Bilingual Education as a Way of Preventing Attrition of Russian Among Russian Immigrant Secondary and High School Students

Dmitri Priven, York University, Toronto

This paper is devoted to the problem of first language attrition among Russian immigrant high school students in North America and one of the possible ways to prevent or reverse it. First language attrition is outlined as a sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic phenomenon (Seliger, H. W. "Primary language attrition in the context of bilingualism", 1996; Seliger, H. W. and R. M. Vago (eds.) First Language Attrition, 1991). The ways in which Russian is affected as a result of language contact with English in North America (Andrews, D. R. Sociocultural Perspectives on Language Change in a Diaspora, 1999) with specific implications for the changing Russian of immigrant secondary school students, are discussed. The bilingual education programs such as dual language instruction in English/Russian in a New York City high school (Lemberger, N. and O. Vinogradova. "Russian bilingual science learning: perspectives from secondary students", 2002) and Heritage Language classes in Russian (personal observation in Toronto, Canada) are overviewed in the framework of the Communicative Language Teaching (Brown, H. D. Teaching by Principles , 2000). The validity of such programs for students' academic progress as well as for the acquisition of English and Russian is presented from the standpoint of Cummins's Threshold Hypothesis and Developmental Interdependence Hypothesis (Cummins, J. "Educational implications of mother tongue maintenance in minority language groups", 1978), and their effectiveness in ensuring first language maintenance among Russian immigrant children is evaluated. It is concluded that the more structured and carefully planned a bilingual education program is, the more effective it will be in the prevention or reversal of first language attrition and ultimately in first language maintenance.