer much in the way of comprehensible input in English.

Malherbe studied the acquisition of English by Afrikaans-speaking children and the acquisition of Afrikaans by English-speaking children under different conditions, the result of a survey done in 1938. The published version was considered preliminary, as additional analysis was cut short because of World War II.

I focus here only on language acquisition. The report also covers the impact of bilingual education on "social attitudes" and "discrimination." The analysis is restricted to English-Afrikaans relationships. Black South Africans are not considered in this or in the language analysis, and are only mentioned once, in a footnote (p. 77).

The subjects
The sample consisted of a total of 18,773 children, but only a tiny subset of this sample is relevant to the question of bilingual education. The only comparison that appears to speak to the issue involves the small number of Afrikaans students coming from monolingual Afrikaans-speaking homes who were enrolled in either English-only medium schools (n = 246 students), equivalent to submersion, and those enrolled in "bilingual" schools (n = 440). Most Afrikaans-speaking children attended Afrikaans-medium schools (85.5% of the unilingual Afrikaans-speaking children, or 4049). It was not possible to study the progress of monolingual English speaking children in Afrikaans-only medium schools because the sample size was too small.

Malherbe notes that "economic environment" and IQ data were collected but it appears that this information did not enter into the analysis: " ... before comparing different types of schools ... one had the make sure that the other important factors (e.g. intelligence level and economic environment) were also comparable. The investigation was therefore a complex one. It was only by dealing with large numbers, such as were covered in this survey, that anything like the semblance of a scientific basis for our conclusions could be arrived at. Though thousands of tables and graphs have already been worked out, this investigation has not yet been completed owing to interruption by the war. It is hoped, however, to complete it when the war is over and publish a full report" (p. 41).

To my knowledge, the complete report was never published. Note that this lack of control violates one of Rossell and Baker's conditions for including studies in their analysis: Rossell and Baker insist that there be some control for possible pre-existing differences in the experimental and comparison groups, through randomization or statistical means. There is clearly no control in this study: We have only raw data for fairly small groups of subjects.

In my analyses of the research, I relaxed Rossell and Baker's requirement somewhat (Krashen, 1996), requiring only that there be no reason to suspect differences existed between the comparison and experimental groups, but in this case there are very good reasons to suspect that important differences existed. Malherbe notes that the Afrikaans monolinguals typically live in "remote rural areas" (p. 41), while monolingual English speakers are generally found in urban areas. It is unlikely that there were many English-only medium schools in the remote rural areas where monolingual Afrikaans speakers live, which suggests that there may have been important environmental differences between those who went to English-only and bilingual schools. Malherbe presents data showing strong differences in English language attainment between Afrikaans speaking students in rural, town, and city schools (p. 104).

The treatment
As noted earlier, English-only schools for monolingual speakers of Afrikaans must be considered a form of "submersion," as no special effort was made to make English input comprehensible. But the "bilingual" schools did not appear to be much better. Three models were used:

    (1) Parallel class: Afrikaans and English speakers are taught in their own language, in separate classes. Instructionally, there is thus no real difference between this model and an Afrikaans-only school, even though speakers of both languages are under the same roof, but Afrikaans speakers heard much more English outside of class than those in Afrikaans-only schools (p. 65).

    (2) Dual medium/repetition method: In this model, English and Afrikaans speakers are in the same classroom, and the two languages are alternated. a form of concurrent translation.

    (3) Dual medium/separate subjects: Some classes are taught in English, others in Afrikaans. Speakers of both languages are in the same classes. The English medium classes could thus be considered submersion,

All three of these "bilingual" options are less than optimal in supplying comprehensible input in the second language. In (1) students are exposed to little English in school, in (2) they have concurrent translation, a method known to produce poor results in English language development, and in (3) there is no mention of whether any accommodation is made to non-native speakers in the class.

We may simply be comparing "submersion" to three kinds of inefficient bilingual programs. In addition, Malherbe does not tell us how many students of the 440 were in each model. Also contrary to Rossell and Baker's categorization, there is nothing "transitional" about the bilingual programs, as the first language is continued, and expected to continue development.

Results and conclusions
English language tests (vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing and spelling combined) for Standards 4-10 (grades 5 to 11) were combined and averaged and converted to standard scores (mean = 500 for the entire sample). Malherbe reported no statistical tests and no standard deviations, another serious violation of Rossell and Baker's criteria for including studies in their survey.

Afrikaans speaking children in English-only schools clearly did better (mean = 519) than those in bilingual schools (mean = 432). In fact, the bilingual children's mean was not much higher than the mean score for children in Afrikaans-only schools, where little English was available in school or in the informal environment (mean = 412).

We cannot, however, score this as a victory for submersion over bilingual education. Malherbe (1946), in fact, teaches us very little.

  • It is likely that comparison students differed from bilingual students in important ways. Those who attended English-only schools may have come from a different and more privileged population, a conjecture consistent with the finding that this group scored well above the population mean on Afrikaans language (533) without any significant exposure to it in school.
  • The three "bilingual" programs appeared to deliver little comprehensible input in English. One version, in fact, was identical to Afrikaans-only schooling. Also, we have no idea how many of the subjects were in which version.
  • No statistical tests were reported.

What is clear is that Rossell and Baker should not have included this study as evidence for or against anything.

Malherbe, E. G. 1946. The Bilingual School: A Study of Bilingualism in South Africa. New York: The Arno Press (reprinted in 1978, first printed in 1946).

Krashen, S. 1996. Under Attack: The Case Against Bilingual Education. Culver City, CA: Language Education Associates.

Rossell, C. and Baker, K. 1996. The educational effectiveness of bilingual education. Research in the Teaching of English 30 (1): 7-74.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Copyright © 1999 by Stephen D. Krashen. All rights reserved.