Several weeks ago, Carter wrote a great post on dual-immersion programs, specifically Chinese immersion programs in Utah. That post, combined with another interesting article on research in bilingual education, prompted me to learn some more about dual-immersion programs in the United States, and I found some interesting things.
As I read more about bilingual education, I realized that the terminology surrounding bilingual education and dual-immersion programs isn’t exactly well-defined. I didn’t know there were so many types of bilingual education available in the United States! (To sort out some of the terminology questions, I found the websites of the National Dual Language Consortium and the Center for Applied Linguistics to be very helpful, as well as these Wikipedia articles.)
I learned that the terms dual language, dual-immersion, or two-way immersion have all been used for the same programs. These programs focus on teaching English and another language to both native English speakers and native speakers of the second language, with the goal that all students will become fluent in both languages. Carter already talked about the growing number of Chinese immersion programs in Utah. And as in Utah, these programs are growing throughout the country. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics’ Directory of Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Programs in the U.S., there are almost 400 two-way immersion programs across the United States.
In many of these schools, the goal is to help students become bilingual from an early age. Recent research has supported more and more the benefits of working toward this goal. One example of this research is the work done by Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist who has focused on bilingualism and its effect on cognitive development in children. An article in the New York Times talked about some of her findings.
Among Bialystok’s findings over the years are the facts that bilingual and monolingual children process language in different ways. Here’s one quote I found particularly interesting. Bialystok is explaining a study she performed with young bilingual and monolingual children:
We asked all the children if a certain illogical sentence was grammatically correct: “Apples grow on noses.” The monolingual children couldn’t answer. They’d say, “That’s silly” and they’d stall. But the bilingual children would say, in their own words, “It’s silly, but it’s grammatically correct.” The bilinguals, we found, manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important.
Bialystok’s findings show that people who are bilingual are more efficient at multitasking, since the use of two languages gives their brains so much practice at handling multiple processes simultaneously. This leads to many benefits—including one finding that bilingualism can actually help delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. (You can check out the article for more details.)
What interesting research have you found on the benefits of bilingualism? Have you had experience with immersion or bilingual programs? Please share your thoughts in a comment!