Thanks to our partners at Escuela Bilingüe Internacional (EBI), a bilingual PK-8 International Baccalaureate (IB) Spanish-English immersion school in Oakland, for helping 510families develop a helpful reference for parents hoping to raise their children bilingual. From reasons why to how to start, we hope you find a lot of useful information.
Our guest expert today is Beatrice V. Balfour, PhD., the PK-1st Grade Principal at EBI. Beatrice herself was raised in Italy and is multilingual.
Three Advantages of Raising a Bilingual Child
Many parents wonder whether young ones’ academic development will be impeded by learning a second language. Quite the contrary, research tells us there are significant advantages in raising a bilingual or multilingual child. Three key advantages to raising a bilingual child are linguistic, cognitive, and cultural development.
While the dominant language acquisition (learning to speak and read) is sometimes slower, many of the pre-literacy skills in one language can be learned and reinforced in the other, therefore strengthening the learning for the children. Bilingualism has shown positive neurological impacts such as improving working memory and the ability to follow instructions (¡excelente!). Bilingual kids can even become better at flexible thinking and resolving conflict.
There’s an additional benefit for children in multi-lingual environments. When home- or school-life happens in two languages, children aren’t just ‘learning’ a language but instead, they are learning ‘in’ a language, and these two things are very different. When kids learn in an immersive way — think bilingual school, parent speaks in more than one language, or living abroad — their cultural awareness increases creating a more nuanced appreciation of our global community (¡Fantástico!).
“As a child of Indian immigrants, I was exposed to several languages since birth and believe it has been helpful to my personal growth, confidence, and development. Additionally, we wanted the option to live abroad for a period of time, and comfort with a language was a gateway to that goal. As language appears to be much easier to grasp early on, we were committed to prioritizing bilingual education.” ~ Anagha, EBI parent for preschool & middle school
How to Build in Bilingual Habits for Every Family
Whether you’re able to begin speaking Spanish to your baby or Mandarin with your toddler, there are several entry-points to the road toward bilingualism and it will look different in each family. When exposing children to language, the focus should be on intentionality. Whether a native speaker or not, there are a variety of resources available and small changes to be made to help with the introduction of new cultures.
- Libraries. Our public libraries have children’s literature sections with books in a variety of languages. Whether one is searching for picture books or longer stories, there is a good selection of books, and often music and movies, that families can access.
- Music. Making simple switches like playing/singing children’s songs and lullabies in another language is also another great way to begin language exposure. Find a music class for toddlers in another language >
- Events & Celebrations. Searching for community events for children in the target language not only increases language exposure but finds other families who are making the same efforts.
- EBI Spanish Storytime. EBI’s Community Programs are a wonderful way to engage with activities such as our monthly Spanish storytime led by one of our pre-kinder teachers. Currently, we hold it virtually on the first Saturday of the month. We look forward to gathering together again when possible. Check the EBI calendar to find appropriate events.
Bilingual Resources for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
For just a taste of a second language, read some early picture books together or join a music class in Spanish or Mandarin. Did you know that you can switch the language on lots of cartoons? We know a family where English-speaking parents changed their kids’ cartoons on Netflix to Mandarin.
To go a giant step deeper with a new language, immerse yourself by finding a caregiver or preschool in a second language. EBI starts its Primary Years Programme (PYP) as early as age 3 and, as mentioned above, hosts Spanish storytime for preschoolers. In pre-kinder, EBI educators communicate exclusively in Spanish with body language, drawings, and facial expressions to support non-native speakers.
Young children can also start enjoying the benefits of different foods and family travel. The East Bay has so many global restaurants our little kids love >
Bilingual Resources for School-aged Children
Elementary-age children can build bilingual fluency in an immersive school environment. At EBI for example, kindergartners and first graders received an hour of instruction in English and the rest of the day’s instruction in Spanish. From second grade onwards, instruction is split 50/50 between English and Spanish. Beginning in third grade, young students begin conversational Mandarin classes, too.
As children grow older, continue to find occasions for sharing in a second or third culture. To enhance language learning, there are loads of other options: summer camps, regular language classes, one-on-one tutoring (or italki), google translate, video games, cultural festivals (check our kid-friendly events calendar and weekend picks!), world music, international cooking classes. At home, we can watch movies and television together in other languages.
Bilingual Resources for Middle School, High School, and Beyond
To build real fluency, teens and adults will want to seek out as immersive an environment as possible. Student exchange programs and international travel are amazing opportunities.
Studies have also shown that learning a second language as an adolescent (11-13 years of age) has many linguistic, cognitive, and cultural benefits as well. To support this, in the Fall of 2020, EBI said “Bienvenidos” to its first cohort of middle school students with limited to no prior Spanish experience.
While the young brain may be more pliable, it is never too late to start.
“We firmly believe it is never too late to start learning another language!” ~ Beatrice V. Balfour, PhD, the PK-1st Grade Principal at EBI
Learn more about Escuela Bilingüe Internacional
EBI is the only school in the East Bay that is authorized to offer both the Primary Years Program (PYP) and the Middle Years Program (MYP) for the International Baccalaureate (IB) as part of a Spanish-English immersion program. The IB framework focuses on developing internationally-minded young people who are prepared to thrive in a diverse, changing world with character and empathy.
“Being multilingual is no longer just a nice add-on, it is now a prerequisite for success in the global economy. Our language programs, combined with our focus on STEM, Global Arts, and our designated Design lab, truly make this an outstanding opportunity for students” ~ Raquel Vizcaíno, Principal of EBI Middle School
Plan your visit to EBI to see for yourself
Join EBI for one of its many opportunities to get to know the programs better. Sign up for an upcoming information event or tour. They look forward to meeting your family!
Please share other resources for our community in the comments below!
Thanks to our partners at Escuela Bilingüe Internacional (EBI) for helping 510families develop a helpful reference for parents hoping to raise their children bilingual. From reasons why to how to start, we hope you find a lot of useful information.