Episode 88: Q&A – Will my child fall behind academically if he attends a language school?

Will my child be behind academically in (2)

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I check in with a mother who is concerned that her son may fall behind in Kindergarten if he attends a Spanish only preschool.  I describe the different concepts that her child will likely be exposed to in preschool and assure her that many of them will be skills that he can transfer regardless of what language is being used for the instruction.  For the skills that are language specific, I give her ideas on how she can incorporate them at home.  I also share some ideas on how she can partner up with her child’s teacher to make sure she is able to help her son with the transition.

Transcript #88

Hey there and welcome to another Question and Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast!

If you like what you hear, you can check out the podcast every week by subscribing on iTunes or Stitcher Radio.

Also, if you are on Facebook, come join us at the Bilingual Avenue community page.  We would love to have you there, meet other multilingual families and share your wins on your language journey.

Alright, let me read you the question that came in via email.  I shortened just a bit just for the purposes of the podcast.

Question: Let me start by saying that I am so happy I found you and your podcast! I congratulate you for your effort as this topic, it is fantastic. You have a listener for life here!

 On my way to work today, I listened to episode 65 with Berenice Pernalete and it was fantastic. As a fellow immigrant who moved to the US at age 12, I totally identified myself with her experience.

 Now many years later, I live in LA with my husband and 22 month old son. As he is starting to talk more and more each day, we really struggle with teaching him Spanish.  My husband and I speak 90% of the time in English and we also speak in English to him. Our son is going to a daycare that is only in English although there is some Spanish throwing in by some of the staff. As we start thinking about preschool in the next few months, I found this school that offers a Spanish Immersion program. 

 Now this is my question and concern, if he starts learning everything in Spanish until he goes to kindergarten, wouldn’t he fall behind on an academic level in English if he goes to an all Spanish Kindergarten school? I really want him to be fully bilingual but since we live in the US I don’t want him to fall behind academically because he is trying to learn English. Any feedback on this topic will be greatly appreciated. 


Well thank you Melanie for sending in your question and for allowing me to share it with the Bilingual Avenue community.  I will also pass on to Berenice how helpful you found her episode.

Let’s chat about your very valid concern.  Essentially, what you are saying is that although you are providing your child with a great opportunity to gain exposure in your target language, you are concerned that this may come back later to hinder his ability to keep up in an English only academic setting.

Based on your question, you are indicating that the first academic exposure that your child will have in English is when he enters Kindergarten.  This is actually a very natural point for many children to be introduced to the community language around the world. .  Most parents that are implementing a minority language at home policy leverage Kindergarten as the gateway.

Let me give you a short answer and then a much more detailed answer.

Short answer is that based on a few elements (such as your child’s personality, his teacher, the classroom environment, his peers), the speed in which your child “catches up” in English will vary.  However, with the right amount of exposure and rich English input from his classroom you will likely be surprised at just how quickly he is able to adapt to the new environment around him.  It seems like a really big obstacle right now and it may be a tough transition when the time comes but it is something that he will overcome.

Depending on your district and specifically your school, there may actually be personnel and resources dedicated to support dual language learners.  Sometime this is presented in the form of an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom where every child in the class is transitioning to English.  This applies in other countries as well where children are transitioning to a community language, in some cases, they may have additional support.  Other schools will place the dual language learners in a regular English only classroom and have staff come in just to help the student make the transition.  Either way, you may find that your school is prepared to handle this language shift that your son will have to do and it may not be as big of a deal as you think right now.

What is working for you is that in preschool and kindergarten, your child will still be learning many concepts that are transferable from one language to the other.  The foundation for literacy, for example, is still very much in the early stages so it will actually be much easier to transfer those concepts now than in the later academic years.  I know it feels like a daunting task but trust me that if he is exhibiting normal development, with the right support, he will be able to catch up in his language skills and achieve grade level expectations in the new community language.

Now let me give you a more in depth answer and give you more piece of mind.

Let’s break down what you may expect from a typical course of study for preschool and kindergarten so you have an idea of what your son will be working on before and after he enters the academic environment in the community language

You mentioned that your son will be going to a preschool in Spanish.  He will obviously get lots of Spanish exposure and will start his pre-literacy skills in that language.  However, I think you will be pleasantly surprised to hear that the large majority of the content that is covered in a preschool setting can be transferred with ease between the languages.

For example, in the preschool curriculum when it comes to math, your child will be working on:

  • Number Sense which is essentially that a number represents a quantity
  • Measurement – some objects are heavier than others or longer or shorter etc
  • Spatial Relationships

All things that can be transferred easily from one language to the other.

Another great area of emphasis during the preschool years is social and emotional development.  So what does that mean? Well some examples of this would be:

  • Showing empathy for others
  • Taking turns
  • Learning to resolve peer conflicts
  • Maintaining self-control
  • Developing relationships with peers

Again, things where language will not be such a big obstacles.  Now what about language arts skills?  Well even here, some of the concepts that will be presented to him can be mastered without the actual language choice interfering all that much.

For example, some of the concepts that will be taught to him are:

  • Showing motivation for reading
  • Connecting written to spoken words
  • Recognize that letters form words and words form a sentence

Now here is the elephant in the room which is of course the fact that there will be a big chunk of the language arts curriculum that will be taught to him in Spanish yet he will need to eventually learn it in English once he starts kindergarten.  In this case, I am referring to skills such as:

  • Recognizing and naming letters
  • Reciting the alphabet
  • Replicating the sounds of the letters of the alphabet
  • Blending letters together
  • Knowing the parts of a book and their functions

Like many other multilingual children, your son will require support in both English and Spanish if you want him to acquire those skills in both languages.

My suggestion is that you essentially partner up with your child’s teacher and become a team during what I like to call the transition period.   Family members can be a huge help when fostering a child’s learning.  Here are some ideas for you on how to work together during this period:

  • Open the line of communication right away with your child’s teacher.
  • Let him or her know about your child’s preschool experience and about your concerns.
  • Offer to volunteer in the classroom. This will allow you to see how the instruction is conducted inside the classroom and will give your son some comfort.  You then may be able to replicate how the instruction is conducted in a smaller way but at home.
  • Keep reinforcing those concepts that can be transferred from English to Spanish like an appreciation for reading in your home. You can create an appreciation for reading in the home and you will be surprised what a positive impact that can have on our little ones.
  • Ask your teacher about his progress and for potential areas where he may need some support.
  • Inquire about how he may receive additional support from the school’s staff to aid his transition.
  • And keep in mind that under no circumstances should you listen to anyone who tells you that you should drop Spanish to make the transition to English easier! Promise me that!

If you need more ideas on how to help your transition to the community language for your son without the exposure coming from you, provided that you start feeling more comfortable speaking to your son in Spanish, you can also check out episode 40 at bilingualavenue.com/episode40

Well Melanie, I hope this information is helpful. I think in many ways you can consider yourself lucky in that you have a program near you that can provide your son with so much valuable exposure in the heritage language.

Don’t let the transition to Kindergarten hold you back.  It will be rough at first but it is certainly something that you and your son will overcome.  Before you know it, the tables will be flipped on you and you will be working on Spanish exposure and vocabulary instead of English.

For everyone else, I hope you found the answer helpful.

If you have a question of your own that you would like to see answered on the show, just head over to bilingualavenue.com/contact and send me your concern.  You can also send me a tweet or a message via Facebook.  We are always looking for more topics to share with the Bilingual Avenue community.

May you have fun travel son your language journey.  Hope to see you again on the avenue.


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Comments 1

  1. Pingback: Q&A: Minority language at home - what happens when the child starts school in the majority language?

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