Learning Spanish can equip your child with tools that she’ll need to compete in an ever-competitive world, broadening her access to opportunity, knowledge and relationships. Experts in the fields of child development, education and language acquisition advocate starting early when learning a second language, but is Spanish-immersion day-care right for your toddler? For many parents, the likely answer is yes, although there are exceptions. While language-immersion programs provide many benefits, experts say there can also be disadvantages, both real and perceived.
Learning Spanish at daycare while he is still acquiring English language skills at home could delay the building of your toddler's English vocabulary in the short term. When compared to monolingual children, Early Childhood News reports that young bilingual children sometimes know fewer words in either or both languages. The reason for this, ECN says, is that bilingual children need to store words from two languages instead of just one. This puts young children, with their limited memory capacity, at a disadvantage. In elementary school, however, the Spanish cognates he learned in daycare and subsequent years could be a benefit. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages points to a study of 30 English-only speaking fifth and sixth-grade students who were compared with 30 Spanish-immersion students, with all students matched on grade, sex and verbal test scores. ACTFL reports that the children who had been involved in Spanish-immersion programs -- armed with a vocabulary that included words in Spanish with similar roots to words in English -- actually scored significantly higher on vocabulary tests than the English-only students.
Participation Readiness and Willingness
For your child to realize the benefits of a language-immersion program, she'll need to be a willing participant. Enrollment in bilingual education can be a disadvantage for the child who isn't comfortable in a highly-structured program, which is the case for some language-immersion programs. As with any childcare situation, it's important to consider your little one's personality, individual learning style and readiness to participate. If she is showing ongoing signs of emotional distress and anxiety, including crying or declining to join in the activities, she may do better and be happier a differently structured day-care program.
Program Design and Cost
The correlation between language immersion programs and higher academic performance has created a demand for what some perceive to be an "elite" program. Because some toddler-age Spanish immersion programs only operate for half-days, it's important to carefully consider program design and curriculum as well as the hours of operation and other services included in your toddler's day care package to make sure the program meets all of your needs. If one of your primary needs is full-day child care, and the Spanish immersion daycare you are considering has limited hours, it may not be to your advantage financially or logistically to pay for expensive extended care or to have to shuffle your work schedule to work around the hours of operation.
A Spanish immersion daycare is, by design, usually staffed by educators who specialize in teaching language. If your toddler has special needs or is academically or cognitively immature, she could be at a disadvantage if the daycare isn't equipped to meet all her needs. If she's experiencing speech delays in both languages, for example, or requires specialized services to deal with a disability, she may need access to program and staffing resources that could be better addressed by another program.