Dual language immersion strengthens the brain and enlarges the heart part 1 and 2.

June 21, 2015

We’ve previously discussed how bilingualism actually changes the human brain, helping to keep it healthy and delaying the onset of certain brain diseases. But what can learning another language do for the heart?

For starters, learning another language makes the foreign, familiar. By immersing yourself in the stream of another culture, aspects of that culture’s beauty, history, traditions, and unique challenges become personalized. This is especially so for students in dual language immersion programs who are learning language, content, and culture simultaneously. What we’ve discovered is that the cultural awareness and interest that the students develop often becomes a passion that expresses itself in inspiring, and heart expanding ways.


addalingua’s Stephanie Irizarry came across the story of one of her former Spanish immersion students, Olivia, who as a high school freshman is an example of this kind of large-heartedness. Olivia will soon travel to Chichicastenango, Guatemala to work as a translator with a church group that will be building houses, and installing stoves and water filtration systems for widows and orphans of Guatemala’s thirty year long civil war. In Olivia’s words, “[I’m] extremely excited to experience new culture and have the opportunity to change people’s lives. What I think I’m most excited about is using my Spanish with native speakers in a way I never thought I would have the chance to do.”



Stephanie recently shared with our team about her classroom experience teaching Olivia:

I had the honor of having Olivia in my class for two years, once as a first grader and again as a third grader. Olivia’s story is nothing short of amazing. She is an incredible young lady.  I just can’t say enough about her, and about all that I learned about teaching and learning from and with her. I’m not at all surprised that she’s taking her passion beyond our borders using the language she loves! What a joy it is to see these children pour into the world very much in the same way that our immersion programs pour into them.

As a third grader, she wrote the following poem to present at the LAUP Fiesta in Holland. She wanted to share her love for the Spanish language and its cultures with the community. Her poem (and the translation below it) brought tears to my eyes, partly because of the words, but even more so…because I knew the effort she put into it.


He esperado este momento por toda mi vida.

He esperado este momento

en que yo pueda hacer lo que quiero.

Este es el momento en que puedo cantar

Y todo el mundo me aplaudirá.

Este es el momento en que puedo bailar

Sin aparecer un chiste.

Más importante, este es el momento

En que puedo abrir mis alas y por fin…ser libre.

Soy libre, soy libre

Cada día, cada año en Ada Vista.

Siento el español en mi corazón

Y con él, puedo hacer lo que quiero.

Llevo mi español conmigo

A la escuela, a México, al mundo entero.

Vive en mi corazón y en mi alma

Y eso es lo que todos debemos querer.


I’ve waited for this moment my whole life.

I’ve waited for this moment

In which I can do what I want.

This is the moment in which I can sing

And everyone will applaud.

This is the moment in which I can dance

Without appearing a joke.

More importantly, this is the moment in which

I can spread my wings

And finally…be free.

I’m free, I’m free

Each year, each day at Ada Vista

I feel my Spanish in my heart

And with it, I can do what I please.

I’ll take it with me to

Mexico, to school, to the world

It lives in my heart and soul

And that’s what we all should want.

We wish Olivia and her team safe travels and all the best in Guatemala, and we look forward to hearing about her time there. If you’d like to learn more about Olivia or support her trip, check out her crowdfunding page.


dual language immersion enlarges the heart part 2

The cognitive, financial, and career benefits accompanying biliteracy and bilingualism are legion. They often play a leading role when advocates make the case for dual language immersion programs–and well they should. Who doesn’t want a leg-up in the job market, or to keep their brain fit as a fiddle? But despite being less quantifiable, the ways in which dual language immersion education often enlarges the hearts of students is important too.

That’s why we began a discussion this summer about ways in which the increased cultural awareness accompanying immersion education often leads to greater empathy and a passion for service.

Despite being less quantifiable, the ways in which dual language immersion education often enlarges the hearts of students is important too.

Stephanie Irizarry recently caught up with her former Spanish immersion student, Olivia Hines, who traveled to Guatemala this summer on a service trip. Olivia was kind enough to permit us to share some reflections and photographs from her trip with our blog readers. We think you’ll enjoy them, and we hope they inspire you to large-heartedness too. Way to go, Olivia!

From Olivia:

Me siento tan afortunada y agradecida por la oportunidad de viajar a otros países y poder usar mi español en la vida real. Esta experiencia me ha mostrado lo importante y especial que es este regalo de saber otro idioma. Me da un motivo más para seguir esforzándome y para alcanzar el nivel más alto que puedo.

I am so fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to travel to other countries and use my Spanish in real-life experiences. This experience has shown me how special and important the gift of knowing another language is! It gives me more reason to continue pushing myself to be the best I can be, and to raise myself and my language to the highest levels possible.​

​Additional highlights from Stephanie’s conversation with Olivia:

  • Olivia was able to connect in a deeper way with the people she met because she was able to speak Spanish. People often came to her directly because they knew they could communicate with her.
  • ​At prayer for the dedication of the home they built, Olivia was called to translate for her peers in her volunteer group. During the prayer, English, Spanish, and the local indigenous language were spoken, highlighting the value of multiple languages together.
  • Olivia gained new insight about the world, especially when exploring the state of housing in the area she served. Olivia saw how the way families were cooking indoors with fire impacted daily life and health soot and ash on the walls, and she saw the way families expressed ways in which the new stoves their team installed in the homes impacted daily life in a positive way.

“Estos chicos nunca habían usado tiza antes, y estaban tan contentos cuando les dijimos que podían ser suyas.” ​These little boys had never used chalk before. They were so happy when we told them they could have it!

Estos chicos nunca habían usado tiza antes, y estaban tan contentos cuando les dijimos que podían ser suyas. ​These little boys had never used chalk before. They were so happy when we told them they could have it!​

“Estas fotos muestran la transformación de lo que usaron para calentar su comida antes a las estufas nuevas.” ​These photos show the transformation from what they used to use for cooking to their new stoves.


“Jugando “pato, pato, ganzo” con los niños.” Playing “duck, duck, goose” with the children.

“Algunas de las niñas nunca habían visto ‘pipe cleaners’. ¡Se puede ver cuánto nos divertimos!” Some of the girls had never seen pipe cleaners.  (You can see how much fun we had!​)11229765_1159389450741849_7915077213991270406_n

“Este niño que estuvo en uno de las programas de comida en los que ayudamos me robó el corazón.” ​This boy who was in the food program we helped stole my heart.

“La primera foto fue con la familia dentro de la casa que construimos como equipo. Las siguientes fotos son nuestro proceso de construir la casa.” The first photo was with the family inside the house that we built as a team. The next photos are of our process of constructing the house.

group inside new house

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“Finalmente, aquí está una foto de mi grupo entero.” ​Finally, here is a photo of my whole group.​

Finalmente, aquí está una foto de mi grupo entero. ​Finally, here is a photo of my whole group.​

If you want read more partner school stories, click here. If you want to learn more about our early-total one-way program, click here.

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