Exciting changes are coming to Good Shepherd in August 2023–2024! We are adding a second primary (ages 3–6) classroom to serve more children and families. We are also pleased to announce that both primary classrooms will become dual-language environments. One adult in each classroom (either a guide or an assistant) will speak English throughout the day while another adult (either a guide or an assistant) will speak Spanish throughout the day. Our core Montessori curriculum for the primary level remains unchanged, but instead of classroom instruction happening only in English, it will now happen in both English and Spanish. In addition, we will have both English and Spanish-language materials in both classrooms so that children can absorb both languages during their work cycle.
Our goal for this dual-language environment is threefold:
to enrich the experience of primary students by exposing them more fully to the beauty of diversity in language and culture;
to prepare primary students for an increasingly multilingual and multicultural world where compassionate, cross-cultural relationships and bilingualism will be a boon for collaborative work toward the common good;
to offer an additional concrete skill to students: the ability to converse in a second language.
Is the dual-language primary environment intended for native Spanish speakers or native English speakers?
The beauty of a dual-language environment is that it can bring together a diverse group of students and allow them to flourish together. Some students might enter knowing only Spanish, other students might enter knowing only English, and others might enter knowing both languages. The dual-language environment will enrich all of these students and allow them to thrive.
Why did GSMS choose the primary level for a dual-language environment?
Research overwhelmingly shows that children aged 3–6 are specially primed for language acquisition and can successfully learn multiple languages simultaneously. By experiencing a dual-language environment at the primary level, children not only grow to appreciate a diversity of language and culture, but they build a strong foundation for further work in their non-native language both at GSMS and beyond.
What are the benefits of a dual-language environment?
Since the 1960s, research has increasingly shown the many benefits of learning a second language. In terms of cognitive benefits, children have an increased capacity for executive functioning, they are more adept problem-solvers, and they may even increase their brain health at advanced stages of life. In terms of social benefits, children encounter the beauty of diversity, become comfortable with intercultural interaction, and find it easier to form compassionate relationships with those who speak a different language.
Will my primary child become fluent in a second language?
Bilingual fluency is not the overt goal of our dual-language environment, although it may be the result in many cases (especially for native Spanish speakers learning English). In terms of language acquisition, our goal is for primary students to enter their elementary years with a strong foundation in their non-native language, especially in terms of speaking and aural comprehension. They will be well positioned to excel further in a second language as they grow older.
Are the elementary and junior high levels also becoming dual-language environments?
No, the elementary and junior high classrooms will not become dual-language environments in the same way as the primary classrooms. However, Spanish language instruction will remain present at the other levels, both formally and informally. As we establish the dual-language primary environment, we will also be strategizing about how to best support students in their ongoing language learning as they grow older.
What about neurodiverse children? Is it a good idea to introduce them to a second language when they may be experiencing delays in their native language development?
Research shows that introducing a second language to neurodiverse children does not disadvantage them from learning their primary language to a level of proficiency commensurate with their overall cognitive development.
My child is already bilingual (English and another language). Is learning a third language (Spanish) a good idea?
Again, research shows that young children have an incredible capacity to absorb multiple languages simultaneously. In fact, some research suggests that trilingualism could have even more benefits than bilingualism. There are many schools (both Montessori and non-Montessori) that have trilingual environments.
Will my native English speaking child be forced to learn Spanish (or vice versa)?
At GSMS, we strongly believe that education is child led. We never force a child to do anything – this is counter productive to healthy childhood development. Instead, we prepare learning environments that offer children many opportunities to choose for themselves, under the gentle guidance of our guides and assistants. In regard to learning Spanish (or English), a child is not forced to sit through formal Spanish (or English) language lessons.The beauty of a dual-language environment is that, over time, a child simply begins to absorb the Spanish (or English) language as they hear it spoken and as they become interested in class presentations and classroom materials that use their non-native language.
Are there any drawbacks to the dual-language primary environment?
We believe the dual-language environment will help all children flourish. There are no significant drawbacks. Some children may feel disoriented at first when hearing their non-native language, but this will dissipate as they gain more exposure. Guides and assistants will always be available to assist students in either English or Spanish, as needed.