Approaching Bilingual Education: A Guide for Families


“Language is not just an instrument of communication. It is also a symbol of social or group identity, an emblem of group membership and solidarity”— François Grosjean, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Psycholinguistics.

The attitudes people and governments have toward different languages influence the way they perceive communities of the other language speaking groups. In thinking about bilingual education for your family, the questions to ponder are: “How do you feel about your ethnic identity?” And also, “What is the role your cultural background plays in your own community?” If you’ve decided you want to employ two languages into your family experience, bilingual education is your ticket to not only preserve your ethnic identity and second language, but also to help form citizens who are better prepared for a global economy.

Where to Begin

Learning a second language requires motivation, time, energy, language input, and support from your inner circle. According to most bilingual educators, early learners should be exposed to each language on a daily basis. Exposure can be in the form of talking, playing or reading. Apps and TV shows can also be useful tools, but interaction with people helps a child understand there’s actually a need to use the second language. Personally, I made a commitment to visit our family in Panama every summer vacation. With my monolingual family members, my son very quickly learned there was a need for him to use his Spanish to communicate with his relatives. To extend his learning of Spanish, I also established a language strategy for my family: Spanish would be spoken at home as much as possible. Additionally, I went out of my way to only select Spanish-speaking, in-home child care providers to support his language learning experience.

What the Research Says

In considering a school-based dual language, bilingual or immersion program there are a many options to research. According to the National Association of Bilingual Education, most are categorized as transitional, developmental, or two-way bilingual education programs. According to the research report, The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for Allthe study concluded that those students who participated in the program scored as well as or better than all comparison groups on achievement tests and that they remained high academic achievers throughout their schooling. As for English language learners, I think it’s important to share by law, schools in the US, must provide English language learners with equal access to a basic education and therefore English language learning instructional programs.

There are so many advantages to being bilingual: Seeing your child communicate with his or her abuelos is priceless. Being bilingual also allows children to cultivate a spirit of acceptance and open-mindedness towards other cultures; this kind of mindset in children is exactly what we need today to improve race relations. Having such a skill also provides your child with a competitive advantage in the workplace, helps the brain become more efficient and thereby improve its cognitive abilities. Bilingual is better!

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