Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, December 17, 1997
A Bilingual Helping Hand
Education: Many children get no help learning English outside
By LUCY TSE
Bilingual education advocates have a tough fight ahead. Jaime Escalante,
renegade math teacher made famous in the movie "Stand and Deliver,"
recently announced his backing of Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz's
ballot initiative to ban bilingual education in California. Like Escalante,
some of the most vocal opponents of these programs are immigrants or are
children of recent immigrants and believe that bilingual education just
They say, "lf we learned English and
succeeded in school without bilingual education, then why can't others?"
True enough. Some immigrants do well in public schools with little or no
assistance in their native language.
I was one of those students. Arriving in
the United States at the age of 8, I was placed in a third-grade class.
The school had few limited-English-proficient students and even fewer Asian
language speakers. I believe I've succeeded in school, having graduated
from high school and college.
And until several years ago, I was one of
those people who didn't see the need for bilingual education. That is,
until I realized that I did get bilingual education, just not in school.
I had what some call de facto bilingual education.
I got help in my schoolwork from my parents
and my older and more English-fluent sisters--in Chinese. Other immigrant
students get help in their native language from hired tutors or bilingual
classmates. In some subjects like math, I had already learned the concepts
being taught in class in my native country and understood the lessons in
English, at least initially, without much assistance.
I was exposed to good English instruction
from my siblings and from the English-speaking children on our block. Some
immigrant students have English tutors or get help in community after-school
I also knew how to read and write in Chinese.
Other children learn to read and write in their native language in the
home, in community language schools or like me, in their native country.
Knowing how to read and write in the native language helps tremendously
when facing the same task in another tongue.
However, not all students get, outside of
school, the three things that good bilingual programs provide: help with
school subjects in the native language, quality English instruction and
literacy development in the native tongue so that reading and writing is
easier in the new language. Unless these students get bilingual education
through school, they are unlikely to learn well and succeed in school.
Isn't the goal of education to help all students
succeed academically? If so, then we need to give them the best possible
schooling. These students need well-implemented bilingual education programs,
ones that researchers, parents and teachers overwhelmingly support.
Lucy Tse Is an Assistant Professor of Education at Loyola Marymount