Bilingual education is defined broadly as the use of any two languages in school, either by students or teachers, or both for many social and pedagogical purposes. In American schools today, however, this type of education refers to the number of approaches in the classroom that utilizes the native languages of English language learners, or ELLs.
There are many educators, parents, and even some students that fall on either side of the bilingual education debate. Detractors say that allowing even the part time speaking of languages such as Spanish or Chinese in the class room is a detriment to both the student and the class. According to them, only total immersion has been proven effective in the past and should be used instead of bilingual education.
Recent scientific studies, however, indicate that the use of bilingual education in public schools actually helps both the ELL students integrate more fully into the society as a whole, and allows for a deeper understanding of different cultures for students who are native English speakers. In addition, a study conducted in 1986 indicated that learning in more than one language can provide some cognitive advantages to the students by allowing them to gain greater comprehension of the subject matter when it is taught in their native language.
Another reason why bilingual education is working in America is because it can be applied in a number of different methods, tailor made for the situation that the teacher and students are facing. For example, rapid transition classes for ELL students can include only non-native speakers, or a mixture of the two, so that the students can interact in both their native tongue as well as the new language of English.