“You mean, you recommend using dual language resources for preschool?” a middle school/high school teacher at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton asked me during a presentation at her school last week. “No, for all levels,” I said.
For those who don’t know what the term “dual-language” means, it was originally coined to describe a particular model of schools aimed at helping children develop two languages equally.
In the early grades, dual language schools typically focus more on developing the minority language (for example, Spanish or Arabic), but the idea is that by a certain grade the students will be using each language for 50% of the time (for example, half of the day in Spanish and half in English).
This is a very simple description and I invite you to learn more about the characteristics of dual language schools (they operate using different models), but for the purposes of this blog, I will just say that the popularity of the dual language schools is increasing because their overall academic record is quite impressive and on top of that they are graduating students fluent in two languages.
Unfortunately, except for large metropolitan areas like New York City and Washington DC, dual language schools are hard to find. However, this doesn’t mean that we cannot learn from the dual language model and export some of the strategies to other situations.
What is the secret behind the success of dual language schools? There are several things to it:
- Your first language is your BEST asset when learning a second language. Unfortunately, many world language as well as ESL and regular teachers tend to forget or ignore this.
- Language skills transfer. So, for example, when you learn to read in one language, this helps with reading in the second language, even if the language uses a different alphabet or non-alphabetic scripture.
- When you probe a concept in two languages you are in effect using two different sets of eyes. It’s like if you had superhero goggles – you may have lost a detail in one language, but you have another chance to notice it in the other.
- Also, when you dig in to a concept in two languages you are in effect activating two different cultures, which will provide further insight into the variability of knowledge.
- Finally, when you learn in two languages, you start noticing how the two languages work, their similarities and differences. This “metalinguistic” awareness works magic in your language skills, and that is why many bilingual children have better command in English than their monolingual English classmates (as long as they are in the right kind of bilingual education).
What is it that I suggested to the teachers at Stuart? I suggested that they think differently. That they think in terms of a “dual-language” approach.
Instead of the typical world language program, language teachers could collaborate with the main classroom teacher (or teachers, in the higher grades) and select areas of the curriculum that could be developed in two languages.
Fortunately, in the case of Stuart, the regular preschool teachers attended the workshop, and they were very excited about collaborating with the world language teachers creating those dual language pockets. That’s a start! [BTW, school starts at age 2 in Stuart, which means that by age 5 they will have had 3 years of exposure to two languages already!]
The other thing that they can do is to use dual language materials more extensively (or create their own). As I explained to the middle school/ high school teacher, the problem when we are so picky about only using target language resources is that this restricts what we can do and as a result we end up using very simple tasks.
The drag of using only target language is particularly evident in the beginning levels of instruction, when the students know only a few words or expressions in the new language. We can spend months or even years working on basic tasks – OR we can throw our prejudices out the window and try a dual language approach that allows our children to operate at a higher linguistic level from what they could otherwise (think Vygotsky and his ideas about creating tools of the mind).
“Don’t take my word for it. Try it and decide yourself,” I said to the teacher. If we believed everything we are told, we would never discover new and more effective ways of doing things. If I had dropped my home language (Spanish) when talking with one of my daughters, who at age 2 ½ had some language delays, my daughter would not be highly bilingual and learning a third language in school.
Children learn better when all of their assets are on the table. Not when we decide in advance without trying.
During the last 12 years I have been trying and testing things, first in my own classes and later with the parents and teachers who use my curriculum and materials at home or in their schools. One thing I realized is that using a dual language approach really works because it facilitates or scaffolds the acquisition of higher levels of language that would otherwise be way beyond the reach of their children or students (and many of the parents using my materials do not even speak the language themselves, which comes to show how powerful this is!).
So I invite you to start thinking in terms of dual-language strategies that move your instruction UP (in the sense of being able to do more advanced tasks) and OUT (in the sense of taking the learning beyond your classroom into the school and home).
I think that you will soon agree with me that the future is dual-language – and of course, let me know what you think!
P.S. I invite you to learn about my new Three Little Pigs unit package in Spanish at spanishlessonplansnow.com. What can be more fun than learning Spanish through the different personalities of the pigs and pretending to be Actor, Player or Professor?
P.S.S. The instructions to the activities are in English and the examples in Spanish (with English translations), but you could also use the package the other way around, to teach English – or better yet, in tandem between two teachers to follow a dual language approach!
P.S.S. Again, you can read more about the unit at spanishlessonplans.now.
Ana Lomba is changing the way people think about and interact with young children learning languages. Her Parents’ Choice award-winning books, lively songs, games, stories, and mobile applications are quickly becoming favorites with teachers and parents who want to nurture young children’ inborn language abilities. Key to the success of Ana’s break-through method is a focus on the family as the ideal environment for early language learning – even her signature curriculum for language programs is built with parents in mind. Ana has taught toddler, preschool, elementary school, and college-level Spanish courses, and held leadership positions with some of the most influential language organizations in the US, including ACTFL, NNELL and FLENJ. After graduating with a law degree from Spain, her native country, Ana pursued graduate studies at Binghamton University, Princeton University, and NYU.
Leave a Reply