Bilingual is Better

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We all have such clear ideas about how we’ll raise our children, even before they’re born. Breast vs. bottle. Co-sleeping vs. crying it out. Homemade baby food. Screen time. And though in some areas I was able to stick to my guns, I was humbled by the fact that many things really didn’t work out the way I’d planned at all.

The same was true when it came to raising my children with two languages. I knew we’d probably use the one-parent, one-language method at home. And though I didn’t go so far as to research it when my boys were born, we live in a major metropolitan area. I knew there were Spanish immersion schools around, and I just figured I’d look into them when the time came.

Then came the early autism diagnoses for both of my boys, who fortunately thrived in a wonderful, full-time special education preschool—Primo was there for two years, Secondo for three. I trusted the teachers and staff there completely, and the idea of leaving the school and venturing into an LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) setting in a regular public school absolutely terrified me. When the time came to think about transitioning to kindergarten a year ago, it was a Very Big Deal.

And when that time came, one year ago, I thought again about looking into our local Spanish immersion schools, but it turned out our (monolingual) home school had an excellent reputation when it came to special education. And my priorities were completely shaken up, and I knew that there was absolutely no contest. I want my children to be bilingual, to be sure. But good special education services are crucial. Those services have made a world of difference in their lives, have helped them make such unbelievable progress early on, when it is so important.

I didn’t even look into the Spanish immersion schools.

This week, my boys will be done with kindergarten. Despite some significant challenges early on and a few adjustments, they have both done beautifully. At their last IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting a couple of months ago, special education services for both of them were scaled back significantlly, and it was a move we all agreed with. I could not be happier with how well they’ve done in school, and though they face plenty of social challenges, they are in a good place, with good people and great support.

Where does this leave them when it comes to their Spanish? I am happy to say that even after a year in an all-English school (plus aftercare), they still easily default to speaking to me in Spanish. The day may come when they will rebel, but it hasn’t happened yet. I can tell that the gaps in their vocabulary in Spanish — about the solar system, the life cycle of a plant — are becoming more pronounced, due to all the English they get at school, but they constantly ask me how to say things in Spanish and we either look things up in the dictionary or find a book on the subject in Spanish. They go to a community Spanish school on Saturdays, and I teared up at the acto de clausura as they danced onstage to El condor pasa, a little lost in the choreography but willing to be led by the more tuned-in little girls in their class.

We received a survey from the school to fill out and return the other day. Primo, who leaves nothing unread, found it on the table. “What language is spoken in the home?” he read. Then he turned to me. Mama, ¡en casa hablamos inglés Y español! he proclaimed gleefully.

Proudly, I would say.

{Photo via: US Department of Education}

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