Bilingual education in the U.S. has a loaded history.
During the 19th century, many states adopted bilingual education laws mandating that schools offer dual-language instruction to students. However, World War I and national paranoia about foreign-language speakers led to the removal of bilingual instruction from most U.S. schools in the early 1900s. Decades later, the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 provided federal funding for native-language instruction in public schools. While this move signaled a shift in the prevailing attitude toward bilingual education, some English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students ended up segregated in native-language classrooms long after they needed to transition to English-speaking classrooms.
Today's educators agree that temporary native-language instruction is beneficial for students’ cognition, achievement and identity. Nonetheless, ongoing national debate surrounding immigration and bilingualism may leave many multilingual parents wondering how to best approach language education at home. Should parents avoid using their native tongue at home to help children learn English?
The answer, according to linguists, is no. Children of non-English speakers will learn English from their English-speaking friends, and familiarity with your first language is a gift to children in many ways. It connects them with their extended family, their history, and countless personal and professional opportunities.
Letting your child become fluent in your native tongue lets you communicate without any language barrier, and the things she learns from you will translate to her English-speaking life. For example, if you teach her about fractions and decimals in Russian, she will be ready to apply that skill in an English-speaking math classroom.
Studies show that bilingualism has a positive effect on academic performance, career prospects, and even self-esteem. Here are some of the ways that speaking multiple languages benefits your child:
Benefits of Bilingualism
Americans are notoriously monolingual. Only 18 percent of Americans can speak a language other than English, compared to the 53 percent of Europeans who speak a second language.
An increasingly diverse country, as well as rising demand for multilingual professionals, has changed the game, however. Government entities and employers are pushing for more emphasis on language education in public schools, and bilingual children and teens have a huge leg up on their monolingual peers.
But the benefits of bilingualism extend beyond the workforce. Studies show that using two languages rewires children’s brains, giving them a more developed executive function, or the ability to filter through information and effectively make decisions. People with higher executive function have better memory, mental flexibility and self-control. This makes it easier for them to pay attention, complete projects, regulate their behavior and form social connections.
Additionally, this boost in executive function may make bilingual people more creative. The ability to sort through information and connect disparate ideas helps them come up with useful, original thoughts and solutions.
Linguist Erica Hoff found that monolingual children do worse on standardized tests than children who grew up speaking both English and Spanish at home.
Bilingualism can even stave off the symptoms of dementia. In a 2006 study, researchers found that bilingual adults with Alzheimer’s Disease began showing symptoms four years after their monolingual counterparts, on average.
Learning New Languages
If you or your spouse do not speak English as a first language – no worries. Speaking your native language at home creates countless opportunities for your child – from broader career options to a stronger connection with his background and ancestry. So, celebrate multilingualism at home and in your community!
If you or your child need help learning English or Spanish as a second language, call 847-834-0791 for more information on affordable English tutoring and Spanish tutoring at iLearn Academy.