Yes. Absolutely. I cannot recommend bilingual programs enough. I am the product of a bilingual school, I am currently a bilingual elementary school teacher and, eventually, I will send my son to a bilingual school. Giving children the gift of a second language is exceptionally powerful. It will open up their world.
I am the proof of this. I attended a Spanish Immersion Program and by the end of 12th grade I was fluent in Spanish. Because of this, I met my husband, who is a monolingual Spanish speaker, I enjoy a culture that is not my own, and it landed me a dream job. But, as a parent looking into different programs, you may be wondering a few things. Here are a few of the questions/ concerns I’ve heard expressed most often:
- How much English and how much of the target language will be taught in the classroom? There are two main bilingual schooling models: a 90/10 (90% of instruction in the target language and 10% in English) or 50/50 (50% in target language and 50% in English). What happens in the 90/10 model is that students receive the 90/10 distribution in kinder and 1st grade, 80/20 in 2nd grade, 70/30 in 3rd grade, 60/40 in 4th grade, and finally 50/50 in 5th grade. Experts have concluded that the 90/10 model is more successful because students become stronger in the target language faster. This is simply because they hear it more often. Consequently, native Spanish speakers become more proficient in their native language and can transfer those language skills over into learning English. Native English speakers will also become more proficient in the 2nd language because of an increased exposure to the target language. This being said, I am currently in a 50/50 model school. I have seen students graduate 8th grade proficient in Spanish and English.
- Will my child still learn English? This is a concern for many parents. The answer is yes. Even if the child is dominant in the target language (ex. Spanish) going into the program, they will graduate fully proficient in English.Which leads me to my next point…
- How long will it take? Students need at least 7 years to become truly fluent in a language (in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others, they need more time.) But, even if your child struggles (and at times it will be a struggle), they will eventually become fully bilingual. All that perseverance will pay off!
- How can I help my student if I don’t speak one of the languages? If you don’t speak the target language (as was the case with my parents who didn’t speak Spanish), that’s OK. These students will receive language support in the classroom and there are always different resources available to help your child. Look into after school homework help (sometimes this is provided through the school or high schools), find a tutor who is a native speaker, recruit a family member or older sibling to help your child if available. You can also look into taking classes in the target language yourself. Take the journey of learning a new language along with your child.
Sending your child to a bilingual school is a big commitment. You, as a parent, will have to invite a new language and culture (whether it be English or the target language) into your life. And your child will struggle in one or both of the languages at some point while enrolled in the program. Just know that that is OK. Beautiful things will happen as a result!
If you are considering sending your child to a bilingual school please feel free to send me questions!