Cognitive Theories of Bilingualism

Topics: Bilingual education, Multilingualism, Second language Pages: 14 (3178 words) Published: August 1, 2014
By Lurdes da B.V. Rodrigues da Silva

There are many controversial issues surrounding bilingual education and programs both inside and outside the community of educators. The purpose of the present essay is to describe and analyze five current issues in bilingual education, namely: transitional bilingual education program, cognitive growth, the age of second language acquisition, students’ academic performance, and immersion program. The essay first describes each issue and the arguments that support or refute each issue, followed by the discussion on research findings in real classroom.

Transitional Bilingual Education Program
Transitional bilingual education (TBE) is the model that allows students use their mother tongue until they master the majority language (Baker, 2006). Similarly, John and Souberman (1977) state that in TBE classes, students are instructed in their first language in all the subjects as well as taught the target language as a subject until they are considered proficient enough in that language.

The TBE basic rational is “that children need to function in the majority language in the society. The argument used is that if competence in the majority language is not quickly established, such children may fall behind their majority language peers ” (Mitchel et al., cited in Baker, 2006, p.221).


Publicado na Folha de Linguística e Literatura número 11/2008, da Faculdade de Letras e Ciências Sociais da Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.


According to Ramírez and Merino (1990, cited in Baker, 2006, p.221) there are two types of TBE, namely: Early-exit and Late-exit. In the Early-exit TBE, students use their first language (L1) to help the acquisition of the second language (L2) only for two years, while in the Late-exit TBE students’ use of L1 to help build up L2 can be for approximately six years (Ramírez and Merino, 1990, cited in Baker, 2006, p.221).

Benefits and concerns of Early-exit TBE
The Early-exit TBE is considered advantageous for making use of limited bilingual teachers efficiently as they concentrate them at the early grades, maintaining oral fluency of the students’ L1, building bilingual communication with parents, and improving students’ skills in Mathematics and reading (Berman, 1992; Ramírez 1991, all cited in Linquanti, 1999).

Although Early-exit TBE benefits students, some concerns are found about this model. The major problem of the Early-exit TBE model is related to the time set to learn the L2 (Ovando and Collier, 1985). In the view of Ovando and Collier (1985), students perform better when they stay longer in bilingual programs and perform poorly when they stay for just two years.

The second problem with this model is that it is viewed as a remedial and segregationist (Ovando and Collier, 1985). This means that this model keeps students of the minority languages in separate groups and these student groups are perceived as having low academic ability. At the same time, this situation maintains lower-status of the languageminority students (Hernand-Chávez, 1997; Kjolseth, 1972, all cited in Ovando and


Collier, 1985, p. 38). Similarly, Cummins (1998, cited in Liquanti, 1999) argues that this model does little to address the bilingual students’ underachievement due to their quick exit to the L2.

Benefits and concerns of Late-exit TBE
The Late-exit TBE benefits students by encouraging their proficiency in both languages, promoting students L1 literacy skills, which helps develop conceptual foundation for academic progress and clearly communicates students the value of their cultural and linguistic background (Cummins, 1998, cited in Linquanti, 1999). The particular concern about the Late-exit TBE is about “maintaining the continuity of the program model across grades and schools” (Linquanti, 1999). This means that the cost of maintaining the program beyond year six would be high.


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