Bilingual Education in the US

English as a Second Language for Hispanic Children in School

Scientific Essay, 2008

15 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. The History of Bilingualism in the US

2. Bilingualism
2.1. Definition of Bilingualism
2.2. Reasons for Hispanics to Learn English as a Second Language (ESL)

3. Bilingual Education
3.1. Goals of Bilingual Education
3.2. English Immersion
3.3. English as a Second Language
3.4. Cultural Maintenance

4. Bilingual Education Instead of English Immersion
4.1. Vantages
4.2. Disadvantages
4.3. Problems

5. The Actual State of Affairs

6. Outlook: English and Spanish as World Languages



1. The History of Bilingualism in the US

“Consider the irony: despite its increasing diversity, the United States remains an underdeveloped country when it comes to language skills. Immigrants are importing other tongues at record rates. Yet the vast majority of native-born Americans remain stubbornly monolingual. Our ignorance of other languages and cultures handicaps us in dealing with the rest of the world. U.S. trade, diplomacy, and national security all suffer.“[2][1]

This quote by James Crawford, expert on language policy, illustrates the permanent contradiction of the United States as a nation of both, migrants from all over the world and widespread monolingualism.

When the first European settlers arrived in North America, more than 200 languages in 15 language families could be found all over the continent. This linguistic diversity was destroyed in the course of the westward movement during the 17th and 18th century. But North America continued to be a multi-linguistic country because of immigrants from several European states establishing their respective mother tongues. After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, English has been promoted more intensively, but bilingualism remained part of the individual rights of American citizens. The United States (US) still had countless communities of different mother tongues (e.g. German, Dutch, and Spanish).

From the 1880s to the 1920s, the English-Only-Movement became larger, and programs for Americanization were enforced as a response to the immigration waves. The Anglo-Saxon race gained more dominance and English was associated with a growing patriotism. In that time, the idea of the melting pot arose.

After 1920, especially during the World Economic Crisis and World War II, deep rifts started to run through the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and “the others” (i.e., immigrants from Asia, Southeastern Europe, and Latin America). In the 1950s and 1960s, supporters for English as the official language of the US as well as civil rights activists for anti-discrimination gained influence.

On this historical basis, the role of bilingual education, with focus on English as a second language for Hispanic children in school, will be presented in this paper. After a theoretical introduction, I examine the arguments for and against the bilingual education by balancing previous research on this issue. Then I will analyze the problems in this field and the language legislation in the US. For a better understanding of the importance of bilingualism in the US, I will refer to the interest groups, the differences between the states, and to the issue of identity[3]. To conclude, I will focus on English and Spanish as world languages and try an outlook on the future of the multicultural US[4].

2. Bilingualism

2.1. Definition of Bilingualism

Bilingualism is the ability to speak two languages. There is a difference between individual and social bilingualism as well as between instrumental and integrative bilingualism. Individual bilingualism means the bilingualism of one person, while social bilingualism refers to a bilingual society (e.g. Canada or Switzerland). If one learns a second language only for utility, than the bilingualism is instrumental. An integrative bilingualism stands for the will of a person to integrate into a new society by learning its language as a second language.

2.2. Reasons for Hispanics to Learn English as a Second Language (ESL)

Hispanics in the US have several reasons for learning English[5]. There are three dimensions of this: political, economic and social reasons. To learn English implies to become a responsible citizen, who participates in his/her community (political purpose of ESL). The major economic reason is English being the key for upward socioeconomic mobility[6]. And the social purpose deals with both the integration into the society and the understanding of the American culture and identity[7].

3. Bilingual Education

3.1. Goals of Bilingual Education

The major goal of every bilingual education program is that the children learn to master the English language. However, because of multiple methods used in American schools, the best method remains highly controversial[8]. Unfortunately, this discussion is increasingly moving away from the academic research level and becomes politicized. Below, I will present the different interest groups and their favored methods to establish linguistic proficiency.

3.2. English Immersion

The English-Only-Movement is the main supporter for English immersion in school. The associated curriculum is often called the sink-or-swim-method. As this term indicates, the education is monolingual. Interest groups (e.g. U.S. English and English First) work together with conservatives and supporters of stricter immigration laws to enhance the movement for English as the official language of the US[9]. The chair of U.S. English, Mauro E. Mujica explains the movement’s intention as follows:

“The lack of an assimilation policy for immigrants to the United States is rapidly changing the successful integration ways of the past. Gone are the days of the American Dream and the upwardly mobile society for immigrants. In its place are low expectations and government policies that encourage Americans to learn the language of the immigrants, instead of the other way around. […] Suddenly, English, the greatest unifier in our nation's history, has come under attack in our government, in our schools and in our courts. The question is no longer what a immigrant [sic!] can do for his/her adopted country, but how government can adapt to millions who have not assumed their duty to learn America’s language, customs and culture.”[10]

The purpose of the English immersion is the assimilation of immigrants into the American culture.

3.3. English as a Second Language (ESL)

The English-Plus-Movement is represented by the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Association for Bilingual Education. ESL stands for those curricula which provide the instruction into any course in the mother tongue of the children, but are concentrated on the long-term goal of fluency in English. In the same manner, the interest groups support the ESL-programs because of the lacking language ability of the American society, which is often rightly labeled as monolingual[11]. The method could be described as an integration program.

3.4. Cultural Maintenance

Cultural Maintenance is only an umbrella term for multilingual education programs existing in the US. These rare programs are supported by the Hispanic Coalition, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination. The program is concentrated on the understanding of cultural and social diversity. English shall be taught as a language of communication (lingua franca), but not at the expense of the mother tongue of the pupils.

4. Bilingual Education Instead of English Immersion

The discussion about the best program or method for English acquisition of immigrants is highly controversial. This becomes obvious, if one considers the role of language. Arnulfo G. Ramírez defines it in the following way:

“Language plays a unique role in classroom settings. It is the means by which teachers transmit school knowledge and the vehicle through which social identity and role relationships are maintained among the various participants in the classroom.”[12]

In the following section, arguments for and against bilingual education realized in the ESL-programs will be presented. The focus is laid on programs for Hispanics as the largest (language) minority group in the US.


[1] Cf. Fitzgerald, Jill: Views on Bilingualism in the United States: A Selective Historical Review.

Bilingual Research Journal, 17:1&2, Winter/Spring 1993. [37 et seqq.]

[2] Crawford, James: English Plus. 1997. 28.06.2008. IN:

[3] Cf. figure No. 1 for clarification

[4] Because of the limited coverage of this paper, the ongoing debate about language education in the US can only be presented succinctly. My quoted sources provide further information.

[5] Cf. Ward, James: Implications of Bilingualism: Education. IN: Ridge, Martin, ed.: The new Bilingualism. An American Dilemma. Los Angeles: University of Southern California, 1981. [148 et seqq.]

[6] Cf. Schildkraut, Deborah J.: Press one for English. Language Policy, Public Opinion, and American Identity. Princeton: Princeton University, 2005. [183]

[7] Huntington analyzes the character of the American identity in detail.

Cf. Huntington, Samuel P.: Who Are We. Die Krise der amerikanischen Identität. Trans. Dierlamm, Helmut and Schäfer, Ursel. Munich: Wilhelm Goldmann, 2006.

[8] Cf. Schildkraut, Deborah J.: Press one for English. Language Policy, Public Opinion, and American Identity. Princeton: Princeton University, 2005. [189 et seq.]

[9] Cf. Crawford, James: The English Only Movement. 1997. 28.06.2008. IN:

[10] Mujica, Mauro E.: Why An Immigrant Runs An Organization Called U.S.ENGLISH. 28.06.2008. IN:

[11] Cf. Crawford, James: English Plus. 1997. 28.06.2008. IN:

[12] Ramírez, Arnulfo G.: Language Attitudes and the Speech of Spanish-English Bilingual Pupils. IN: Durán, Richard P.: Latino Language and Communicative Behaviour. Norwood: ABLEX Publishing Corporation, 1981. [230]

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Bilingual Education in the US
English as a Second Language for Hispanic Children in School
Free University of Berlin
Oral and Writing Skills
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
514 KB
bilingual, education, united states, usa, english, spanish, second language, language, hispanic, children, school, esl, immersion, cultural maintenance, world language, monolingual, english-only, hispanization
Quote paper
Renard Teipelke (Author), 2008, Bilingual Education in the US, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Bilingual Education in the US

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free