Ask a Bilingual Expert

Ask a Bilingual Expert

Raising a bilingual child? On this page, our very own Director of Learning Design and Efficacy, Sophia Espinoza, addresses some of the most common questions, concerns, and curiosities around the benefits of bilingualism. Get the scoop below!

Sophia Espinoza is a career educator and curriculum designer with seven years of experience teaching in private and independent schools across the country. She is an expert in 21st-century education, including technologically-powered personalization, multilingual and multicultural curriculums, and social-emotional learning. 

Sophia began teaching in Chicago Public Schools through Chicago Teaching Fellows, learning to support both English Language Learners and students with neurodiverse needs. Among her proudest accomplishments is launching the AltSchool Spanish Immersion Program, with the mission of creating bilingual global citizens who are socially conscious and environmentally aware. Sophia holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and M.A.Ed. from Dominican University.

Benefits of Bilingualism (FAQs):

Yes! When you know two languages, your brain is constantly having to put effort into picking one over the other (they are both ‘active’ at the same time), which makes your brain stronger. It’s a heavy lift! Instead of punishing or embarrassing your child with a correction, model the correct way to say the whole phrase/sentence in one language, giving them the vocabulary they need to say it right the next time. Consistency with this method will lead to things being repeated again and again until they know the words themselves.

  1. Misconception: Learning two languages can be confusing for children.
    Reality: Because the brain activates all the languages a child knows at once, sometimes they speak in a jumbled-sounding way; but this doesn’t mean they are confused, they are simply still developing proficiency in each language

  2. Misconception: It’s easy to learn a second language simply by exposing it to your child.
    Reality: When children enter an English-dominant school, even if they grew up speaking another language, they need significant exposure to it (an estimated 30-40%) to keep proficiency in their native language. That means, even if they come home from school speaking English, don’t give up on speaking your native language in the household!

  3. Misconception: Bilingual children struggle academically.
    Reality: This relates to the first point, which is that children are learning languages simultaneously. They may know a lot, but it is scattered across all their languages, so it might not be so clear if they are given an assessment in just one language. Keep in mind that though things like vocabulary and reading are slow to start, eventually they are much better off because they become proficient in two whole languages.
  1. Start early: Babies’ brains are sponges; Their rapidly forming neural connections allow them to learn everything, including languages, much easier.

  2. Stick with it: If children start to speak their second language instead of their native language at home, don’t give in and start speaking to them in their native language too; keep at it, it will pay off in the end.

  3. Make it Joyful: The best antidote to resistance or lack of motivation around practicing their native language is to make it fun! Pick movies, music, books, and podcasts that they enjoy in that language, so that way the practice is enjoyable

By introducing your child to a second language early, you are giving them the chance to access the cognitive benefits to being bilingual. Research shows that bilingual brains have better executive functioning in the following areas:

  1. Focus
  2. Mental multitasking and self-control
  3. Working memory

Learning a new language goes hand in hand with learning about that language’s culture. It’s an opportunity to tap into the food, customs, stories, and other aspects of culture new to your child. Additionally, children who are bilingual can communicate with more people, bridging a gap between their world and the world of others. Hand in hand these two things create children who, studies have shown, have increased empathy and are better at perspective-taking.

Play-based learning in children aged PreK/K should take the form of pretend play. Pretend play, where prompts and props are used to spark an imaginative game or scenario, are crucial in not only developing social skills but cognitive skills too. When combined with learning a new language, children are eager and excited to communicate in their new vocabulary.

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