The difference between ESL and bilingual education

The biggest differences between ESL vs. bilingual education are: In a bilingual program, the non-native English speakers all have the same language background, and the teacher speaks both languages as a means of content instruction. In the ESL classroom, the students come from various language backgrounds, and the teacher only speaks English.

The difference between ESL and bilingual education

ESL and bilingual education

Today, English occupies an important position in global and human communication. It has become a global language and tool to communicate with many people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Non-native speakers learn English in two different ways or methods. One is ESL (short for English as a second language) and bilingual education. In these two methods, English is added as a second language and used as a communication tool for non-English speakers.

The main difference between the two is the teaching method, medium or language of instruction, and the composition of the students or non-English speakers participating in the course.

ESL is also called the immersion method. In this type of teaching, there is only one teaching language, namely English. The lecturer speaks English, only English. The class or students can come from different non-British countries. This means that students can speak a different mother tongue or first language. The classroom or study area often prohibits the use of mother tongue to encourage students to speak only in English.

Since the teacher or lecturer only speaks English, there is no need to communicate in the student's native language. The main focus of this kind of English learning is to teach only the English language.

ESL can train students capable of writing and speaking English. However, an important result of ESL is the lack or weakness of the students' first language or mother tongue.

ESL is completed in three forms: ESL withdrawal (students withdraw from regular courses to learn English), ESL courses (professional English courses) and asylum English.

On the other hand, bilingual education also teaches English, but also takes into account the students' mother tongue. In bilingual classes or courses, there are two teaching media, mother tongue and English. The main purpose is to allow students to learn English while learning or not to give up their mother tongue. This is called bilingual literacy, which includes both English and native language skills.

Students in bilingual courses usually use the same mother tongue. The teacher is also a spokesperson for the first language. Teachers usually need to communicate or teach students in their native language and English in each subject.

Bilingual courses can be divided into two categories. "One-way bilingual" is suitable for courses with non-native English speakers/learners as students, and the ratio of local and non-native English speakers in two-way bilingual courses is 50/50%. Two-way bilingual courses provide greater flexibility because non-native speakers learn English while native English speakers learn another language at the same time.

There are two types of bilingual education, and both have a main goal of teaching English to non-native speakers while also teaching the necessary grade-level or course curriculum.

One-Way Developmental Bilingual Education

In a one-way bilingual program:

  • The students are placed into classes based on their native languages.
  • The teacher teaches both in that language and in English, slowly phasing out the students' native language and eventually teaching only in English.

The idea is that the students will be comfortable in the learning environment throughout the process, but they will soon enough be ready to join the language majority in regular classes.

One-way bilingual classes:

  • Strongly resemble content-based classes
  • The teacher speaks two languages, whereas content-based ESL teachers only speak English.

Two-Way Bilingual Education

In a two-way bilingual class:

  • The student population is 50% native English-speaking and 50% minority language-speaking. A Spanish/English bilingual program, then, would be half English-speaking and half Spanish-speaking.
  • The teacher would be bilingual and would teach the entire course half in English and half in Spanish.

In addition to content instruction, the purpose of such a class is threefold:

  • Transition - The Spanish speakers are learning English so that they may thrive in an English-speaking educational environment.
  • Development - The English speakers are developing understanding and fluency in a second language.
  • Maintenance - The Spanish speakers are maintaining their native language and culture, precious things that are sometimes lost when young children speak English more on a daily basis than their native language, causing a disconnect between them, their families and their heritage.


1. Both ESL and bilingual courses have the same English teaching methods as native English speakers. 2. In ESL, there is only one teaching language, only English. At the same time, in bilingual teaching, teachers use both mother tongue and English to teach. 3. Students in ESL courses can come from different cultures and speak different first languages. On the other hand, students in bilingual courses usually belong to the same country and speak the same language. The main purpose of ESL is to teach English and develop language skills. Compared with bilingual education, it aims at literacy in English and mother tongue. 5. ESL can be considered as an intensive and comprehensive English language course. In contrast, bilingual courses can be regarded as half-English and half-mother language courses.

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