Are you considering bilingual education for your child?

It’s something Sasha and I are considering for our daughter, Mia.

She’s growing up so fast and it’s amazing to see her develop. She’s pulling herself up, walking by herself and becoming steadier each day.

However, in terms of language, my wife and I are still yet to hear a word. Just lots of ba-ba, da-da, ma-ma sounds!

Early days though…

She’s certainly beginning to understand certain words and phrases though, mainly in Russian, which shows we might be doing something right.

We often play hide and seek with a little toy cat called Tom, and when I say ‘Gde Tom?’, which means “Where is Tom?”, Mia will search the room until she’s found him.

It’s certainly challenging, especially for me to speak both Russian and English around Mia, and to speak in Russian with Sasha as much as I can.

I thought for this blog post, I would do a little digging into the pros and cons of bilingual education, just so we can see what the future might hold for Mia. (if we go down this route in the years ahead).

What is bilingual education?

Bilingual education involves the teaching of academic subjects in two languages; the child’s native language and a second one, which is often the school language. Traditionally there are 2 approaches:

  1. A child starts off at school speaking and studying in their home language, and then a gradual change occurs involving teaching subjects in a second language as well.
  2. A child starts off at school speaking and studying in either just the home language, or a combination of 2 languages. They then transition into only having lessons in the school language as soon as possible.

Bilingual education around the world

Its is thought that between 60-75% of the world is bilingual, and education plays a key role in the development of language skills.

I often think living in the UK, we are certainly not the norm in terms of our approach to languages. None of my friends, who were born and bred in the UK, can really speak a second language. Just a few basic phrases in French, Spanish or German

I guess the situation is similar in the US, in the majority of English speaking households, but as you can see in the chart below the trend is changing (almost 1 in 5 US citizens speaking a second language at home, as of 2007)  Furthermore, if you look at some of the EU countries the situation is remarkably different.


bilingual speakers photo


With a more interconnected and globalized world, the need to speak a second language is becoming increasingly important.

For example, in Canada many native English speakers are taught in various education programs to become fluent French speakers. Similar instances can be seen in Israel and South America too with other languages. In European countries, many bilingual education programs are helping immigrants to speak the native language, as well as promote other languages to the rest of the population at school and college.

So if there is a clear upwards trend in bilingual speakers around the world, it is clear that education systems may need to adapt and curricula will undoubtedly change

Advantages of bilingual education

1) Easier for children to learn a second language

It hаѕ been proven thаt сhildrеn whо lеаrn tо speak another lаnguаgе еаrlier in lifе have аn еаѕiеr timе grаѕрing thе vocabulary and grаmmar. It hаѕ also been ѕhоwn thаt these ѕаmе students will be аblе tо move on to lеаrning third аnd fоurth lаnguаgеѕ juѕt аѕ еаѕilу.

The rеаѕоnѕ for thiѕ аrе vаriеd, but оnе оf thе рrinсiраl rеаѕоnѕ iѕ that mаnу lаnguаgеѕ have thеir roots in a ѕinglе ancient lаnguаgе ѕuсh аѕ Latin оr Greek. Aѕ the nаtiоnаlitiеѕ have dеvеlореd, their languages сhаngеd but they kерt a lоt of thе ѕаmе wоrdѕ аnd ѕtruсturе.

2) A better working memory

Another benefit of having a bilingual education is how it can improve a child’s memory. They can process new experiences, sounds and concepts much better, as well as perform complex tasks to a higher standard.

3) Children develop better problem solving skills and creative thinking

Another cognitive benefit of being bilingual, is that pupils who can speak a second language are generally more creative and demonstrate better problem solving skills.

4) Better cultural and social opportunities

Living in a multicultural and multilingual world, being bilingual will allow children to embrace diversity in their lives. They can learn not to be afraid of differences in people, and tolerate other cultures easier.

5) Future career opportunities

Speaking a second language will definitely open the door for more job prospects once a student has finished their studies. In fact. bilingual speakers generally earn a higher salary than monolinguals. Here’s an article on the benefits of being bilingual in the workplace.

pros and cons of bilingual education | photo

6) Better concentration in lessons

Here’s a study, albeit with a small sample size, which seems to indicate that bilingual children can focus better in class.

7) It can be used as an after school activity.

Many schools in the US and in Europe offer useful extra-curricular activities in learning a second language after school. Although such an approach isn’t offering a fully comprehensive bilingual education, it can kickstart the learning process for children.

I myself remember taking part in an after school French class with several pupils from my school. This was supposed to be for students who were strong in the subject, and it went into a lot more detail in speaking the language, in terms of pronunciation and more advanced grammar and vocabulary.

Don’t ask me to speak French now though. It’s tucked away inside my brain somewhere, but on a recent holiday to Bordeaux, I really struggled talking to the locals, as I kept wanted to speak Russian instead!

How do people speak more than 2 languages?

Disadvantages of bilingual education

In previous decades, some experts thought being bilingual could have some negative aspects on a child’s development. But now, after considerable research, it’s clear that being raised to speak two languages has a lot of benefits. However, running a bilingual education program does have some drawbacks

1) Not learning the dominant culture

Some people feel speaking a second language can tаkе аwау a ѕеnѕе of national idеntitу of the country where you live. Therefore, by retaining the lаnguаgе оf another соuntrу, a person can’t be assimilated as easily intо a country which speaks a different language. This can cause a child to feel more isolated in some instances.

2) Inconsistency in teaching the second language

For bilingual education to be effective, it needs to be offered throughout the whole of a child’s school life. Some schools don’t offer it at all, and some only for a couple of years. This can have a detrimental effect on the development of the second language for certain children. Consistency is crucial.

3) Costly 

Unfortunately the money has to come from somewhere to run these programs, and they are not cheap.

money photo

4) Finding good teachers

This can be a problem, as not only do you need staff who are fluent in two languages, they should also be very effective communicators and teachers. People like this might be easier to find in cities, but in rural communities, it can be a lot harder.

5) Missing out on other activities

If a bilingual education program is split 50/50 between two languages, students who are falling behind in the second language will have to find extra time to catch up, time which they could be using to spend on other extra-curricular activities such as sport, music, art or drama.

Summary – Pros and cons of bilingual education

So what do you think of these pros and cons of bilingual education?

It is clear that language iѕ an important раrt of thе lеаrning рrосеѕѕ for all children.

Furthermore, it is widely accepted that by speaking two or more languages, it can really benefit the development of a child, in terms of making friends, communication skills, academic performance and future job prospects.

But there are problems with bilingual education, particularly with the workload on children, and in the quality of teaching.

Would you consider bilingual education for your child?

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In my family’s situation, the other possible drawback is that despite our best efforts, it’s likely Mia will always be better at English than Russian.

I think it’s important to accept that, especially as we live in the UK. 

By having a Russian mother, and the fact I can speak the language to a reasonable level, I’m confident she will understand Russian to a native speaker level. She will also find some other friends who speak Russian.

But what is not clear, is how well she will speak the language. Only time will tell…

Additional resources

If you can think of any other advantages or disadvantages, please leave a comment below.