Ask an Expert: What Are Dual Language Programs — And Are They Right for My Kid?
You may have heard of a dual language program, but perhaps you're not quite sure what it would be like if your little one was enrolled in one. Luckily, we have valuable insight from an insider source that can help you decipher what these programs entail, and if they're right for your child.
Our brilliant Malty friend Yesenia Macias, a kindergarten dual language teacher based in Iowa, chatted with us about what it's like to be part of a dual language program — and what we parents need to know! Read on for her smart expertise and tips.
Q: To start, an easy question! For readers who might not be familiar with the term, can you explain what exactly a dual language program is?
A: A dual language program is a form of bilingual education in which students are taught literacy and content courses in two languages, which helps promote bilingualism, bi-literacy, and grade-level academic achievement. Dual language programs also promote sociocultural competence for all students, which helps to encompass identity development, cross-cultural competence, and multicultural appreciation. Most of the programs here in the United States use English along with another language, with Spanish being the most common second language taught in schools.
There are various types of dual language programs! I teach kindergarten at a 50/50 English and Spanish immersion program at a dual language school. Students at my school begin learning both languages in kindergarten. Being bilingual opens so many doors for children, and starting them young gets them used to practicing and using a second language as much as possible.
Q: Does a child (or their parent) need to already know a second language for that student to participate in a dual language program?
A: No, it’s not necessary for a student or their parents to know the second language. There are many resources out there that will help support the learning process at home. For instance, you can find free resources such as apps and websites that provide great additional learning opportunities to pair with dual language programs. (Editor's note: Check out the free Spanish Malty the Blue Tiger audiobook to get started!) Using those resources and those that the teacher provides will help anyone be successful in a dual language program.
Q: What are your favorite bilingual activities to do with your students?
My favorite thing to do at the beginning of the year is to teach cognates, words that are the same or similar in both languages. Students at first doubt themselves and their ability to learn a second language, whether it is English or Spanish, and this truly helps give them that initial boost of confidence at the beginning of the year.
Integrating interactive strategies into all lessons also helps benefit students by engaging them, holding them accountable, and incorporating movement. My favorite interactive strategy to use in my classroom is called Snowball. Students review sight words, syllabic words, and other important concepts by writing what they are told on scrap paper. We count down to zero and begin to throw the paper around like snowballs. Once they are told to stop, they read the paper out loud to several other students. All students have fun and the room is super loud with energetic and excited students!
Q: Are there any common myths or misconceptions about dual language programs?
A: Unfortunately, some parents are convinced that exposing children to more than one language at a time can cause speech delays and/or students will have academic/behavioral issues in school. These are myths! Adding a second language will only benefit their language repertoire and there will be no delays in “catching up” to other students. When learning a second language, we are adding on to what they know, and not taking anything away from them.
Q: If parents want their child to learn a second language, but there aren't any dual language programs available near them, how do you recommend they get started?
A: What I recommend for parents is to seek help in the community. See if there are any childcare providers, like a bilingual babysitter, who are willing to start speaking with the child in a second language. It can also be as easy as attending public events, such as multicultural events, to expose children to a diverse language environment. Also, reading with your child is so important! Reading a dual language book together will help everyone practice.
(Editor's note: Get your copy of Malty the Blue Tiger to start your dual language book collection!)
Q: For you, what is the most rewarding part of being a dual language kindergarten teacher?
A: The most rewarding part is to see the students interact and having fun. It is amazing just to see students speak a second language, whether it is English or Spanish, and to see the accomplishments and growth they make. It’s the best when you see them having fun during the school day, all while using what we learn in our lessons!