Benefits of bilingualism: Students share multilingual experiences

Being bilingual is a skill which has become increasingly important in today’s globalized world. Yet, less than 20 percent of people across the country speak a language other than English, according to the United States Census Bureau. Students who speak multiple languages gain a competitive edge in the job market, expand their cultural understanding and improve their cognitive abilities in areas such as problem-solving and multitasking, according to research by Pennsylvania State University.

The Palo Alto School Unified District established a Spanish immersion program in 1995 and a Mandarin immersion program in 2008, which are still being offered today at Escondido and Ohlone elementary schools, respectively. According to census data, these languages are the top two most popular second languages in the country. To better understand the long-term impacts of bilingual education, Verde asked alumni of PAUSD immersion programs and other bilingual students to share their experiences.

Photo courtesy of Simrun Rao

My grandparents don’t know English very well, but my parents decided to teach me Hindi, and I spent a few years in India, so that helped me with my Hindi skills and communicating with my grandparents. It [speaking Hindi] also helps me when I go to a grocery store that’s specific to my culture or on holidays like Diwali.

— Simrun Rao, Paly alumni and Hindi speaker

Photo: Alma Bendavid

In Escondido, they had a lot of teachers from so many different countries. So we were kind of exposed to each of their cultures, because they would have their separate celebrations … There’s so many ways to say things in Spanish, and it’s like I knew each of the nuances and so I feel like that kind of helped a lot [learning Spanish].

— Aditya Romfh, Paly sophomore and Escondido alumnus

Photo courtesy of Calvin Wong

I think being bilingual is definitely a super useful thing. When I was little, I didn’t get exposed too much to the language, and being in a program that did have me speak Chinese almost for the whole day was really useful. I think it really helped me be much closer to my culture, especially because I’ve never actually been to China.

— Calvin Wong, Paly senior and Ohlone alumnus