Growing Up Bilingual

Growing Up Bilingual
Hannah Van Buren: Education, Arts, Letters and Ideas

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One or two class periods

Required Documents
Bilingual Benefits
Bilingual Careers


Both President Martin Van Buren and his wife Hannah grew up in Kinderhook, New York, which was originally a Dutch settlement. They both spoke Dutch fluently and in fact spoke it at home to one another. Mrs. Van Buren died 18 years prior to her husband becoming president so Dutch was not spoken with any significance in the White House, but had she lived it probably would have been. When immigrants came to America in the 18th and 19th centuries they generally settled in communities of other immigrants from their countries of origin. This is why most major cities still have ethnic neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Slavic Village, etc. Because the United States is a melting pot of so many diverse cultures and languages, many words, traditions and other influences have been assimilated into our American culture. In many instances families tried to hold on to the culture and language of their native lands. However, usually within a few generations many of these old world traits faded. But today with growing global economies, lightning fast forms of communication including email, chat, cell phones, Skype, etc., and the explosion of social media there are many benefits to speaking more than one language. During the first two centuries of our country’s history many were encouraged to speak only our American form of English, but here in our third century of existence those who speak more than one language have a distinct advantage over those who do not.


1.  The students will use the Internet to conduct research and acquire information needed to answer specific questions.

2.  The students will be able to list and explain three benefits to being bilingual or multilingual in today’s society.

3.  The students will identify three careers in which the ability to speak another language is beneficial and explain why it is an advantage.

Materials Required:

A computer with internet access; Student Response Worksheets: Benefits of Being Bilingual & Bilingual Careers


1.  The teacher will begin the lesson by asking the students if any of them speak a language other than English. The teacher will list any other languages that students speak on the board. Asking students that are bilingual follow-up questions regarding their fluency may extend this discussion. If no students speak another language the class may discuss what languages other than English people in the United States are likely to speak if they are bilingual. Student responses may be listed on the board.

2.  The teacher will then explain that the students are going to conduct some research to determine whether or not there are advantages to being bilingual. The sites listed above in the linkable resources section of this lesson plan will be helpful in this task and can be printed if a computer lab or other internet access is unavailable.

3.  The students will complete the student response sheets included in the required documents section of this lesson plan. They will be required to list and explain three benefits of being bilingual or multilingual in today's society and identify three careers in which the ability to speak another language in beneficial and explain why it is an advantage. This can be done in class or assigned as homework.

Extending the Lesson:

Having the students research the languages that are most desirable to employers in today’s job market could extend this lesson. The students could also explain why these particular languages are important in today’s economy.

Sources & Resources:


Carlson, Lori. Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States. Fawcett, 1995.

Zentella, Ana Celia. Growing Up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York. Wiley-Blackwell, 1997.


The Fate of Dutch in America

The Benefits of Being Bilingual

The Benefits of Bilingual Careers



This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District.