The thought of bilingual homeschooling first entered my mind twelve years ago when my daughter was in kindergarten. We started homeschooling because at that time we lived in a failed school district where the state closed one school and then taken over the other. As I learned more about homeschooling in general, I realized that I could personalize our learning experience as so many families educating their children at home often do.
That’s when I realized that I wanted to pass on my own heritage to my children and make it a part of our lessons. I’m Spanish Mexican American. My dad and his whole side of the family live in Spain. And my mother was Mexican American. I grew up with both feet and a hand in each culture.
This mishmash of traditions and two languages are all part of what makes me the person that I am. And I treasure my culture-filled childhood so much that I wanted the same for my own children. But it was very difficult because my husband and I lived far away from our families. So I began scratching away at our monolingual, monocultural lifestyle using our homeschool as a way to help my children learn about and appreciate the richness of their Hispanic heritage. And language learning was a small part of it.
When I started, though, there were absolutely no resources available for bilingual homeschooling. Zero. I looked online for materials, and it was a slow, difficult process. Most were Spanish-learning programs, not curricula for teaching in Spanish. I even looked for Hispanic homeschool support groups, but there were none.
So I started my own blog to chronicle our journey and share any resources that I found in the hopes of encouraging more Hispanic parents to consider homeschooling their own children.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve seen bilingual homeschooling slowly but steadily increase. Most of these homeschoolers are made up of bilingual or multilingual families who see the benefits of raising bilingual children. Like me, nurturing their children’s bilingualism and biliteracy is a way for them to pass on their family’s heritage and culture. It’s a way to instill pride and foster confidence. And it allows parents to prepare their children for personal and professional opportunities in the future.
Some are worldschooling families who have the ability to travel for work or pleasure. This allows parents to take advantage of the opportunity to immerse their children in the target language developing not only complete bilingualism, but biculturalism, too.
But since the start of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, the number of bilingual homeschoolers has exploded. Why? Because now both monolingual and bilingual parents who had their children enrolled in dual-language or immersion schools have found themselves homeschooling their young language learners.
What Is Bilingual Homeschooling?
By definition, bilingual homeschoolers devote equal time and energy to studying in two languages. The emphasis is placed on fluency in both languages. Seems simple, right?
Unfortunately, most families who decide to homeschool bilingually don’t have much guidance or support. Just as I was left to sort things out on my own, they must blindly figure out their way through the process because there is no bilingual curriculum available for homeschoolers.
The lack of resources and support has made things difficult in the past, but things are changing these days as more and more products and services are hitting the market to support bilingual learners. This is due mainly to the growing number of dual language schools across the country.
So most families end up choosing an approach to teaching and then search for the resources that will support it.
The Approaches to Bilingual Homeschooling
My experience is mainly with Spanish/English homeschooling, and I will use that combination as an example in this article. However, the approaches listed here may be applied to any language combination. Here are some of the ways families are homeschooling bilingually:
1. Complete Immersion
Complete immersion families teach their children all subjects in the minority language (Spanish) only and rely on their child’s interaction with relatives, friends, and other influences to teach them the majority language (English).
Unfortunately, this can be a difficult situation if your state requires yearly testing in English. In order for children to achieve academic success later on and qualify for college admission, they must be able to effectively communicate and learn in English, which may or may not be advanced depending on how much they actually learn from others.
The complete immersion approach also becomes more difficult as the child enters higher grades where very limited teaching resources are available. Thus very few families (if any) successfully homeschool K-12 in Spanish only.
2. Partial Immersion
I consider partial immersion the ideal method for bilingual homeschooling. Gaining in popularity, this approach teaches a combination of subjects in both English and Spanish. Generally, the minority language is nurtured and developed in the early grades with introduction to English by 2nd grade, or vice versa.
Partial immersion is becoming easier with the development and access to new Spanish-language resources for bilingual homeschoolers.
3. Second Language Learning
Second language learning is probably the most common type of bilingual homeschooling. In this approach, language learners are English-dominant and learn a second language at an early age for greatest success, for example, kindergarten or first grade.
However, students can begin learning a second language at any point in their K-12 education. The myth that learning another language must begin prior to age 7 is slowly disappearing, and more and more families are waiting until high school to begin their student’s bilingual journey.
4. Bicultural Learning
Bicultural learning is different from bilingual learning. It takes a multicultural approach by emphasizing foreign cultures and traditions for a more global learning experience.
This form of learning often goes together with worldschooling. In fact, the two frequently overlap as it is impossible to travel the world and not learn about the cultures in which you are living. Homeschoolers may begin learning a foreign language in later years.
Can Monolingual Parents Raise Bilingual Children?
Is it possible for English-only households to homeschool bilingually? Yes, but the challenge is real. Most successful families use native speaking tutors or mother’s helpers to interact with, or teach, their children on a weekly basis. Playdates with bilingual families and even family vacations in Spanish-speaking (or your target language) countries are also valuable teaching tools. And now, with the pandemic, a lot of native speakers are teaching classes online, giving anyone with internet access to routine conversation.
In a perfect world, bilingual homeschoolers would fall under the partial immersion category, but the reality is that most land somewhere between partial immersion and language learning. Wherever your homeschooling journey takes you, the key is to remember that the intentions of your heart and the effort you put into raising a bilingual child are what define your experience.
Monica Olivera is a homeschooling mother of two, author, and a freelance education writer. Her site, MommyMaestra.com, helps Hispanic parents get more involved in their children's education by providing resources, tips, and opportunities.
She is also the author of The Latino Family’s Guide to Homeschooling and the Heritage Journal Series. Her education articles have appeared in numerous online sites such as NBCNews, Woo! Jr., and PBS SoCal.