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Bilingual Transformation: The Effects of Globalization on Bilingual Education

Elaine Gallagher, Ph.D.  UNO International  Introduction  The worldwide transformation occurring in bilingual/multilingual education revolves around two areas: Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Fifty countries, since 1991, have adopted these two movements as part of their national plan(Council of Europe, 2001). The United States is one of the […]

Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 20 de enero de 2014

Elaine Gallagher 07 cegElaine Gallagher, Ph.D. 
UNO International 


The worldwide transformation occurring in bilingual/multilingual education revolves around two areas: Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Fifty countries, since 1991, have adopted these two movements as part of their national plan(Council of Europe, 2001). The United States is one of the major countries that has not yet unified objectives of bilingualism. The political debates in the United States concerning «English-only» and immigration are simply «too hot» to deal with in a logical, sane manner. Meanwhile, our children are cheated of a complete education. This situation seems ironic because the United States supposedly has been the world’s «melting pot».

            Being bilingual used to be for some highly motivated immigrants, or for people who needed a second or third language for a job, or for people in countries, such as Switzerland, who have no specific language in their country, so they need to learn the language of neighbors, French, Italian, and German. In mainstream U.S.A., someone who is bilingual is seen as «different», an immigrant, or someone who is gifted in languages; however, more than half of the world’s population is bilingual(Grosjean, 2010).


What generally is known about education, general learning and bilingualism is not new. The main problem most of the time is that what we know about learning and what we actually do are not closely related. Recent brain studies are supporting work of Montessori and Piaget from over fifty years ago when such instruments were not available; however, the practices being used in education in 2013 are still far behind what has been learned from accumulated knowledge and research.

Works of Vygotsky, Krashen, Collier, Bloom, Gardner, and others who support bilingualism and promotion of critical thinking, are not being implemented in U.S. schools. We need to know about and utilize an eclectic approach to bilingual education if we want positive results. What results and goals should we be seeking? [Who is “we”?] Meeting the dual goals of oral fluency and academic expertise in two or more languages are the results we should be advocating, not simply «passing» multiple choice exams based on the two lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory   

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory (1978) is one of the foundations of constructivism, and supports second language teaching/learning. It asserts three major themes:

  1. Social interaction. It plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development. In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development. He stated: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level. First, between people (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra- psychological)” (Vygotsky, 1978. pp.20-24).
  2. The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be peers, a younger person, or even computers.
  3. The Zone of Proximal Development(ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently. According to Vygotsky, learning occurred in this zone. Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences (Crawford, 1996).

According to Vygotsky, humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to mediate their social environments. Initially, children develop these tools to serve solely as social functions, ways to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed that the internalization of these tools led to higher thinking skills.

Cognitive development results from a process whereby a child learns through problem-solving experiences shared with someone else, usually parent or teacher but sometimes a sibling or peers. Initially, the person interacting with child assumes most of the responsibility for guiding the problem solving, but gradually this responsibility transfers to the child. Language is a primary form of interaction through which adults transmit to the child the rich body of knowledge that exists in the culture. As learning progresses, the child’s own language comes to serve as the primary tool of intellectual adaptation. Eventually, children can use internal language to direct their own behavior.

                        Vygotsky impacts language learning in three ways:

  1. Curriculum. Since children learn much through interaction, curricula should be designed to emphasize interaction between learners and learning tasks, projects, pair work, teamwork, cooperative learning experiences.
  2. Instruction. With appropriate adult help, children can often perform tasks that they are incapable of completing on their own. With this in mind, scaffoldingwhere the adult continually adjusts the level of his or her help in response to the child’s level of performance–is an effective form of teaching. Scaffolding not only produces immediate results, but also instills the skills necessary for independent problem solving in the future.
  3. Assessment. Assessment methods must take into account the zone of proximal development. What children can do on their own is their level of actual development and what they can do with help is their level of potential development. Two children might have the same level of actual development, but given the appropriate help from an adult, one might be able to solve many more problems than the other. Assessment methods must target both the level of actual development and the level of potential development.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

            Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy of six levels of cognitive thought, developed by Dr. Benjamin Bloom in 1954. It demonstrates how humans best learn to develop critical thinking skills. It’s not new, yet no one has come with a more effective way to show how to raise performance levels on the basis of critical thinking, so is still in use to develop critical thinking, especially useful in second language acquisition.

            Simply by changing a verb in a lesson’s activity, the teacher can raise the level of students’ thinking. Bilingualism requires communication skills. When higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1954) are used, students remember better and learn more deeply. The two lower levels, to know and to understand, are based mainly on memory. The four higher levels: apply, analyze, assess, and create, depend on critical thinking. When teachers use the four higher levels, students learn better, and second languages are more easily acquired.

Contributions from Neuroscience on Bilingual Education

Researchers and neuro-medical studies are reporting that children who are bilingual have an intellectual advantage (Baker, 1993; Bialystok, 1991; Gonzalez, 1999; Shaffer, 1999). By being bilingual, children will have various mental advantages. There is more plasticity in the brain, allowing faster learning. When a brain is fluent in two or more languages, for example, needing to choose between English and Spanish, the cortical circuits that hold both languages become active. The prefrontal cortex must step in to decide… man or hombre. The workout the prefrontal cortex gets in bilingualism carries over to other functions, such as problem solving, attention switching, and postpones dementia by at least 5 years (Weber-Fox, Leonard, Hampton Wray, & Tomblin, 2010).

            Ultimately, study after study indicates that bilingualism changes and affects the human brain and how a person learns. There is sufficient neurological research indicating that bilingual children may have more intelligence and cognitive strengths than monolingual children (Diamond, 2010)

Theory of Multiple Intelligences

            Teachers have been hearing much about Multiple Intelligences the past 25 years, not because it is new, but because they are discovering that the theory offers a clear explanation of the many ways in which humans learn. In 1984, Dr. Howard Gardner (1983) published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. It was a book originally written for psychologists. Classroom teachers, however, were the ones who embraced the theory, recognizing that it gave a logical explanation of why some students did well in school and others, with similar I.Q. (intelligence quotient), did not.

            Gardner’s theory challenged the traditional psychological view of intelligence as a single capacity that is evidenced by verbal ability, and logical and mathematical thought. Instead, Gardner proposed that all individuals possess eight independent intelligences. These, in combination, enable people to solve problems or fashion products with varying levels of skill. Gardner’s simplified definition of intelligence is «the ability to solve problems» (Gardner, 1984, p.16). The eight «intelligences» (learner preferences) presented by Dr. Gardner are:

  1. Verbal-Linguistic
  2. Logical-Mathematical
  3. Musical-Rhythmic
  4. Visual-Spatial
  5. Bodily-Kinesthetic (including gross and fine motor skills)
  6. Interpersonal
  7. Intrapersonal
  8. Naturalist

Verbal-Linguistic and Interpersonal Intelligences are most closely connected to the acquisition of a second or third language. Gardner identified these various intelligences using biological and psychological studies. The use of Multiple Intelligence (MI) activities helps teachers and students in many different ways:

  • It encourages teachers to use a wide variety of activities, in music, art, critical thinking, kinesthetic, logic puzzles, brain -easers, cooperative learning activities.
  • It promotes or justifies education in diverse forms.
  • It encourages teachers to work in teams, complementing their own strengths with those of their colleagues.
  • It encourages schools to devise rich educational experiences for children from diverse backgrounds.
  • It allows children to see that they may have abilities and skills that are diverse, and that their strengths can be developed.
  • Parents will be able to recognize strengths in their children that may not have been noticed before if they had been concentrating on only traditional «intelligences».
  • Using a wide variety of MI activities keeps the students more involved and interested in academic work. Furthermore, one intelligence can help to strengthen another. For example, a student weak in reading may enhance skills by using music lyrics or a sports rules book in order to grow in reading skills. Second language acquisition, L2, is enhanced.

Techniques, ideas, and research supporting the advocacy of a 21st century transition in bilingual education, lead to the urgency and necessity of implementing 180-degree changes in educational practices, some of which are based on recent neuro-educational studies. These implementations need to be based on an eclectic combination and use of CEFR, CLIL, and research by Vygotsky, Bloom, Gardner, and many others.

Recent Challenges of Bilingual Education in the United States

            Current «pullout» language classes, or the gradual implementation of English, have proven to be a failure. The fact is that 47% of native Spanish-speaking students who have been enrolled in public schools «bilingual programs» do not graduate from high school. They are the disenfranchised (American Legislative Exchange Council, 1994); however, 91% of students whose parents denied them entrance into a bilingual program (instead choosing all-English classes) graduate (Berman, 1992). These signs should be glaring, yet states still continue the unattainable quest of using antiquated, obsolete, unsuccessful methods to attempt to reach a goal of English fluency that could easily be attainable, as proven with millions of students in other countries.

            The United States is isolated, provincial, and far-removed from what is occurring in the rest of the world. Most of our English teachers, as well as teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English as a Second Language (ESL), English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and whatever other acronyms are used in the field, are teaching English the way Latin had been taught 90 years ago, using memorization of vocabulary, verb conjugations, and translations. Forgotten is the fact that Latin was taught this way because the Romans have been dead for 2,000 years, so there was no one to talk to in Latin.

            In the 21st Century, any educated person needs to be bilingual, with English being one of the two languages. Why English? Because it is the universal language (the lingua franca) of technology, medicine, businesses, the arts and economy. In the United States, Spanish could be a second language (L2) because it has the highest number of speakers, after English. There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are speakers of Chinese, French, German, Italian, Hawaiian, and the Native American languages combined (United States Census Bureau, 2011).

Supposedly, by 2034, there will be more people speaking Spanish in the United States than English. It behooves universities and education departments to forget politics and movements for «English only,» and its closed, discriminatory policy. Instead, the United States must emphasize fluency in two or more languages for all students, so they will be prepared for the near future.

            Apart from the politics and economic necessities of knowing two languages in the United States, English and Spanish, much more important is that various brain studies and documented research in neuroscience are supporting that people who are bilingual have a more agile brain.

From Globalization to CEFR and CLIL

Because the prime language in the United States, for now, is English, citizens ignore, and even reject, the acquisition of Spanish as a needed skill. Being able to communicate in the first language (L1) of 37% of the United States population is a valid skill, not to mention the brain studies showing bilingual students perform better on cognitive skills.

However, it is important to remember that in the 21st Century, with international world travel common for work and pleasure, with globalization promoting out-sourcing to other countries, and with English becoming more and more the lingua franca, bilingualism is essential for economic, professional, and social success. Globalization has led to the necessity of bilingualism, which, in turn, led to the development of the Common European Framework.

            Without clear designations of language levels, teachers, worldwide, had to use multiple-guess exams, low-level-thinking tests, or vague estimates, to decide students’ language levels. «Beginning,» «Basic,» «Intermediate,» or «Advanced» were terms used to group students or to label texts. Newspaper listing job vacancies asked for «80% English», or «75% French», or «100% Spanish.» What did those arbitrary percentages mean? Did they mean that someone understood 80% of an English dictionary? Or that they understood 80% of a movie? Obviously, the percentages made no more sense than «Intermediate English.»

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)

            In the late 1980’s, more than twenty European countries began to research and document what skills and abilities needed to be exhibited to demonstrate language knowledge, in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, under various situations: social, professional, family, academic, and professional, etc.

            After much work, in 1991, in Switzerland, a consortium of language educators and linguistic specialists presented their findings and recommendations in a 265 page document, named Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. What they succeeded to do was to specifically list observable actions and characteristics, which would exhibit language ability under a variety of circumstances, and at various levels.

            They divided language abilities, for any language, into six classifications: A-1, A-2, B-1, B-2, C-1, C-2, with A-1 being the basic level, and C-2 the most proficient level. Tables 1 and 2 provide a clearer picture of the CEFR.

Table 1. Alignment between Grade levels and CEFR levels


CEFR Level

2 A1 Basic English User
3, 4 A2 Basic +
5, 6 B1 Independent
7, 8, 9 B2 Independent +
10, 11 C1 Advanced
12 C2 Proficient


Notice that first grade level of primary is not included, because most young children do not have the smoothness, vocabulary level, or fluency that A-1 would exhibit.

Once the Common European Framework of Reference was established and accepted in 1991, and publishers were required to eliminate the traditional designations of «Advanced,» «Intermediate,» and «Beginning» levels, language learning and teaching began to change. Publishers in Europe now have to indicate on the covers of their language teaching books the language level, such as «A1» or «B2», etc.

Table 2. Framework of Levels of Reference for Language Acquisition

Proficient User

C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.
C1 Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

Independent User

B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
B1 Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics, which are familiar, or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Basic User

A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

            Once the CEFR was in effect, schools and teacher-preparation programs had a dilemma: how do we teach languages to students so they will reach the levels of the CEFR? This problem was serious, because since the CEFR emphasized oral fluency, multicultural knowledge, projects, small group activities and lifelong learning, among other things, schools were not prepared. Most language courses were traditional, with memorization, translations, workbooks to complete, grammar emphasis, phonics, fill-in-the-blanks, copying, language patterns to complete, all of which presented fake, artificial communication styles. Conjugating verbs such as in «I am… you are… he is… she is… we are… you are… they are…» doesn’t lead anyone to language fluency. No one talks that way, so it was obvious that the traditional way of language teaching would not obtain the desired results of oral fluency, the kind of ability needed in the 21st Century.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

            Linguistic experts and language educators began to meet in Finland at the University of Jyvaskyla, in Helsinki from 1991-1994. The diverse group of educators, from more than 20 countries, headed by Dr. David Marsh, investigated language teaching programs in order to plan what they would recommend to the European Union supporting CEFR levels.

            The linguists researched approximately 40 second-language programs, looking at what worked and what was not so successful. Their goal was to implement a teaching philosophy for the acquisition of a second language. They decided to establish a philosophy, based on the best practices of how languages are best learned. They called this philosophy Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Much of the research on the «Natural Approach to Language Learning», by Dr. Stephen Krashen, and others, from the United States, such as Dr, Virginia Collier’s research with dual language programs, also were incorporated into the framework of CLIL philosophy.

How does CLIL support bilingualism?

In order to better understand CLIL, the following must be considered:

  • CLIL is a philosophy of how language is learned. It is not a program or a method.
  • Knowledge of the language becomes the means of learning content.
  • Language is integrated into the broad curriculum.
  • This broad, complete, curriculum is taught, using 100% in English.
  • Long-term learning is planned for nearly native-like English.
  • Fluency is the prime goal, with students using English to communicate.
  • Errors are a natural part of language learning.
  • Fluency is emphasized, not grammatical structures.
  • More focus is on the process of learning, and less emphasis on the final product.
  • Reading and oral production are the essential skills.
  • Content is used to expand vocabulary and fluency in speaking and reading.

CLIL has become the umbrella term describing both learning a content subject, such as physics or geography, through the medium of a second language, and learning a second language by studying a content-based subject.

CLIL in the Classroom

One of the most important notions in teaching a second language is that the teacher needs to use the second language 100% of the time, making it a necessary and essentialcommunication tool. They need tovary materials; use visuals; plan team and pair activities; have lots of oral production; use critical thinking; and include music, arts, crafts and physical activities, all in the target language.They accept thatrecognition precedes production.Teachers need to accept thaterrors are O.K. We learn by our errors. [Who is “we” and “our”?]

There is no doubt that learning a language and learning through a language are concurrent processes, but implementing CLIL requires a rethink of the traditional concepts of the language classroom and the language teacher. The immediate obstacles seem to be:

  • Opposition to language teaching by subject teachers may come from language teachers themselves. Subject teachers may be unwilling to take on the responsibility.
  • The lack of CLIL teacher-training program suggests that the majority of teachers working on bilingual programs may be ill equipped to do the job adequately.

The need for language teaching reformwill make CLIL a common philosophy by many education systems in the near future.

Some teachers may think that subject material will be weak if it is not in the L1, and students will not learn as much and will become confused. Studies are supporting that CLIL is effective, not only in language acquisition, but also in the acquisition of academic knowledge in various subjects. Studies from Finland, Denmark and Austria are exhibiting that students are performing better in subject areas when they are taught in an L2 sing CLIL philosophy (Poisel, 2008).

One of guiding principles of CLIL is that teachers have to select the most important information to teach, based on the following question: Of all the things that COULD be taught, what MUST be taught? When the CLIL philosophy is implemented, teachers tend to use more visuals and examples, and students are able to remember more data when it is organized and specific.        

Some CLIL programs          

            In Spain, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala, the national curriculum, based on bilingualism (Spanish/English), are having successful implementation. Canada, also, with its official policy being bilingualism (French/English), is involved in the globalization movement in multilingual and teacher improvement.

            Teaching English in schools in Mexico is not new. Private schools for two generations have included English in the curricula. In Mexican public schools, twenty-one states have been offering English, some of them for twenty years. The state of Coahuila, for example, began its English program as a project in 550 primary schools, in the school year 1995-96 with approximately 800 English teachers. Currently, the English program is an official program, not a project. Coahuila has expanded its English program to include pre-school, middle school, and high school levels. As more and more Mexican states have initiated English programs, each state with its own distinct focus, the need for a unified program, at the national level was imperative.

            Thus was born the Programa Nacional de Inglés en la Educación Básica (PNIEB), the National English Program for Basic Education.The focus of the PNIEB, since its approval by Congress of Mexico in 2008, is based more on the CEFR standards and on CLIL philosophy than on methods or philosophies previously emphasized in traditional language studies.


Basically, what’s being said in bilingual circles, in countries where bilingualism has made a strong, positive image, such as Mexico, Canada, Spain, is this: «If you can’t speak the language, you don’t know the language.» In other words, oral fluency has made a strong impact in these countries, with much less emphasis being given to the traditional grammar-translation method.

PISA is an exam applied in a country’s native language, in science, mathematics, and language. Countries enter voluntarily, public and private schools. The exam is based on critical thinking skills, the four higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, not memorized responses. Finland, Canada, South Korea, Denmark, Ireland, Hong Kong, Germany, are nations placing at the top, joining Finland and Canada, who, consistently, for 15 years, are among the highest scorers. Both countries embrace CLIL, bilingualism, multilingualism, and high level, critical thinking.

            Oral fluency, classes conducted 100% in the target language, positive atmosphere, subjects being taught in the L2, use of graphics, and challenging students’ thoughts with critical thinking interactions all contribute to the transformation in bilingual education. What needs to be emphasized is that on-going teacher improvement means on-going student transformation.


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This paper is based on a talk Elaine gave at a TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference at Chicago State University last year, and published in the January issue of the Illinois TESOL Journal.