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Choosing the Best Bilingual Program for your Child – Supporting Bilingualism

by Liliana Diaz July 07, 2020

Choosing the Best Bilingual Program for your Child – Supporting Bilingualism

There are different bilingual programs that exist in the school setting and you may be wondering which program may best suite your child in order to maintain your home language or perhaps you would like to enhance your child’s language learning abilities in Spanish, Chinese, French, Arabic, Korean, etc. In this blog post, I will discuss some of the major bilingual programs that exist in the school setting as well as the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in those programs.  

Why some parents might not want to seek bilingual programs

There are many reasons why parents might not want to seek dual language programs. One common reason is the perception that the general status of the home language is low relative to that of the “dominant language.” This is a very common perception that is built by the hardships that some immigrant families go through because they did not speak English when immigrating to the US. However, we know that this perception doesn’t prove to be true. There are many advantages to being bilingual, some advantages include increased cognitive skills and cognitive flexibility. Another reason that parents might not want to seek a bilingual program for his/her child might be due to the belief that bilingualism will cause academic difficulties. This is a common myth that has been debunked and you can read about the research that debunks this myth and other myths here

The importance of bilingual programs

Bilingual education can increase your child’s academic skills, social skills, language skills, literacy skills and cultural awareness! “Bilingual children exhibit significant cognitive advantages in comparison to monolingual children” (Bialystok 2006; Chin & Wigglesworth 2007; Kovaac & Mehler 2009). Research studies suggest that bilingual programs can best support English language learners and lead to overall academic gains. A recent research article in the Chicago Tribune stated, “Chicago Public Schools students who aren’t proficient in English when they enter kindergarten tend to have better attendance and in some cases higher test scores than their peers who are native English speakers, according to a new study by the University of Chicago.” In addition, other advantages to bilingual programs include the ability to be biliterate (the ability to read in both languages) and having more educational and career opportunities in the future. Many job employers often prefer to hire individuals who speak more than one language in order to increase communication across all borders this includes professions such as teachers, speech language pathologists, other health professions such as doctors, flight attendants, tech consultants, etc. 

Know the difference and types of bilingual programs that exist

There are many program models that exist within the realm of bilingual education. Therefore, it is important to ask questions to your school administrators or teachers in order to find out what programs the school offers. Each program is unique and offers different types of bilingual support depending on the students’ needs therefore, the types of supports provided may vary school to school. Here are some of the most common bilingual program models that you may come across in the school setting.

Transitional bilingual program (early exit)

Goal: Monolingualism 

Description: Early exit programs use English language learner’s home language as a foundation for building English proficiency. The program can last from 1-4 years depending on the school. Although this program is considered a bilingual program, students will eventually loose instruction in their native language and instruction is eventually replaced with English-only instruction. The goal for this program is to quickly integrate the mainstream language (English) in the curriculum. 

Transitional bilingual program (late exit) / Developmental bilingual program

Goal: Limited bilingualism

Description: Late exit programs provide an extended amount of instruction and time to mastering literacy in both languages. Late exit programs provide more instruction in the student’s native language during the early elementary years and by middle school, instruction shifts to predominately English. Most late exit programs provide bilingual support up to the 5th or 6th grade depending on the school. 

One-way dual language program / Foreign language immersion

Goal: Bilingualism & Biliteracy 

Description: All students in the program have the same native language. The program supports one language group of students to become bilingual and biliterate. Instruction is usually given equally in both languages and students that enroll in this type of program are primarily English speakers. 

Two-way dual language program / Two-way immersion program 

Goal: Bilingualism & Biliteracy 

Description: Students from two different language groups learn both languages. Instruction is provided equally in both languages and sometimes split between morning/afternoon depending on the school. Students are learning the school languages and others are learning the native language of their classmates. A balance of native English speakers and native speakers are enrolled in this kind of program. 

Once again, research supports dual language programs as the best kind of programs that will enable your child to become biliterate and bilingual. Dual language programs not only foster bilingualism but enhanced awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and high levels of academic achievement. In the examples above, the dual language programs that may be more suitable to reach bilingualism and biliteracy are two- and one- way dual language programs. Make sure to inform yourself about the different types of bilingual programs and others that may have not been mentioned in this post before enrolling your child in a bilingual program.



Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz

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