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Difference Between ESL and Bilingual Education

ESL vs Bilingual Education

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

Non-native speakers study the English language in two different ways or approaches. One is ESL (abbreviated form of English as a Second Language) and Bilingual Education. In both approaches, English is added as a second language and as a tool for communication for non-English speakers.

The primary differences between the two are the methods of teaching, the medium, or language of instruction and the composition of students or non-English speakers attending the classes.

ESL is also known as the submersion approach. In this type of teaching, there is only one language of instruction, which is English. The instructor speaks English and only English. The class or students can come from different non-native English countries. This means that the students speak different mother tongues or first languages. The classroom or learning area often prohibits the use of the mother tongue to encourage the students to speak only in English.

Since the teacher or instructor only speaks English, there is no need to communicate in a student’s mother language. The main emphasis in this type of English learning is to teach an acquisition of the English language only.

ESL can produce students that are fairly competent in English writing and speaking. However, one of the significant outcomes of ESL is that the students are lacking or becoming weaker in their first language or mother tongue.

ESL is done by three forms: ESL pull-out (students are pulled out from their regular classes to learn English), ESL classes (specialized English classes), and sheltered English.

On the other hand, bilingual education also teaches English but also gives consideration to the student’s mother tongue. In a bilingual class or program, there are two media of instruction, the mother language and English. The main aim is for the students to learn English while still learning or without abandoning their mother tongue. This is called bilingual literacy wherein competence in both English and one’s mother tongue is expected.

The students in a bilingual program are usually speakers of the same mother tongue. The teacher is also a speaker of the first language. The teacher usually needs to communicate or teach students in both the mother tongue and English on every subject.

Bilingual programs can be classified into two types. “One-way bilingual” pertains to classes with non-native English speakers/learners as students while two-way bilingual classes have a 50/50 per cent ratio of native and non-native English speakers. The two-way bilingual classes offer more flexibility since non-native learners learn English while native English speakers learn another language at the same time.


1.Both ESL and bilingual programs have the same method of teaching the English language to non-native English speakers.
2.In ESL, the medium of instruction is only one, the English language only. Meanwhile, in bilingual education, the teachers use two languages, the mother tongue and English to deliver their lessons.
3.Students in an ESL class can come from different cultures and speak different first languages. On the other hand, students of bilingual programs are often of the same country and speak the same language.
4.The main aim of ESL is to teach English and form competency in the language. In comparison to bilingual education, it aims for literacy in both English and the mother tongue.
5.ESL can be considered as an intensive and comprehensive English language class. In contrast, bilingual classes can be seen as a half-English and half-mother tongue language class.

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1 Comment

  1. That’s comprehensive.

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