Spotlight on Dual Immersion

bubble-150649_640This month at Lingual Learning we are focusing on dual immersion education. (Comment on this post if you’d like to receive our newsletter on the topic!) Dual immersion means that classroom instruction occurs in English and a partner language. (Because this partner language is increasingly Spanish in U.S. schools, I’ll use Spanish as an example throughout this post.)

One subset of dual immersion education is two-way immersion (TWI), in which the English-dominant student population is roughly equal in size to the Spanish-dominant student population. TWI schools are not as common, however, because of enrollment logistics—this means that a student dominant in Vietnamese or Amharic would not be permitted to attend. Hence, dual immersion programs (by their many names, whether dual language, bilingual immersion, etc.) are the most common, with a variety of student populations receiving instruction via English and the partner language.

The first dual immersion school in the US was Coral Way School in Miami, dating back to 1963. It was quite experimental at that time, and the Oyster School in DC extended the experimentation by not only hiring bilingual staff, but hiring double the amount of staff than was typical in 1971, to represent both languages fairly. While dual immersion schools have steadily popped up over the past few decades, despite the ebb and flow of political perspectives about bilingualism (for example, the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education was renamed the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition around the time of No Child Left Behind in 2001, demonstrating a move away from promotional attitudes about non-English languages and their speakers), the 2010s in particular have seen a veritable explosion in popularity of bilingual education. No official count of dual immersion schools exists on record, but they number in the thousands. New York and Utah are two states that have officially incorporated dual immersion education into their public school offerings, though the methodology comes under scrutiny by experts, and the Seal of Biliteracy has garnered particular attention for students of all language dominances to either pursue study in their home language, or supplement English with a partner language for the sake of later college and career success.

Dual immersion is beneficial to a variety of student groups, which is probably what makes its success inherent. “English learners,” when positioned against “Spanish learners” don’t seem so hopeless. Rather, they are viewed reasonably as learners on a path to proficiency, and positively as possessors of coveted linguistic resources. English learners, then, have much higher school success rates because of additive and validating views of their native language and culture. Meanwhile, English-dominant students receive traditional schooling with the added benefit of exposure to a second language. And it’s not merely exposure—as Ester de Jong, a leading expert in bilingual education, writes in this post, “as these second language learners always get to work with multiple role models—the teacher, their more fluent peers, as well as the other second language learners—they are better supported.” This applies to all students, allowing learners to use their second language for real purposes, with a variety of speakers.

Such an uplifting approach toward students is extended to the parent community by dual immersion schools as well. When staff have (a) the resources to communicate with limited-English parents, and (b) the need to incorporate experiences with native Spanish speakers in the education of their learners to prove its relevance and value, parents and families no longer find themselves fringe members of the school community. Dual immersion schools frequently enjoy high levels of parent involvement precisely for this reason.

Dual immersion schools obviously face logistical challenges, whether to begin with 90% Spanish and 10% English instruction in Kindergarten and adjust the percentages with each grade level until they are 50:50, or simply start at 50:50 in Kindergarten. Schools must also decide how to alternate the languages (am/pm, by day, by week, or by unit) and whether to use a one-teacher, one-language approach. With the exception of the 90:10 model having a higher rate of balanced bilinguals than 50:50 models, the literature has not indicated whether any factor is superior to another. This means that dual immersion can be executed in a variety of contexts, according to the resources and intuitions of school leaders.

Bilingualism is something I value personally and professionally, and Lingual Learning does its part to promote bilingualism by supporting dual immersion teachers, and through our curriculum. It is exciting to us to see bilingualism receiving the attention it deserves, particularly because increased global and cultural competence is necessary for navigating a world that is increasingly connected.

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