A reader wonders whether he and his wife should send their children to an English speaking gan:
We are at a point where we need to place our first son into gan (preschool) next year. We are trying to decide whether to put him in an English-speaking gan for the first few years, and then in a Hebrew-speaking one for the remainder of his education. So far, responses to our post on our local list is leaning towards English-speaking first. But, I was wondering if you have blogged about this or if you have an opinion.
It’s about time I blogged about this! Bilingualism is wonderful, and learning two languages at a young age is supposed to increase cognitive ability.
By the way, the idea that bilingual children learn to speak later is probably a myth.
Here are the issues for me:
- Balance. You can’t have it both ways. Children who were exposed mostly to English, and especially those who prefer to read in English, will have better English grammar and vocabulary than children who read mostly in Hebrew. But then their Hebrew vocabulary will be smaller. In general there is a limit to the amount of vocabulary they will absorb. The strong English readers and speakers may find themselves at a disadvantage later on, especially in school. This isn’t the end of the world, of course.
On the other hand, we have chosen Israel as our primary residence and it may not be fair to handicap them in this way. [Aside: My fourth-grader’s teacher complained that the students have poor Hebrew vocabularies. I’m sure that this is partially because they don’t read enough, but also because they write so little.]
- Ability. Some children become fully bilingual with little effort, while others struggle with one language or the other. Parents need to decide how much to push English according to the individual child, especially in light of my first point. Social acceptance and confidence can also be affected if the child’s Hebrew is poor.
- Exposure at home. When one parent is Israeli, even if both speak English at home, it will be harder to maintain English. If the father is the native speaker of English and the mother is home more, there is even more chance that the child will stop speaking English at some point. So there might be more incentive for mixed-language parents to send to an English-speaking gan. That is why, in many English-speaking ganim, a majority of kids may not know much English.
- Surrounding community. If you have a lot of English-speakers in your neighborhood, your children will probably have more friends who speak English, and are more likely to have a native speakers’ level class in their school. So the gan is less of an issue.
- Reading vs. speaking. My children all speak English pretty well (or some dialect of Heblish), but they learned to read and write it at different rates. So far the one who was least interested in English reading still reached a fairly good level by 6th or 7th grade. But the reading and writing won’t come naturally, as a rule. You will need to teach it yourself or hire someone, unless you are okay with them having a level similar to Israelis.
Once children have learned both languages in childhood and continue to be exposed to them, they generally have enough skill to build up the language that was neglected at some point.
So, all in all, I don’t think it is the most critical decision native speakers will make as parents.
Request: People often get to this site after searching for an English-speaking gan. If you can recommend one, please post contact information in the comments.