My oldest son, who is a junior in HS, grew up bilingual (in the US). He is fluent in both languages. Do colleges disregard this fact, when they are looking for the 2-4 years of the same foreign language in HS on the college application? Or do they acknowledge his foreign language skill as a substitute for the HS language course requirement? (He had only 2 years of HS Spanish, but decided to follow other interests for his Junior and Senior year). I would love to get an answer for this, as nobody seems to know how this works in his case. Do you?
If your son is applying to colleges that expect only two years of foreign language, then obviously his two years of Spanish will suffice. But for the more selective schools (the ones that want three and even four years of foreign language … and, preferably, of the SAME language), then this requirement (or, more commonly, “recommendation”) will NOT be fulfilled because of the fact that your son is bi-lingual.
Of course, admission folks will treat being bi-lingual as a plus … something that makes your son different from many other applicants. But they’ll view it more like a skill … as if he were a pilot or plumber … rather than as an academic accomplishment. The snazzier, snootier schools feel that there is great value in the process of learning an unfamiliar language from the ground up in a classroom. So they will not count your son’s fluency in a second language as providing that experience. In particular, these colleges are big on the idea of studying the literature of a foreign culture, which many bilingual teenagers have not done.
Note, however, that if your son is having a really hard time fitting additional Spanish classes into his schedule because he’s pursuing another academic passion at a high level, he can always use the “Additional Information” section of his applications (or a supplementary letter) to explain why he has taken only two years of language classes. If he is able to point out that he is familiar with not only the language but also the culture and literature of his second-language country, colleges will give him some latitude for the shortfall on his transcript. So this shortfall won’t be a deal-breaker for him, but the admission committees would still prefer to see additional years of a foreign language studied in school.
I hope this finally answered your question.