The One-Person-One-Language Model
The Bilingual Model
The Richland Campus at The Montessori School uses the one-person-one-language model for bilingual instruction in English and Spanish (Kersten et al., 2010). This model dually immerses children in Spanish and English daily in multiple subject areas and enables children to acquire the two languages simultaneously. This means that each room is equipped with an English-speaker and a Spanish-speaker that can give lessons and lead songs in multiple subjects. Children learn to read and write in both languages simultaneously without confusion and receive lessons in all subjects in both languages. This model is favored and used in many Montessori schools across Europe and Latin America and has proven to be effective (Howard et al., 2018).
Unlike other models of language instruction, the one-person-one-language model removes any anxiety children might have with being immersed or expected to work in a second language (Young, 1992). Children are free to choose which lessons they receive in either language at any given time. They may avoid individual lessons in a certain language for a season if they desire or they may choose to immerse themselves extra (many do). The Montessori curriculum is 3 years long for this age group, so there is time for children to receive all lessons within their own timing and comfort level. Regardless of the lessons that they chose, children are immersed in both languages through song and daily instructions. Transitions are also eliminated with this model. Since two people are giving lessons in all subjects in both languages, there is no need to switch back and forth between languages for subject matters or classes. The children receive lessons in both languages and can choose the language they prefer to practice during the lessons. They also may choose the subjects they wish to work with throughout the day.
The brains of children ages 0-6 work entirely different than adults. Adults must exercise will when setting out to learn something new but children absorb everything in their environment through their senses and they do not tire like adults do (Standing, 1998). In addition to subjects and content, children are classifying what they are learning and storing it in permanent places of their brain that they may not necessarily remember. Neuroscience researchers found that in the brain, both languages are located in the same areas for adults who acquired a second language when they were very young while languages are stored in different areas of the brain depending on when the second language was learned (Kennedy, 2006; Kim, Relkin, Lee, & Hirsch, 1997; Berger, 2014). Montessori found that the ability to effortlessly absorb through the senses and permanently store information recedes around the age of six. The brain then functions the same way as an adult’s (Montessori, 1995). Theorists agree that earlier is better than later for learning a language when it comes to fluency, pronunciation and permanency (Berger & Thompson, 1998; Kennedy, 2006). Even the brains of infants begin to prune sounds that they do not hear regularly (Levy, 2010). Regardless of whether or not children will continue learning Spanish after attending The Montessori School, the language and mental flexibility will stick with them (it would not if it was learned later in life). They may not remember the language but if they choose to learn it in college, for example, they are likely to learn very quickly or remember much of what they learned. It will also help them learn other languages and subjects in the future.
Confusion: Why simultaneous instead of sequential literacy learning?
Other language methods choose to teach literacy to children in either their first language or their second language first. We present both at the same time. Since children absorb new information effortlessly and retain it for life, often without realizing, we want children to permanently store literacy tools in both languages. There are overwhelming findings that children can learn to write and read concurrently in two languages without confusion or becoming delayed in any way, and there is no evidence that children become confused (Bauer & Gort, 2012; Berger, 2014). It has been found that when children code-switched, switched languages mid-sentence or letter sounds in a word, they were not confused but rather were resourceful (Rubin & Carlan, 2005). For example, the “ai” sound in the word rain can be made with one letter in Spanish “e.” Often children choose the least amount of letters or the shorter word to express themselves and are not concerned about switching languages. This practice is not concerning, it is encouraging. The children are practicing mental flexibility that will aid them in learning new languages and new information later in life and may keep their brain active later in life as well. Children are able to separate the two languages when needed. Many studies show that the sequential method of teaching literacy is effective because literacy skills learned in one language can be transferred to another. While this is true, minor details could be lost or remain difficult, such as spelling. English is not a phonetic language, if exposure to irregular spellings is delayed, children could have a hard time learning how to spell or they may have to memorize spellings of words without retaining them in their permanent memory. It is important to us at The Montessori School that children are equipped through our 3-year program with all of the literacy tools they need in both languages before the age of six.