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How to Teach ESL

In 1998, voters in California passed Proposition 227, which effectively abolished bilingual instruction in public schools.  But since then a series of studies have shown that good bilingual programs are just as effective as total immersion.  As a result, a movement is underway to repeal Proposition 227 and allow local districts to decide which system they want to use ("Is bilingual education worth bringing back?" Los Angeles Times, Jun. 5).

I don't think the answer is exclusively one or the other.  Certain subjects ( e.g. music, art, physical education) are more appropriate for total immersion. I know that many people for whom English was not their first language will maintain that they learned English by watching TV or movies.  Since they learned that way, why should students be placed in segregated classes?

The answer is that it's not absolutely necessary to go to school to learn a second language. Nevertheless, it's certainly an advantage, as long as proper instruction is provided. Teacher quality is the key. However, the truth is that schools in the U.S. have never been particularly successful in teaching English to those born abroad. 

It will be interesting to see what ultimately happens in California because one-quarter of its school-age population consists of English-language learners.  But so far the evidence indicates that there are no significant differences between bilingual and total immersion classes. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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