20 December, 2012

The singing boy, bilingual school and return on investment

I´ve many times wondered myself (here, for instance) what impact the bilingual school would have on my boy. Well, yesterday afternoon we had the first clear outcome when he taught us the song he had learnt from his native English teacher. As I mentioned before in some older posts, this year he spends only one session of 2 hours a week with her on Mondays, then some reinforcement session (games, songs and routines) with a non-bilingual teacher on Wednesdays. Yet the exposure is limited, thanks to the OPOL approach that we follow at home, for him it´s just like some other Spanish song, and I think here is where the main difference lies compared to monolingual families.

After observing my nieces and other kids, I know that at this age, kids from monolingual homes attending bilingual schools/day care are facing English words for the very first time at 2-3 years old, so they repeat the sounds they hear, as accurate as they can, but most of the times not realizing the meaning. A popular song like “This is the way we brush our teeth…” sounds like “di iz wea way be bo bo biiii”, and it´s all fine cause the objective at this point is getting them familiarized only with the sounds, tone of voice and melody of the language. In our case the bilingual environment that we have created since the boy was born has made possible that he actually recognizes in the song that they are talking about what we do every night, when we all brush our teeth. He is also showing signs of understanding the whole story in series and movies we watch like Peppa Pig or simple Disney movies, everyday more and more.

So he enjoyed this so much that after singing the new song at home a couple of times, our punk started making his own lines using the structure of the song. We were playing with the cars before bedtime and we accidentally bumped our heads, and I said “Hey man, watch out! You just bumped your head into mine!” and there he went… “Papi! This is the way we bump our heads, we bump our heads…” We were absolutely puzzled. And every day more he is coming up with this kind of things, like “XXX doesn´t like this, NEITHER DOES YYY”. And I´m like “neither does yyy???” I find this structure difficult most of the times because it´s very different from Spanish, and he just got it damn right from scratch. He doesn´t even have to think about it!!! This is also applicable to the order of words when he switches back and forth. He is starting to place everything correctly in each language. I´d say his understanding skills are pretty much at the same level in both languages, and regarding speech, English is walking uphill almost parallel to Spanish, maybe just one little step below.

Going a little bit deeper into the bilingual schools issue, some years ago the chances were scarce, private and therefore extremely expensive. Now that we are starting to count on public and semi-granted ones, with different qualities but improving I believe, bilingualism and opportunities have been popularized. Although this is absolutely fabulous for our new generations, I think many families in Spain deposit all the responsibility of the “bilingual plus” only in the school. I think that if you want to make the most of the system, you have to look at it as a reinforcement to your bilingual approach in your family. Of course this will depend always on the language skills of the parents, but even if they are not competent users it´s also possible to create a positive environment towards the minority language through videos, songs... And if you start from scratch it´s a great opportunity to learn side by side with your children. Kids with no minority language reference outside the school tend to take the second language like an extra subject (sometimes an annoying one if I may say it). Creating an environment where speaking another language is fun and useful makes bilingual things much more enjoyable and likely to happen. With some effort, support and consistency they can achieve great things all by themselves.

So as a summary of this post and a milestone along the way, I can gladly say, with evidence in my ears that bilingualism definitely pays off, the effort is absolutely worth it, and one can see/hear the huge benefits of it as early as 2,5 years. It´s definitely the best investment I´ll ever make in my whole life.

I´d be glad to hear about others´ experiences. Do you have any bilingual options in your school system? What´s your opinion about them? Do they complete your family bilingual strategy? Have you made this “stop and think” exercise about what your families´ return on investment is?


  1. My kids are also at a bilingual school and I really don't think I could have maintained their French without it! It takes a lot of hard work just to support their immersion schooling, but like you I can see it's all so very worthwhile. My daughter just scored 100% on a French vocabulary evaluation, which I am feeling very smug about ;-)

  2. Hi Dani,
    I'm glad to have found your blog (went looking for more bilingual and non-native blogs at Sarah's Site (Bringing Up Baby Bilingual). I appreciate your passion for language, and the detail with which you describe your little guy's experiences. I'd love to read more detail somewhere, though, if that's possible...trying to figure out who the non-native it, how long you've been doing it, etc etc, and it would be fun to put the pieces together to what you're saying. We've been raising our daughter bilingually in German and English in Oregon, and it's fun to compare. She's nearly 4, and fluent in both now. In regards to the schools, we do have bilingual options...there were even a number of preschool options with German. We opted for Outdoor Immersion Waldorf though, simply because that's more of a priority for us these days--I mean, I don't plan to let the German go, but we were so impressed with this preschool, we couldn't pass it up in favor of the language, when I can continue to give that to her at home (as much work as it is, esp. as she gets older!).
    Look forward to hearing more!

    1. Thanks for your comments, I love to read about others experiences, specially those of non native speakers passing their languages into their children. About your questions, we follow the OPOL system, although my wife joins us in English here and there. I have never adressed my boy in Spanish, no matter where we are or who we are with, as strict as it might sound.In public I have changed along the way, from not speaking or speaking in a very low voice so no one could look at us frowning, into just speaking the way we do at home and not caring about it at all. If I don´t know a word/expression I want to use, I write it down mentally and I look it up afterwards. The thing is that the kid is catching pretty much everything, so I´m more than amazed with this. He plays with me only in English, no delay in speech has been noticed (all the contrary) and his English skills are just a little step behind his Spanish. I your case I strongly recommend you Mr. George Sanders book, as it talks in great detail about raising 2 children in German and English in a monolingual environment (Australia), and in 1984, so no DVD/youtube/torrent support there... Thanks and I´ll read you around!!