Bilingual is Better

“I have a great dilemma. I have the privilege of having a dual immersion Spanish school program and a Waldorf in English school program that are both free of charge, and I would like my daughters (3 1/2 & 1 ) to go to one of these programs but I am having such a hard time on deciding what program would be the best for them in the long run. They are both a lottery and at the end it would be the choice of the school to decide if they will be eligible to enroll into the program. My dilemma is that my husband is excited that there is a Waldorf program that has Spanish (not as intense as the dual immersion program very minimal) and believes that the Waldorf program is a good choice for us, but I always thought that the Dual Immersion program was what we would do with no question, but now I wonder if maybe I cou ld just speak in Spanish at home, but they will not be academically fluent in Spanish. Not sure what to do at this point, we have 1 year to decide but would like some expert advice. I like both programs but I am frightened that my daughters will lose the Spanish language after entering an English program since I will be the only one speaking in Spanish at home.

Thanks,
Margaret Villaseñor”

Dear Margaret,

You definitely have quite a dilemma in deciding which academic program would be best for your children, and it seems that both choices put you in a “win-win” situation. It’s important that you sit down with your husband and outline the pros and cons of each academic setting for your particular family, as well as the goals that you have for the Spanish proficiency of your children.

Your children may have exposure to Spanish in a Waldorf school as you noted, but the instructional component will more than likely not result in high levels of biliteracy in both English and Spanish. It is possible that as a parent you can promote high levels of proficiency in Spanish at home, but it will require much effort, exposure, dedication and a systematic and consistent “language policy” of how, when, and where your children will use Spanish.

On the other hand, Dual Immersion settings promote high levels of proficiency in Spanish throughout the day and also provide many academic enrichment opportunities. Quality Dual Immersion programs will also promote many of same educational philosophies upon which the Waldorf model is based. Students in Dual Immersion settings will achieve proficiency in Spanish at a faster rate than they would in a Waldorf-type setting or a home setting where only one parent is using Spanish.

It’s important that you speak with your husband to decide whether you are both willing to put in the time and effort at home that it will require to achieve high levels of literacy in Spanish, as well as your timeline for proficiency in Spanish.

I’m an advocate for Dual Immersion programs, and therefore would recommend that you place your children in a Dual Immersion setting because of the enrichment, biliteracy and cross-cultural respect that such programs promote. But it has also been my experience that Dual Immersion settings are most successful when both parents are on board with the program. After a discussion with your husband, if there is a chance that your family is unable to make a long-term commitment to stay in the program throughout elementary school then perhaps it would be a better decision to enroll in a Waldorf setting and cultivate Spanish proficiency at home.

Whichever choice you choose, it will always be possible to build proficiency in both languages in any type of setting. While the Dual Immersion program would definitely be an easier option if you are the only Spanish speaker in the house, it can also be done at home with time, resources, dedication and support from communities such as Spanglishbaby. Good luck!

Melanie McGrath.-- is a coordinator of Dual Immersion and transitional bilingual education programs in Southern California. She provides professional development training and assistance to parents, bilingual teachers and administrators in the areas of biliteracy development, bilingual program design and English language development. Melanie can also be found blogging on Multilingual Mania. Click here to read her answers.

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