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Is Bilingual Education Right For Your Children?



Bilingual Education

Parents love their children. They go through life wanting what is best for them and trying to give them whatever they think that is. Parents worry about their children, take care of them, attend to their every need; they are, for at least 18 years, a focal point of family life. When it comes to education, parents operate along those same lines. Parents look for, and desire, the best possible education for their children. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I mean. One type of education, however, isn’t as common in the United States as it is in other countries. That is bilingual education.

Bilingualism Around The World

Educating your child bilingually is an enormous decision. Many parents make this decision based out of necessity; their children need to speak two languages to function in every day life. Bilingual families, while not common, are not incredibly uncommon in the United States. About 20% of people speak a language other than English in the US alone. On a world scale, this number is tiny. In Europe, about 50% of people are bilingual. Throughout the world, the number of bilinguals is fairly hard to estimate, but the commonly agreed upon number is over 50%.

Bilingual education in some parts of the world is mandatory. In countries like India, where there are 122 officially recognized languages, bilingualism is a must to survive. Switzerland is another very bilingual country with 4 official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romanisch. Citizens of these countries are more likely than not fluent in at least a few of these numerous languages.

In the United States, however, bilingual education is the minority. About 18% of US children are being educated bilingually. That trend, however, is rising. In Minneapolis, MN bilingual education is catching fire. Dual immersion programs are springing up all over; Arabic, Spanish, German, Chinese (Mandarin), and many other languages are making their way into the education system. Utah is another state purposefully setting aside money to foster bilingual education in their state.

Why Educate A Child Bilingually?

The benefits of bilingual education are numerous. Bilingual education, according to recent research, encourages the following attributes in children:

  • Increased executive function of the brain leading to better decision making and logical abilities.
  • Increased verbal skills and communication abilities.
  • Decrease in aggression, anger, depression, and anxiety.
  • Increase in self-esteem and sense of self.
  • Ability to relate to two cultures and people groups.

This list just scratches the surface of the many benefits of bilingual education in children. In addition, proven benefits of knowing two languages throughout your life, such as delaying the onset of Alzheimers and Dementia, are enjoyed well into your golden years.

How To Get Started With Bilingual Education

If you’re thinking about bilingual education for your child, or would like to, there are a few things you need to figure out first:

  • Who or what will be the primary source of language input for your child?
  • Which language is the easiest language to learn for your child?
  • Which school will your child attend?
  • Can you afford the private bilingual instruction or is their a public option?
  • Do you speak any other languages to help the child? Are you willing to learn?

Are There Any Downsides To Bilingual Education?

Like anything, their are definitely pros and cons to bilingual education. The pros listed above, as well as numerous others, definitely have more weight than the cons, however I would be remiss not to discuss both. Bilingual education itself, as far as the research can prove, doesn’t have any solid negative side-effects. The lifestyle involved in raising bilingual children, however, perhaps does. Teaching a child another language is not necessarily an easy thing to do. Here is my list of cons with relation to bilingual education:

  • It can be time consuming.
  • It can be expensive.
  • It can be frustrating.
  • Children may show slight signs of normal confusion when learning two languages at once.
  • Social pressure and/or people/family members who don’t understand.

This list of cons is also not exhaustive however these are the ones I have experienced in my struggle to raise a bilingual child. I put the word ‘can’ in front of a lot of the cons because it heavily depends on your personal situation. The easiest situation to raise a bilingual child in would be if both parents speak the second language, their is a free dual immersion school half a block from the house, and there are plenty of people to talk to and resources to utilize at the local library. This utopian situation is fairly unlikely in the real world, and in most cases it’s necessary to compromise or sacrifice on some of, if not many, of those points.

Is Bilingualism Right For Our Family?

Children are like sponges. They learn, grow, react, think, copy, mimic, and do many other things. They have no fear, are not self-conscious, and are definitely willing to try new things. They are also heavily motivated to learn language(s) due to their need to communicate. Do to these factors, children are the ideal language learners. They are more than capable of learning two, three, or even four or more languages from birth. The tricky part of it all is setting up the right environment to help foster that language growth.

It is definitely easier if their is a local, planned, organized bilingual education class or school in your local neighborhood. For the average, monolingual parent to try to raise a bilingual child is admittedly a lot of work. It would require a very steep learning curve, a ridiculous amount of effort, and an iron-will rivaled by very few people. However, with the vast resources out there for intentional bilingual education that are available to many Americans, especially those living in larger cities, there is little excuse for someone who wants to give their child the gift of bilingualism, as well as the various other benefits that come with knowing two languages, to not be successful in their endeavor.

Bilingualism will open many doors for the children of today in the world of tomorrow. The world is shrinking, and being bilingual will help our soon-to-be-adults fit better.

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