NM should take advantage of its bilingualism - Albuquerque Journal

NM should take advantage of its bilingualism

Recently, the Obama administration announced a set of policy recommendations related to the benefits of incorporating bilingual instruction into early childhood education and development programs. The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services report that, through participation in high-quality dual-language immersion programs – which are open to children from all language backgrounds, including English – children can attain the bilingual skills necessary to prepare them for a competitive global economy. Further, the administration cites 40 years of research confirming the cognitive, social and academic benefits of children receiving an education in more than one language. As the state with the highest percentage of Hispanos and Native American tribes, New Mexico’s history of multilingualism uniquely positions us to lead the country in dual-language early childhood education.

According to the U.S. Census, 36.5 percent of New Mexican households report utilizing a language other than English. Many of these families speak English in addition to Spanish or other indigenous languages, making bilingualism a way of life in our state. Our multilingualism is a valuable asset, which we risk losing unless we invest boldly in building a bilingual teaching force and a dual-language early childhood education system.

With over two-thirds of children around the world growing up with more than one language from birth, we must put the “English-only” rhetoric to rest once and for all. New economies recognize that speaking, reading and writing in more than one language make us more competitive and opens global career opportunities. In New Mexico, our multilingualism is deeply rooted in our history and culture, and specifically protected in our state constitution, government and K-12 education systems. However, a similar focus on bilingualism does not yet exist in early childhood programming. Given that 90 percent of brain development occurs before the age of six, we should expand the support of bilingual development to include early childhood programs.

Here, in New Mexico, we can build a dual-language early childhood education system by doing the following:

• Fully funding early childhood education to ensure children have access to bilingual home visiting, childcare, early learning and preschool;

• Increasing the awareness within our communities that children can learn more than one language beginning at birth and that children who participate in dual-language education programs outperform their monolingual peers on academic tests;

• Investing in building a certified bilingual early childhood workforce; and

• Increasing the number of quality licensed early childhood providers throughout the state.

It’s time for New Mexico to leverage one of our people’s greatest assets, our bilingualism, to become the national leader in dual-language early childhood education. Our children deserve it and they are ready.

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