By Christin Perry
When Jennifer Baylor’s son, Owen, is annoyed by something — as 3-year-old boys sometimes are — she frequently hears him mutter, “No me gusta.” It means “I don’t like it” in Spanish, and despite his irritation, the Lansdowne mom can’t help but smile. Because Owen and his sister, Lily, 5, are learning Spanish easily and naturally, just by attending preschool.
They’re students at Bilingüitos, a one-of-a-kind school for Spanish immersion on Red Rum Drive in Ashburn.
Classrooms at Bilingüitos are just like other preschool classrooms across the country. You’ll find kids seated around little tables naming their favorite foods and walls clad in adorable art. But everything the kids are working on is in Spanish.
This small establishment, started by linguistics major Kaila Diaz in 2016, is the only Spanish- immersion preschool program in Loudoun County. Here, you’ll find kids from English-speaking backgrounds, Spanish-speaking backgrounds, and what Diaz calls OPOL, or “one parent, one language,” where each parent in the home speaks a different language. But regardless of their background or home language, kids here are learning Spanish. And they’re learning it well.
“The kids really catch on fast here. We never push the language on them or force them to learn it. We meet them where they are and kind of acclimate them at their comfort level,” said Diaz, who has lived in Ashburn for 25 years. “When you’re learning a foreign language in high school or college, you can take a test and maybe memorize how to conjugate verbs, but here, it’s just life — it’s just language.”
Maria Ubillus drives all the way from Aldie so her daughter can attend Bilingüitos. A native of Ecuador, Maria and her husband speak Spanish to 4-year-old Gabriella at home. But their three older children speak mostly English. She was eager to give her young daughter a more well-rounded exposure to her native language. And Bilingüitos has done the trick.
“Now [Gabriella] has a lot more words,” Ubillus said. “She speaks Spanish in full sentences and can even tell you a story.”
The goal of Bilingüitos, which translates to “little bilinguals,” is two-pronged: The program gives bilingual kids the chance to hold on to their home language, rather than let it slip away as they learn English at school, and it also aims to be a foreign language immersion program for English-speaking kids in Loudoun.
The school enrolls 50 children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Programs are offered several days each week in the mornings, and an after-school program is also available for elementary school-aged children. The vast majority of all programs are taught in Spanish, even for the youngest children.
And there’s no better time to start than in those early preschool years.
“Due to the nature of brain development, the golden window of opportunity for language learning is in early childhood,” Diaz said. “A child’s brain is in language-learning mode, and he is able to soak up linguistic information like a sponge, most often subconsciously.”
Indeed, she was raised with this mindset. Almost from birth, her parents made sure she was continually exposed to a foreign language, starting with the Spanish-speaking daycare she attended. That experience triggered a life-long passion for foreign language, which has culminated in this small school in the heart of Ashburn.
For Baylor and her children, the teachers, the kids and the other families at Bilingüitos have become friends and part of their “village” — it just happens to be a village that speaks Spanish.
“Lily’s eyes light up every time we come here—she absolutely loves it.”
— Christin Perry is a freelance writer in Ashburn who has written for The Bump, The Knot, Scary Mommy and other publications.