Choosing a school program is an important decision parents make for their children. In many communities, parents have options about which school their child attends. So why would parents choose bilingual education?
Bilingual education has so many powerful benefits for children as they learn and grow! Children who are already learning the minority language like Spanish or Chinese at home will have it reinforced and expanded at school. Parents gain invaluable support for their efforts.
Children who don’t speak the language at home will gain the incredible gift of a new language. Parents will learn ways they can support their child’s language learning journey at home, and may choose to learn some themselves!
What is bilingual education?
Bilingual education is an educational approach in which students are taught the curriculum content in a target language for at least half of the school day. Students learn not only their core subjects but gain knowledge of the target language as well. In the United States, immersion education combines our majority language of English with a minority (or target) language like Spanish or French.
How do immersion teachers make lessons understandable? In the early years, immersion teachers know that students may not understand everything they say. They use visuals, body language, manipulatives, real objects, and lots of expression! To make the language learning engaging, teachers use songs, chants, rhymes, and useful phrases to make the language comprehensible. As students get older, they naturally use more and more of the language with their teachers and peers. So, students learn all subjects like math and science as well as two languages.
Why should I consider a bilingual program for my child?
Increased language proficiency
Do you speak a minority language like Spanish at home? Research shows that your child will eventually outperform his peers in English-only classes if he can learn in both the home language and the second language!
It makes sense! Sometimes kids are immersed in English at school and lose proficiency in their native language. This is called subtractive bilingualism: learning a second language at the expense of the first language (subtracting it out!). But what if they could learn in English and their home language? They continue to improve the home language, learning to read and write it, while also learning English. This is called additive bilingualism: maintaining and growing the first language while adding on a second. This is what we want for our kids and our students! Current research says that children will learn and grow more in BOTH languages if they are able to learn in their native language AND their second language.
Are you only speaking English at home? Your child will benefit as well! Children who learn another language show increased awareness of the workings of their own language (metalinguistic awareness). Students also show an increased vocabulary in English and improved memory and concentration. Check out more of the many cognitive benefits for kids in my post on the benefits of being bilingual.
Bilingual and biliterate
Would you like your child to be able to read and write in two languages? Someone who is bilingual can speak and understand two languages. Someone who is biliterate can read and write in two languages. It may seem strange, but children can grow up to be bilingual and not biliterate. Parents encourage oral language development at home, but they may not teach the spelling or grammatical rules of the language to their children – so the children can speak and understand the language, but not read or write it.
Allowing the child to go to school and continue learning that language through formal instruction sets the stage for biliteracy. Students can continue learning the first language as well as the second. In a bilingual program, children learn literacy skills (and all content areas) in both languages! And research shows that because many reading skills are transferable, students develop stronger literacy skills when they learn to read in both languages!
Furthermore, kids may turn away from their home language if they start learning only English in school. They may say, “Why should I speak the minority language when everyone else speaks English?” Practicing language and literacy skills at school in both languages reinforces and supports that they are both valuable.
In bilingual programs, students are learning two languages spoken by people around the world. Spanish, for example, is spoken by more than 572 million people. And learning another language is tied closely to learning about the cultures of the people who speak it.Research shows that learning another language helps kids learn about and gain respect for other cultures. So language learning can broaden a child’s perspective of the world. They can learn about other people and ways of life. This, in turn, may also strengthen their awareness of their own culture and identity.
In two-way immersion programs, native speakers of both languages are learning together – with and from each other! This is an amazingly supportive environment for students to make friends from different backgrounds and learn directly from each other. What an opportunity to celebrate diversity. Furthermore, if a child has family members who speak the target language, learning it provides an opportunity to stay connected with them and their family’s cultural heritage!
Open doors for the future
Do you want more opportunities for your child as she grows? In many bilingual education programs, children have opportunities to take advanced language courses in middle school and high school. They may choose to add on a third language in high school or college – and find it easier to do so! And being biliterate and bilingual will open up countless job opportunities down the road.
In our increasingly interdependent world, a person who is bilingual simply has greater opportunities – for traveling or studying abroad, working, or connecting with more people. Bilingual kids have an edge in our global society. There are so many benefits to being bilingual!
Most effective type of language program
If you’re teaching your child a minority language at home, you know it can be difficult without a support system! A bilingual program will give you support and reinforcement of the minority language. Your child will learn from teachers and practice with classmates. Quality relationships will be made with teachers, staff, and peers – many of whom will be native speakers and from diverse backgrounds.
A bilingual program lasts many years – often throughout your child’s school years! While tutors, daycare providers, and language courses are valuable tools, none of them provide the quality and quantity of language instruction a bilingual school can. Immersion programs are the fastest growing and most effective type of foreign language program currently available in U.S. schools. Immersion students can be expected to reach higher levels of second language proficiency than students in other school-based language programs.
Is bilingual education worth it?
Absolutely! There are countless lifetime benefits to being bilingual. A bilingual school gives your child the opportunity to learn normal academic content like math, science, and social studies, as well as two languages. Your child will learn to read and write in two languages, gain valuable knowledge of other cultures and ways of life, and have broader opportunities for travel and jobs.
Through bilingual education, parents who already use a minority language at home gain an incredibly valuable support system. It is a huge leap in the sometimes daunting task of teaching your child another language. Furthermore, bilingual education gives parents who speak only a little or don’t speak the language a way to choose bilingualism for their kids! Language learning benefits all students. I hope you’ll consider it for your child!
*Stay tuned for more articles on questions to ask at a bilingual school and the types of immersion programs available.*
Helpful resources you should know about:
Excellent websites with helpful information for parents wanting to learn more about bilingual education and raising bilingual kids: