Bilingual Education?



The 1st post! What to write???

Let's start by telling you about Dual Learning homeschool.  A bit fancy, but with the purpose to keep me feeling professional!  I use the terms dual language because, sadly, where I live the more appropriate term, "bilingual," has been extremely misused.  In my experiences, I have found that when using the label, "bilingual education," parents, principals, and teachers are referring to the one way trip away from the student's native language.  These days, very few bilingual teachers speak the language of their students, and what happens is more and more students are loosing their first language.  Bilingual education became ESL, (English as a Second Language), where by means of immersion, students were learning in English only. It is successful in attaining the goal of having the child learn the target language.  But in my opinion, it lacks the benefits of developing a truly bilingual and bi-cultural individual, and sadly diminishes the value of the child's culture.

I am a bilingual educator by degree.  With all the bells and whistles I am a Bilingual/ Bi-cultural Elementary Education double Major with an area of concentration in English (my second language) and Social Studies. My first major being Education, in Elementary and middle school grades, and my second major being Bilingualism and Biculturalism.  In addition to becoming an elementary teacher, I studied the art of teaching a second language while maintaining, and developing the native one. Because I was learning to teach a second language, I studied more than linguistics, grammar, and pronunciation;  I also learned about the need to go through the processes of transition, adaptation, assimilation, and understanding of a new culture.  After all that takes place -it takes years for adults, and is simultaneous for children- one can become bilingual!  What a gift! It is such a special one that I would be selfish not to pass it on to my own children and to my students.

I went through the process of learning a second language at 19 years of age. That was a bit late and, mostly imposed by necessity.  I moved to the US and I needed to learn ... and by the way ... it had to happen fast since I was already enrolled in college classes.  It was frustrating to want to say something, and although I had the thought; I didn't have the right language to be understood.  The only subject that was easy for me at college was Math because I knew numbers and I didn't need to understand what my teacher was saying.  Perhaps that was the only reason for me to take Calculus 2 when I didn't need it! I love English, I am still learning it, I use every opportunity to learn more.  Like I said before, it was my area of concentration in college.   But there are some things that I cannot say in English, only Spanish seems appropriate.  Just like after 13 years in the US, I have found I am only able to say some things in English.  There are specific words to explain cultural items, and even feelings that only belong to a particular language.  I had a hard time learning English, and I set my own goal to become a teacher and help children learning it as a second language.  Most of all I wanted children learning a second language to be proud of who they were, and able to keep their native language growing.   In the process, and while teaching in a dual language program, I was also inspired by how my English speaking students were so excited about their culture, and were so open to learn about mine.  They were eager to point at the similarities and differences in our cultures and languages.  I enjoyed seeing friendships across races, and in different languages develop.  I loved to see my students get to know each other not as part of a group, Hispanic or Americans, but as individuals.  Through them, I saw that without the language barrier they were able to be open, and caring; not prejudiced, and discriminating.   In a way they made the world better.  Once a language barrier is broken, we find in each other more similarities than we previously thought possible. These similarities bring us closer!

For my students I wanted to find ways in which learning would be natural, and enjoyable in two languages. To me, ignoring the fact that a child speaks another language is taking away from who they are.  I could not do that.  Just as well, I could not teach in such a way.  I use many tools to help achieve proficiency in a target language.  Like children, I love movement, hence I have found that kinesthetic approaches, and a ton of hands on learning are ideal for learning a second language.  I would be talking to them, showing them, singing to them, surrounding them with information, making them exposed to as many experiences as I could offer. At the same time, I never let a child not participate simply because he/she is shy or insecure using the target language. I was no stranger to being caught up with puppet shows, and acting up impossible things like place value, or geographical terms.

To summarize, I worked with three different types of programs

1. Bilingual Education, (usually Hispanic students learning English with as little as possible Spanish instruction).
2. ESL and SSL English and Spanish as a Second language programs where instruction is completely in the target language.  The only goal is proficiency in the target language.
3. Dual language program and two-way immersion program. Immerse the students in a second language through content, and interaction with target language speaking classmates.  Both, native and target languages are used in different subjects.  It also can have a half English and half Spanish speaking population, (two-way immersion), but it is not necessary.  The focus is more on what language the teacher is using for presenting  materials to the students.

Note: The above are based on my own experience, every program, school, and district is different.

Of the three programs above,  I worked the most using the Dual Language approach because I truly believe in it.  It gave me the most freedom, and it also proved to me most effective in teaching both languages. I love the challenge to get the kids speaking, reading, and writing in a language they do not use at home whether is English or Spanish.  It is so rewarding to see them express themselves, and realize their own potential.  It is not easy but it is AMAZING!  Oh! the stories I have to tell you!  The things the kids were able to say and write!  Those are some of my favorite memories from teaching. Those are the most heart warming, and hilarious stories that otherwise would have been lost without their, "translations".

Forward to 2009! When it was time for me to be a mom, I wanted to do this at home.  I wanted my kids to be dual!  I knew that I wanted to be the best mom, and the best teacher I could be.  Doing both at the same time, like one teacher told me, would make me simply a good teacher.... not a  great one.  Don't get me wrong, I was not seeking fame and recognition, I was seeking dual language proficiency in my students. As a mom, I would not have been able to stay late at work creating materials without neglecting my own children.  Even after teaching for a few years, I needed more things done.  Every class had a completely different proficiency level in the target language. If you asked the night custodian at my last school, she would tell you about all the very late dinners we shared at school while I was working on my materials (I miss you Nan!).
Also as a teacher, I would not have been able to provide the best dual language environment for my own kids, and I would miss them too much!   My husband and I decided to tighten our financial belt, if you are a teacher you don't have to tighten too much... we don't make enough any way! and made the decision to homeschool our children for now.  My dear Tom: Thank you for being so supportive of it!
In a way I got my wish.  I get to be a great mom (or try to) and a great teacher (or try to)!

This blog is about learning to be truly bilingual. It helps me organize my thoughts, reach out to others, and keeps me making the important contribution I was put on this world to share... helping others become bilingual.

Thanks for reading!

6 comments:

  1. These are precisely the reasons I left the classroom to stay home with and later homeschool my children, too. So fun to find someone with similar philosophy and goals!

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  2. I am inspired by your dedication! You make a good distinction of bilingualism and dual language learning. It is harder to teach more than one language but well worth it when the child begins speaking in the target language! Best wishes on your journey!

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  3. I just found your blog! I love all the creative things you do--your children are getting an amazing education. I plan to do a dual-language homeschool too, though I'm still figuring out how this will work! My oldest son will be five next year. My husband and I speak only Spanish with our 3 boys and have been very encouraged at their acquisition of both languages, despite not using English at home. I learned Spanish later in life so I am not a native speaker, but living in Venezuela for a few years gave me good fluency. Now though, I struggle to keep up with new vocab as my curious boys are continually asking me about bugs and critters I barely know how to say in English! I plan to teach them to read in Spanish first since its their strongest language, but I'm not sure when/how to begin to incorporate English into our homeschool plan. When/how do you use English in your homeschool? Any advice you have for me is much appreciated.

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    1. Michelle, thank you for your encouraging words. My youngest (boy) will be five next year too! I am a native speaker and I am also just learning the names of many things. The kids and I have learned terms like the names of trees, different insects, even the parts of the horse's saddle. It is fun to learn with them. Warning: their interests become contagious!
      You are right to teach them to read in Spanish first. It is a great foundation for phonological awareness because of its consistency. My husband has been the one in charge of encouraging the kids to learn to read in English. He has been using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. These lessons are very short (a few minutes long).
      In my blog, I mostly post about what I do with the kids in Spanish. Nevertheless, I read to them in English a lot. I am absolutely not worry about their English because of our environment. I guess it depends on where you live.
      As for your boys ages, you should only worry about them becoming phonemic aware in English by exposing them to oral and written language. Lots of picture books, nursery rhymes, chants, songs, word games, etc. Regarding the logistics of when and how you can use English in your homeschool, it depends on how you organize your learning time, and the type of resources available to you.

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    2. Thank you! That gives me some things to consider. I've been reluctant to do much with them in English because I see from friends how quickly it can take over. I'm really glad we have focused so much on Spanish these early years to give them a good foundation but I sometimes worry about them not getting enough English vocab--hard to see them struggle to explain something to my English speaking parents that they know so well in Spanish. I think reading to them in English would be a good place to start, that way it's more the book that's talking and we can still keep Spanish as our language of communication. So awesome to know there are other families out there doing the same thing!!! Thanks again and I'm sure i'll writing you back with more questions in the future :)

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  4. Michelle,
    Glad to have you traveling our road. Sometimes it feels lonely to be the only one around choosing the dual language route. When the time comes for your kids to explain what they know in English to others, by all means, use that opportunity to transfer their knowledge and arm them with the needed vocabulary. You already know that you don't have to teach the concept all over again, you just have to give them the terms in English!
    One more idea, if this available to you, is to take the kids to the library story time. I have been taking my kids since my oldest was 8 months. For the one hour, they hear story, and nursery rhymes, sing songs, and get to engage with an English speaker. It was fun for all.
    Keep in touch.

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Thank you for sharing!