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El Nuevo Mundo reflects bilingualism on the rise in Richmond

on November 11, 2015

Click here for a Spanish version of this story.

Olga Gomez arrived in the United States from Peru speaking only Spanish. Now, she speaks both Spanish and English fluently, and wants her three children to do the same.

Being bilingual, she said, “opens up a lot of doors, especially here in California.”

Olga Gomez enrolled her son Jeremy Vela, who is 4, at El Nuevo Mundo because he only speaks English. She wants him to be bilingual like she is. (Photo by Angelica Casas)

Olga Gomez enrolled her son Jeremy Vela, 4, at El Nuevo Mundo because he only speaks English. She wants him to be bilingual like she is. (Photo by Angelica Casas)

That’s why Gomez has her youngest son, Jeremy Vela, enrolled at International Child Resource Institute’s El Nuevo Mundo Children’s Center, which offers bilingual development programs in Spanish and English, and multicultural learning experiences in an environment catered to children, ages 3 to 5, of all ethnic backgrounds.

The center, located on Pennsylvania and 18th Street, caters to all children, but especially those of low-income households. Although the center is meant to help Spanish-speaking children maintain their Spanish while learning English, some parents of English-speaking children, like Gomez, have also enrolled their children at El Nuevo Mundo.

Blanca Silvana Mosca-Carreon, director of the center, said this has become more common recently. Seven of the 97 children enrolled at El Nuevo Mundo speak only English.

“Most of the parents who pay for their children to be here want them to learn Spanish,” said Mosca-Carreon, adding that only a handful of the parents don’t speak Spanish but want their children to learn. “They pay $800 per month for their children to attend.”

The Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles and the Educational Testing Service reported last month that children of immigrants who can speak, read and write in English, and also have mastered a different language spoken at home, gain in college and in the labor market.

In the study, fluent bilinguals earned about $2,800 more in annual earnings than English monolinguals with the same education and skills qualifications. This means that bilingualism has direct and positive effects on earnings compared to English monolinguals.

The United States is increasingly bilingual, according to the 2010 Census, and almost two thirds of speakers of languages other than English are Spanish speakers. But surveys have yet to document the extent to which native English speakers are learning other languages.

City officials in Richmond report that about 40 percent of the city’s population is Latino and 30 percent speak Spanish. Not all the Spanish speakers are bilingual.

About a third of the students in the West Contra Costa Unified School District are enrolled in English learner programs. Most come from homes in which a language other than English is spoken, and are acquiring English skills almost exclusively through their schools.

At the time El Nuevo Mundo was founded in 1978, it was the first program of its kind set up to serve Spanish-speakers in Richmond and Contra Costa County.

The center teaches English through the “Project Approach,” which emphasizes hands-on activities rather than lectures to hold children’s interest. Classrooms build vocabulary using kitchen setups, for instance, using real plates and pots, so that children will recognize the objects and practice words at home.

All of the teachers at the center are bilingual. Each has one or two teaching assistants, creating a teacher-to-student ratio of about 8 to 1.

The goal of the center is not for the children to learn how to read and write, since they will learn that once they move onto grade school, but for them to adapt to two languages, understand how to differentiate between the two, and begin to recognize words and how they are spelled.

According to the Linguistic Society of America, if children are exposed to two languages at once, it does not guarantee they will learn each language at parallel proficiencies, but their natural exposure to both will make their understanding in the least-known language more gradual. They will eventually be at a developmental advantage over monolinguals never exposed to a second language.

“The children educated bilingual in preschool have been successful in life,” Mosca-Carreon said, agreeing with findings by UCLA suggesting that Spanish bilingual individuals are more likely to go to college and a four-year university than monolingual or limited Spanish bilingual individuals.

El Nuevo Mundo has served about 3,000 students during its 37 years operating, and Mosca-Carreon is convinced that language skills have contributed to the success of the many doctors, lawyers and economists among those alumni.

Juliana Arquinigo has spent four years active at El Nuevo Mundo, first with one son and now with the other. (Photo by Angelica Casas)

Juliana Arquinigo has spent four years at El Nuevo Mundo, first with one son and now with the other. (Photo by Angelica Casas)

Parent Juliana Arquinigo is hoping for similar results for her two sons, one of whom went through the center before entering grade school, while her younger son, Giordano Fabiani, is enrolled now. He can understand Spanish and English, and is learning to read in both languages.

“The brain of a child who learns in two languages develops better,” Arquinigo said in Spanish with her two sons at her side. “They can understand in Spanish even when their mind is reading English.”

Mosca-Carreon said the center tries to set a high quality standard, offering monthly meetings for parents to learn about lifestyle improvements like healthy eating and exercise.

Arquinigo, who attends the meetings regularly and is part of the parent council, considers the parents who enroll their English-speaking children at the center to be smart for wanting their children to learn Spanish.

“I feel happy for having chosen this place,” Arquinigo said. “After this, it doesn’t matter where my son goes, thanks to all he has learned here.”

Gomez, one of those parents, said she understands the importance of her son strengthening his English skills, but also learning Spanish.

As she looked at Jeremy, Gomez recalled how her own classmates teased her when she was young for only speaking Spanish.

“It was hard growing up and going to school out here,” Gomez said. “So it’s very important for all my kids to learn both languages.”


  1. […] here for an English version of this […]

  2. […] Despite these services, parents and educators said that many families who might benefit don’t yet recognize the value of alternative programs such as transitional bilingual. There’s a proven value of knowing two languages, demonstrated by studies showing higher earnings for bilingual people. […]

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