Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales, and I am your host. We are on episode 7, and today we are talking about dual language programs: what they are, what they aren’t, challenges to overcome, and the necessary features to make them successful. Treat yourself to a latte, settle in, and join our Language Latte facebook group to get in on the conversation!
Every episode, I look at a question that world language teachers have about how we can help our students’ achieve proficiency. In this episode, we’re going to examine dual language programs, and find out what it takes to foster academic achievement and biliteracy in two languages. From research to the best practices, today I’m interviewing a principal who shares how he has been developing his successful dual language program. I apologize for the sound quality on this episode! My voice quality in the first half of the program is a little weak because I’m getting over a bout of pneumonia! But I’m on the mend, and I am excited to talk about these academic programs. In the second half, I am recording in my house, where they just took out our windows to repaint, and the street traffic is terrible! I am so sorry- I promise the information is great :).
OK- so what are we talking about. In the US, the term dual language program used to be referred to as bilingual education, sometimes we call it two-way immersion…. In the United States, they are most often Spanish and English programs that aim to teach bilingualism, biliteracy, and cross cultural communication through immersion in both languages. HOWEVER, there are many other languages popping up: in Boston, 5 new schools teach English alongside French/Haitian Creole, Portuguese/Cape Verdean, and Mandarin. A school district south of Houston has dual-language programs in Vietnamese or Mandarin. In the US they are often in public schools- even if they might be charter or magnet schools. In the US and some places in Canada, dual language programs are set up to help recent immigrants and heritage speakers. In other countries, such as a Quechua-Spanish program in Ecuador, or an Aboriginal language program in Australia, serve a similar purpose by providing indigenous youth academic advancement in their home language and the majority language. However, in such indigenous language programs, the population does not often include students who do not speak the minority language. In this way the US and Canadian programs are unique.
Around the world, quality bilingual programs are mainly found in private schools, and are often labelled as “International Schools” or bilingual schools. For example, the Italian Bilingual School in Buenos Aires, the German School in Nairobi, or the French School of Singapore. We have less than a million people here in Merida, Mexico and I can think of at least a half dozen dual language programs- there are probably more. In these cases, there are students from local countries signing up to learn a new language, and the students who already speak that language are often not marginalized, but rather quite privileged. So while most of the features are the same, there isn’t as much of an emphasis on cultural relevance in the classes at the American School in Paris for example.
Some two-way immersion schools provide stellar results, while others aren’t offering enough input in the minority language for the students to confidently communicate when they graduate.
Different Models of Dual Language Programs
Let’s look at the differences in the programs, and then talk about the essential features. The end goal of dual language programs is to foster language equity, with the goals of bilingualism and biliteracy for all children involved. The different types of dual language programs depend on the population of the schools, and the purpose of instruction.
First, we have programs for students who are native speakers of a language. Often called transitional bilingual education programs. Sometimes called developmental, or “maintenance” bilingual programs. I taught science- in Spanish- for a short period in a program like this to help high school students who were very new immigrants to the US. One disadvantage, or stumbling block we see is that the linguistic goal appears to be to substitute the first language with English, by gradually erasing the first language and culture. This subtractive bilingualism phases out the first language and stunts its development, and the overall academic achievement of the students.
The second type of program is considered a second language enrichment program, where language majority kids are learning a second language. For example, British, or German, or French Schools around the world teaching alongside the local language. This is sometimes called a language immersion program.
A third type of program is what we are going to focus a little more on today, the two-way, dual language program that attempts to enroll a balance of native speakers of each language. In this program, there is equitable distribution of the two languages involved, across the curriculum.
Within this last type of program, there are different models. Although sometimes they are named differently in different parts of the world, the basic format is the same. The models have to do with how much of a language is used during a certain period. So what does that mean?
A 90/10 program starts in kindergarten, or age 5, with a curriculum that is 90% in the native language (or partner language or minority language- however you want to refer to it) and 10% in the majority or main language, increasing that until it is 50/50 by the upper elementary level. In the US 90/10 would mean 90% Spanish for example in kindergarten, slowly increasing it until you’re getting exactly half of instruction in each language by age 9 or 10.
Another model maintains 50/50 from the initial kindergarten classes, continuing throughout elementary with each language receiving half of the instructional time. Often times the languages are consistent with certain content areas, like language arts, or math and science.
The research, for example by Thomas & Collier, have shown that students who are native speakers of the minority language perform better academically when their native language is supported and developed. If you go to KidWorldCitizen.org and click on podcasts in the upper right corner, you can find the show notes of all of the Language Latte episodes. On this episode’s page you will find a list of fantastic researchers who write about dual language programs.
Important Features of Dual Language Programs
Let’s look at the salient features of dual language programs. Bilingual Education: An Introductory Reader, edited by Ofelia Garcia and Colin Baker, breaks down the program design into 3 consistent policies: linguistic, sociocultural, and educational.
Looking at the linguistic features, it is important to separate the languages, and distribute their instruction equally overall throughout the program, instead of translating bit by bit. You can separate the languages by alternating days (or blocks of time) or teacher. The ultimate goals should be bilingualism and biliteracy, as we’ve said, achieved through whole-language instruction, and language taught through the content. The skills are integrated with authentic and meaningful instruction that is student-centered.
Socioculturally speaking, the program needs to incorporate culturally relevant teaching, with an appreciation of cultural diversity- such as using authors and guest speakers from the minority language, acknowledging students’ life experiences and homes as knowledge resources. The goal is always to lift up students who have been traditionally marginalized and develop self-esteem in the language learners. Dual language programs are unique because they protect minority languages and culture, and promote them to the wider population. The demographics of the class ideally should be a mix of native speakers from each of the two languages, and the teacher should use this to facilitate cooperative group learning. It’s really the ideal situation: there are language models in each language for hands-on activities and opportunities to practice everywhere. Parental, school, and community involvement and support is essential, in order to keep up retention.
Finally, looking at the pedagogy dual language programs work well with thematic units of study. Teachers serve as monolingual models, and work in teams to teach, assess, hold parent conferences, lesson plan,etc. There should be ongoing staff development and insistence on academic achievement for all children.
Interview with a Dual Language Program Principal
Jonathan Kosovski is currently a dual language Principal at International Prep Academy, in Champaign, Illinois. International Prep Academy is a two-way, 50:50 dual language program, that serves a diverse micro urban community in central Illinois. Prior to becoming the Principal at International Prep Academy, Jonathan had served as a middle school and high school Spanish teacher and high school assistant principal. Jonathan also currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in ESL/Bilingual education for University of Illinois to helps prepare pre-service and certified teachers for the ESL and Bilingual field. Jonathan is also completing his Ed.D. and the University of Illinois and studying the effective leadership practices for dual language education.
1) Tell me about yourself (your background or teaching experience, what you’re doing now)
2) Can you walk us through the way your program is set up? (which classes taught in which languages, the demographics of the school with native speakers vs NNS)
3) What certifications do the teachers have? What training or strategies do you provide your teachers to prepare them to teach in your dual language program?
4) I have heard teachers concerned about bi-literacy, and being able to provide students with enough practice in reading and writing in both languages. How do you assure that your classes address this?
5) What other challenges to dual language educators need to be aware of?
6) Let’s talk about the positives. Tell me about what you have done in your program that has worked, and what the results have looked like.
7) Where can our listeners find you, if they want to learn more? (not sure if you have a twitter or web site for the school?)
Research on Dual Language Programs
Jonathan Kosovski recommends the following authors if you are interested in learning more:
Torres-Guzman, Maria E. Dual Language Programs: Key Features and Results.
Guadalupe Valdes (1997). Dual-Language Immersion Programs: A Cautionary Note Concerning the Education of Language-Minority Students. Harvard Educational Review: September 1997, Vol. 67, No. 3, pp. 391-430.