Bilingual Education As Language Policy

Language policy and language planning are two areas of applied linguistics that are intended to be used hand in hand to assess communication problems in education and society. Unfortunately, language planning and policies have sometimes been used in ways that have actually increased communication problems, such as when, for example, their effect has been to suppress communication in particular languages or when policies to promote mainstream education in the United States only in the English language have been poorly planned or poorly implemented.

The implementation of language policies usually requires a formal plan of action based on guiding principles designed to promote, accommodate, maintain, protect, or restrict the use of languages in education or society. Although formal language policies imply planning, much of the debate and implementation of policy related to bilingual education in the United States have occurred without extensive language planning. Language acquisition planning is a form of language planning used to determine which language(s) or language varieties are promoted through schools.

Bilingual education, in the broadest sense, falls under this form of planning because of the importance of formal education in determining the status and spread of languages. Traditionally, language planning also involves corpus planning, which deals largely with issues of selection of vocabulary, grammar, and standardization. Corpus planning typically has been more of an issue for debate among publishers and stylists, but it can also involve issues related to the identification and selection of a standard variety or varieties of language.

In the early history of the United States, the lexicographer Noah Webster exerted tremendous influence on English spelling, word choice, and grammar-largely through his personal authority as a publisher. Webster was also determined to promote a distinctly “American” form of English and went to lengths to ensure that some spellings would deviate from those used by the British.