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En Español: The importance of dual-language programs

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Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

La educación bilingüe a través de los programas de inmersión dual

En los últimos años, nuevos programas de inmersión dual han sido implementados en Iowa. Los beneficios de la educación dual son abrumadores, y son muchos los distritos que han puesto sus ojos en el desarrollo de modelos bilingües como este.

Existen diferentes tipos de programas de inmersión dual, pero los más comunes son aquellos en los que aproximadamente la lengua nativa de la mitad de los estudiantes es el inglés y aprenden español como segunda lengua, y la otra mitad de estudiantes habla español en casa y aprende inglés en la escuela.

Estos programas son especialmente beneficiosos porque, por una parte, los estudiantes que hablan español en casa tienen la oportunidad de aprender inglés al tiempo que conservan su primera lengua, indispensable para que muchos puedan comunicarse con su familia. Es decir, los estudiantes pueden así mantener no solo sus lazos culturales, sino también sus lazos lingüísticos. Además, los programas duales han demostrado ser los más efectivos para que los hablantes de español aprendan inglés progresivamente.

Los datos no dejan lugar a dudas: aquellos estudiantes que aprenden inglés como segunda lengua en programas duales obtienen iguales o mejores resultados académicos en inglés cuando llegan al high school, y al mismo tiempo dominan a la perfección el español. Por su parte, los estudiantes que hablan inglés en casa tienen la oportunidad de desarrollar una segunda lengua que aunque a menudo es tachada como extrajera, está cada vez más viva y presente en muchas comunidades del Midwest. ¡Un buen ejemplo es este artículo!

Además, dominar el español es una herramienta cada vez más importante y los estudiantes que dominan el español y el inglés tienen más facilidades para conseguir buenas oportunidades laborales a largo plazo. Pero hay un aspecto incluso más importante que todo lo anterior: ambos, hablantes nativos de español y hablantes nativos de inglés, crecen en un ambiente inclusivo y cada vez menos discriminatorio. Un ambiente básico y necesario que otros programas a duras penas consiguen.

Eso sí, los resultados no aparecen de un día para otro. Los estudios enfatizan que es esencial dar continuidad a los programas duales. En parte, porque entender y valorar diferentes culturas lleva tiempo, y también porque el periodo de aprendizaje de una lengua en programas como estos precisa de entre seis y ocho años.

No en vano, son muchas las voces que reúsan aventurarse en la educación bilingüe. Estas voces se fundamentan en argumentos que han sido desmitificados en las últimas décadas en el campo de la sociolingüística y de la psicología cognitiva. Algunos de estos mitos son que aprender dos lenguas al mismo tiempo confunde al niño y reduce su capacidad cognitiva. Otros opinan que una mayor exposición al idioma garantiza mejores resultados, o que la educación bilingüe no es eficaz y ralentiza el rendimiento académico de los alumnos. Sin embargo, todos estos mitos han sido desmentidos a partir de los resultados obtenidos en numerosos estudios científicos.

Denison, Marshalltown, Sioux City, Waterloo, West Des Moines y West Liberty ya tienen programas duales. ¿Será Iowa City el próximo?

Cabe recordar que cuando un programa dual es implementado, no toda la población estudiantil tiene que participar en él. Es frecuente encontrar programas duales en las mismas escuelas en las cuales también se desarrollan programas tradicionales—aquellos programas en los que todas las materias son impartidas en inglés.

¿Qué piensa usted? ¿Le gustaría tener un programa dual en su comunidad?

Bilingual education in dual language immersion programs

Written and translated by Alejandro Perez

During the last few years, new dual language immersion programs have been implemented in Iowa. The benefits of dual-language education are many, and various school districts are now considering the development of bilingual models like this.

There are different kinds of dual-language immersion programs, but the most common are those in which approximately half of the student body speaks English as their first language and Spanish as their second language, and the remaining 50 percent of students speak Spanish at home and learn English at school.

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These programs are especially beneficial because students speaking Spanish at home have the opportunity to learn English at the same time as they preserve their home language, which is essential for many of them to satisfactorily communicate with their family. That is, students can preserve not only their cultural heritage, but also their linguistic connection to their culture. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that dual-language programs are the most effective programs for Spanish speakers to gradually learn English. We cannot ignore the data: Students learning English in dual-language programs obtain the same or better results in English by the time they attend high school, and they are able to use Spanish perfectly as well.

On the other hand, students speaking English at home have the opportunity to develop Spanish as a second language, a language that is often perceived as foreign, but that is alive and well-represented in many linguistic communities of the Midwest. A good example is this article!

Also, mastering Spanish is becoming more important, and students who learn a second language have better chances of finding good job opportunities in the long term. But there is an even more critical reason: Both Spanish native speakers and English native speakers grow up in a more inclusive and less segregated environment. This is a much-needed space that other programs struggle to create.

But, of course, one should not expect results overnight. Studies emphasize that it is imperative to continue nurturing dual-language programs, in part, because valuing and understanding different cultures takes time, and also because the language learning process in these types of programs takes six to eight years.

Yet, there are many who refuse to undertake bilingual education. Those rejecting bilingual education use reasons grounded in ideas that have been debunked in the last decades in the fields of sociolinguistics and cognitive psychology. Some of these myths are that learning two languages simultaneously confuses children and their cognitive abilities decrease. Others believe that having a greater exposure to English produces better results, or that bilingual education is not efficient and hinders students’ academic performance. Nonetheless, all these myths have been challenged and contradicted throughout numerous research studies.

Denison, Marshalltown, Sioux City, Waterloo, West Des Moines and West Liberty already have dual-language programs. Will Iowa City be next?

It is important to highlight that not everyone has to participate in the dual-language program. These programs may be implemented using a school-wide format or as a strand within a building with classrooms offering dual-language programming while the remaining classrooms follow a traditional English-only model.

What do you think? Would you like to have a dual-language program in your community?

Alejandro Perez is a Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa who advocates for bilingual education, and a former elementary school teacher in West Liberty. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 274.


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