Although I believe I already was a supporter of dual language immersion programs prior to the extensive research I’ve done to put together this education series, now that I’ve learned more of its intricacies I can definitely say I have become one of its fervent advocates.
Allow me to tell you why.
A well-designed dual immersion program encompasses the “best of both worlds,” as I was told repeatedly by the educators I interviewed in the last couple of weeks. Extensive research both in the United States and other countries shows that students who participate in programs that allow them to add a second language to their first–whether they are language minority (i.e. Spanish) or language majority (i.e. English) students, “demonstrate higher levels of language proficiency, achievement and self-concept.”
Furthermore, the immersion of English speakers into the minority language promotes “higher levels of second language proficiency.” While the immersion of Spanish speakers in their native language produces “not only higher levels of their native language but also higher levels of English proficiency.”
So, what are these dual immersion models?
According to Biliteracy for a Global Society, a publication by NCELA (the national clearinghouse for English language acquisition and instruction), dual language education models are different from other forms of instructing English language learners in that:
- Language minority students are integrated with native English speakers in an environment that explicitly values the language and culture of the language minority student and that treats all students, regardless of language or ethnic background, in an equitable fashion.
- At the kindergarten and first grade levels, the target language is the status language for a significant portion of the instructional day and English speakers look up to and are helped by the target language speakers, because of their knowledge of the target language. During English time, the situation is reversed.
- Both groups of speakers are highly valued, not only the English speakers, as is the norm in most classrooms.
- Teachers are trained to treat all students equitably and to have high academic expectations for all students. Teachers are expected to communicate this equity to students in the classroom sot that all students value each other, regardless of their language, ethnic, religious, or social class background.
Within dual immersion programs, there are two main versions used to accomplish the aforementioned objectives. In the education world, they are known as the 90:10 and the 50:50 models. And, most schools determine which one they’re going to use depending on its demographics, needs and resources.
In the 90:10 model, the amount of time spent with each language varies depending on what grade the student is in. Usually, they spend 90% of their time being taught in Spanish and 10% in English while in kindergarten and first grade. By second and third grades, the percentages shift to 80% of the time in Spanish and 20% in English. The idea is to gradually move to where students will be taught half of the time in one language and the other half in the other. This normally happens by the time the students get to fifth grade.
The 50:50 model does this from the very beginning. However, there are a few ways to actually accomplish teaching half of the time in English and the other half in the second language. Some schools do it by dividing the school day in two. Other alternate languages each week. And still other teach certain subjects in English and others in the second language.
It’s important to mention that “to maintain an environment of educational and linguistic equity in the classroom and to promote interactions among native and non-native English speakers, the most desirable ratio is 50% English speakers to 50% second language speakers.” Many dual immersion programs have failed because of their inability to assure that there are no more than two speakers of one language to one speaker of the other language.
Why some have failed…
Unfortunately, this is not the only reason some of these programs have failed. In yesterday’s entry I spoke about how issues of education involving Spanish seem to create more controversy than any other foreign language and promised to explore why. I think the reasons are obvious. In the end, it all boils down to immigration and how for many Americans it represents a threat to their national identity.
As Univision’s anchor, Jorge Ramos, told me in his recent interview, “In the United States, many people have the wrong idea that what unites the country and its people is the language, when the reality is that it’s all about its values, its laws, its attitudes and the fact that they have always accepted people that come from all over the world.”
According to the educators I interviewed for this series, there’s a lot of ignorance surrounding the methods for teaching English language learners, dual immersion programs and bilingual education in general.
“I think bilingual education is criticized because some Americans are so isolationists and can’t see the importance of learning another language,” says Sisi Martinez Purfield, a bilingual kindergarten teacher with 16 years of experience. “I think that there is also racism involved, ‘Les gusta el pan pero no el panadero‘.”
The truth is that many of those who oppose bilingual education don’t really have expertise in this field to begin with and many more base their criticism on the results of some bad programs which didn’t accomplish either one of its objectives. En otras palabras, they neither helped ELL acquire English nor did they help them maintain their heritage language, Spanish.
In turn, this led to the adoption of English-only education policies in the states of California, Arizona and Massachusetts in the last 20 years. California was the first state, in 1998 through Proposition 227, to place strict limitations on bilingual education for English language learners in its public schools. Mainly, these policies mandate English-only immersion programs for most children until they become fully proficient in English.
This, even when studies have proven that it takes the average English language learner between five and seven years to master academic English skills, such as writing an essay or comprehending a novel. As a result, to just mandate this type of student to attend a full immersion program doesn’t work.
“The best results come from dual immersion classes, in which students learn half the time in English and half in their native language, usually Spanish, with half the class being native English speakers and the others native Spanish speakers,” or so say Marcelo and Carola Suárez-Orozco, authors and co-directors of the immigration studies program at New York University, in a New York Times blog which aims to start a national conversation stemming from a series of articles on immigration.
It is easy to see why students enrolled in dual immersion programs succeed and end up being not only bilingual and biliterate, but also bicultural. What more can someone interested in raising their children with two languages ask for? Unfortunately, a lot because there simply aren’t enough of this type of schools available to our children.
Tomorrow: we’ll share how one school district in California has figured out a way to do it right.
If you like what we’re talking about sign up for free SpanglishBaby updates via email or via RSS. You’ll like it.
Another well written, thought provoking piece. Gracias. Seems like our educational system needs an overhaul pronto. I’d love to start a dual immersion program done here in Charlotte, NC. Maybe I will get working on that? Hmmm….
Nathalie, we’ll be talking about how to do just that in a couple of days. It’s totally doable, lots of work, but many parents have made it happen in lots of places.
Thank you for the piece on dual immersion. My son’s just been chosen to participate in a program in Glendale, CA school district. I am feeling really excited about his upcoming experiences. This is an issue that touches be personally because I went to school when bilingual education was still available in school ( the 80′s) I learned how to read and write in Spanish. I want my children to feel a connection with his “cultura” and his roots. Keep it coming. The information you provide is well appreciated.
Hi How is your son doing since the program began?
The link to the research mentioned below doesn’t work – would you be able to provide the references in a different way? Thanks!
“Extensive research both in the United States and other countries shows that students who participate in programs that allow them to add a second language to their first–whether they are language minority (i.e. Spanish) or language majority (i.e. English) students, “demonstrate higher levels of language proficiency, achievement and self-concept.”
Thanks for letting us know, Barb. It is now fixed. The link will take you to a site where you can download the publication in PDF format.
My children attend a dual language school in LA, Grand View Elementary. I think you did a wonderful job explaining the program and I would like to post this page to our school’s DL site, with your permission of course.
Thank you, as always, for your wonderful site and all the information you share.
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I wish there was a “How To Start your Own Dual Language Immersion School” Book.
That’s a great idea, AG! I’ll help you write it!
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Wow! Thank you so much for writing on dual language programs. I’ve been considering this for my daughter. I would love to do it but a friend has expressed concern that they might not learn everything they are supposed to. I have to do more research into the programs in my area.
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Hi there- wonderful stuff. It’s also worth noting early language learners tend to do better in math, reading and science, as measured by enhanced SAT and ACT scores. The relevance of this cannot be overstated enough. If you’re looking to change education policy, policy makers absolutely need to be informed of the academic and cognitive benefits. And have any of you looked at state language roadmaps? These are project assessing the need for second language skills in the public and private sectors of Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Rhode Island. Contact me if you’d like more info, it’s absolutely fascinating and powerful stuff.
I do not agree. There are many different cultures and languages in America. Why should we focus solely on Spanish learners? If we allow a dual immersion program for Latinos, we must allow it for Italians, Armenians, Nigerians , Asians just to name a few. This is America, and English is the primary language. LEARN IT OR LEAVE!!!
Oh, we know English very well, but we can’t be limited by that. We’re encouraging dual immersion programs for ALL children and they don’t have to be in Spanish. If you read correctly, DL programs benefit heritage language learners as well as other children. It’s about building the best both have to give and enhancing that. The public school my daughter will go to has programs in Italian, French, German and Spanish. It’s a beautiful thing.
Ana, may I ask what school this is? you mat answer privately if you like. I’m looking for a full immersion Italian elementary school for my children. Thanks.
Joyce- I think you do not understand what Immersion/dual language schools are about. Where I live, the immersion schools (spanish, German, French, Chinese, even Latin) are NOT designed for children who are already bilingual or whose parents speak the language the school is teaching. The majority of children enrolled in these schools are monolingual being ENGLISH the only language they speak. Why? Because these families and schools understand the exceptional benefits that learning a second language provides when learned at a young age. The research is out there available to everyone that values good education and learning. Also, the children who attend immersion schools become bilingual in the immersed language AND in English, even if they didn’t speak English when they entered school. I am a native Spanish speaker and my husband is an English native speaker and we are considering Chinese immersion school for our children.
I am a Language Arts teacher; i just relocated from teaching in Florida. This year will be my first year teaching a English Language Aquisition class in Denver, Colorado. I am extremely interested in incorporating the dual immersion program and would like to know what schools are doing this in Colorado and what textbooks they are using. Since, I am teaching at an “innovation school,” I have the flexibility of creating my curriculum. This is something I definitely want to try.
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After reading this I can say that educators are now looking to rapidly expand dual-language programs and language immersion programs due to the decline in outcry against bilingual education.
Language immersion programs are an education technique that promotes the development of children through teaching only in the minority language while at school.
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