MKB Book Club–Bilingual is Better: Bilingual Education

by | Oct 24, 2013 | Uncategorized

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+!


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