YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood

Two is Better Than One — The Importance of a Dual Language Curriculum

Research on Dual Immersion programs for preschoolers, have indicated that the achievement of high levels of functional proficiency in a second language yields benefits for all students:  These benefits include:

  • Enhanced levels of meta-linguistic awareness (i.e., knowledge of how language works) which has proven to be important to reading acquisition.
  • Improved performance versus monolingual students on tasks that call for divergent thinking, pattern recognition and problem solving.
  • Additional knowledge and understanding of one’s native language.
  • Greater understanding, tolerance, appreciation and respect for other languages and cultures.
  • Ability to communicate with other ethnic and cultural groups.
  • Ability to take advantage of opportunities that are available only in other languages.
  • Enhanced employment opportunities once school is completed.

Over the past decade, Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.  These higher-level cognitive abilities are localized to the frontal and prefrontal cortex in the brain.

“Overwhelmingly, children who are bilingual from early on have precocious development of executive function,” Dr. Bialystok said.   Brain activity tests described in a New York Times article from 2011 show that bilinguals have a heightened ability over monolinguals to monitor their immediate environment and keep track of what’s going on more efficiently.  

2008 study published in Applied Developmental Science supports evidence that a bilingual child’s ability to operate between two languages strengthens mental flexibility, self-control/self-regulation and the ease of switching between mental tasks.

And, according to a 2013 study published in Neurologybilingualism may even delay the onset of dementia in old age by as many as five years. 

After reviewing the current research on bilingualism and second language acquisition, we are thrilled to be able to offer the opportunity for our preschoolers to participate in a dual language immersion program at the Y.  For the upcoming school year, 2015-16, the Y preschool is excited to launch a Spanish dual-language program for four year olds within the existing structure of our nursery school.  Plans for this program began after a survey of prospective families indicated a strong community interest in Spanish dual language instruction at the preschool level.  Our program will integrate a 50/50 model of dual language immersion consisting of a half day of Spanish (morning schedule) and a half-day of English (afternoon schedule) each day from Monday through Friday.  The program will be taught by a bilingual teacher who is fluent in both Spanish and English and who has a New York State license in Early Childhood Education with a bilingual extension.

In the morning, our program in Spanish will mirror the program in the afternoon through the utilization of the same creative, interactive project-based approach to learning on which the Y preschool is focused. The program will be infused with art, music and dance and will incorporate a respect for the diversity of cultures and languages in and around New York City.

Please contact the early childhood department for further information about this exciting new program and check our website for frequently asked questions.

by Susan Herman, Y Nursery School Director

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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