Hi, add.a.lingua blog readers. My name is Dana Moeller, and I want to share a bit of our family’s journey into the world of dual language immersion education with you. My husband, Randy, and I have been married for 9 years, and we make our home with our 3 kids north of Holland, Michigan. Two years ago, our oldest son reached school age. Wow. Where did the time go? Who knows, but it was here. And suddenly we had choices!
Picking a School
The choice of school wasn’t hard for us. I was an instructor at Zeeland Christian School (ZCS) before having kids, so I knew how strong their traditional program was. I knew it was a school where the teachers were passionate about God, and therefore the students were, too. God was in this place. Even though we live nearly 25 minutes away, I felt very strongly about choosing ZCS for our kids schooling. So that was decided.
Picking a language?
Suddenly, my world was rocked. I thought choosing the school was always the hard part, but now I had to choose a language? My husband thought the idea of Spanish immersion was great. He didn’t take a language until college, and at that point, it was too late for him to become fluent. His question was, “Why wouldn’t we give the gift of language to our kids?” I, on the other hand thought, “Okay… But! But lots of things: the tradition program rocks. Why would I venture from that? Language is great, BUT why can’t they learn it later?”
What if they learn Spanish and never learn English? What if I can’t help with their homework?? But what if… what if…what if. I was in shambles. I cried…a lot! Although my husband felt strongly about this option, he supported me with whatever decision I made. He never gave up on me while I wrestled over this decision.
Gathering Opinions, and a Conclusion
I talked to different people, secretly hoping they would give me reasons why immersion wouldn’t be a good idea. However, no one could. Nor were they able to tell me it was the right option. Ultimately, what I found was that the choice of a schooling path for our children was ours–as mom and dad–to make.
So our journey began. We enrolled our son in the threeschool Spanish immersion program two mornings a week. This was a huge leap of faith for me. And…he loved it! This was a good thing. He was happy. I was happy. Spanish immersion it was.
Nope! Not so easy. I had a friend of mine ask if I’d ever consider Mandarin for our son. Once again, I wasn’t sure, but Randy was completely on board with this opportunity as well. This time, it wasn’t talking about statistics related to language immersion that helped convince me, but rather watching short video clips of kids that have only been in the program for a year or two. It was a little more stress, a few more tears, but I was sure Mandarin immersion would be well worth pursuing for our kids.
So this year, for 4-year-old preschool, we have enrolled our son into the Spanish immersion morning program, and then Mandarin immersion in the afternoon. And he loves it, all of it! At home he is constantly counting in both languages. He’ll use words from both classes in sentences. He tries to teach his brother and his parents bits and pieces of both. It’s unreal.
Much to my surprise, after doing both Spanish and Mandarin this semester, our son has shown a huge interest in Mandarin. He loves the hands-on learning that his teachers use. He enjoys the repetitious songs. The Mandarin characters don’t intimidate him at all. He has a Chinese name and knows his friends as their Chinese names as well! On my parent help days, I am amazed at his participation as well as the other kids’. The growth of language in these kids, even in a semester, has been unreal to me.
Where does that put me? At ease! I was so worried about helping him with his schooling, but I’ve realized that he takes ownership of his own learning. He’s proud of what he can do himself. When he’s teaching us counting at home, he can even correct our pronunciations- “ee are sun si to ee are sun sui.” How cool is that? He’s proud of himself and I am beyond proud of him! Not only are we at peace with our decision, but my husband and I are very excited. We are excited for the journey that lies ahead, for the opportunity for our children to be bilingual, (if not trilingual!) and for the possibilities that may unfold for their futures by knowing Chinese, Spanish, and English.
If you are considering dual language immersion as an educational option, definitely keep thinking about it. It’s a great opportunity, but ultimately, one only you can decide to take. If you’re considering Mandarin, know that it was worth our leap of faith…maybe it will be worth yours, too.