Experts say being bilingual has many perks. A person who speaks more than one language has a competitive edge in the professional world because they can communicate with a variety of people. Fluency in other languages also provides someone the chance to become more open-minded and accepting toward different backgrounds.
Yet with so many benefits, California law states bilingual education is unnecessary. It is not offered in public schools and this needs to change.
In the 1980s, an English-only mentality began spreading through the public school system and in the U.S., said Anna Sanchez-Muñoz, a linguistics and Chicano/a Studies professor at CSUN.
Sanchez-Munoz has dedicated part of her career to the study of bilingualism, language acquisition, language variation and change. She said there are benefits to speaking more than one language other than just increased cultural diversity.
“We know that bilingualism helps children with problem solving, they are more flexible in thinking and have a greater sensitivity to language and it helps with their mental development,” she said.
Some people view bilingual education as a crutch for kids who have recently immigrated or as a tactic to teach students whose first language is not English. Children that speak multiple languages typically come from immigrant families and public school systems have been moving away from bilingual education based on political views.
The biggest blow came in 1998 with Proposition 227, which proposed the discontinuance of the bilingual program in state schools. In a 61 to 39 percent landslide decision, California voters denied students the opportunity to learn another language through the public education system, thus robbing them of cognitive advantages and hampering broader cultural diversity.
Since the implementation of Proposition 227, trends toward anti-bilingualism have been taking place around the nation and it goes in hand with anti-immigrant initiatives like Arizona’s SB 1070.
Despite the lack of bilingual education in the state, California’s large immigrant population gives us a bump up in multilingual numbers. The latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau shows more than 14 million Californians speak a language other than English amounting to about 42 percent of the state’s population. Compare that with the less than 20 percent of the entire country that speaks more than one language – a statistic that sets it apart from much of the world.
In almost all European countries learning a second language is a requirement implemented as early as elementary school. A study by the Eurydice Network, a database of information on education systems and policies in Europe, reported that a better communicative capacity through knowing a variety of languages cultivates and promotes intercultural relations.
As well, the increasing cultural diversity of Europe in the last two decades has fostered a boost in foreign language teaching which is completely the opposite to what has happened in the U.S. Even if only to keep California students competitive in the international sphere, the state public school system should start to model the European system.
In April, complete census data for California will be released and it is anticipated the numbers will confirm Latinos are becoming near as populous as white people.
We must accept that cultural diversity is now the norm of the state and the school systems should reflect that by teaching a curriculum that will help students be prepared for a heterogeneous world. The best way to do so would be to instill standards that will teach children a different language than their native one.