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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family
Becoming Teacher to My Bilingual Children
I came to the United States from Ecuador when I was 16. I arrived on a Friday and started my junior year of high school the following Monday. The short adaptation period was not the most difficult part of this experience, however. The hardest part was that my command of English was basic at best. I knew only a few sentences to introduce myself. Since we were only supposed to be in the U.S. for two years, I needed to graduate with my class so I could start college back home with the rest of my peers. It was decided that English as a Second Language classes would delay my graduation time, so I was mainstreamed to regular classes. The first class I walked into was 11th grade English: British Literature.
The first year was incredibly difficult, but I had wonderfully patient teachers. By my senior year I was taking Advanced Placement classes and doing as well on AP exams as my classmates. I have to admit, however, that I had an advantage: English was my third language. Before I came to the U.S. I had attended a French/Spanish immersion school since preschool. Soaking up two languages day after day made learning a third one much easier. My brain was conditioned to the necessary skills for understanding, speaking, and assimilating a new language.
My experiences learning French and later English intuitively taught me what has also been supported by education research: one of the best ways to learn a new language is to be immersed in it. It is the fastest way, for sure. I think I was able to learn English so quickly because I was forced to speak it, write it, and read it in subject areas beyond English class for the whole school day. Immersion works: we've been raising our children to be bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish, from the time they were infants and their skills in both languages are flourishing.
When it came time to select a school for my daughter, Isabel, adopted domestically, we faced a dilemma. Ideally we would have loved for her to attend an immersion school in Spanish and English so she could continue learning both languages away from home. Unfortunately, there isn't one in our town. So what to do? If we sent her to a regular school she would spend several hours a day immersed in English, becoming more proficient in it each day. The time I would spend with her in the evening at home would not be enough to teach her, in Spanish, the same concepts she learned in English during the day.
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