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What is bilingual education? 

Bilingual education is a means of instruction in two languages at the same time using a distinct school curriculum, usually in a face-to face program. 

A bilingual education is typically offered by a special institution that is equipped to instruct various subject manners in two languages simultaneously. These types of programs are structured in a way where they split the teaching language throughout the day, usually in a 50/50 division. This is one of the best ways to have a bilingual education, however, finding a school like this may be a bit difficult depending on where you live. 

Another way to give your child a bilingual education is by speaking in a minority language at home, teaching age-appropriate curriculum at home in the minority language, watching educational movies, having external bilingual classes to encourage further interaction, and so on. This requires a blend of face to face school and homeschooling due to the level of curriculum that will need to be provided. Although this may be a more rigorous route, it is still a very effective way to have a bilingual education. 

In any case, there are pros and cons to a bilingual education in the typical school setting and we will discuss some key elements. 

Pros of Bilingual Education

1. Improved brain functioning and memory

Some scientists believe that learning more than one language improves and strengthens various parts of the brain. By adopting a second language, your brain learns to recognize patterns quickly and draw connections. This improves your mental state and learning capability in multiple ways. As the brain strengthens thanks to one subject, it gets stronger overall. 

Think of your brain as a muscle. If you run, your legs get stronger and you get faster. As a result, you are overall in better shape, your breathing improves, your ability to perform cardio improves, your abdominals strengthen, etc. It’s like a domino effect — each muscle has an effect on the next. This is true with the muscles and capabilities of your brain as well. 

2. Better career opportunities

As the career world is increasingly more competitive, having another language in your tool belt will be a great advantage when looking for a job.

By speaking another language and having the ability to preform your job in two or more languages at the same time can dramatically improve your chances of landing a job in the future. Especially if your child could be interested in working for an international firm, a second language may even be required. Not only can an additional language be valuable for landing a job, it can also be beneficial to seeing an increase in salary.

Another language opens doors to more communication with colleagues, clients, and recruiters.

3. It creates an opportunity for early diversity

Being exposed to another language and culture means that children will be aware that more than one way of life exists. 

Children are not concerned with societal issues like adults are. The average child is the most concerned with making friends, playing games, and having fun in their life. Because of this, bilingual children have an easier opportunity to celebrate and enjoy differences instead of shying away from them. This is an attitude that they will learn to embrace throughout their lives. 

4. Easier to participate in exchange programs

If you attend a bilingual school, chances are that there will be opportunities to study abroad and participate in an exchange program. Even at a monolingual school, public or private, there may also be opportunities for a foreign exchange program, but the spots for the trip are generally limited. 

In bigger schools, there are only a certain number of places, but many children that are interested. When it comes down to it, the details matter. Speaking a second language will be an advantage over the rest of the crowd.

At the university level, many undergraduate courses are only taught in one language. By choosing to study abroad in a country where you speak the language, you’ll be eligible for scholarships and will be able to have an amazing experience while taking care of your degree. 

If you ever want to prepare your child for the opportunity to study abroad whether in a small group, in the high school level, or in university level, bilingual education is a great way to prepare.

5. Beneficial for your travels

Being bilingual is a huge advantage when it comes to traveling. 

If you go to a place where you speak the local language, the locals will generally be a bit more friendly. By speaking the local language, you’re already showing interest in their culture, so the people automatically feel appreciated and more understood. 

It’s an exciting time to get to chat with locals about all of their favorite places to visit in their country, where to find the best food, the coolest local events, and advice for what not to do while you’re visiting. 

6. It’s easier for a child to learn a second language

Children’s brains are at their peak capacity for learning and develop the quickest when they are young. Being exposed to a language at an early stage in life will help children absorb complex information at an easier rate. 

Learning one language is a difficult task, but learning two languages at the same time coincide with each other because it is the same process. 

While adults learning a second language may feel pressured to speak perfectly or feel embarrassment due to accents and making mistakes, children are the opposite. When children are learning any language, they will make mistakes and easily learn from them.  Children generally feel less pressure to perform when learning a second language and also do not experience the same type of embarrassment when making a mistake. 

7. Learning one new language makes it easier to learn more

Once children begin learning a second language, the language development part of their brain strengthens. 

Their brain is trained to recognize patterns in more than one way. Sentence structures, vocabulary, subject verb agreement, etc. are just a few patterns that children will have to pick up on to learn a second language. 

If your child wants to learn a third language in the future, starting with a second language will make this a faster process. Once their brain has adapted to this type of learning, it makes it much easier to go through the process again in the future. It’s much easier for someone to learn a third language once they know a second. 

Cons of Bilingual Education

1. Learning specific content can be extremely difficult

For younger children, although it is the best time for them to learn, they can experience second-language difficulties starting off. 

When things are new, they are especially difficult. New concepts in a new language can bring stress to young students who just want to communicate with their friends, teachers, and peers. 

2. Education in a second language can be inconsistent 

If you live in an area that has a school offering bilingual education, chances are that that school has an age limit. 

Some bilingual schools are for kindergarten, elementary, and middle school, but then do not have a high school program. And on the reverse side, some schools only offer bilingual education to high schoolers. 

Because of this type of inconsistency in the school system, children may lose some of their bilingual skills due to the lack of usage. Although a bilingual education is a great advantage, if your child never uses their second language after finishing a certain school level, it might be forgotten.

3. A bilingual education is not cheap

Foreign language programs are not the cheapest form of education. 

Arts and language programs are being cut around the nation due to high costs. Many schools have to focus on monolingual curriculum unless a second language is mandated by the state. 

On top of that, any extra curricular language learning activities will most likely come at some expense. Although it is a valuable skill that will be worth it in the end, it’s important to consider the costs at the beginning. 

4. There may be a lack of qualified teachers and assistants

For bilingual education to succeed, it has to provide children with quality exposure. This quality of exposure can only be found in teachers and teaching assistants who are fully fluent in both languages being taught and have adequate teaching experience. 

Although it could be a great opportunity for a non-fluent teacher or teaching assistant to improve their language skills, it would not necessarily be a fully immersive experience for the students. The demand for quality teachers around the nation is always high and finding quality teachers at a monolingual school is difficult enough. 

Having a fluent second language is a big requirement and can be hard for some schools to find the talent among the other qualities and skills needed to be a successful teacher. Not everyone who speaks two languages fluently possess the knowledge, skills, and patience to be a teacher and fit into a culture that embraces fast paced development.  

5. Bilingual education can shift a student’s focus

In a standard bilingual school, the language learning is split roughly 50/50 throughout the day. If a child is having trouble learning and using their second language, they can fall behind in other subjects or lose interest in language learning. 

Although this isn’t too common, the only way to improve the minority language is through practice. More practice requires more time focusing on the language and less time focusing on other extracurricular activities throughout the day like art, music, sports, workshop, etc.

If a child feels like they are missing out on “fun” activities throughout the day, they might have a shift in their focus. They may start focusing negatively on what they are missing out on instead of on what they can to gain with more practice. 

6. It prevents student involvement in local culture

If a young child is learning two languages and two cultures at the same time, they may have a hard time “fitting in” with people who don’t have the same cultural interests. 

Of course, making friends in class will be easy, but there may be a culture gap with monolingual children at first simply because they have different routines, communication styles, and ways of processing information. This is a unique extreme, but can be an isolating situation for children who are adjusting to people who only have one language and one culture.

7. It comes with preconceived ideas 

Bilingualism and learning about other cultures can be associated with a touchy subject: immigration. Some communities have a negative view on the structure of bilingual schools. Some see it as a way that immigrants can avoid adapting to the new culture that they live in. 

This is certainly a challenge that must be known and must not heavily impact your decision of bilingual education. There is no way to please everyone in any circumstance, and bilingual education, although extremely beneficial, is no different. 

Our Conclusion: Why Bilingual Education is Important

Although there is an equal amount of pros and cons on this list, the benefits of bilingual education greatly outweigh the disadvantages. 

Bilingual education can be something difficult to begin with, but it is one of the most important things that you can do to prepare your child for the future. Considering the quick rate of globalization, the benefits of knowing a second language will be even more significant in the near future. 

For the next generation, this will be a highly sought after skill and may even be considered more of a standard. As learning a language is much easier for children, it makes sense to adopt a bilingual education program from an early age – just be sure to continue bilingual education efforts outside of and after school.

Simple Ways to Learn a Second Language at Home

Get resources and tips to help supplement your bilingual education journey at home.

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