The word “bilingual” means the ability to speak or write two languages equally well. Thus, a system of bilingual education aims to make non-native speaking students maintain good linguistic abilities in both their native language and their second language. Bilingual education, mainly targeted either for students in the upper social economic group as in Egypt, or for immigrants as in the United States, allows these students to have good job opportunities. Yet, it lacks the ability to make the students perfect the two languages studied.
In the United States, the system of bilingual education aims to ease the immigrants into the new society. Non-native English speaking students are taught in their native language besides learning English as a second language. In other words, the system aims to preserve and build on the students’ native language skills as they continue to acquire English as a second language. But these students know very little English; they need to acquire more language abilities in English in order to blend in the society, while keeping the native language is the role of the family. Richard Rodriguez, who was born to Mexican immigrant parents, stated that using the native language in school is a misunderstanding for the main aim of school; also, it is considered a way of lessening the importance of the family (282).
Bilingual education in Egypt differs from that in the United States. In the United States, the main aim of the system is to help the immigrants to deal with the society. But in Egypt, English as a second language is taught, as it is the language of the world. Families of the upper socio economic classes believe that teaching their children English as a second language is a way to success, as this will provide them with good job opportunities with high salaries. My parents applied for me in an English school, as they believe that learning English is a kind of security for my future. Mark Schaub, who has taught many courses at the American University in Cairo stated that middle and upper classes in Egypt believe that English will lead their children to ” worldliness or economic success” (206).
However, graduates of bilingual schools do not sufficiently master the English language. When I graduated from school, I joined the American University in Cairo as an ELI student. The ELI is an English intensive course that aims to improve the English language for students with low English levels. Mark Schaub made a survey in which he found that his university students do not have enough fluency for writing English at university level (204).
In addition, the students of bilingual education are unable to master their own language, the Arabic language. Mark Schaub taught a course in journalism; he found his students unable to conduct the interviews in Arabic. The students were translating the interview, which was in colloquial Arabic, into English. Even the notes that they took were in English. Schaub points out that these students are going to work for Egyptian newspapers, in which they should write in Arabic (205). Of course, he does not mean the colloquial “the written language used basically in all written communication in the Arab world”, which is the Modern Standard Arabic (205). Thus, the graduates of bilingual education are prepared to function in societies and careers in which the main language is English. In other words, “they are unable to function in their society”(Schaub 205). I believe that in the future I will have the same problem, as I am nearly illiterate in the Modern Standard Arabic. For example, I am unable to write letters in Arabic.
Mark Schaub made a survey in order to rate the writing abilities of the students and to know the reasons, which made them study English. He found that most of the students have higher writing abilities in English than their native language (206). I believe that students who graduate from a bilingual education system have higher writing abilities in English as my worst grade was in the Arabic course. Also, most of the students said that they learnt English as it is the language of the world or it is their parents’ desire. My parents applied for me in an English school as they thought it could be a kind of insurance for the future. I believe that it is the pressures within the society that pushes the people to choose English rather than their own language. All the people want to have a good job with a high salary; thus, learning English becomes the way to achieve that aim.
In the bilingual education system in Egypt, students are taught in a language that they do not understand; thus, they are deprived of having a good education. Reading and writing are only foundation elements; students are graded on their knowledge of science, history, literature, social studies and many other subjects. If they can not apply their language skills to master their academic success, they can not accomplish the aim of learning. Thus, educational programs must be designed to balance language proficiency and academic learning outcomes. That is why first language development facilitates second language acquisition. Thus, it is better for students to receive continuous instruction in their native language, besides acquiring another language as a second one.