Addative or Subtractive bilingualism … which is the best?

I wasnt going to post anymore today but then a conversation within my cross stitch group really made me think. In this blog I have tried to pull together all the positive aspects for bilingual learning on a global scale so that by sharing we can make better judgements as teachers and parents, but I am reminded by this that no amount of research, adult discussion or policy making actually means anything if we do not consider the children at the heart of the changes we would like to see.

The thread of this discussion is by adults from around the globe with an interest in cross stitching, usually just patterns and ideas are shared but occasionally a  discussion starts on something general like the recent hurricane, that leads to a discussion about something else and this one led to the weather and crops around the world. I now know it isn’t just the UK that has had crop failure, all over the world farmers are suffering its not just newspaper and business hype to get more profit.  Even my local garden and craft show has suffered with a  decrease in entries because of our unusual weather conditions this summer.

This discussion then led to language somehow and as many people in this group live in different parts of the world to where were raised, so communication has become an important skill they have needed to develop. Discussion then led to bilingualism as these parents are trying to improve their children’s language diet within their children’s education to improve on the educational experience that they received.

Here is a small bit of genuine conversation.  I will keep the people anonymous because I think this could be any two parents anywhere in the world.

The start of the conversation

Adult 1

I never had roots, and I don’t miss them.  I do consider Texas my home, and we plan to retire there someday twenty years down the road.  The foreign service (diplomatic corps) gives me the opportunity to live in a country and truly learn about it despite the bubble.  As for what I do when not stitching – I teach temari making to locals, I am very involved in a local charity group, and I go out with friends…….  What’s funny is that out in the villages, they have outhouses and high speed wifi internet.  It’s a difference of ease and cost of putting in the infrastructure.We took a three day trip to Odessa, Ukraine last week.  It’s a three hour drive from here, and the one time I saw a village with more than one store and no wells, I remarked that that village had money.  The difference when we crossed the border to the Ukraine was pretty stark. People in the villages grow their own food and mainly live on potatoes and cabbage.  Even here in the city, if you have a yard, it’s covered in a fruit and vegetable garden, not grass.  Canning is not optional; it’s a way of life.  Homemade flour, wine, vodka, and pickled vegetables are the norm.   So are raising chickens and pigs.  When I would go out to the countryside in Uruguay, I thought a lot of it was poor.  It is very rich compared to here.  I am so thankful to have been born American. As for the languages I know – I learned German in high school and college, picked up French while living there, and learned Spanish in Uruguay.  Now, it’s Romanian and Russian.  I didn’t learn Albanian in Kosovo: too many speak English there.> > Anyway, that’s what Moldova’s like

and then it progressed until it reached this…..

adult 1

Much easier for children to learn many languages. They seem to absorb information much better than adults. My mom was teaching us german. When I started school, I knew both english and german. Then my blockhead of a teacher had a conferance with my mom. Told mom she was “confusing” us by using 2 languages. Mom regrets listening to the teacher and wishes she would have kept us with both german and english. I think it would have been interesting to know german. I really don’t have the patience anymore.

Adult 2 response

My grand daughter was told the same when she was trying to teach her daughter two languages.  My grand daughter spent most of her school holidays here in France and as a child just listened to the language.  When she was in senior school and had the option to learn French she took it and gained a very high mark.  She wanted Connie, her daughter to learn French as well as English so she spoke to Connie in French and her partner spoke to her in English. Connie was learning well but was not very talkative for her age so my grand daughter was told that that was because she was confused with the two languages.  I don’t think that is true as there are now many mixed language couples who speak to their children in their native language and the children respond without any difficulty

As you say it is a shame that your Mum was told the same.

and on speaking other languages in the real world

adult 1

I found the little time I was in France, that some of them know English but will not speak it to you to help out or anything.  Not sure why but that’s how it was when I was there.

response from adult 2

that is due to the french government. They want “purity of language”. They are being quite thawarted by computer language as they are trying to come up with french terms/words to use. Taken them several years to come up with just a few words. While many french people can write english, they do not like to speak in public. Canada is also different. While you have french and english speaking Ontario, Quebec is quite the opposite. In Quebec, they will even mix up your restaurant order, just to let you know of their dislike. Have been on the receiving end of that one!

And the debate goes on, but clearly as adults and particularly those brought up around languages they seem to see the benefits much quicker than minolinguans.

I’m a strong believer of having the kids maintain their first language “I witnessed [my children’s] learning curve and process.… I knew how their experience was with ESOL,” she said. “I think that I knew how to help the kids be successful.”

This is one parents view of how her children learnt English and the subsequent experiences of using these experiences to become an ESOL teacher.  Really interesting are her views that are not dissimilar to many parents but also her view of the types of bilingual education and that every teacher should be an ESOL teacher.

Find it at

When Yu-Ying Huang emigrated from Taiwan in 1989 with her two children, then 7 and 10, she saw firsthand what it was like for students from other lands to learn English, inspiring her career to teach English as a second language.

She’s been teaching ESOL at secondary schools for 12 years, currently at Northwest High School in Silver Spring, Md., part of the Montgomery County Public School system. MCPS arguably touts the most diverse student body in Maryland

“I witnessed [my children’s] learning curve and process.… I knew how their experience was with ESOL,” she said. “I think that I knew how to help the kids be successful.”.

An MCPS student has about a 7-in-10 chance of running into another student of a different race or ethnicity, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Like other school districts across America, MCPS’s diversity is its best asset – but also its biggest challenge.

Resources are tight; budget shortfalls grow more limiting at the same time that diversity grows. Across the nation, educators are expected to shape the minds of more than 49 million kids in an environment where nearly one in five speaks another language at home.

“For us it’s always looking for creative ways to bridge the linguistic divide and to be able to serve students who speak so many different languages,” said Karen Woodson, director for the Division of ESOL/Bilingual Programs.

About a third of the student body identifies as non-Hispanic white; the other two-thirds identify as students of color. Of the more than 146,000 students, 13.1 percent are English speakers of another language. Together, the student body represents 160 countries and 130 languages.

For Huang, the biggest challenge has been to find ways to bridge the culture gap between herself and her students.

It can be a “daily struggle” to find the balance between allowing students to help one another in their native tongue while encouraging social interactions in English, she said. But seeing them making progress makes the effort worth it.

Huang, who speaks fluent Chinese and also Spanish and French, recalled a presentation by students in a Level 4 class, the second-most advanced ESOL tier. Some were students she had taught years before when they couldn’t speak a word of English.

“I was almost crying, because I could see how much progress they had made,” she said, later adding, “I just see that if a kid can put in effort … they can still be successful.”

While students with less English proficiency are taught in a separate class, Woodson emphasized the importance of collaboration between ESOL and mainstream teachers, recognizing that integration of language in classrooms is essential.

As America’s melting-pot tradition increasingly blends more languages and cultures, it’s easy for young students to begin embracing all things English–subsequently risking the loss of their native tongue.

According to a recent survey, two-thirds of Hispanics aged 18 to 29 say they prefer to speak only or mostly in English.

Most of the county’s ESOL students are U.S.-born Spanish speakers, Woodson said.

Huang said she supported her students’ efforts to keep their native language as they learn English.

“I’m a strong believer of having the kids maintain their first language,” she said. “When I teach my own two kids, I do not speak English to them even though they’re here and were learning English. We just keep speaking Chinese at home.”

Educators are quick to mention various studies, which in sum find that bilingual children have more cognition skills, including including logistical thinking and multitasking.

In the battle to preserve heritage, other schools of thought have emerged to teach English-language learners.

Dual-language schools were formed to help ESOL students preserve their native language while giving English-speaking students a chance to become fluent in a second tongue. Supporters maintain that learning in two languages boosts academic achievement, but schools across Maryland have been slow to adopt dual-language programs. Finding only two in the state, a 2009 state task force recommended 10 more programs be created by 2012.

In the MCPS system, Kemp Mill Elementary in Silver Spring is the only school that offers a dual-language program it. It is not part of the county’s ESOL division. Half of its students speak English, while the other half speak Spanish. Instruction is in both languages.

“A lot of people look at bilingual programs in general as being wonderful because they’re helping the student maintain their heritage language,” said Floyd Starnes, the school’s principal. “But what the general public doesn’t know … is that their English is better.”

Critics of the program say that bilingual schools encourage students to rely on their native tongue rather than becoming fluent in English. Some others also say it’s an unnecessary drain from struggling education budgets.

Montgomery County, however, has a unique position as one of the wealthiest counties in the state. Nationally, it slides into 12th place with a median household income of $89,155, according to a D.C. radio station’s breakdown of Census data. (WTOP.)

In contrast, Allegany County in western Maryland has a median household income of $37,083, and to the east, Baltimore City is at $38,186, according to census data.

This past year, MCPS spent $44.5 million, or 2 percent of its budget, on ESOL. It expects to spend about $48.7 million next year, according to the state Office of Management, Budget and Planning.

The combination of a racially diverse population and the county’s affluence is slowly changing the landscape of the suburban county. Woodson says that the ESOL department has noticed, and it’s been making changes in anticipation of growing foreign-born populations and their children.

“They used to say that every teacher is a reading teacher,” Woodson said. “But it’s getting clearer that … every teacher is an ESOL teacher.”

What language should be used in maritime training? The maritime industry, by definition, is international. Yet mariners from all corners of the earth are required to work together, communicate and interact.

Sometimes we find similar problems in such unexpected places I was really interested today in this:

“There is hence a common practice that in non-English-speaking countries and regions seafarers are completely educated and trained in [their] native language except for the maritime English course… [This may] give rise to an academic knowledge gap between the transfer from English to [the] native language and further causes a delay for seafarers to appropriately apply the academic knowledge in the real English-working environment onboard.”

It says exactly the same thing that I having been saying to colleagues alike for nearly 20 years but without the children being able to back me up I have been  a lone voice until I found similar thinking people.  Here from the maritime industry is a debate which clearly looks just at prior learning and the need to just know the technical words in the language required. I could not have said it better myself.  Perhaps the conclusion they come to will help those of us in education who are still knocking at brick walls on occasion.  I will keep an eye and update.

also interesting food for thought is this

Standard English maritime testing, such as MarTEL, has been created and employed to further ensure a minimum universal communication proficiency. This is all good and necessary, but it does not negate the fact that English is not the native language of most mariners, and that by some accounts 80% of maritime accidents are caused by human error, with 50% being attributable to poor communication.

The full article which is actually quite interesting can be found here

The Problem

According to Chen and Geng, most MET institutions provide instruction wholly in the native language of the students. Yet this creates a problem:

“There is common practice that in non-English-speaking countries and regions seafarers are completely educated and trained in [their] native language except for the maritime English course… [This may] give rise to an academic knowledge gap between the transfer from English to [the] native language and further causes a delay for seafarers to appropriately apply the academic knowledge in the real English-working environment onboard.”

The authors further reflect that teaching non-English speakers wholly in English is impractical at best, and is therefore not a viable alternative. Instead, they propose bilingual MET.

Bilingual Education

The authors describe bilingual education as follows:

“Bilingual education involves curriculum instruction used alternatively in two languages. In the broad sense, bilingual education is a strategic approach to deal with the proficiency relationship between a minority language and a majority one for the student …. However, in the specific sense, bilingual education is mainly focusing on the method that the lecturers use alternatively two languages in class, very often a native and a secondary language.”

They describe two general forms of bilingual education – additive, and subtractive. In the first, the goal is to add new knowledge by teaching that knowledge in the non-native language. In the latter form, the goal is to replace existing native-language knowledge using terms from the new language. In the words of Chen and Geng:

“[Bilingual education can] either be additive or subtractive, being premised either on the value of adding academic knowledge of another language to that of the student’s existing language repertoire or, conversely, of losing or replacing one of language with another.”

The authors talk about ways to measure success of bilingual education – notably there are two goals that it is meant to address:

  1. Language and literacy development – the main goal here being to make non-English speakers proficient in English by teaching them domain-specific knowledge in the language they are to use when operating in that domain (as mariners).
  2. Academic achievement – it must be acknowledged that it is not sufficient that the students learn English. They must also, of course, learn the topic of instruction.

Bilingual MET in China

According to the authors, as early as 2001, the Chinese ministry of Education had implemented bilingual education in universities and colleges as a way to “cultivate the international talents to meet the educational challenge of the future”. In 2011, the Shanghai Maritime University launched a bilingual Bridge Navigational Systems course. In this course, teachers are selected who are at least Second Mates and who have significant seagoing experience. They are also selected to have proficiency and academic knowledge of the subject both in English and Chinese.

“[The] teaching syllabus is also developed in both languages. Students … are provided with both the Chinese textbook and original English one including the English electronic slides. The academic knowledge in class is introduced in full English firstly and then repeated in Chinese if students [have any] doubt. Assessment is conducted in English.”

So clearly there is a good deal of English used in the course, and the students are supported with materials both in their native language and English. I find it particularly interesting that assessments were conducted in English. This, no doubt, was an instrumental factor in providing the necessary incentive and motivation for students to make use of, and pay attention to, the English language materials even though this would have required more effort on their part.

Although the authors do not present any empirical evidence of the program’s success, they do provide the following:

“According to the assessment results and the participation activities of the students in class, it is concluded that students were well motivated and expressed high enthusiasm to attend this class since their maritime English and academic knowledge were also further improved compared to the students’ instructed in full Chinese language.”


The authors conclude that while bilingual MET does create additional burdens for instructors (such as additional time, costs and a higher degree of language and pedagogical competence), they feel as though the positive outcomes are worth it. Indeed, at the very least this is an area that deserves further experimentation and analysis. It would be great to hear from any readers who have experience in this area – either as instructors or as trainees.

About The Author:

Murray Goldberg is the founder and President of Marine Learning Systems (, the creator of MarineLMS – the learning management system designed specifically for maritime industry training. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 as a faculty member of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create WebCT, the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education; serving 14 million students in 80 countries. Murray has won over a dozen University, National and International awards for teaching excellence and his pioneering contributions to the field of educational technology. Now, in Marine Learning Systems, Murray is hoping to play a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.