Overgeneralization in Bilingual Education and the Dual Language Classroom
Kenneth I. Granle Jr., MA JD
Office of International Programs, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, USA
Education of English Language Learner (ELL) students in the United States focuses significantly on the Spanish-speaking population. The bulk of training materials and resources place English and Spanish together in the dual language classroom. Though this is highly appropriate for the majority of students, the following will explain why this standard overgeneralizes the approach to bilingual education leading to misperceptions and a lack of support for non-Spanish-speaking ELL students. These issues should be addressed proactively and at the administrative level. Similarly, the idea of multiculturalism within the Spanish-speaking community and the importance of recognizing indigenous languages will be explored. Particular emphasis will be given to assumptions made concerning ethnic background, cultural overlap, and family literacy. This review will consider not only the pedagogical implications of the current dual language rhetoric, but also its sociocultural ramifications. While examples will mainly come from United States sources, the notions in this essay can be readily applied to other bilingual and dual language education settings.
Bilingual education in the United States caters almost exclusively to the Spanish-speaking population. While Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the country, it is not the only language spoken by immigrants and other non-English speakers. The use of Spanish as means of communication is enduringly tied to the culture of many of the people who identify or are identified as Latinx, but this term does encompass a multitude of different national and cultural identities. Additionally, there is a significant number of individuals in the United States whose heritage stems from Central and Southern America, but whose native language is not Spanish. Even with best interests in mind, overgeneralizing in the bilingual classroom can cause and increased sense of otherness felt by some students and a lack of cultural competency felt by others.
The following will explain how these overgeneralizations in the dual language classroom can inhibit the success of students from a multitude of backgrounds. The term ELL (English Language Learner) will be used to describe students whose native language is not English and are in need of extra support in school. The term Latinx will be used as a gender-neutral or alternative to Latino or Latina, describing the peoples of Central and South America, although some of the issues surrounding this term will also be discussed. The terms bilingual and dual language will be used interchangeably in reference to education to describe settings in which students are instructed in more than one language. The main focus of this article is on elementary education, though the pedagogical implications resonate in secondary and adult education.
amount of literature concerning bilingual education in the United States
focuses on the use of both Spanish and English in the classroom. Books,
courses, and training manuals discuss dual language education in the abstract,
but almost all examples provided concern English and Spanish in the classroom. This
is understandable as the majority of dual language
programs in the United States utilize these two languages. The studies and
examples presented in texts about dual language instruction tend to include only
US programs that conduct their lessons in Spanish and English. Interestingly enough, these texts do include information on
dual language programs from other countries that have more varied examples. The
reasoning behind this is that there are significantly fewer dual language
programs in the US that have been designed for non-Spanish speakers. However,
there are such programs across the country, including schools that deliver
instruction in French
The issue presents itself mainly as teachers and schools prepare to
instruct students in a dual language setting. With minority language students
already facing significant barriers
Besides the logistical issues this
presents, there can be profound impacts on a student’s self-esteem and sense of
otherness when they are presented as a veritable problem in dual language
instruction. It has been shown that “[dual language] programs may enhance
reading and math skills in both minority-language and majority-language
elementary school children”
It would not be prudent or even
feasible for a school to have the same amount of
resources available for ELL students who speak any language or even the most
broadly spoken languages. As Spanish is
the most common, by far, language spoken by ELL students, tailoring programs to
fit their needs makes the most sense. However, school districts need to be
prepared for students who speak neither English nor Spanish so that a crisis
does not occur when one enrolls. There is significant evidence that these
students are at risk in many facets of education
PERCEIVED LATINX IDENTITY
In tandem with
dual language instruction, schools with large Latinx populations will often
endeavor to include cultural lessons and activities to make non-native English
speakers feel more welcome and introduce native speakers to another culture. The
underlying issue here is that not all Latinx families prescribe to the same
cultural practices. Latinx individuals come from myriad ethnic and national
groups whose identities comprise many different psychosocial and geopolitical
Inappropriate presumptions concerning groups of students can have
significant ramifications on many fronts. When Latinx students are considered to be part of a homogenous group, they are
stripped of their ability to develop an individual identity and celebrate their
differences. Similar to the self-esteem issues that
surface when non-Spanish speaking ELL students are ostracized in the classroom,
Latinx students who have been subject to predispositions and incorrect labeling
will suffer in their social and educational development
There is some merit in teachers familiarizing themselves with some
commonly held practices and believes of the people of Central and South
America. In fact, creating ethnic socialization settings for ELL students
“might help them feel reassured [about] aspects of their own ethnic identity”
INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE CONCERNS
incorrect assumption is that people from Central and South America all speak
Spanish. Aside from the generally known fact that Portuguese is the official
language of Brazil, individual people, school districts, and even the
government of the United States often fail to recognize the myriad unique
native languages that are spoken throughout these regions. Recent figures show
that there are over eight hundred different languages spoken throughout the
countries that comprise Latin America
A culturally competent instructor should understand how the
assumption that everyone from Latin America speaks Spanish actually
continues the effects of the oppression felt by natives of that region.
For many indigenous groups, the idea that they do or
should all speak Spanish, which is the language of the conquistadors who
ravaged their land, proves ignorant and substantially inconsiderate. Even in a
world that has seen significant decolonization and reparations
One unique occurrence in this population is where the children speak Spanish but their parents do not. This is similar to something that frequently happens with immigrant families around the world; children are able to learn the dominant language of their new home because they attend school while parents are able to find employment without learning a new language. Similarly, in some Latin American countries, children will attend school and learn Spanish while their parents work and perform their daily lives entirely in an indigenous language. Therefore, just as we should not assume that a child from a Latin American home speaks Spanish, we cannot immediately assume that a child who possesses basic communication skills in Spanish comes from a home where the parents are fluent.
The majority of materials available to dual language educators concern Spanish-speaking students learning to operate in an English-speaking environment. In the Unites States, this is proportional to the demographic of ELL students, but there are still a significant number of ELL student who do not speak Spanish. It is not feasible for schools to have the same amount of resources for non-Spanish-speaking ELL students, but complete lack of preparation for such students can have a profound impact on their classroom success and overall self-esteem.
Within the Spanish-speaking ELL population in the United States, a multitude of different cultures abound. There are certain approaches to bilingual education that overlook these differences and apply a general Latinx label to all Spanish-speaking students. Again, this is not beneficial to student success and will inevitably lead to issues both in and out of the classroom.
Often overlooked, the indigenous peoples of Central and South America have their own languages, histories, and cultural practice. Since many of these groups comprise the immigrant and refugee populations in the United States, understanding that indigenous children and families may not be fluent or even conversant in Spanish is of paramount importance.
The plethora of resources available to Spanish-speaking ELL students are remarkable and the product of years of compassionate work. However, dual language educators and administrators need to remember the individuality that exists in their student population. While the majority of ELL students would be categorized as Latinx, there are plenty of students in ELL classrooms who come from different parts of the world. Including lessons and activities on Latinx culture is a good way to boost inclusion, but there are many different cultures to be found in Latin America with their own unique histories and practices. Within these many cultures, there numerous languages spoken, so we cannot automatically assume that a child is proficient in Spanish. Remembering these generalizations and addressing them before they become problematic will only strengthen the efficacy of a dual language classroom.
Citation: Granle, K. I., Jr. (2022). Overgeneralization in Bilingual Education and the Dual Language Classroom, Nonpartisan Education Review / Essays. Retrieved [date] from https://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Essays/v18n1.html
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