The United States of America has been and continues to be a polyglot nation. Even before the arrival of European explorers, the indigenous people spoke more than five hundred languages in the geographic area presently known as North America (Lawerence, 1978). During the American Colonial period, linguistic diversity flourished, as seen in the many languages spoken (e.g., English, French, German, Finnish, Swedish, Polish, and Dutch; see Castellanos, 1985). Being bi- or multilingual during this period had clear advantages:
Because of the many nationalities represented in Anglo America, as well
as the many Indian nations that existed here, knowledge of two or more
languages became a decided advantage for trading, scouting, teaching,
and spreading the gospel, as well as for diplomacy. (Castellanos, 1985,
Based on the 2000 U.S. Census, the population five years old and over spoke English and numerous different languages at home (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 2000a). These non-English languages, in quantitatively descending order, cluster in four categories: (a) Spanish or Spanish Creole; (b) other Indo-European languages (e.g., French [including Patois and Cajun], Italian, German, Yiddish, Russian, Hindi, Urdu); (c) Asian and Pacific Island languages (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Vietnamese, Tagalog); (d) other languages (e.g., Navajo [and other Native North American languages], Hungarian, Arabic, Hebrew, African languages).
Unbeknownst to many, bilingual education in the United States has a long history. Under an 1828 treaty, the U.S. government recognized the language rights of the Cherokee Nation (Leibowitz, 1980). In part, Article V of the treaty read,