Getting Started: Choosing the Right Bilingual Education Style for Your Family

Getting Started: Choosing the Right Bilingual Education Style for Your Family

Getting Started: Choosing the Right Bilingual Education Style for Your Family

When you decide to take the leap and begin your family's bilingual journey, it can feel incredibly exciting! You’re giving your child access to the world, to different cultures, and to future opportunities. But trying to decide which model of bilingual education is right for you can be, well, daunting. From afterschool programs to a full-day immersion program, there are so many ideas swirling around about what will give your children the best bilingual experience. To help you make the best choice to meet your family’s goals and needs, here is a brief overview of some of the most popular models out there. 

Two-Way Dual Language Programs

One method of language learning used in schools is a two-way dual language program. Kristin Grayson, M.Ed., of the Intercultural Development Research Association (2012) shares that these programs not only help children to become bilingual, but also biliterate, as they complete their academic learning in both languages. These programs typically follow one of two models developed by Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas in 2004: in the 90/10 model, instruction begins with 90% in English and 10% in the second language, then progresses to 50/50. In the 50/50 model, both languages are used equally in academic instruction from the beginning. Both have their drawbacks and benefits, with the shared result of developing fluent kids. 

Two-way dual-language programs can have excellent results, strengthening all students’ understanding and fluency in both languages. However, the greatest benefits are seen after three to five years in these programs, meaning these programs can require a high level of commitment.

Full Immersion Programs

The Education Resources Information Center development team (2003) describes a full immersion program as one in which students will receive all of their instruction in a second language during PreK through 1st grade, with the goal being both fluency in a second language and academic growth in all subject areas. English instruction doesn’t begin until the later elementary grades, ending up at about 50/50 split by 5th grade. These programs specifically target what we know to be true about teaching kids foreign languages. According to many researchers, including Naja Ferjan Ramirez and Patricia Kuhl (2017), children learn languages best at a young age when they are still considered to be citizens of the world rather than experts in one primary language. 

Children may experience some initial bouts of frustration, but quality teaching, routine-based daily activities, and whole-body language learning will help students naturally incorporate the second language as their confidence grows. Again, a full-immersion program requires a commitment to see the best results. If this is something that your family is interested in, it would be best to start in the early grades when children generally operate at the same level. Once involved, though, the resulting fluency will have benefits for years to come. 

After-School Programs

If immersion programs are unavailable in your area, a different path to take might be an after-school program. Janelle Cox, M.Ed. (2023) describes these after-the-bell programs as those that allow children to practice secondary language skills and apply them immediately in their daily lives. Learning a new language in shorter bursts might mean that the progress toward fluency is a bit slower, but these programs provide students with social learning opportunities in a low-stress, engaging environment. After-school programs are a great option for those looking to dip their toes into the waters of dual-language learning or to support the teaching already occurring at home with a bilingual parent. 

Summer Programs

Summer programs are another excellent opportunity for children to learn a new language in an immersive, accelerated way. These programs vary from one-week introductory camps to fully-immersive travel experiences for teenagers to online, small-group tutoring. The biggest benefit of these programs is the flexibility they afford – you can choose the type of program that best fits your schedule and your family’s needs. Some resources to check out include The Language Project, Lingua Services Worldwide, and Berlitz, as well as local opportunities at schools, colleges and universities near you. 

Online Options

One method that works well for families with school-aged children and busy schedules is online language courses. Sites like Outschool and Preply have educators who conduct classes specialized for your child’s particular age group and language level. You can also seek tutors privately through websites like Upwork or Care.com. There are a plethora of choices out there to find one-on-one or small-group support for your family’s language-learning journey.

No matter which method you choose, remember that your child will benefit from any level of fluency in an additional language. Though the rate of progress may vary from program to program, every opportunity kids have to explore a second language and culture will open doors for them in the future. Kudos to you for exploring all the ways to make that happen for your little ones!