Episode 84: Q&A – Language schools models and will my child be able to learn the community language?

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On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I describe the different types of language school models available to parents including two way immersion, submersion and transitional programs.  I also answer a mother’s concern of whether her child will be able to learn the community language and give her strategies to ensure that he has plenty of exposure in that language.

Transcript #84 

Hey there and welcome to another edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.

Have you checked out our newest sponsor yet, Gus on the Go?

It’s an excellent language app for little linguists!  We use it at home to support our target languages and it is coming particularly handy in German.  My level of German is fairly limited so I am always looking for ways to give our daughter more exposure.  Gus on the Go is perfect for that!  With 10 different lessons and 89 different words all very clearly spoken by a native speaker, this app helps me bridge that gap.  So if you need a boost for language exposure, you may find this tool really helpful.

If you want to learn more about it, head over to gusonthego.com/bilingualavenue. You’ll find a special gift just for our listeners, a memory game available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and a blank version so that you can fill it in, however, you’d like.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Alright, let me read you the question that came in via email.


 I ran into your website today after someone had posted one of your podcast on Facebook.   I too am raising my kids bilingual, and like you came to US when my parents moved.  My daughter is almost school age, and I am wondering if I should consider a Spanish immersion school.  I have heard that the ideal program is the 50/50 model where Spanish and English are each spoken half of the day so that students truly learn both languages.   I have two concerns, 1) is 5th grade too late to start learning English (in an English speaking country) and 2) does a heavy Hispanic are area affect the children’s ability to learn English (again in an English speaking country).  

 I would love to your know your thoughts and/or if you have had any experience with this. 


Thank you Analia for your question and for allowing me to share it with the Bilingual Avenue community.  I really hope you find the Bilingual Avenue podcasts helpful on your language journey and I am excited that you found out about it today.  My answer to your question is pretty long so I tried to break it up into a few sections so that it is easier to follow.

Let’s start talking about language schools and my thoughts behind those.  I am personally a big supporter of language schools for parents that have set as a goal to raise bilingual children.  My reasoning behind that recommendation is twofold.  First, if your child is going to spend a lot of time in school, which they will once they enter school and in some cases, they are going spend the majority of their day there, then they can be very productive. We are always looking for ways to increase exposure to the target language and so what better way than to infuse it right in the place where they will be spending a majority of their weekdays.

The second reason is that by integrating language into the school environment you are also broadening the type of exposure that your child is receiving for the language.  For example, there is a strong likelihood that they will be exposed to many academic terms that may not come up in your daily interactions with your children.  Therefore, the school instruction can provide a greater variety in your child’s vocabulary.

With that being said, the option of enrolling in a language school is not always possible.  In some cases, there are no language schools in the community while in other cases it is simply too cost prohibitive.  However, it sounds like there may be an opportunity for your child to attend a language school so I say, go for it!

Now let’s talk about the different types of school and choices that you may have.

 Two way immersion, like you mentioned, is a dual language schooling format where students receive 50% of their instruction in one language and 50% in a second language.  That is sort of the standard.  There are some models that start with a 90-10 and that 90 is conducted in the language where the child feels more comfortable.  Then as time goes on, the 90 goes down, the 10 goes up until you reach the 50/50 balance.

Now in a perfect world, the classroom itself would have a balanced number of native speakers of the two languages.  This allows the students to model their language skills at different times through the day, through the week and really the school year. In your case, you are talking English and Spanish, if you are doing 50/50, when instruction is conducted in Spanish, the Spanish dominant children can model for their peers.  Then vice versa, when instruction is conducted in English, the dominant English students can model for their other peers.

It is very difficult to achieve the balanced numbers though but some schools are able to do so.  Even if you are not able to find a school that has a 50/50 model, these models in general tend to be pretty good so do not rule it out if you are not able to find the perfect balance.  Some schools carry on this model all the way through Grade 12 while others transition to other formats much earlier in the academic experience, maybe 5th grade.

I personally taught for a few years in a two way immersion setting and saw great results.  I felt that my students got a lot of support in the language they felt comfortable which then allowed them to transfer many of the concepts they were learning in one language to the other.

On a previous episode, episode 65 of the podcast, I had Berenice Pernalete, a Biliteracy Instructional Guide, and she described to us the more common language school formats.  You may want to check that out if you want to get a little bit more context as to what she prefers and what she has seen that works really well in the classroom.   In addition, to the two way immersion model, on that episode we talked about the submersion model and transitional model.

You can get a lot more detail about these models on that episode but just for context, a submersion model is a type of instruction where learners attend a regular monolingual school and receive dual language support services so they can transition to the community language.  Again, you said you are in a country that speaks English so the instruction would all be done in English but those students who are coming from homes where more than one language is spoken, may get additional support.

Sometimes that support is from staff that comes into the classroom and helps the child integrate into the overall conversation.  Sometimes the students are pulled out of the classroom and they receive more one on one interactions with another staff member.  It really sort of depends on the school.  This is mostly for students who are not yet fluent in the community language.

Also on that episode, we talked about the transitional model.  In this model, students receive instruction in their home language for 50% of the time for approximately three years. Once they acquire enough social words in the community language, they start exiting the program.  Some of them have early exit usually about three years.  Others go into a much later exit.  You are typically going to find that after three years that child is moving from one classroom to the other.

Now I know I just gave you a whole lot of information on the different types of schools.  That may be relevant for some of you but maybe not for all.  But if you are deciding between schools and which one you want your child to attend, it is worth taking the time to find out what the different models are.  Of course, I always encourage parents to visit schools and meet with the staff before you make your decision.  It is important to get informed if you can and if you are going to make this choice.

Now let’s move on to your specific questions –

You asked: Is 5th grade too late to start learning English?

 No, it’s not too late! I always reference myself as an example.  I did not learn English until I was half way through eighth grade.  Many children are able to pick up a second and a third language well into their late childhood years.  The key to learning the language is two things 1) exposure to the language and 2) the need to use the language.  I have said that a lot and it really is what it comes down.  When you want to break it down to the simplest concepts of language learning, you have to have exposure and you have to have a need.

If you can create enough exposure to English, then your child will gain the vocabulary to communicate in English.   If you can create the need to use the language, which I do not think you will have any trouble creating because you mentioned that you already live in an English speaking country, then your child will be fine. These two elements are really important despite of what age you start learning a language.  It is just as relevant as it is for children as it is for adults trying to learn a language later in life.

You also asked: “Does a heavy Hispanic area affect the children’s ability to learn English?”

 The answer to the question is similar to the one that I just answered.  If all your child hears is Spanish all day every day, yes it can affect his or her ability to learn English.  However, if you are able to still provide exposure outside of just where you live it may not play such a big role.  For example, you can still attend a community library for story time. You can still enroll your child in sports in your community or even a different community if you want them to hear more English. You can still provide that exposure and if you need ideas on how to create exposure, there is an episode I would like to reference, that is episode 12.  That episode will give you some pointers as to how you can create that exposure. You can take a look, find what works for you, find what your child is interested and then just get things started.  I also have a transcript for that episode if you’d like and you can find that at bilingualavenue.com/episode12

Alright Analia, I hope you found this episode helpful. Today we talked about the different type of bilingual models. I told you my personal experience working in a two way immersion program since that seems to be the one that you are considering.   I reassured you that 5th grade is not too late to learn English especially since you live in a country that speaks English. And then I did talk about the impact that your immediate neighborhood may have if only Spanish is spoken but I also provided you with some ideas as to how you can still influence additional English exposure.

I hope this was helpful for you.  Thank you for sharing your concerns and I hope others in a similar experience have a take away from this episode

If you like what you heard today, consider subscribing to the podcast on iTunes.  You can also share information about the podcast with other multilingual families so that they can also benefit from the information on the show.

You can also find a transcript of this episode at bilingualavenue.com/episode84 in case there is anything that we cover today that you would like to revisit again from today’s episode, you can find the breakdown on that page.

May you have fun travels on your language journey.  Hope to see you again on the Avenue.


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