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Bilingual education in elementary schools

Bilingual education in elementary schools is slowly integrating foreign language programs. Whereas high schools already have foreign language programs in place, elementary schools are still trying to educate their students in languages other than English.

Spanish, Mandarin, and other foreign languages are making the way into school systems and parts of the bilingual education in the United States. Yet, much needs to be done.

Becky Morales, an ESL and Spanish teacher, explains the rigorous process of bilingual education in her following article. She believes learning a foreign language should occur at an early age to build the language skills necessary to succeed in life.

According to a 2010 poll by Association of International Educators (NAFSA), 65% of those educators surveyed in the United States believe that children who do not learn another language will be at a competitive disadvantage in their careers. At the same time, the Center for Applied Linguistics reports that only 25% of elementary schools in the United States offer any world languages in 2008.

With budget cuts (especially in world languages and fine arts) and increased pressure to raise test scores and follow state standards, bilingual education and language classes are pushed aside and ignored. Teachers I’ve spoken with frequently state that kids can learn a language in high school, if they’d choose to do so.

Children reading books

I would like to debate that language learning or bilingual education should not be put off until the teenage years for many reasons:

There is a critical age for acquiring a language, and the earlier we can reveal the language to children, the easier it will be for them in areas such as pronunciation and grammar.

Learning another language is a lifelong skill that opens up job prospects. The younger the students get started, the farther along they will be by the time they are job-seeking age. I have had many bilingual high schoolers tell me that they were made manager because they spoke Spanish and could communicate better with other employees as well as customers.

When kids are exposed to cultures and world languages at a younger age, we begin to introduce an appreciation for the different ways to communicate, which in turn increases tolerance and empathy towards others.

In high school, kids often need to make the difficult decision between the fine arts electives. At one high school for example students can either be in Spanish or choir, but not both because of scheduling issues. Learning a language at a younger age opens up space in a student’s schedule for other creative fine arts classes, or other areas of interest.

Because of the organization of elementary schools, integrating a bilingual education for language learners does not have to take place as a separately. Language teachers can combine language learning easily with music, reading, writing, math, and social studies, which is better known as immersion programs.

Groups of interested parents can and should advocate for language learning of elementary learners. The powerful voice of many can slowly change the thinking of schools with persistence and planning. If we work together, I really believe we can change the mindset of schools and encourage more language programs in elementary schools.

About the author:

Becky Morales (@kidworldcitizen) is a Spanish and ESL teacher, speaker, and teacher trainer who is passionate about world cultures, geography, travel, empathy, and languages. She founded KidWorldCitizen.org, activities to help kids learn about the world, and is the co-author of GlobalEdToolkit.com, a book that helps teachers to bring global lessons into every subject area. She also is the lucky mom to 4 bilingual, multicultural kids whose curiosity perpetually inspires her. Connect and go global on Facebook!

Barbara Mascareno

Barbara is an educational writer, teacher, and instructional designer. She loves to write K-12 education content, teaching strategies, bilingual education approaches, and foreign language.

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