The educators charged with carrying out the mission of bilingual education had no reliable research to guide them, but today linguists have made important progress in understanding first-and-second language acquisition. Their research suggests that the developmental process is similar and predictable for both children and adults. Thus the learning of a second language requires time and experiences that are tailored to the learner’s stage of development.
They have learned that certain methods promote natural acquisition of language, while other methods only promote a mechanical ability to use the rules of grammar. Since learners follow a neurologically programmed sequence of stages in learning a second language our expectations for second language acquisition should follow that sequence. Likewise, the language used by teachers during language lessons should reflect the stages. Teachers should begin with concrete objects, firsthand experiences, and visual aids.
In addition the attitude of the learner toward the second language is as important as his talent for learning languages. Also, the students’ ages, and their previous exposures to the new language are factors a teacher must take into consideration.
We learned that bilingualism and biculturalism are not detrimental to cognitive development, and that cognitive skills are transferable across cultures and languages. In fact some evidence suggests that bilingualism may encourage the development of divergent thinking and creativity. (Phi Delta Kappan 1983: p. 365)
A variety of longitudinal studies have also revealed positive academic gains for students who have been enrolled in bilingual programs for at least four years. (Phi Delta Kappan 1983: p. 365)
There is still much work to be done. As bilingual educators become better acquainted with theories of language acquisition and the methods they imply, with the relationships being found between cognition and language, and the findings related to the organization of classroom programs and resources, bilingual/bicultural education will become much more effective. But, the success of bilingual programs depends on support from the sociopolitical environment!