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Translating language-based schools

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By David McKay Wilson

What supporters say

Dual-language schools create biliterate students at a time when their brains are very receptive to language acquisition. Language comes easy to children in elementary school. Dual-language schools develop strong multi-cultural ties within the student body and strengthen those ties in the community. Biliterate children have the language skills that are in high-demand in our increasingly globalized society.

What critics say

Studies have found that dual-language students in second grade who are learning English lag slightly behind their peers who were taught in English-only classes. Other critics say English-speaking students benefit more from dual-language schools than those learning English — arguing that the Spanish-speaking students are acting like tutors for the English-speaking ones.

Is a dual-language school right for my child?

Dual-language schools seem to work for a broad range of students — from new immigrants whose families want them to retain their mother tongue, to kids who come from bilingual households, to children whose English-speaking parents want them to have the biliteracy they could never provide at home.

These schools may not be the best for students with language-processing disabilities, although this is by no means a given. It’s also important for parents to feel comfortable with the dual-language concept and realize they may have trouble helping their child with homework in a language they don’t know.

A final word of advice

Research the options in your area and visit some of the programs from which your child can benefit. To get an even better sense if a given program will work for your child, talk to school officials and parents of children at the school. Finally, because immersion schools' scores tend to lag behind in earlier grades, check to see if fourth grade and fifth grade reading scores are catching up with English-only classrooms.


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