Why Do We Believe In Dual Language Education?
The number one question we get when people find out our children are learning in Spanish 90% of the day? “Do you guys speak Spanish?” “No, my husband and I don’t speak fluent Spanish.” The extent of my Spanish is the several years of classes in middle and high school and one summer abroad in Spain. I know about as much as a 1st graders vocabulary and can ask, “Where is the bathroom?”
I have a kindergartener and first grader that are both part of the NEISD Dual Language Program. Since starting on the first day of kinder, they have been immersed in Spanish 90% of the day. For me, it was a no brainer to place them in this program, especially when I considered the difficult time I had attempting to learn a second language at twelve years old, the competitive advantage speaking a second language has in the business world and the fact that study after study shows that the brain of a person who speaks multiple languages is more evolved. Before embarking on this path, we did a lot of research looking at longer term testing results and we repetitively found results like this one:
“Native English speakers also benefit academically. In Houston in 2000, native English speakers who had been in the two-way dual-language programs for four years scored between the 63rd and 70th percentile in total reading scores on the Stanford 9, whereas the scores of native English speakers in the mainstream hovered around the 50th percentile. When tested in Spanish using the Aprenda 2, the dual-language native English speakers scored between the 65th and 87th percentile at the end of grades 2–5, with an average score equivalent to the 76th percentile. These native English speakers, including African-American students, not only scored higher than their monolingual educated peers, but they also acquired a second language for their lifelong use.” The Multiple Benefits of Dual Language
Boerne ISD also has a wonderful document of cited sources containing studies about “What the Research Says.” of Dual Language learning.
How It Works? (in NEISD)
My children are at a new NEISD elementary school, where as of 2013, there are MORE Spanish Dual Language classes for kindergarten than English-speaking ones. The goal of the program is to have 50%/50% Spanish to English speakers so that the English speakers can rely on the true Spanish speakers to help learn the language quickly. Each year, the curriculum increases the English percentage by 10% until it is at 50%/50% by fourth and fifth grade and as a natural result, the Spanish speakers start learning more and more from the English speakers.
As far as my experience of getting my children enrolled, I can only speak to the most recent two years of the NEISD process but I do know that the demand at certain campuses has EXPLODED. There was a wait list this past year of over thirty children after filling four classes.
Nearly every district in the San Antonio area has some kind of Spanish program. For instance, AHISD has two separate programs that like Comal ISD, begin in first grade rather than kinder. If you are at all interested in this type of program, I would recommend you begin to research the process a year before your child starts kindergarten so you don’t miss any important meetings or deadlines. Here are a few links to resources I found for you to start your research:
AHISD (Spanish Immersion and Dual Language)
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you or your husband speak Spanish? No, however, I did take a few years of it in middle and high school and I know only basic vocabulary.
How can you help them with homework? In our experience, the assignments come home in both English and Spanish. In kindergarten, the homework is pretty simple and even my husband, who has no Spanish knowledge, can easily help complete it. As a first grader, Carter can read everything in Spanish and complete everything on his own. We help both of our children with certain words by having a simple app available like Google Translate.
How do you read to/with them? That was probably the most common question posed to the kindergarten teachers. Since the alphabet sounds are slightly different, once they start reading on their own, it is important that they start to only think sounds in Spanish or they will get incredibly confused. It was strongly recommended that from the first day of the program and on, we do not try to teach them to read in English or it will only delay their learning to read in BOTH languages. I have heard by 2nd grade, they can start differentiating the alphabet sounds more easily and will be able to read in English without getting as confused. When we read at night to our kindergartener, I read English only as not to confuse them with my horrific Spanish pronunciation. Later in kinder and in first grade, they come home with books at their level to read to me in Spanish.
When did you start the process of getting them in the program? This varies per school district and program. Three years ago, the process to get a child into the NEISD program was 100% different from today. My biggest advice is to start actively looking into it earlier rather than later. If you are serious about it, begin researching the programs in your area and asking people about it almost a year before your child actually enters kindergarten. Some districts have mandatory meetings that could start as early as December, a full nine months before your child is set to enter kindergarten.
What is difference of Spanish Immersion and Dual Language? A Spanish Immersion Program is designed for a classroom filled with native English speakers to be immersed in Spanish, so all children are learning a second language at the same time. A Dual Language Program is where the class is split (ideally evenly) between both English and Spanish speakers to allow for an added way of learning from their peers. Both programs concentrate on instruction in Spanish during the primary years, slowly adding in more instruction in English each year.
My BIGGEST ADVICE to other new parents that was shared with me over two years ago:
1) You must have faith in the program during the first year. There will be weeks and months where you ask your son/daughter what they learned today and they will shrug their shoulders and say they don’t know. It’s OKAY!!! It’s kindergarten! Their little sponge of a brain is taking it all in and I promise is will explode once it “clicks,” which can vary from the Winter Break time or half way through the Spring semester. Although my son showed slow progress throughout the year, the second week of first grade (a whole year after starting the program) is when we saw a night and day difference in his Spanish speaking skills. We knew he understood the majority of everything spoken to him in kindergarten, however, his actual speaking of this new language was limited to 2-3 word Spanish responses.
2) If you are not a Spanish-speaking family at home, find a way to get into/volunteer in the classroom after a few months. My husband volunteered for the dad’s WATCH DOG program in December of Carter’s Kindergarten year and that is where we realized how much Carter was learning and could actually speak the language!!!! Seeing him in that environment, answering his teacher’s questions and hearing him talk in Spanish, was the single biggest confirmation that we had made the best decision for our son! The take-a-way being, if you are a non-Spanish speaking family, it is hard to tell how much they know!
3) The amount of progress your child show depends on their own personality. Our older son is extremely bright but showed us way less of his Spanish learnings than his one-year-younger sister has, during the same time period. She is much more out going and makes a big point to show off her learnings of the day!
4) If you are on the fence about the program, I would recommend making a decision to commit or not and don’t look back! Remember that five and six-year olds are resilient, amazing human beings that don’t know that learning a second language isn’t the norm. Don’t confuse your feelings of being afraid of the unknown with your child’s naiveness to change. We didn’t make a huge deal to Carter and Addie about the Spanish program. We told them that they may not know what the teacher is saying the first few weeks but that is OKAY and if they pay attention every single day, they will understand things very soon. There hasn’t been one day where either of my children have come home frustrated or in tears. Instead they got a small reward each day they came home and shared something new they learned in Spanish!