Why Dual Language Catholic Education?

Written by Elena Sada, Pd.D., Boston College, Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Roche Center for Catholic Education

I have spent the past twenty years interacting closely with dual language educators, both in the public and Catholic school setting, and the answer is always the same: “Dual language has so many academic, cognitive, sociocultural and communication advantages, why wouldn’t we choose it?”

For me, however, when I am asked about the advantages of dual language education, I am reminded of an incident that occurred when my son was 5-years old. Our Mexican-American family lives in a predominantly white Connecticut suburb. Our youngest had been in kindergarten for only two weeks when, in a store, he said: “Mommy, don’t speak to me in Spanish, people are going to think we are poor.” I was horrified and replied: “No, amor, van a pensar que somos brillantes” (“No, love, they are going to think we are brilliant”). My son felt minoritized for being bilingual since only proficiency in English had been celebrated in his school and in the community.

When Catholic schools choose dual language as their program of instruction, they manifest their genuine belief in the dignity of all children and families, including families that have been minoritized for immigrating to the United States, oftentimes in desperate and underprivileged conditions. Dual language education does not seek to “fix” bilingualism by teaching monolingualism; it seeks to capitalize on students’ backgrounds. It sees students’ linguistic and cultural family backgrounds as assets and as God-given gifts that ought to be celebrated every day.

This celebration of language and culture is a vivid reminder of God’s love for all, including the youngest amongst us. Embracing a multilingual world allows for numerous opportunities and resources, it equips children with a sense of belonging and self-worth – critical in an individuals’ well-rounded growth and wellbeing.

“We are like all others, we are like some others, we are like no other” said theologian Emmanuel Y. Lartey. In this sentence Lartey captures the richness of acknowledging the different layers of identity that ought to be celebrated. While we are all children of God and members of God’s body, he has designed a beautiful collage of humanity, composed of different linguistic groups, and within these groups unique individuals. By promoting multilingualism and multiculturalism, we are honoring and rendering our love to God’s own design.

Dual language education affirms the beauty of God’s creation, and in embracing this educational model we honor and love God’s plan and each other.

Learn more about Hispanic engagement in our Catholic Schools at this year’s Catholic Leadership Summit in Raleigh, NC.