Mapping Your Child’s Route to Bilingualism

When you first heard about Spanish Schoolhouse, you may have done some research on foreign language learning.  You probably found all kinds of terms like bilingual, dual-language, total immersion, two-way immersion, ESL, and transitional, heritage, or even developmental immersion. What the heck does all this mean and what is the best way for my child to learn?!

Simply put, bilingual education is the pathway to understanding two languages (‘bi’ meaning two, and ‘lingual’ referring to tongue or language).  Bilingual education uses many levels of language exposure to not only teach speaking skills but to also encourage intercultural communication and build bridges toward global understanding. 

Spanish Schoolhouse, Spanish immersion circle time, Spanish Story Time

SSH – The Immersion Path

Spanish Schoolhouse began with a passion for sharing the Spanish language and Hispanic culture (check out this blog post on our history!).  The vast majority of our school families were native English speakers who wanted to expose their kids to the benefits of bilingualism.  As educators, we wanted to teach non-Spanish-speakers to understand and communicate in Spanish and to have a global perspective, embracing diversity and cultural differences.

This philosophy is the basis of a foreign language immersion program.  Foreign language immersion is a type of bilingual education where academic subjects are taught in a student’s non-native language.  They’re immersed in an environment where the instruction is entirely or partially in the second language. 

This can be total immersion, as in the 2-year-old children at Spanish Schoolhouse experience.  From the moment we high five them at the door in the morning to the moment they’re back in their parents’ arms, they’re experiencing a preschool day completely in Spanish!  

Our 3 and 4-year old students have an ALMOST full immersion experience.  They’re immersed all day, but Monday-Thursday they also have a 30-minute English class. Technically, that makes this a partial language immersion program, but our emphasis is clearly on Spanish!

Spanish immersion preschool circle time

Two-Way Immersion Helps us Learn From Each Other 

You may also hear about dual-language or two-way immersion programs.  After preschool, many of our SSH students move on to public elementary schools that offer these programs.  In a dual-language setting, about half of the students in the class are native speakers of a second language and the other half are not.  A benefit of dual language immersion is that it really encourages teamwork as students work side by side, learning the languages from each other.

Programs to Preserve Family Culture

Over the years, we’ve been excited to see a growing number of families with Hispanic heritage enroll in Spanish Schoolhouse. They may or may not speak Spanish at home, but they’re all committed to passing their ancestral heritage and language to their children.  There is a growing appreciation in society for the value of this. In fact, some schools now offer what are known as heritage language programs.  These are immersion classrooms for students who primarily speak English, but have close relatives who speak the partner language.    

Total? Partial? What Percentage is Best?

You’ll find that there’s no “right way” to teach languages!  Among the many bilingual education methods, there are different models.  Common ones in elementary schools are the 90/10 model and the 50/50 model.  In a 90/10 setting, students might start first grade being immersed in the foreign language 90% of the time and have 10% of their instruction in English.  Over the years, as they gain confidence in the second language, the percentage shifts until they are learning both languages in a 50/50 split by the time they reach 5th grade.

The 50/50 model of dual language immersion is known as a “simultaneous literacy” method.  Half the time, the instruction is in English, and the second language is used for the other half.  The split may be half-days in each language, or full days that alternate, but the 50/50 ratio remains throughout each grade level.  The goal is to develop full literacy in both languages.

The kindergarten program at Spanish Schoolhouse is similar to this model.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays all subjects and themes are presented to them in Spanish, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, everything’s presented in English. Since we have two teachers who alternate the language of instruction daily, they plan together to ensure that content isn’t just “retaught” but that skills are built up and reinforced. This has been highly successful for our students and they usually find the daily transition seamless (especially if they attended SSH in preschool)!

Other Bilingual Education Terms

While English is the first language of most SSH children, many public schools offer excellent programs for kids who are English Language Learners.  You’ve likely heard of ESL programs (English as a Second Language) but there are also transitional language classrooms that use one-way or developmental bilingual education techniques.

In a one-way bilingual program, students are placed into classes based on their native languages. They are initially taught in their native language, while gradually being introduced to English.  Over time, the primary language is phased out and English becomes the main language of instruction. These students eventually transition into the mainstream classes, with a proficient level of bilingualism and bi-literacy (the ability to speak, read, and write in both languages).  What an advantage!

Seeking Bilingualism at Every Opportunity

Any exposure to language is great exposure, and any learning of a second language is a bilingual experience!  If you are considering dual language after SSH, check out this site for a list of bilingual schools available in Texas. Even if children don’t have a preschool or elementary immersion opportunity, they can take steps towards bilingualism through after school classes, summer camps, private tutoring, vacations in foreign settings, books, television, movies, and language apps. See the resources page on our website for some of these tools.

goals of language immersion, goals of dual language

So, what do you think?