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The Gift of Bilingual Education

With ‘Back to School’ season upon us and education on the forefront of everyone’s mind, we are honored to once again partner with The Village School and share the expertise and knowledge of their Head of School – Gabriella Rowe.

The Gift of Bilingual Education | Houston Moms Blog

Why bilingual education? Bilingual or dual language education is a way of learning that can come in many different forms that, when executed well, can have a significant and lasting positive impact on a child’s development.  Research has shown that such programs are not only stimulating and motivating for students but can also accelerate their aptitude in mathematics, problem solving, logic, memory, and can meaningfully contribute to their overall feelings of self-worth.

What are the advantages to bilingual education beyond accelerated brain function? While the positive research on accelerated aptitude is an excellent reason to consider bilingual education, here are a few other advantages that children gain from such programs.

The first is resilience. When a child first begins a bilingual program, they are often monolingual and are therefore faced with the daunting task of experiencing a significant portion of their instruction in a language that they do not understand. After all, when a dual language program is executed truly effectively, the line is clearly drawn between each of the languages used in instruction.   This can be extremely frustrating when the language being spoken is not the child’s native tongue.   However, if the program is well executed, a child will pass through a learning progression that begins with hearing noises, moves to hearing words, and in quite short order leads to the child hearing and understanding whole phrases.  This process not only stimulates brain development but also drives a sense of self worth and accomplishment. They’ve tried something incredibly hard and succeeded in their own.  Dual language mastery, as it is a primarily self-driven accomplishment, builds confidence in a profoundly visceral way, almost more effectively than any other challenging activity you can do with a child of a young age.

The second area I believe is important for parents to focus on is the global connectedness that the acquisition of a second or third language enables. In today’s global world, it is crucial for our students to communicate across borders and cultures. In order to collaborate and exchange ideas, language is critical.  As they grow into adulthood, they will have to understand the nuances of expression, the connection between body language and words. The only way to effectively do this is to acquire fluency in additional languages; simple translation just isn’t enough. It goes without saying that additional languages also increase cultural awareness and foster a deeper appreciation of other global viewpoints and heritage.

If I only speak one language, how can I support my child in a bilingual program?  Monolingual parents are often reluctant to enroll their children in a bilingual program out of concern for their lack of ability to support their child in such a setting. They need not worry. One of the great advantages of a dual language program is that it is dual language.  I would recommend that one of the languages in the program be a language that at least one parent speaks fluently.  Then if one or both parents don’t speak the other language, it can be a wonderful opportunity to share learning with their child. As a parent to two sons, one in middle school and the other in high school, I often experience my boys studying subjects that I have less experience in, such as advanced statistics or chemistry.  Yet my support and encouragement as their parent still matters. While I may not be able to quickly reference facts or quiz them on their knowledge, I am able to engage them in meaningful conversations about their learning and in so doing, learn from them. When a child has the opportunity to share learning and to teach a parent, it can be a powerful reinforcement of his or her own knowledge while effectively building self-esteem.

What is the most important thing to look for in a bilingual program? The single most important thing to look for in a bilingual or dual language program is exactly that: that it is dual language. There should be clear distinctions and parameters established between the instruction in one language versus the other. During instruction time, students should ask questions and be expected to respond in the designated language of instruction. Keeping these boundaries clear will result in a much more successful mastery of both languages as compared to those programs in which students are allowed to vacillate between languages in an unstructured way. It is incredibly important to stick to the “rules” of a program with regard to which language is to be spoken when.  In that way children will not be able to “slip” into the language that is easier for them.   This does not mean, however, that if a young child is crying, upset, or scared, that the teacher shouldn’t speak to the child in their native language to alleviate the stress.  Once that moment has passed, it is important to resume the differentiation between the two languages based upon the parameters laid out by the program.

When a parent is considering a bilingual program for their child, it is so important to ask questions and visit the schools they are considering in order to see actual instruction within the classroom. When a child asks a question in a language that is not being spoken at the time, are they answered in the same language or in the language of instruction? Parents should meet the teachers to ensure their high level of proficiency in both languages so that they are able to support not only the students, but also you as a parent. Parents should feel that they have access to the program in a language that feels most comfortable for them, even if they are acquiring a second language alongside their child. They should ask questions like: Does the school offer classes for parents? Do they provide translations of songs and poems and audio recordings and classroom books so that parents can learn alongside their child? Does the curriculum seem too traditional or rigid?  Are worksheets too heavily emphasized? Or does a child have space within the classroom and curriculum for hands-on, conceptual learning that will truly enhance their problem-solving skills, confidence, and dual language development?

Will my child fall behind in grade level curriculum because he or she is so busy learning two languages? Parents often worry that their child is going to “fall behind” in school as a result of dual language instruction. They need not worry.  It is important to keep in mind that learning does not take place exclusively in an individual language.  Authentic learning is not the rote learning of a particular set of vocabulary but is instead conceptual. For example, if you are learning the difference between one and many or the mathematical characteristics of the number four, it doesn’t matter if you learn the concept in one language or the other. Once you’ve mastered the concept, you are simply transferring and assigning the words of the other language to the same, already acquired concept. The process of this type of learning provides students with mental flexibility and abstract thinking which, in the long term, will accelerate their learning, not delay it.

Bilingual education is, of course, not for everyone. But for parents who have access to these programs and who wish to provide their children with a “leg up” over their peers, providing the opportunity to learn another language at a young age is indeed a life-long gift.

If you are interested in learning more about the importance of bilingual education or want to learn more about the new French-English Bilingual Program starting in August 2016 at The Village School, please attend the upcoming open house.

Cocktails and Crayons
{Open House for The Village School’s New French-English Bilingual Program}

Where :: The Village School West Campus
2203 N. Westgreen Blvd.
Katy, TX 77449

When :: August 18, 2016 from 6:30-8pm

RSVP :: [email protected]


Gabriella - BioAbout Gabriella R.

Gabriella Rowe {@gabriella_rowe} is the Head of School for The Village School, the largest private school in Houston. The Village School serves Pre-K 2’s through 12th graders and has an international student body, with students representing six continents and more than 50 countries.  Rowe is a sought-after thought leader in blended learning, standards based teaching, and 21st century skills with a particular emphasis on the teaching of girls and young women toward leadership roles in science, engineering, and technology. Rowe is a frequent contributor to blogs and publications including The Huffington Post, The Houston Chronicle, and The New York Times.

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