Bilingual and Bicultural, the Immigrant Student’s Way To Success

New research done by the University of Missouri’s David Aguayo and published as  “Culture Predicts Mexican Americans’ College Self-Efficacy and College Performance,” in the journal Culture and College Outcomes finds that Mexican-American students who keep their native language and maintain close ties to their home culture earn higher GPAs than their English Only counterparts.

In the study, Aguayo followed 408 Mexican American students and found a strong correlation between their grades in school and the degree to which they kept their cultural heritage close to them, including language.

This might seem counterintuitive to many who for years have clamored for the elimination of bilingual education and the establishment of English only requirements for schools, however those of us who had the fortune to grow up bilingual, despite the strong acculturating forces that tend to strip away home language and culture in this country while  achieving  high marks in school hardly find these results surprising.

  After all, brain research in recent years point to several  cognitive advantages held by bilingual brains over monolingual ones.  There is strong evidence to prove that bilingual brains have stronger executive functions and can handle multiple tasks better than those that only hold one language.

Researchers have also found that the bilingual brain also has a 5 year delay of the onset of dementia when compared with monolingual patients. Why then, would it not makes sense that students who have hard-wired their brains with double the power in the executive language centers would not have an advantage over those that only rely on one.

It’s our own Dual Processor!

A story that ran today on NPR pretty much outlines these findings.

As vindicating as these findings may be to proponents of bilingual education, we have to pause and ask a few questions:

1. What makes a student more likely to maintain their home language and culture? Could there be a cognitive advantage already pre-installed that allows some students to move through life without losing their native tongue and others to struggle to maintain it?

2. What correlation is there between the ability to remain bilingual and the desire to maintain and nurture cultural heritage? Does one precede the other?

3. What outside factors contribute to the maintenance of a home language? Distance from the border? Availability of Spanish media outlets? The chance to go to a bilingual school? Spanish-friendly public policy? It would be interesting to see how Aguayo’s findings vary across geography and income brackets as well.

4.  What do these findings tell us about the direction of public education given the fact that Latinos are one of the fastest growing demographics? Should we be promoting more bilingual schools, and as a consequence, fostering the resurgence of more bilingual models that have recently bitten the dust as a result of the No Child Left Behind schemes of the past 10 years?

5. Finally, what do we as educators of English Language Learners need to do to make sure we are not promoting English proficiency at the expense of a rich native literacy?

One small change I predict has to do with the the focus of this website. In the future zapaTECHISTA will definitely have to change   from a blog that only promotes the teaching of English to English Learners through technology to one that includes more digital resources to maintain the Spanish language and associated cultures.

This article, by the way, can be used as a reading comprehension lesson. I’ve adapted it and added some questions to the end. Feel free to pass it along.

News-David Aguayo

 

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