Tonight I had a fascinating discussion with a friend about our mutual passion about bilingual education. We were discussing the steps that he was taking to improve the quality of his child’s Dual Immersion program. For the first time in my life it struck me that I finally knew someone who was as much of a bilingual fanatic as me. I asked him if he remembered when he first fell in love with bilingualism. I suddenly started thinking about when my love affair with bilingualism began.
I can’t remember when I first developed such a strong passion for bilingualism. I was raised in an English-speaking home and I don’t remember any language diversity in my elementary school. My father’s mother and grandmother lived back East and spoke Italian. I can remember thinking that it was so cool to have a grandmother who couldn’t really speak English. In middle school I began to watch soap operas in Spanish and babble sounds that resembled Spanish. In eighth grade I lied and told my classmates that my dad didn’t speak English. I asked my friend’s mom to teach me Spanish and that’s when I became hooked on bilingualism.
Throughout high school and college I became obsessed with learning Spanish. I took classes, listened to music, and danced to music in Spanish. I read tons and tons of books in Spanish. I had a boyfriend that didn’t speak English and my private life became consumed with Spanish. I did everything I could to try to become completely proficient in Spanish.
In my senior year of college I took a class about diversity in education. My professor taught us about Dual Immersion, a bilingual education model that promotes bilingualism and biliteracy with English and Spanish speaking children. I was so jealous that I had never had the opportunity to participate in such a program. I vowed then and there that I would do everything in my power to work in a Dual Immersion program one day.
I became a transitional bilingual teacher and later a maintenance bilingual teacher. I had the opportunity to participate at the beginning stages of my school district’s first Dual Immersion program. We opened the Dual Immersion program in an urban school with a high population of African Americans. Everyone told us that our program wouldn’t work in such a diverse area with high mobility and low socioeconomic level. However, the program has created many biliterate students over the years-of all races, ethnicities and native languages.
I later moved on to become a bilingual program specialist at the school district level, and then later I became the bilingual coordinator of transitional bilingual education and Dual Immersion programs. I coordinated the expansion of the Dual Immersion program into the middle school and later high schools. I love everything that I do and I feel like I am bilingual heaven every day while I am at work, even though it is a never ending battle to fight for the implementation of quality bilingual programs. I hope that one day I see the first Dual Immersion cohort to return to us as teachers or to place their children in our program one day.
When I moved to the school district’s language learning department, one of the bilingual coordinators warned me to not get boxed into bilingual education. “People will only associate you with bilingual education and English language learners. You don’t want people to think that is all that you know”, she recommended. Someone recently suggested that I don’t limit myself to only talking about language learners. I don’t perceive that I’m limited by being able to talk about language and literacy all day. I am actually lucky.
I love bilingualism. I love trilingualism. I love multilingualism. I’m obsessed with bilingual education. And bilingual politics. And anything else that is remotely associated with bilingualism or language learning. Hell, I’m even obsessed with learning more English. I am hooked on bilingualism!
I feel really invigorated after thinking about my passion for bilingualism and bilingual education. Sometimes it’s easy to feel down and depressed because so many people out there are anti-bilingual and work against the bilingualism that I love so dearly. After I listened to my friend tell me his story, I finally felt as if I had found a like soul. I wish I could share it with you, but I would rather convince him to write about his own love affair with bilingualism that we can feature on the blog. And I would love to hear more stories about when people first fell in love with bilingualism!
Are you hooked on bilingualism? When did your love affair begin?
About the Author: Melanie D. McGrath is the founder and editor of Multilingual Mania. She provides professional development and technical assistance to parents, bilingual teachers and administrators in the areas of biliteracy development, bilingual program design and English language development. Melanie can also be found writing about second language acquisition on the Spanglishbaby and TeachELD websites.