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Ask an Expert: How to choose a good bilingual school.

Q. I really want my son to be bilingual in English and Spanish. In terms of schools, what is the best type of public school for this?

A. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages posits that kids who acquire a secondlanguage early in life show increased cognitive abilities over their monolingual peers.

More brainpower is just one of the reasons why you should be exploring foreign language immersion education programs for your child. When searching for the public school that best matches the language learning goals of your family, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Program model Immersion education can be offered as foreign language immersion or dual immersion. If you choose a foreign language immersion program you can expect your child to be learning a second language along side other native English speakers. Students will be immersed in their second language either part of the day (most typical) or the entire day. The goal is for native English speakers to become bilingual by the time they exit the program. In dual immersion programs, native English speakers are combined with native Spanish speakers. The difference between dual immersion and bilingual education is that in dual immersion, both languages are valued and the needs of neither group are superimposed over the other. Using a dual immersion model, students learn from each other and from instruction that is divided equally between English and Spanish. Regardless of the model, you should expect that teachers are fluent in both languages and that second language support strategies are being used to scaffold learning of the L2 (second language).
  • Funding Knowing the revenue stream for your school is important as these programs come at a cost. Often, immersion programs are in their initial phase of implementation, and the propensity of the program to continue from pre-kindergarten through high school depends heavily on being well funded. For each new grade level, school districts must hire and train extra teachers who can teach content effectively in a foreign language, as well as purchase new textbooks, bilingual dictionaries, translation devices and other supplemental materials in the target languages. The Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) of the U.S. Department of Education has in recent years offered a grant for schools to develop foreign language immersion education programs. The FLAP grant is a stable revenue source, which carefully monitors student growth and places high expectations on the school districts to successfully implement their language program.
  • Assessments Understanding the school’s assessment strategy will help you understand the goals of the language program. All schools should have a mechanism for measuring growth (especially if the funding source is public). When comparing program models, a helpful question to ask is, “How much of the target language can I expect my child to learn by the time he/she completes the program?” It is especially helpful to know how your child’s progression will be monitored if you do not speak the target language. Enrolling your child in an immersion program is an important investment, and you want to be sure that you are reaching your language goals.

To locate a school district offering these programs you can contact the Colorado Department of Education Office of Language, Culture and Equity. General information about foreign language immersion programs can be found at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Aquistion (CARLA).

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