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dual language or not


langmom May 16, 2012


My son just got into a dual language program for kindergarten at a very low ranked school. It is ranked 4 out of 10 on great schools and in the bottom 20% of school in my state. It has a large ELL program and a majority on reduced fee lunches. This is the 1st year the school will offer this program at this particular school although they have other immersion programs in the district that I am unable to get into.

My other option is a nearby neighborhood school that is given a 7 by greatschools, and is in the top 30% of the state.

Should I choose my neighborhood school since it's closer and it is ranked higher over my child becoming bilingual? I am a monolingual and have always wanted my children to be fluent in another language. Hubby is not on board :(

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MagnetMom May 17, 2012

Hi langmom,

Here are a few things to consider:

Students learning in a dual language immersion program tend to have lower test scores for a few years while they spend so much time in a new language.

Students on free or reduced lunch programs and ELL students receive additional funding at the school site. While the money must benefit those populations, those funds also benefit the other students with additional teachers aides, materials, technology, you name it.

Please do not assume that the "4" school is inferior. Like magnet schools, it's very common that the school doesn't even break out the scores of those students. Go ask to speak to the coordinator of the program AND bring your husband.

To be fair, visit the other school, but you are so right to advocate for bilingualism for your child. It will be a huge benefit in middle and high school, and in life.


TeacherParent May 18, 2012

It sounds as if you are giving up a lot for the shot to be bilingual. I admire and respect an interest in raising a child bilingually but a school with a majority of kids on reduced fee lunches will be Very different from your neighborhood school.
I went to exactly that kind of elementary school - it was culture shock for a middle-class child to be shoulder to shoulder with great poverty everyday.

How do you know your child will indeed be bilingual? This is a brand-new program at this school - will the teacher(s) be good ones? A bad teacher can ruin the best program.

As another poster suggested, go and visit both schools and see how comfortable you are. Often schools with a large percentage of reduced fee lunch children are also poorly maintained schools with graffiti and trash in the playground and peeling paint on the schoolroom walls.

I hope you don't find that but you will certainly have a better idea of what your child will find at the school if you can go and visit beforehand.

Good luck with your decision.


langmom May 19, 2012

Thanks for the responses - keep posting!

I did go to the school when I went for the initial orientation and met the prinicipal. The school is very nice, newly built in 2005 and in excellent condition. I did not see the students since the orientation was at night. The principal seemed great.

The school is in a very wealthy district with very high performing schools except for this one and 2 others. The district is concerned with the disparity between the schools so I believe they are launching this program in the hopes of closing the achievement gap as well as luring people back to this school. The school did not meet AYP so students can transfer out. They launched a similar program at the other 2 low performing schools last year.

Unfortunately they haven't hired the kindergarten teacher yet so I can't meet him/her.

Perhaps teacherparent is right and I am giving up too much for him to become bilingual. I truly believe he would in this program but hubby is concerned he might get lost with math and science and never get the fundamentals if they are taught in Spanish.


ryanhendricks May 27, 2012

My 3 kids went through an immersion program from 4K - in a school rated lower in math and science than its neighborhood public school competitors. The second language made all the difference in their lives - and the math and science focus improves after 6th grade. Without a second language, career options are much thinner .... If I had to do it all over again, I'd take a global perspective and communications skills over math and science focus at an early age any day.


hollymcgowan May 27, 2012

I don't think you can undervalue the importance of learning a second language at an early age. We are one of the very few developed countries who does not recognize the importance and value of learning a foreign language in grade school. Research shows that learning a foreign language has very positive results for children in terms of boosting their science and math skills. I agree with the first response, dual language learners, although slower to start often end up in high school among the top ranking in their class. I have seen many foreign students come into our public school system as english language learners and go on to graduate at the top of their class. As long as you are comfortable with the pier group your child will be with, you should strongly consider the many positive aspects of a dual language program.


AmyJosiemom May 27, 2012

I'm not sure if you are aware, but there're other options for you if you would like your child to have a multilingual education. The Muzzy program offered by early advantage is provided online now, and is relatively inexpensive. And in many major cities, you can find language classes being offered by contacting the local embassies of foreign countries in that area. Atlanta, GA has Japanese Saturday school for children. There is even an actual Japanese elementary school north of the city. You just have to know the question you want answered and where to go to find out. I hope his helps.


tdeberry June 14, 2012

A person can indeed learn a new language at any age. However, to achieve near-native fluency in a second language, research has shown that a person must have spoken the language before a critical cut-off age around 6 to 8. After that age, there are physiological changes in the brain that produce less communication between the left and right hemispheres; it seemingly rewires itself to focus on areas of learning other than native language acquisition.

While those who begin speaking a foreign language after the age of 8 are capable of learning a limitless number of vocabulary words and achieving a high degree of proficiency, they lack the ability to achieve native-like mastery of syntax and pronunciation and will likely always be set apart linguistically from native speakers.

This is probably why middle and high school and college students of French or Spanish never get a true grasp of the grammar of a second language; it seems foreign, no matter how many classes and how much effort. And doubly so for older learners.

While you can enrich your child's learning with supplemental math and science in the home, you cannot truly supplement with a foreign language. Unless you are consistently speaking two native languages in the home, your child will not become bilingual (DVDs and computer courses have not been shown to produce language acquisition at a native level). This is why starting a second language in kindergarten (from birth is ideal, but as early as possible) is superior to starting a foreign language later in adolescence or in adulthood.

In my child's dual language program, students are immersed in each language for half the school day. Math is taught in English while science and social studies are taught in Spanish. I can't tell you how amazing it is to hear my first grader excitedly explain concepts like the mass of objects and the gravitational pull of the moon entirely in Spanish.

There is a recent article on describing surprising new research showing the unexpected benefits of bilingualism on the brain in ways NOT related to language: Why Bilinguals are Smarter, by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee.

As for the school environment, does your prospective school have low scores because of a lack of resources, unmotivated/uninspiring teachers, or a schoolwide feeling of apathy? If so, I would not send my child there. If, however, a majority of its students test poorly simply because they are not native English speakers or because most come from poorer families with little access to early education, your child will not be affected by their woes but will rather likely test at a higher level than his/her peers.


chicagojlo June 17, 2012

The majority of countries that teach second languages to their children teach them English because it's the most commonly used language in the business world. I personally am bilingual and I haven't had to use my second language more than a handful of times since I left the country I learnt it in.


arpitpatel June 28, 2012

This is probably why middle and high school and college students of French or Spanish never get a true grasp of the grammar of a second language; it seems foreign, no matter how many classes and how much effort. And doubly so for older learners.


dlpadvocates July 11, 2012

So have you made you decision?

I was in a very similar boat when we began looking for schools for our children. We ended enrolling them in a low performing school that has a DI program. We are very focused on our children's education, so I knew our children could succeed in almost any environment. I wasn't concerned about the low test scores nor the socioeconomic standing of some of their classmates. Our school has a lot of charm and a wonderful principal/teaching staff. We are surrounding by families that truly care about their children's education (regardless of their financial means) and we are in a district that wants our program to succeed.

We are thrilled that after two years our children are thriving academically. We believe that being fluent in at least two languages is imperative for our children's future financial earning power. However, we also value the positive world view they are gaining through the program and the cognitive boost they get from learning another language at such a young age. These are things that can not be taught outside of an immersion program other than living in another country or by being raised in a very disciplined bilingual family (that also teaches literacy).

I also take pride in knowing that our family does a small part in contributing to the community feel of our school. I have the luxury of volunteering in the classroom and serve as a translator for a lot of our monolingual families. My husband and I do as much as we can for our school and we have seen our participation encourage other families to get involved, as well. Perhaps your family (and others like yours) is what that low performing school needs.

Good luck!

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