Chapter 12: Two-Way Bilingualism
By James Crawford
Costs of Monolingualism
Impetus for Two-Way Programs
Federal and State Policies
Criteria for Effectiveness
Grounds for Optimism
Monolingual Americans are put to shame by the worldwide spread of our national tongue. By some estimates English is spoken today by 1.9 billion people, three-fourths of whom learned it as a second or foreign language. “Fifty million precollegiate Chinese young people are studying English,” the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) reported in 1987, “while less than 5,000 of their counterparts in the United States are studying Chinese, a ratio of 10,000 to one.” In recent years Chinese-language study has increased substantially in this country. Yet the growth appears to be occurring mainly among Chinese Americans. Out of the estimated 200,000 U.S. students now enrolled in these classes at all levels, about 140,000 are in heritage language schools, according to the Chinese Language Teachers Association. In 2000, ACTFL counted just 5,304 students in public secondary schools (grades 7–12) who were studying Mandarin or Cantonese as a foreign language. While figures are unavailable by ethnicity, it is likely that many of these students are also from Chinese backgrounds.
Anglo-American complacency about language-learning persists despite warnings that it impairs our national security and economic competitiveness. ... More than two decades ago, a presidential commission warned that “Americans’ gross inadequacy in foreign-language skills is nothing short of scandalous, and it is getting worse.” A member of the panel, the late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois, argued that the nation’s determination to “Americanize” immigrants was a big part of the problem. “Because of our rich ethnic mix, the United States is home to millions whose first language is not English,” Simon wrote in his book The Tongue-Tied American. “Yet almost nothing is being done to preserve the language skills we now have or to use this rich linguistic resource to train people in the use of a language other than English.” ...
Bilingual educators saw an opportunity. Programs serving English learners, a constituency with limited political power, had long been forced to cope with external opposition and uncertain funding. Civil-rights lawsuits had brought important gains in the 1970s and early 1980s, but the courts were becoming increasingly conservative on questions of social justice. New allies were needed who could bolster support for bilingual education. What if English-speaking children were invited to participate, enabling them to learn Spanish, Chinese, Navajo, or whatever target language the English learners spoke? Would it be possible to serve both groups of students well through a single program? Could language-majority and languageminority children, learning side by side and assisting each other, become fluent bilinguals while making good progress in other subjects? Could English-speaking parents, more accustomed to activism and more likely to influence politicians, become effective ambassadors for bilingual education? By the late 1980s numerous districts were experimenting with "two-way" approaches.
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