Dual language programs benefit students

Source: The Spectrum

by: Samantha Sadlier, St George

For many families, introducing two languages to toddlers is part of the way of life, but for some who are brought up into a single-language household, a second language is introduced once they enter school.

For Aditi Aromi’s family, teaching her children both Spanish and English from the start was a natural part of raising her kids.

Aromi grew up in Costa Rica in a bilingual household knowing both Spanish and English. She and her husband later adopted three sisters from Guatemala before having two of her own biological children, so keeping Spanish a part of their early education was mandatory, she said.

“They were immersed right into it,” she said. “It was just automatic that we’d keep Spanish as their second language.”

But her girls from Guatemala were raised with English being their second language.

“It was a reversal,” Aromi said. “We forced the older girls to only speak Spanish to (the younger children) at home.”

When her first biological child was a baby, Aromi said she began by teaching her baby sign language, which helped her recognize words in both English and Spanish.

“We still only speak Spanish to the babies at home,” she said.

But out and about and with others, the children speak English, she said.

Aromi’s daughter Vida, 4, shows a proclivity for languages, she said.

“We will be out and hear someone speaking in another language and Vida is always interested in trying to find out what they are saying,” Aromi said.

As she prepares to start elementary school in the next couple years, Vida will attend one of the Washington County School District schools that offers a dual language immersion Chinese program.

“She will then be exposed to three different languages,” Aromi said. “Teaching children different languages helps open up different parts of the brain and encourages learning in a positive way.”

Marybeth Fuller, WCSD Dual Language program director, said the dual language programs at area schools are going well and she regularly hears from parents of students interested in transferring their children to a school where two languages are being taught.

“Students who do dual language programs are often standing out among their peers in academic performance,” she said. “They have a leg up. There is so much research validating the way kids learn under dual language when they are full immersed.”

There are currently 10 schools in the district offering some sort of dual language program, but as the kids in the program get older, they will take it with them to intermediate and middle schools within the cone sites, Fuller said.

“The earlier the students learn the language the better,” she said. “It helps them form the neuropathways in their brains.”

Aromi agrees that starting early when teaching a second or even third language is to the benefit of the child, and doesn’t just have to be done in families that are bilingual.

“Many parents who only know English are often intimidated and uncomfortable about teaching a second language, but there are many ways to make it successful for those children,” she said.

Fuller said sometimes parents are hesitant to have their kids learn a new language because they are concerned they won’t be able to help with their child’s learning.

However, there are tools in place to help those kids learn and perform well in a dual language environment, Fuller said.

Aromi said she often encourages parents to consider teaching their child a second language, especially as part of her work on the Washington County Dual Language Immersion Council along with Fuller and others.

“We need to support parents and encourage ways for them to consider dual language immersion,” she said. “We need to get the word out about the importance of learning under dual immersion.”

There is an open lottery for families wanting to send their upcoming first grade students to a dual language school open until Feb. 25, Fuller said.

Follow Samantha Sadlier on Twitter,  @SamSadlier and on Facebook at facebook.com/spectrumsamanthasadlier.

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