This is the third post in a blog series written by Brooke Giles, freshman at the University of Maryland, giving her perspective on current education news and events.
Dual language learning is catching on in popularity throughout the country. According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, there are at least 2,000 programs that teach students as young as Pre-K to speak a language in addition to English. Some schools teach Spanish as the second language, or French, and the classroom is usually a blend of students fluent in at least one language being taught. Dual language learning mixes the dominant language and an additional foreign language in one class setting.
Having a second language is already an important tool. Being able to speak another language is great for careers in communications, banking, and the government, among many others. One of the most accepted methods of learning a language is to be in an environment where the language is native and completely immerse in the culture, or to start when you’re young. Immersion learning is one way to get both of those methods.
I completed learning my second language in the 11th grade after starting Spanish immersion schooling in the 1st grade. My school was completely bilingual: we did the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, our morning announcements were in Spanish, and our library had an array of books of all levels in English and Spanish. Each grade was split into two classrooms, one that started the day out in Spanish, and one that started in English. Midway through the day, we’d switch rooms and start learning different subjects in the new language.
What made it interesting was that we weren’t just learning how to say words in Spanish, we were learning actual subjects, and got to pick up on the language as we learned the new material.
At the elementary level, we learned math, and science in Spanish, in addition to a Spanish language arts class; and in middle school, math was substituted for social studies. Once we got into high school, we started having traditional English classes and one Spanish class that was a step below the first AP level of Spanish. After completing that level most kids went on to do AP Spanish Language and ended their learning with AP Spanish Literature.
The dynamic of the students who were in the immersion program was striking. The immersion students were made up of mostly non-native speakers, and a few native speakers.There are two elementary schools that exclusively have this program where I’m from, and they filter to one middle school. As a result, many of the kids are friends and have formed a tight bond. Studies show that many students who complete an immersion education go onto be very successful academically. I saw this first-hand, as many of my immersion classmates kept up stellar grades throughout school, and gained more skills that contribute to learning, like understanding word structure and having the ability to process and use information that is taught to them.
As the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association suggests, this program doesn’t only help you learn the language, but you gives you a better understanding of the culture. I’ve tasted a variety of Hispanic dishes, and can actually tell you with confidence that Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with independence. I also know about the various genres of music and the dances in Latin America. I’ve read just as many classic Spanish novels as I have English novels.
But the program did have some drawbacks. I struggled with math when I was still in elementary school. While math is technically the same in every language, learning and understanding the concepts was difficult. Once I got to middle school and started doing math in English, I excelled easily. Science, however, was a bigger struggle because the majority of my education in the subject was in Spanish. The only time I learned science in English was in high school.Imagine learning about cellular respiration and photosynthesis in a foreign language, or learning how to balance scientific equations!
Overall, my experience in a dual language program was one of the highlights of my learning experience. Aside from making my lifelong friends, I was able to learn a skill that comes in handy very often. Dual language makes you a stronger student, and helps you understand how to communicate, in any language!