Bilingual schools and bilingual preschools are on the rise, offering students a unique approach to learning beyond just learning a second language. Since the 1970s, research has shown that learning in two languages opens the door to many benefits, including enhanced cognitive development, improved problem-solving skills, and increased cultural awareness. To understand why bilingual schools are on the rise, let us look at how bilingual schools work.
What is a bilingual school?
In simple terms, in bilingual schools, students are taught in two languages. The aim of bilingual schools is for students to become proficient in both languages. Bilingual schools differ from traditional schools in that they do not primarily teach a second language as a subject. However, instead, students learn both languages as their primary languages and integrate the languages into all aspects of their education. Bilingual education gives students more extensive language skills and the ability to communicate effectively in different cultural settings. It also promotes cultural diversity and understanding, exposing students to different cultures and ways of thinking. Another purpose of bilingual schools is to reap the cognitive benefits of bilingual education.
What are the advantages of bilingual schools?
Aside from developing greater cultural and language skills, bilingual education provides students with many cognitive benefits, such as better problem-solving skills, multitasking, and a more remarkable ability to focus. Those benefits occur due to the unique demands of bilingual education, which requires students to switch between languages, think in two languages, and compare and contrast different concepts and ideas from different nations’ curricula. By engaging in these activities, students expand their perspectives and are better equipped to approach problems from multiple angles, leading to more effective and creative problem-solving.
What are the disadvantages of bilingual schools?
The disadvantage of bilingual education is that it is a long-term journey. The benefits do appear in preschool-age students but, according to research, become most apparent by 6th or 8th grade when bilingual students often perform significantly better than their monolingual peers in subjects such as English, Math, and Science.
Examples of Different Curriculums Used in Bilingual Schools
The specific curriculum used in a bilingual school will depend on the school’s goals, the student’s needs, and the resources available. These are just a few examples of the different country-specific accredited curriculums used in a bilingual school that define the standards of the school:
- American Curriculum – Many bilingual schools in countries outside and inside the United States use the American curriculum, which is based on the Common Core standards and focuses on English language arts, math, science, and social studies.
- National Curriculum – Bilingual schools may also use the national curriculum of that country, which is typically designed to meet the educational needs of students in that specific location.
- Mixed Curriculum – Some bilingual schools may use a combination of different curricula, such as a mix of the national curriculum and the American curriculum.
At The French American Academy, a mixed curriculum approach incorporates the standards of both French and American educational authorities. Using a mixed curriculum allows students to meet the highest requirements of both curricula in the classroom.
Different Language Immersion Techniques in Bilingual Schools
Language immersion is a language learning technique in which learners are fully immersed in the target language. Learners are surrounded by the language they are learning and might receive instruction, communication, and feedback in that language. Bilingual schools may use a combination of these immersion techniques or tailor them to the specific needs of their students. Examples of language immersion techniques include:
- Typically 70-100% of the day is spent immersed in the target language.
- All or most academic subjects taught in the target language
- The goal is to teach through the target language rather than studying the language itself as a subject
- The amount of time immersed in the target language varies by school; the most typical model is 50/50
- Class time is shared between the student’s primary language (usually English) and the target language.
- Each program is unique, but some schools will split topics by language (for example, math and science in the target language, language arts and social studies in English)
- Immersing students in a target language which may involve starting with full immersion and gradually adding more of the second language as they advance in grades until partial immersion is achieved.
At the French American Academy, full immersion with 80% of instruction in French is used at the preschool levels. Gradually, more English is added until it reaches a ratio of 45% English and 55% French in fifth grade. Along with full and partial immersion, the FAA also implements co-teaching classes, which begin in preschool and continue through middle school. In these classes, a native French and a native English teacher co-teach together in the classroom.
The Advantages & Value of Bilingual Education
It is not surprising that bilingual schools are gaining popularity. In today’s increasingly globalized world, the advantages of bilingual education are undeniable. With the right curriculum and language immersion techniques, bilingual schools provide students with a unique learning approach beyond simply learning a second language. By teaching students in two languages, bilingual schools promote cognitive development, enhance problem-solving skills, and foster cultural awareness. The ability to communicate effectively in different cultural settings has become more critical than ever before, making bilingual education a valuable investment in the future of our students.
Sotoca Sienes, E., & Muñoz Hueso, A. C. (2015). The impact of bilingual education on academic achievement of students enrolled in public schools in the autonomous Community of Madrid. Journal of Education Research, 9(1).
Yang E. (2017). Bilinguals’ Working Memory (WM) Advantage and Their Dual Language Practices. Brain sciences, 7(7), 86. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci7070086