British and American studies have already shown that between the ages of 2 and 4 there is a critical window of brain formation, i.e. a better assimilation of certain types of experience to improve speech. This is one of the reasons why immersing children at this stage in a bilingual environment increases the likelihood that they will become fluent in other languages. In parallel, data from the Brazilian Association for Bilingual Education (Abebi) show that the bilingual education segment has grown by about 10% since 2014.
And the reality is indeed growing. Maple Bear, the largest chain of bilingual schools in the world, recorded an 18% increase in enrollment in 2021 compared to 2020 and a 40% increase compared to 2019. The network currently has over 170 schools in all states and the Federal District. with plans for up to 200 schools by 2023. Worldwide, the methodology-based Canadian network has over 550 schools in over 30 countries with over 45,000 students.
But in the end, what are the benefits of investing in bilingual education from an early age? According to Roberta Ambrosevichius Carrillo, pedagogical coordinator at Maple Bear Gávea, the more familiar a new language is, the easier it will be to learn. “The student ends up learning the second language very naturally, as well as their mother tongue. And to expand repertoire and vocabulary, we encourage playful activities in school life, we even use a lot of music and other activities like dancing and cooking as allies,” she says.
With students from 1 year old, the school in the South Zone accepts game learning, learning through play. “We work on social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills in a safe and creative environment that stimulates, encourages creativity, experimentation and self-expression. The child becomes the main character in the construction of knowledge,” says the teacher, emphasizing the importance of the play environment. “If the topic is the environment, we play spray areaas they love to play with water. When we talk about colors and textures, we are talking about a coffee shop or a mini city. It’s always a lot of fun, but there’s a lot of strategy behind it, after all, we’re constantly practicing,” she jokes, referring to the occasional training the team receives from Canadian educators.
As for literacy, Roberta emphasizes that it takes place in both languages precisely in order not to harm the students later and during the entrance exam. “We have pre-literacy at age 4 where children are introduced to letters and their sounds. So far, the classes are immersive, 100% in English. At the age of 5, children begin to have 25% of their workload in Portuguese. Starting from elementary school, it becomes bilingual, half of the lessons are in each language,” she explains, noting that both cultures are celebrated in the same way. “The difference is that we teach students to also think in English.”