Bilingual is Better
Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

As we saw last week in this controversial video aired by NBC, there are still so many questions and misconceptions regarding the advantages of bilingual education, specifically about dual-language immersion programs.  A few months ago we wrote a series of articles with the goal to breakdown the main points we should all know about bilingual education.  They truly are Must Reads.

One of the most helpful and resourceful experts we met while doing research for these articles on language immersion programs was Cristina Aguilar Allen.  She is the Dual Immersion Facilitator for the Glendale (California) Unified School District’s Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG) which offers elementary language programs in Spanish, Korean, Italian, German and Armenian. Cristina has 25 years experience as a Spanish bilingual teacher and a Master’s Degree in Reading and Language Arts with a focus on dual language education. She started her schooling in a dual language program in Mexico City.

We invited Cristina Aguilar Allen to answer today´s Ask an Expert question because we feel she has the perfect experience and perspective to give well-informed advice.

Will a Spanish Immersion Program Work for Us?

The question was sent by Micaela Gutierrez whose son will soon be attending a Spanish dual immersion program:

“My son has been accepted into a Spanish immersion program for Kindergarten. What happens if we have to move in 2-3 years and the program is not offered? How does he adjust?”

Dear Micaela,

Generally our experience has been that if a child is a fluent English speaker and that language is supported outside of the school, children will adjust to a non-immersion English setting without too much difficulty. It could also depend on whether the Spanish immersion program he is currently enrolling in is a 90/10 or a 50/50 program. If a 50/50, there will probably be no difficulties at all; if 90/10, it would depend on the child’s grade level when moved to all English.

There may be a few issues with English reading and phonics if that has not been taught, but he should be able to catch up without too much difficulty. I would make sure that the new teacher is aware of the previous educational program so they can make necessary adjustments.

If your child is a native Spanish speaker with limited English, there may be a few more issues in moving to an all English program; however, he will still be better off cognitively in having received his initial instruction in his mother tongue.

Unfortunately, he is likely to experience greater issues when moving to an all English program since he will be considered an English Learner and will not necessarily be given credit for all he knows in Spanish. A great deal will depend on what kind of training and experience the new teacher has and whether the English program is geared to deal with English Learners.

I would suggest that if you have an idea where you might eventually be moving to, to begin looking for dual programs in the area and try to keep the child in a consistent program so that he will get the full benefit of bilingualism and biliteracy; otherwise, the child is not likely to experience all the long-term benefits that can come from an immersion program.

We know things happen to prevent children from staying in immersion programs, but it is expected to be a commitment through elementary school and I would not recommend that someone put their child in such a program knowing they cannot fulfill that expectation. If the child is an English speaker, he will not get enough Spanish to really make a difference and having children drop out of programs in higher grades can be very disruptive to immersion programs since they cannot arbitrarily add students at the higher levels.

If you are fully committed to maintaining your child in the program but just concerned about what may happen in the future, you may still want to consider all the options. Knowing your child and how well he adjusts to change, as well as your commitment to helping with the transition are important factors to be considered in the decision.

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