The benefits of being bilingual

28 Mar

Well, I made it to the Dominican Republic and back, and I had a wonderful time! (You’ll find a few photos from my trip throughout this post). Although I had to leave Hannah while she was still suffering with a nasty cold, I managed not to catch it and tried not to feel too awful leaving her while she was sick.

I quickly learned that Skype is the greatest thing ever invented. Actually, Skype and FaceTime, which serve the same function, were both equally valuable to me during my trip. When Hannah stayed with my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law pulled out her iPod Touch so I could set up a video chat from my iPhone. When Hannah was at home, Sean and I set up Skype—again, from my iPhone. Ok, maybe what I meant to say is smartphones are the greatest thing ever invented. It came in very handy not only for video chats, but also for the iTranslate app I downloaded before I left, which helped me look up various words in Spanish when I was struggling.

Dancing in the streets of Santo Domingo


Yes, the language barrier was a challenge because most people who live in the Dominican Republic speak Spanish. I took several years of it in high school and college, but I never put it to good use, so I forgot most of it. Fortunately, quite a bit came back during my trip, so I’m hoping to hold on to what I’ve learned and share it with Hannah. This is something I haven’t discussed in my blog yet, but now seems like a good time to do it.

I think teaching children a second language is invaluable.

As I said, I didn’t start learning Spanish until high school, so it was easy for me to forget it. Growing up with it seems to be the best way to retain the information. According to this article by Diversity in Education Content Contributor Linda Halgunseth, “There are many cognitive benefits for young children who are simultaneously exposed to more than one language,” including “greater neural activity and denser tissue in the areas of the brain related to memory, attention, and language than monolingual learners.”

I met 11-year-old Jose in Cabarete, a city on the north coast of Santo Domingo. Photo by Carie Gladding

I found that the schools and orphanages I visited in Santo Domingo and Cabarete encourage bilingual teaching as well. Many of the children spoke Spanish but were learning English. I also met two sisters who came to the DR from Haiti last year. They both spoke Creole when they arrived but are learning Spanish and English in their school. Their interview was even conducted in Spanish. Some of the children also practiced speaking English with us during our visit, which was certainly impressive. Meanwhile, I practiced my Spanish and watched the little kids laugh at me because I couldn’t understand their responses. It was totally worth it, though.

Clearly there are some benefits to taking on a second (or even third) language. If nothing else, being bilingual is a valuable asset in many professions, including, as I’ve recently learned, journalism.

These children at the Dominica Orphanage and School in Santo Domingo lined up to give us hugs during our visit.

Here are a few other articles about teaching your child a second language:

How to Introduce a Second Language to a Child

Raising Bilingual Children: The Best Parenting Methods

Children Can Learn a Second Language in Preschool, Study Finds


One Response to “The benefits of being bilingual”

  1. karenselliott March 28, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Way to go, JoJo. 🙂

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