The Benefits of Being Bilingual

Dual Language Immersion Programs Should Be The Model for Second Language Instruction

by Karoly Reyes, age 16

A few years ago I attended a school that lacked diversity. I tended to stick with a group of other Hispanic students. We didn’t feel like our school had a place for us. Members of our group didn’t get the experience of being in sports or clubs, and many of my Hispanic friends were not very engaged with their academics.

We felt left behind. What we didn’t realize is that we did have one thing the other students didn’t; we were bilingual. Knowing more than one language has a long list of benefits.

Some are obvious. People who are bilingual can communicate with a wide range of people. This is an important skill in an increasingly globalized world. Speaking two languages also confers an advantage when competing for a job. It is also helpful in school.

New scientific evidence shows that knowing more than one language can help develop a broader range of cognitive abilities. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, a staff writer for the science section of the New York Times, wrote, “Learning an additional language is a mental workout” that improves cognitive and problem-solving skills, while enhancing and improving the ability to multitask.

“Bilinguals appear to process a lot of information a lot quicker than monolinguals do, most importantly, bilinguals appear to have a superior ability to control attention and to switch attention between tasks,” said Bhattacharjee.

With all these benefits, it makes sense that most schools have second-language programs. But these programs fail to take advantage of the school’s valuable human resources. One model for second language education fixes this problem: the Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Program model.

“Research has consistently shown that DLI programs are effective in developing [confidence in] language minority students, English proficiency and bilingualism. These programs help students maintain their home language at least through elementary school, which increases students’ ability to acquire English,“ says Dr. Mariana Pacheco, an expert in the field of ESL and Bilingual Education at UW-Madison.

This program works by merging classrooms of children who are native English speakers with native Spanish speakers and teaching regular classes in both languages. In turn, students of different ethnicities get a chance to interface instead of being separated into different classes.

In Madison, Nuestro Mundo School uses one of the Dual Language Immersion program models. They have two different teachers: one who speaks English and one who speaks Spanish. They take turns teaching typical classes like math, science, English and social studies.

Former Nuestro Mundo Student, Andreanna Wright, who now attends Sennett Middle School, said, “I love being bilingual. My mom always told me it will give me more opportunities in life ahead. It puts me in another level from people who only speak one language.”

Andreanna also mentioned that once they understood Spanish, native-English speakers created a bond with their hispanic peers. She added, “It opens a door to a new adventure.”

In this model, students can master their native language while learning English and keeping up with their academics. This program is also beneficial for English native speakers because they also become bilingual.

Dual Language Immersion programs increase connectedness and interdependence among diverse groups of students. Students learn from a young age that everyone is different, but no one is superior. It promises a deeper understanding across barriers of culture and language. It also decreases disciplinary problems in schools and discrimination among students. In these schools, you see Hispanic students and non-Latino students interacting with each other rather than self-segregating. Latino students also have more opportunities to pursue extracurricular activities, which increases academic engagement for at-risk students.

If there had been a Dual Language Immersion Program at my old school, my friends and I might have interacted more positively with teachers and students and gotten better grades. This would have led to more college opportunities. These model Spanish speakers would have interacted with model English speakers; we could have influenced each other in a good way.

Parents of English native speakers know that it is valuable for their children to become bilingual. Unlike many immigrant parents, English native speaking parents often find it easier to navigate the school system, so they are more equipped to demand higher quality education. Under the DLI model, these benefits positively affect all students equally.

This program is important because it shifts the inter-student dynamic. English native speakers no longer have the upper hand because both groups are starting from scratch with a new language. They look to each other for help and guidance, which brings them together. Spanish and English speakers alike are forced to be around native speakers of the language they are learning since they are placed in classes together, rather separated according to their language differences. This program builds on the notion that both Hispanic and English speaking parents want better opportunities for their children.

There are many benefits of being bilingual. We should push our communities to become more language diverse. In addition to gaining new skills, it would lessen discrimination between races and ultimately unite us. Compared to other countries, the United States has poor rates of bilingualism. If the United States is going to continue being competitive in the global economy, we must emphasize learning a second language. Dual language education will make children more economically viable in the global economy of the future. This is important because we, the children, hold the future of the United States in our hands.

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