How to Choose a Bilingual Preschool

Kids in Classroom
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Cavan Images // Getty Images 

Enrolling your child in a bilingual preschool can help build or strengthen your child's knowledge of a second language and ensure they won't lose it. There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a preschool for your child. Of course, there are the basics, like size, location, and cost. But if you're looking for something a bit more specific, such as a bilingual program, you may not know where to start.

Bilingual programs vary in the way they integrate using a second language. Some programs split time between the two languages while others focus more on one language. It's important to know the elements to look for and kinds of questions to ask when searching for a bilingual preschool so that you can make the best choice for your child. Read on to learn more about the process of choosing a bilingual preschool for your child.

What is a Bilingual Preschool?

According to Mae Waugh Barrios, M. Ed, Bilingual Language Development Coach, ESL teacher, and creator of RaisingEmergingBilinguals.com, bilingual schools provide a language immersion experience for your child. "A bilingual preschool entails instruction and activities in both English and another language," says Barrios. "Students spend at least 50% of the time in the language other than English. This immersion experience allows students to learn another language as they learn their first language, and in that way students make language gains and reach proficiency much faster."

Why Choose a Bilingual Preschool for Your Child?

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, bilingual children have better vocabulary and problem-solving skills and connect and communicate with others using information in new and creative ways. There are cognitive benefits to being bilingual too, including better attention and task-switching abilities as well as improved information processing capability.

There are many benefits to learning additional languages in childhood. Children's brains easily acquire language skills when they are young. "Early learning bilingual programs support the language-sensitive period that ranges from infancy to age 7," says says Amy Yu, a bilingual Mandarin preschool teacher at the Stratford School in San Francisco. These benefits can also help your child later in life. "Children gain cultural competence when learning a second language, which nurtures their ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures different from their own."

Comparing Billingual Preschools

Understanding what to look for in a bilingual preschool and what questions to ask can help you determine which program is right for your child.

When searching for the right fit for your child, there is no such thing as a bad question. Preparing your questions before your visit may help you focus more on the school's environment.

Questions About School Credentials

Barrios notes that it's crucial to look at a school's accreditation and certification. Some questions to ask include:

  • What are the teachers' language proficiency in English and the language other than English?
  • What qualifications do you require your teachers to have?

The best choice, according to Barrios, would be a school with educators who are bilingually endorsed. Native speakers are optimal.

Questions About Program Model

"The most widely known model of bilingual education is the developmental bilingual model in which there is a 50/50 balance between teaching the two languages," says Yu. However, some schools may exclusively or primarily use a second language. This is why it's imperative to ask about the immersion model of the school.

According to Janet Wong, a bilingual mandarin preschool teacher at the Stratford School in San Francisco, good questions to ask prospective preschools include:

  • What percentage of time will my child engage in each of the languages?
  • What is your teaching model?
  • How many teachers are in the classroom?
  • How will the program support my child as they learn a new language?
  • In which ways do you develop cultural competencies?
  • What are some of the learning goals for my child this year?

These questions can help you understand how your child will spend their day as well as how the program integrates the second language.

Question About the Students

You may also want to know a bit about the students enrolled in the school to make sure your child will feel comfortable and supported by their peers. You can ask about the demographics of the student population, the dominant languages spoken by other students and whether most students come from a dual language household.

A Word from Verywell

Choosing a bilingual school for your child provides a variety of cognitive and linguistic benefits and can help your child interact with different cultures. Knowing how to choose the right bilingual program isn't always easy. Be sure to ask about the school's credentials, teaching model, and student population so you can determine which preschool is the best fit for your child.

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2 Sources
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  1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The Advantages of Being Bilingual. Reviewed November 2021.

  2. Marian, V. & Shook, A. The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. Cerebrum 13, (2012). PMID: 23447799