Thursday, October 24, 2013

MKB Book Club--Bilingual is Better: Bilingual Education

A while back, I started to "get serious" about raising my kids to be bilingual.  I learned Spanish in college, actually I majored in it.  Originally I declared my major as Art and English.  And then I stepped into Dr. Brown's Spanish 101 class and things started to change.  He started telling stories about studying on a Fullbright scholarship in South America, sharing pictures from his travels abroad, and encouraging us all to travel as well.  One day he brought in some brochures about different study abroad Spanish programs.  My friend and I shuffled through them and nonchalantly discussed doing a summer program offered in Costa Rica.  That casual discussion turned into a reality, and the rest is history.  From then on Spanish became a part of who I am.  Upon meeting me, you might be surprised to learn that about me.  I was not raised in a bicultural family; I am not Spanish; I am not Latina.  But I love speaking Spanish and learning about all the cultures that come with it.  So it was only natural that once I had kids, I started thinking about how I could share my love of Spanish with them.

When I started my research I ran across a book on Amazon called Bilingual is Better by Roxana A. Soto and Ana L. Flores.  On an impulse (and probably out of desperation to get some good, helpful material in my hands) I bought the book.  Best. Book. Purchase. Ever.  Besides all the information stuffed from cover-to-cover, I also found out about the authors' website  And from there I have discovered a link to so many other families and bloggers and resources to help me in my journey of raising my boys to speak Spanish.  Around the same time I bought Bilingual is Better, I had found and been invited to join an awesome group of bloggers called Multicultural Kid Blogs.  When the group discussed starting a virtual book club, and that the first book would be Bilingual is Better, I jumped at the opportunity to join in.  

Multicultural Kid Blogs Book Club
Today our discussion covers Chapter Four of the book: Bilingual Education.  I chose to host the discussion for this chapter because I felt it was the subject I needed to learn the most about!  My boys are young, and so how and where we choose to educate them seems wide open--the perfect time to learn about bilingual options and methods.

Chapter Four
Chapter Four begins with a very informative history of bilingual education in the United States.  I am not familiar with bilingual education in other countries, but as the book describes, here in the United States it is very closely linked with immigration and the country's sentiments towards different immigrant groups.  The book explains one domineering sentiment keeping bilingual education from flourishing here is that speaking English is what makes you American.  One of the first federal laws passed dealing with language in the Naturalization Act of 1906 demonstrates this attitude as it "mandated--among other requirements--that any person seeking to become a naturalized citizen must pass an English proficiency test" (129).  As the book points out, the United States is second only to Mexico as the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, forcing Americans to redefine what it means to be American, and it seems being bilingual will be part of our new identity.  How we approach education will be a huge factor in shaping that new identity, and the book explains in Chapter Four not only why every child in the United States should speak Spanish, but also citing dual language immersion as one of the best methods.

My Thoughts
It is crazy how many thoughts this chapter got swirling through my mind.  To begin, the part about why children in the United States need to speak Spanish was like "preaching to the choir" as they say here in my parts.  In other words, you do not have to convince me that my kids need to learn to speak, read, and write in Spanish: it is something I passionately desire for them.  I also was not surprised by all the negativity towards bilingualism cited by the book.  Unfortunately, I have heard it with my own ears.  One line in the book really made me wish some of those people were sitting in my living room so I could point to the line and say, "See?  Look!  They are American.  Born here!  When will we embrace them as our own, our neighbors?  Can we quit thinking Latino is not a part of us?"  
The "growth rate in the latino population  is coming not from immigration, but from U.S. born children of Hispanic descent."  (pg. 138)

I agree with author Ana Flores when she says, "I hope there comes a day when it will be absurd to write a list of reasons to convince people of the need for children to learn Spanish at an early age" (137).  Maybe it is because I am lazy, and I wish it was normal for bilingual education to be easily accessible, so I would not have to work so hard to find it and offer it to my children.  I attended a small private women's college here in Missouri for my first two years of college.  Represented at the college at that time were nineteen countries from all over the world and almost every single one of the fifty United States.  So many of my friends from then grew up in countries where learning a second, or even a third, language was the norm.  Some of them raised in multilingual homes.  My roomate was from Ghana and spoke Twi and English.  Another friend in my building from the Democratic Republic of Congo spoke French and English.  I also became close friends with a girl from Moldova.  In her household, she and her sister spoke Romanian with their mother and Russian with their father, but they also understood the language of her father's family, Gagauz.  Both sisters also spoke fluent English that they learned in school, and had picked up on Spanish from some television shows they watched.

My parents had no foreign language to pass on to me, but what they did pass on to me was an appreciation and fascination for the world.  They always welcomed people from different places into their home, and they always encouraged me to travel.  Also, growing up in a Baptist church, I was also exposed to different cultures and countries through all the missionaries we supported and met.  In some ways it is hard for me to understand why we would not, as a country, want to encourage students to learn second and third langugaes at a young age.  Even if I had not fallen into Spanish as a major, I think I would still desire to know a foreign language, and at the very least would seek it out for my children.

As I got to the part in Chapter Four about bilingual education, I got a little nervous.  You see, I have been considering and looking for immersion programs in my area to send our boys to when they reach the age to enter school.  As I read about how Spanish-speaking students are put at an academic disadvantage when they are expected to assimilate to an English-only environment within three years of entering the public school system, I flipped the situation in my head and wondered, "Would I be putting my boys at a disadvantage if I enrolled them in a program where all subjects were taught in Spanish only, and where reading in English is not introduced until the second grade?"

Then I continued to read, and discovered a method I had never heard of before: Dual Language Immersion.  I am in love! The book explains that different approached exist to this method, but in any approach, the goal is to have an even amount of English speakers and speakers of the target language enrolled in classes together, with the goal of spending fifty percent of the day with instruction in English and the other fifty percent with instruction in the target language, in our case Spanish.  I wish this method could become the norm by the time my first son enters Kindergarten.  Is that too much to ask for?  One thing I have learned in our bilingual journey is that IT IS HARD WORK!!  I am glad to have the knowledge from this chapter under my belt to aid me in working towards the best education I can provide for my sons.

Lines from Chapter Four That Made Me Say, "Yeah!"

"All over the United States parents from all kinds of backgrounds are beginning to see bilingualsim as an asset rather than a threat."  --page 133

"No matter which career you choose nowadays, you will likely encounter a need to speak Spanish in the United States.  Not only is it useful in daily interactions, but it is also helful for expanding business potential and reaching a broader scope of the population."  --page 136

"For the first time in U.S. history there is a new generation of Latinos who . . . are committed to raising a community of skilled biliterate and bicultural children who can communicate fluently in two or more languages."  --page 139

"Many people have the wrong idea that what unites the country and its people is the language, when the reality is that it's all about its values, its laws, its attitudes and the fact that they have always accepted people that come from all over the world."  --page 150

Lines That Made Me Fall in Love with Dual Language Immersion

"Both groups of speakers are highly valued, not only the English speakers, as is the norm in most classrooms."  --page 141

"Teachers are expected to communicate this equity to students in the classroom so that all students value each other, regardless of their language, ethnic, religious, or social class bacground."  --page 141

"Dual language or two-way immersion programs promote complete bilingualism, biliteracy and multicultural awareness."  --page 147 

What Do You Think?
I'd love to hear from you and what you think!

  • What is the norm for public education where you come from?  Does it include bilingual education?
  • If you could have any education setting available for your kids, what would it be and why?
  • If your kids have finished school, what was their education like?  What did you like or dislike about it?
  • Do you think the United States will ever be identified as something different than an English-speaking country?  Why or why not?
Be sure to check out the discussion from the other chapters, and the ones to come from these awesome blogs!

More to Come...
Chapter Five (Be Bilingual) - October 31
Chapter Six (Laugh & Learn) - November 7
Q & A with Author Ana Flores (Dads the Way I Like It) - November 14

You can also join the discussion on Google+!


  1. I love all that you bring to this chapter and the discussion in general. In answer to your question, in our area there really aren't options for bilingual education. In one town about 20 miles from our home, the schools have a significant percentage of children of immigrants who speak Spanish at home, but most lose their Spanish when they start school. I hope there are more options soon - I would love to see a dual immersion program!
    When my kids were school age, I spoke Spanish to them at home and spent as much time with them in Mexico as I could. I'm a teacher, so I had my summers. I have never considered what the ideal situation would have been - great question. Not the one we had, obviously, because it was too much work! I loved every minute, but a dual immersion program would have made life much easier.
    I identify the US as a Spanish-speaking country all the time, but I always have to clarify it: in Spanish-speaking countries, including the United States. I hope that one day our language will reflect the reality better, but for now we will have to just keep pointing it out!
    Thank you so much for a great post!

  2. I too hope more options become available soon! Just think of the great resources towns like the one you mentioned near you have in the Spanish-speaking population! I wish we could see their culture and language as something to enrich our communities and learn from, rather than something to deal with or overcome. Of course, I know that some areas in this country do view things that way, and I cannot wait until the rest of the country, including rural areas, follow suit. It may be weird, but it is good to hear you say that raising your kids with Spanish was hard work...even as a teacher. Right now our situation is that I am the only way my kids can learn Spanish right now, and it can be a bit overwhelming. Good to hear of others who have made it through. :)

  3. I ran through your blog post, this is a book I'm interested to read, however limited funds have kept me from doing so and the library and audible don't have it :( I noticed near the end that you mentioned dual language immersion. I hadn't heard of this either until earlier this year and am planning on putting out daughter in an immersion school where she will go into Kindergarten and her classes will be taught in 100% Spanish, our choice for her. As the children get older, the percentage of the immersion language changes. I love this idea and think it really sets the kids on the right path. The school we are looking at is called Global Village Academy and it's a free school, they have classes for K-8. Maybe they have one near you or something similar? We are in Colorado.

    1. How exciting that you have a program like that in your area! I would love to hear more once your daughter enters Kindergarten and how it goes! I think we have one Spanish immersion K-8 school in our area, but I am not sure the raitos ever change like you mention, although they do introduce reading in English in the 2nd grade. Thanks for stopping by and sharing, and like I said, keep us updated! :)

  4. Great post! Sorry I am late to getting to read it! So funny because your journey is so similar to mine! I am not Latina, not a native speaker, but was raised by parents who instilled in us a love for learning about other cultures. I studied Spanish in high school and college, but it was when I traveled to Bolivia at 20 that things really changed for me. I hope I can find a dual immersion program when my boys are old enough. It sounds wonderful!

    1. Thanks for reading! I totally relate to travel being a life changer! How long were you in Bolivia? Were you volunteering there? I look forward to hearing more about your boys' bilingual journey as they get older! I wonder how hard it would be to start a private dual immersion school for people who can't find a public one in their area? Maybe a "Bilingual is Better 2" will come out as bilingualism develops further here in the U.S. :)

    2. I was in Bolivia for eight months. I took a year off from college and spent that time in Bolivia volunteering through the Baha'i community there. It was an amazing experience! I agree - it would be great to have bilingualism develop to the point that we need a new edition! I wonder if there are others that home school so they can have the dual immersion?

  5. I really like the way you related this chapter to your own experiences. It's great the way parents like yours can pass on an interest in other countries even if they don't pass on a language. My parents were kind of similar as they didn't pass on any languages but both are keen on travel. My dad didn't learn any languages at school beyond age 16, but I really remember him driving me to the train station when I was about to go on a year abroad in France as part of my undergrad university course. He was encouraging me to make the most of it and telling me of how he'd heard lots of students he'd taught law talk about how a year abroad can be the best year of your life.

    Even though I'm in the UK, a lot of the comparisons between attitudes to speaking more than one language in the US and the global trends re. bilingualism could be made in relation to the UK. That said, we live in North West Wales which is a bit of an exception as about 70%+ of population near us speak Welsh as a first language. It should be very easy to find bilingual primary and secondary schools for our son, which is great. Reading this chapter made me realise what a gift it is to be in such a situation.


    1. Your dad sounds like a wise man! So great that he passed on a love of travel. I hope to do the same with my boys, even if we don't have the finances to travel all the time, just teaching them about the world and encouraging them to explore it will hopefully open horizons for them. You are lucky to live in an area where bilingual education is readily available. Do others in the UK covet your situation or move to your area for that benefit? It's great to learn about bilingual education in other areas of the world, and views towards it. :)

  6. Great post - lots to think about. I got behind in our bookclub but love that it's so easy to catch up. What a fun way to discuss things.

    We have tried three different language immersion programs - our Spanish Immersion program here in the USA (all school in Spanish, aimed at non-native speakers whose parents speak English at home), a public dual language program in Austria (as described in the book - 1/2 day in each language, 1/2 kids in each language), and a private English-immersion program in Austria (our kid rocked in English class! ha ha!). While I love the idea of a dual language program, we didn't find it nearly as effective as the immersion programs. It was much like two schools sharing a campus - no intermingling on the playground and very little intermingling in the classroom either. Overall, our daughter learned much less than she might have being thrown into a German-only classroom. Now, our case is special because we don't speak either Spanish or German at home so we rely on the school program exclusively (and TV, magazines, books etc). Maybe the education program best for a child really depends on the language resources they have available to them at home?

    One thought I did have when reading this post in particular is - "Is America dual language Spanish-English?" Yes, there are a lot of Spanish speakers and I'm jealous of the vibrant Latino culture that they have access to. But, what about our neighbors from Aritriya or our French immigrant friends down the street. I grew up in a Jewish American neighborhood and also had lots of friends who are Latvian-American - just a few quick examples. Isn't it important that we all have one language in common? So maybe as "Americans" what we need is the openness and confidence to revel in bilingualism - whatever the language may be. Of course, we aim a little higher and shoot for tri-lingualism :)

    1. Great comments! I love how I have learned so much from the book club discussion on this book. I also really appreciate you sharing all of your different bilingual education experiences. It is so helpful to learn from others who have been through it. :) I had never thought that a dual immersion program might run into problems of the students not intermingling outside of class. I do remember this being a problem at the college I attended in Spain...the students from the US never interacted much with the students from Spain. I remember feeling frustrated that I didn't quite now how to become friends with the local students. I wonder if that had to do with my lack of proficiency in the language, or cultural barriers? Did you find that the more years in the program, the more the two groups started to interact? I love that you point out we should value bilingualism as a whole, not just Spanish-English bilingualism. I too wish I could know three or four or even all languages! I love the ability to communicate with people in their native tongue because you can get to know them so much better! :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts here!

  7. I'm a bilingual teacher educator and have my son in a one-way dual language program. I think the research is replete with the positive evidence of strong dual language programs that completely commit to the minority language. I have seen too many programs only partially commit to Spanish and they are usually not successful for the native English-speakers. That is why I want to make sure my son get as much Spanish at school as possible and I support him at home by modeling the importance of Spanish although it is not my native nor heritage language. Encourage states to support the seal of biliteracy to promote more bilingual programs K-12.


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