Bilingual Education: Elitist Fad or Important Breakthrough?

Sasha Brown-Worsham
12

Did it all start with Dora the Explorer? Suddenly everyone wants a bilingual kid.

I read this article in The New York Times about New York City-based parents who insist on hiring foreign language-speaking nannies with a bit of trepidation.

I believe in bilingual education and am paying quite a bit to have my children attend a bilingual (Spanish) preschool three days a week, which we couldn't be happier with, but I don't often tell people this.

Why?

Because I'm afraid I will sound like the parents in this article: Privileged, snotty, hoping to get a leg up on my child's kindergarten admissions. I'm none of these things. But I do think learning another language at a young age is pretty groovy.

Typically, I shy away from doing the thing that is most trendy with my children and this Times article was pretty fair and balanced in terms of weighing out both the pros and cons to bilingual education.

Pros:

  • Children learn another language, which is useful just in itself.
  • It opens them up to learning third and fourth languages as well.
  • They show better development in the prefrontal cortex, which controls executive decision making.
  • They have a wider vocabulary overall (in both languages together).

Cons:

  • Children show slower development of vocabulary when they are learning to speak.
  • They take longer to use their words since they have more to draw upon.
  • Though they can be advanced in math and science because of "flexible thinking," more simple tasks, like the alphabet, may prove more difficult.
  • It is unclear just how "bilingual" a child can be without at least one parent who also speaks the language.

In the end, it's kind of a wash. These parents in the article came off sounding elitist and silly, but I have to say I support the basic principle.

Do you think bilingual education is an elitist fad?

 

Image via Tilemahos Efthimiadis/Flickr

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