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Texas Sees First-Hand Benefits of Bilingualism

One Texas school teacher does not have to be convinced of the benefits of bilingualism.

The Victoria Advocate spoke with Victoria West High School Spanish teacher Patrick Hubbell about the methods he uses to instruct his students in a foreign language and the kinds of benefits this type of education can have.

"Students should learn a foreign language for the same reason we have them learn literature: to see the world from a different perspective," Hubbell told the Advocate. "And it makes connections with English so that they can do better on their college exams."

Teachers are not the only people convinced of the benefits of bilingualism, however. The Cornell University Chronicle Online reports that a recent study from Cornell's College of Human Ecology, in conjunction with Singapore Management University, found that a bilingual upbringing appeared to benefit the subjects' executive attention, a trait that helps with absorbing and interpreting information.

Victoria, a town located between Corpus Christi and Houston along the Texas coastline, is in a state with one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the country, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the state's population as of 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, Hubbell noted that when he was young, Spanish-speaking students were discouraged from using their native tongue.

Now, Victoria's schools offer a handful of language classes similar to the one Hubbell teaches, but those are not the only options for parents who hope to raise bilingual children. A growing number of educational programs are beginning to teach children consistently in two languages starting at an early age with the express intent of fostering long-term fluency. Texas already boasts 366 registered dual-language programs.

"It's the natural approach. We learn our first language by modeling and using the language over and over," MayDell Jenks, executive director of the Texas Foreign Language Association, told the Advocate. "Students can absorb the language so much better at a younger age."

Hubbell, however, notes that the best way to learn a language is to be exposed to a scenario where it is impossible to fall back on English. This is where options like cultural exchange organizations, which can arrange for students and young Americans to work abroad, come in. Institutions that offer access to internships and other opportunities around the world can help expose students to another language in a way they would not be able to find in the U.S.