Featuring children's music in Spanish

Stanley A. & Yolanda M. Lucero, Owners.  26963 Merril Ave., Madera Area, CA 93638 Webpage:  Email:  Lucerito's Music


I Want My Children To Be Truly Bilingual

Quiero que mis niños lleguen a ser realmente bilingüe

By Stanley A. Lucero

 August 2004


 “We know that all good things take time. Therefore, be patient, little  by little we will go far. The destination – Bilingualism – is worth the  time invested.” (Yolanda Lucero, two-way Kindergarten teacher).

“…bilingualism suggests that a bilingual person has native-like control of two languages.” (Bloomfield 1933 as referenced by Leslow-Hurly, 1996, p. 57)

We want to provide our children with the opportunity to master their first language, to add and master a second language, and also to succeed in school in preparation to enter society as bilingual and fully prepared, participating members of society.

Learning two languages takes the efforts of the children, their parents and a well-implemented two-way program. One of our most important goals in a two-way program is for the students to be able to speak English and Spanish equally well. The bilingual component of the two-way bilingual immersion program is designed to help Spanish-speaking students retain their Spanish while adding a new language, English. The immersion component of the two-way bilingual immersion program is designed to teach Spanish as a second language to English speaking students.

What are parents looking for when they say they want their child to become bilingual? What do the two-way programs offer to help children to become bilingual? What are the differences and similarities to learning a first language and a second language? What are parents and teachers doing to help children become bilingual?

The purpose of this article is to explore some of the factors of learning a second language and some ideas of how we, as teachers and parents, can help our children to become bilingual.

Two-Way Parents Speak Out

On March 29, 2003 , two-way parents from Fresno and Parlier met to discuss three questions at CSU-Fresno at a Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Conference (Lucero & Ramirez 2003). 

  1. Why did you choose to place your child in a two-way bilingual immersion program?
  2. What do you like about the two-way program?
  3. What would you like to see in the middle school and high school two-way programs?

All of the parents want their children to learn to speak both Spanish and English for a wide variety of reasons. The parents want them to treasure their heritage, value their language and culture, be able to communicate with their family and interact with others. The parents want to prepare their children for the future job market, to experience other cultures, and have more academic opportunities. They want their children to respect each other’s languages and cultures and not have animosity towards others with different backgrounds. The parents expect the children to also become better prepared academically and hopefully become trilingual. The parents appreciate that the two-way programs are allowing the English speaking and the Spanish-speaking children to grow up together as a “family.” They feel that the materials are appropriate for the grade levels and that the teachers are well prepared, care about their children and push the children to reach high goals. In middle school and high school the parents want the students to be able to visit other countries, have rigorous content classes, take 2-3 Spanish classes every quarter/semester, and take college prep classes.

Comments from the Bilingual Buddies

As a part of Project ALAS, English and Spanish adults participated in Bilingual Buddies classes – bilingual immersion classes for adults. Here are some of their comments.

The English participants talked about having respect for Spanish, staying in the target language, the class bonds between two-way students, the ability of the children to translate, using music to learn Spanish, building self esteem and confidence, and learning about other cultures. They praised the “world view” approach allowing children to “think outside of the box.”

The Spanish participants want their children to become bilingual, to be able to get better jobs, to have a positive self concept, not to lose their first language, and to continue receiving the support and help offered by the two-way teachers. One major concern was that the children be able to communicate in two languages.

Two-way Bilingual Inmersion Programs

“The appeal of dual language education is that it combines maintenance bilingual education and immersion education models in an integrated classroom composed of both language majority and language minority students with the goal of full bilingualism and biliteracy.” (Lindholm-Leary 2001, p. 1)

The Ann Leavenworth Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program Brochure states:

“Over the years, students in a Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program not only achieve a high level of bilingual proficiency, but also become biliterate, acquiring academic content knowledge and skills in both languages.”

The two-way program uses the 90/10 model to provide maximum support for Spanish academic oral language support during the primary years and gradually moving towards the 50/50 classroom in 5th grade where English and Spanish are used equally throughout the entire curriculum.

The Ann Leavenworth Model

Students are identified as English models or Spanish models when they enroll to maintain a balance of both languages in the classroom. The parents agree to keep their children in the program through sixth grade.

The Leavenworth two-way students are tested annually with the Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey in Spanish academic oral language and English academic oral language to monitor their progress in meeting the goal of becoming bilingual.

The dangers of losing Spanish as a first language

Two-way students whose first language is English are not in danger of losing their first language. English is supported at home, at school, in the community, in the media and the environment at large. However, students whose first language is Spanish face very real dangers of losing Spanish.

“One of the most significant issues concerning Latinos is the right to retain and develop the Spanish language. From the moment of beginning school and sometimes even before, Latino children are faced with societal prejudice against their home language. (Ada 2003, p. 50)”

In California , most Spanish-speaking students are placed in Structured English Immersion classrooms for one year and then transferred into mainstream English classrooms in the second year. In most cases the classrooms teachers do not speak Spanish and do not have Spanish-speaking aides. The teachers have been instructed to provide classroom instruction overwhelmingly in English and to move the students into the English program as quickly as possible. As a result, many Spanish-speaking students enter into a lengthy period of culture shock and fall behind their English-speaking peers in academic areas.

Many times Spanish speaking students are placed in English programs before they have the necessary English proficiency to master the academic content. Many of these students do not learn to read and write in either English or Spanish and are eventually referred to Special Education programs.

Children who do not receive Spanish instruction at school do not have the opportunity to develop Spanish academic oral language and are placed in a situation where they are learning new academic concepts through their second language (English).

As the Spanish speakers enter the intermediate grades they become aware of the “inferior” status of Spanish in the school and the community. Many children become ashamed of Spanish and make the conscious decision to speak only English. As they enter this identity crisis period, many Spanish-speaking children reject their language and culture. In the process they also reject their family values.

“They [immigrants] know what happens in families when children abandon the family language and parents are no longer able to communicate easily with them. They know about the gradual erosion of trust and understanding among family members and about the loss of parental control. (Fillmore, 2000, p. 208).”

The national dropout average for Hispanic students ranges from 40-60%. Without classroom instruction in a language they speak and understand they do not reach their academic potential and, in many cases, do not possess the skills to graduate from high school. The Hispanic students see their only option as dropping out of school.

On the bright side, some parents of Spanish-speaking students have exercised their legal right to request placement of their children in alternate bilingual classroom settings through the Waiver Process. Each of you signed a waiver to enroll your child in the two-way program because you treasure the benefits of becoming bilingual for your children.

Learning to speak your first language

Babies listen for the first few months of their life to all of the sounds they hear [listening stage]. Eventually they start practicing to say the sounds [babbling stage]. Somewhere around six months you will hear them say their first word – actually what sounds like a word – and you praise the child and repeat what they said. Around nine months, the infant begins putting together phrases and 2-3 word sentences. With time, their sentences get longer and they begin to ask an endless number of questions. Once the children enter school, they begin to expand their vocabulary into the academic areas.  

“A normal child enters kindergarten with a vocabulary of approximately 8000 words.” (Lesslow-Hurley, p. 42)

I have often wondered how many words a fully bilingual child has when he or she enters kindergarten.

Learning to speak a second language

Most children in the United States are exposed to their second language for the first time when they enter school at the age of four or five. Like infants learning their first language, children learning a second language go through a very similar process but at a faster rate. The listening stage takes a few months. Younger children are willing to experiment with sounds the new language (babbling stage) and therefore are the individuals who learn how to speak a second language like native speakers (no accent). Just like young children second language learners progress from saying individual words, to talking in phrases and short sentences, and eventually speaking in normal length sentences.

“Language is essential for all learning. It is generally found that the better the child’s language skills are in her own language, the more capable she will be of learning and using a foreign language. (Dunn 1998, p. 37)”

Language and culture

As we learned our first language, we unconsciously learned the nuances of the culture of our first language. We learned that certain facial expressions and body movements indicated subtle meanings. We learned what authors have called the silent language. We learn how close (or how far) we should stand from strangers. We learn to show respect in English by looking at adults in the eye. In Spanish, a child looking at adults in the eye when being disciplined is a severe sign of disrespect. In certain parts of Mexico it is customary to point with your middle finger extended but in the United States it is a derogatory gesture.

Every culture has unique words to represent important cultural aspects and cultural values. As you learn a second language, you learn to eat different foods, wear different clothes, go to different social functions and interact with peers and adults according to the cultural norms. Learning a second language means learning how to live within a second culture. In New Mexico , if you happen to be passing through a city where a friend or relative lives and you don’t go visit them, you have offended them. In California , you have to call or make an appointment before you go visit.

Culture shock

“Culture shock can have severe effects (Triandis 1994, p. 263).”

The first few weeks in school are most difficult for second language learners who can become overwhelmed by the new language and culture. The children enter into culture shock because everything is different. They don’t understand the language and the cultural rules are different. If no one in the classroom speaks the language of the student, the students can become frustrated, scared, angry and/or physically sick. If the teacher speaks the student’s language, most, if not all of the effects of culture shock can be avoided.

The two-way immersion program greatly reduces the effects of culture shock for both the English speakers and the Spanish speakers by providing a warm, safe, bicultural classroom atmosphere. Students are constantly encouraged in their efforts to learn and speak two languages. English and Spanish speaking students are grouped together to provide each other with support.

Becoming a balanced bilingual

When I studied to become a bilingual teacher, I noticed that I did not have the Spanish vocabulary for many of the common classroom words I used in English. For example, I knew the names of classroom objects (stapler, pencil sharpener, overhead projector, etc) in English but not in Spanish. In Colorado and New Mexico , I had never attended a classroom where the instruction was totally in Spanish and never had to learn classroom vocabulary in Spanish. I had pockets of Spanish words without the English equivalents and other pockets of English words without the matching words in Spanish.

I became part of a group of bilingual Teacher Corps Interns studying to become bilingual teachers and we came up with a plan to become academically bilingual. We decided to write as many term papers, reports, lesson plans, etc. in Spanish so that we could develop our Spanish academic vocabulary. We made our own bilingual dictionaries for math, science, social studies and other academic subjects.

The children enrolled in the two-way classrooms bring a large vocabulary of words in their first language and one of our jobs is to help them learn those words in their second language. As teachers and parents we need to look for opportunities through activities and games to turn the monolingual word banks into bilingual word banks.

“By the time children attend school, they have already acquired a rich reservoir of concepts associated with the home language. When these children learn another language, their process entails associating the new language with concepts previously acquired.”  (California Department of Education, 2003, p. 19)”

What the Leavenworth Two-Way teachers are doing

“Five factors must guide the way we design the environment for second language learning. The language with which we surround the learner must be meaningful and it must be relevant. It must also be just beyond the learner’s current ability level in order to push language development forward. It also is important that the language is held in high esteem by both the learner and the larger society. Finally, a key to developing oral proficiency is the actual use of the second language. In the time dedicated to second language learning, teachers must insist that students use that language rather than resort to the more proficient language they have in common.(Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan, 2000, p. 55).”

The two-way teachers at Ann Leavenworth Elementary School have identified some of the activities and strategies they use in their classrooms to develop bilingualism – the ability to speak in two languages.

Ideas for parents

“… teachers can help parents understand that they must provide children opportunities to attain a mature command of their first language in the home… (Fillmore, 2000, p. 209).”

For more ideas on how to help your child learn a second language, refer to the books listed in the bibliography.

For parents, I recommend the book A Magical Encounter by Alma Flor Ada and the parallel bilingual books Help Your Child with a Foreign Language or Ayude a sus hijos a aprender otro idioma by Opal Dunn.


To meet our goal of developing bilingual speaking skills in our children, we need to work together as teachers and parents. If we, as adults, make time to become more proficient bilingual speakers, our children will do the same. Learning to speak a second language involves listening and speaking that language on a regular basis. We need to focus on balancing the English and Spanish speaking skills of our children to prepare them to discuss a variety of subjects in both languages. As soon as a child has mastered the oral vocabulary on a given subject, we need to help him/her develop the same vocabulary in the second language.  Take advantage of every opportunity to talk with the children in both languages. Dedicate some time for Spanish and some time for English. Students who have strong academic oral language skills in two languages will be better prepared to succeed in school and later in life in their chosen professions. The United States needs as many bilingual citizens as possible if we want to be a part of this multilingual, multicultural world.

Project ALAS

From 2001 through 2004, a Title V Grant for foreign language assistance programs was given to Leavenworth to support the K-8th two-way immersion program. Project ALAS stands for academic language acquisition support. The project purchased many Spanish and bilingual materials for use by the students, teachers and parents. Classes were offered to parents wishing to learn or strengthen a second language in an adult immersion class called Bilingual Buddies. The two-way teachers attended several conferences and training activities directly related to two-way bilingual immersion programs. The progress of the two-way students was monitored using English and Spanish school, district and state tests. Software programs to develop Spanish academic oral language and content vocabulary were purchased for use by the teachers and students. Materials and training were also provided to the Sunset School middle school two-way immersion program. The two-way teachers have begun using the Learner Profile software to monitor and document progress of the two-way students using Spanish standards.


Ada , Alma Flor. A Magical Encounter. Latino Children’s Literature in the Classroom. Second Edition. Pearson Education Inc., Boston , MA , 2003, ISBN #0-205-35544-7.  

California Department of Education. Foreign Language Framework for California Public Schools. Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. California Department of Education, Sacramento , CA , 2003, ISBN # 0-8011-1570-1.

Cloud, Nancy , Genesee , Fred and Hamayan, Else. Dual Language Instruction. A Handbook for Enriched Education. Heinle & Heinle Publishers, Boston , MA , 2000, ISBN #0-8384-8801-3.

Diaz-Rico, Lynne T., and Weed, Kathryn Z. The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook. A Complete K-12 Reference Guide. Allyn and Bacon, Boston , MA , 2002, ISBN # 0-205-33685-X.

Dunn, Opal. Help Your Child with a Foreign Language. Berlitz Publishing Company, Inc., Princeton , NJ , 1998, ISBN #2-8315-6806-4.

Dunn, Opal. Ayude a sus hijos a aprender otro idioma. Berlitz Publishing Company, Inc., Princeton , NJ , 1994, ISBN #2-8315-7086-7.

Espino Calderon, Margarita and Minaya-Rowe, Liliana. Designing and Implementing Two-Way Bilingual Programs. Corwin Press, Inc., Thousand Oaks , CA., 2003, ISBN#0-7619-4566-0.

Fillmore, Lily Wong. “Loss of Family Languages: Should Educators Be Concerned?” THEORY INTO PRACTICE, Volume 39, Number 4, Autumn 2000, copyright 2000 College of Education, The Ohio State University 0040-5841/ 2000 $1.50.

Leslow-Hurley, Judith. The Foundations of Dual Language Instruction, Second Edition. Longman Publishers USA , White Plains , NY , 1996, ISBN #0-8013-1556-5.

Lindholm-Leary Ph.D., Kathryn. Biliteracy for a Global Society: An Idea Book on Dual Language Education. National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Education Programs,, Washington DC , August 2000.

Lindholm-Leary Ph.D., Kathryn. Dual Language Education. Multilingual Matters Ltd, Tonawanda , NY , 2001, ISBN #1-85359-531-4.

Lucero, Stanley A. and Ramirez, Froylan. Middle School & High School Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Programs. Two-way parent workshop, CABE/CASBE Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Conference, CSU-Fresno, Fresno , CA., March 29, 2003 .

Triandis, Harry C. Culture and Social Behavior. McGraw-Hill Inc., New York , NY , 1994, ISBN #0-07-065110-8.

Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program. Ann Leavenworth Elementary School Brochure, Fresno Unified School District , Fresno , CA , 2003.

White Soltero, Sonia. Dual Language Teaching and Learning in Two Languages. Pearson Education Inc., Boston , MA , 2004, ISBN #0-205-34381-3.

Zelasko, Nancy and Antunez, Beth. If Your Child Learns in Two Languages. National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Education Programs,, Washington DC , August 2000.   

Project ALAS Funded by Title V

United States Department of Education

Project ALAS

Leavenworth Elementary School

Mrs. Jan Zoller, Principal

4420 E. Thomas, Fresno, California 93702

(559) 253-6490


Page updated Monday, October 09, 2006