Things were not promising in the late 90’s in Ecuador. The political and financial instability were affecting greatly every household. Although my dad was lucky to keep a stable job, we still had to be very careful with our spending.
One night when my parents were revising their finances and discussing unnecessary expenses, I was invited to participate in their conversation. I was surprised to learn that the largest family expense was our school tuition. So of course, I suggested them to consider changing our schools.
“We can touch anything except food and your education,” my dad said reluctantly.
That was not a capricious idea. In Ecuador, (or at least twenty years ago) the public school system was weak and failing greatly. Private schools offered better options for education and only fully bilingual private schools were known as offering elite education. My parents thought that giving their children the opportunity for an elite education where students can be exposed to a second language would give us an advantage to excel in a competitive and multilingual world.
After having my own children, of course, I wanted them to experience the same education model of being taught literacy in two languages. With my husband on board, the decision was an easy one to take, however, I was surprised to learn that some of my Latino friends were not supportive at all.
“Your kids get enough Spanish from you.”
“We live in America. They need to learn English well.”
Those are common misconceptions that you hear about dual language programs. They are based on misinformation and stigmas that have hurt our Latino community greatly. Although, Dual Language Programs may not be suitable for all students, I believe there are many reasons why we need more of these programs in the country.
With a growing diversity in the U.S, it is imperative that our children develop skills that enable them to interact effectively with others who come from a different background. In a period where our country is divided with hate speech, I believe that learning a second language can function as a bridge of tolerance and respect.
It’s beautiful to see my first grader reading in English and Spanish fluently and equally beautiful to see my kindergartner learning how to read in English and Spanish at the same time. Research has shown that dual language programs students outperform their peers in reading skills. You can read more about the study here. Though the study found no benefit in math and science, it also found no detriment to them either.
A dual language program has made a great impact on my children’s bilingual skills. It came to us at the perfect time when they were inclining to speak the more dominant language (English). The benefits of being bilingual in terms of employability, salary, and even health are very important. But it is also important how knowing a second language can expand horizons and opportunities to serve and grow.
I know second and third generation children of immigrant families that speak Spanish but they are not at a proficient level to write it correctly. A dual language program provides the environment and support to raise bilingual and biliterate children
I hope more American children have access to a bilingual education. Our country will benefit from it tremendously.