Reframing the Debate: The Roles of Native Languages in English‐Only Programs for Language Minority Students


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The use of languages other than English in schooling is a subject of great controversy in the U.S., pitting those who hold assimilationist views (favoring English‐only) against those who hold cultural pluralist view (favoring inclusion of the native language) (Secada & Lightfoot, 1993). A study of nine exemplary K‐12 programs for language minority students in which English was the primary language of instruction showed that the incorporation of students' native languages in instruction need not be an all‐or‐nothing phenomenon. The use of the native language appears so compelling that it emerges even when policies and assumptions mitigate against it. Teachers who are monolingual English speakers or who do not speak the languages of all their students can incorporate students' native languages into instruction in many ways to serve a variety of educationally desirable functions. This article explores the complexities of the uses of students' native languages in schooling, describes and illustrates various ways these languages were used in the English‐based but multilingual programs, and argues that programs for language minority students should be reconceptualized to move beyond the emotional and politically heated debate that opposes English‐only instruction to native language instruction. We have been trapped in the past in an endless and often fruitless debate over the best language of instruction. I hope that this reauthorization [of federal education programs for English L2 students] can rise above this tired issue, so that we can turn our attention to more substantive problems—how to provide language minority students with an equal opportunity to learn challenging content and high level skills. (Hakuta, 1993) 1994 TESOL International Association

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-561
Number of pages25
JournalTESOL Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1994


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