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What are the different types of bilingual education?

Types of bilingual education

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Bilingual Kidspot

Are you looking to understand what bilingual education is or what kind of bilingual education might better fit your family and your child? Here, we explain what different types of bilingual education exist out there and who might benefit from what.

Bilingual Education

When raising children, education is always a big topic and can be the source of many headaches for parents.

When raising bilingual kids, their languages add another layer of difficulty to the choices we, as parents, need to make.

Choosing a school is a very personal choice and what is right for one person may not be for another. As parents, we need to make sure we understand the aim and purposes of different types of bilingual education out there.

So, while we will not tell you what type of bilingual education is better, below, we have summarized for you the different types so you can make an informed decision.

Types of bilingual education

According to Baker (2011), there are two main types of bilingual education based on their aim: transitional and maintenance. Let’s examine these two different types of bilingual education.

1. Transitional Bilingual Education (weak form of bilingual education)

“Transitional bilingual education is an approach to bilingual education where the children first acquire fluency in their native language before acquiring fluency in the second language, where fluency is defined as linguistic fluency (such as speaking) as well as literacy (such as reading and writing).”

It is called a weak form of bilingual education because the main aim is not bilingualism and equal or near-equal fluency. Transitional education seeks assimilation into majority language, culture and identity. A strong bilingualism or bicultural child is not really the aim.

This type of bilingual education includes:

  • mainstreaming (sometimes with withdrawal classes), where a pupil is dropped into a mainstream class and taught to sink or swim. Sometimes separate catch-up classes are offered;
  • structured immersion where a total immersion bilingual education technique for rapidly teaching English to English Language Learners, for example;
  • or sheltered English where English Language Learners (ELLs) are provided with a comprehensive curriculum in all content areas as they develop student’s English language skills. The program instructs students to speak, read, and write in English.

These programs enable the promotion of the language minority child to operate in the majority language of the country.

When is this kind of education beneficial to bilinguals?

Imagine you are moving to a new country and you need/want your children to learn the new language.

Placing them in mainstream typical schools would benefit them in the long run as acquisition of the new language would probably be quicker and more natural.

This type of education can provide a very fast transition from dominance in their home language to fluency in the school target language.

You can find out more about these models here: https://www.doe.mass.edu/ele/programs/tbe.html

2. Maintenance Bilingual Education (strong form of bilingual education)

“Maintenance or developmental bilingual education attempts to preserve and develop the students’ first language while they are adding a second.

In other words, maintenance programs are based on an educational enrichment model.”

Within the maintenance aim of bilingual education, there are two different paths: static maintenance: maintains minority language skills and Developmental maintenance (also known as enrichment): which develops minority language skills to full proficiency.

It is called a strong form of bilingual education simply because it aims to promote two languages, encourages biliteracy and biculturalism.

Its goal is to enrich the child (especially linguistically). As opposed to transitional education, maintenance education fosters the minority language, culture and identity.

This type of education includes:

  • immersion, a technique used in bilingual language education in which two languages are used for instruction in a variety of topics, including math, science, or social studies;
  • heritage language schools, often are organizations that maintain the languages and cultures of immigrant communities, and offer vital community services, employment opportunities and networking to prevent social isolation. They advocate for multilingualism and cross-cultural understanding. These schools range from small organizations, run by volunteers, to large, accredited schools;
  • international schools, institutions that promote education in an international environment or framework. Although there is no uniform definition or criteria, international schools are usually characterized by a multinational student body and staff, multilingual instruction, curricula oriented towards global perspectives and subjects, and the promotion of concepts such as world citizenship, pluralism, and intercultural understanding;
  • dual language schools refer to academic programs that are taught in two languages. These may vary widely and some transitional education institutions sometimes use this term to refer to their offers even though it does not promote the home language as widely as the community one.

When is this kind of education beneficial to learners?

Virtually any child growing up bilingual (whatever their language arrangements are) will benefit from these programs in some way.

Maintenance bilingual education has been proven to be an effective language education model, teaching children the dominant and their native language simultaneously.

Source and recommended reading: Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Colin Baker (2011)


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