Keeping Our Emergent Bilinguals in the Forefront of Dual Language Education

Art: “The Lottery” by Jeena Ann Kidambi

I often talk about how Dual Language Education (DLE) programming is about both language and equity. For some students, DLE programs are in fact must-haves while for others, they are nice-to-haves. Just recently, many people have asked me the difference. To gain a better understanding of what I mean by this, we must first understand our own linguistic identity in the United States.

The United States has largely identified itself as a monolingual, English-speaking country. Nevertheless, throughout the 1800’s, bilingual schools operated both with and without legislative support to preserve European, heritage languages. Simultaneously, efforts were made to stamp out African and Indigenous languages. During the 1920s, the country shifted even further towards an English-only mindset, and even European language-based bilingual programs largely died out.  

During the late 1960’s, President Lyndon B. Johnson, former Texas educator, passed the Bilingual Education Act, reviving bilingual education in schools. But these programs were largely for the purpose of “remediating” students and using home language, now mostly Spanish, to build academic knowledge until students could perform in English. This was the birth of Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) programs, a subtractive program intent on taking the home language away from students and replacing it with English.  

Today, while the research demonstrates that TBE programs, when done correctly, are superior to English-only programs, we know that neither English-only nor TBE programs manage to close the opportunity gap for students who begin their schooling as Emergent Bilinguals (EB), students who are largely of color (Thomas & Collier 2017). Only DLE programs, additive programs that continue to build skills in both the home language and English, manage to close the opportunity gap when implemented with fidelity to instructional and structural non-negotiables (Thomas & Collier 2017). Therefore, Dual Language programs, in order to close the opportunity gap, are must-haves for EB students if indeed both language and equity are at the forefront of our minds.

On the other hand, the program is nice-to-have for our monolingual, English speakers.  Personally, I do believe that everybody should have the opportunity to learn multiple languages and am thrilled that more and more students from all backgrounds are working on increasing their linguistic repertoire. Nevertheless, because DLE programs are the only programs that close the opportunity gap for EBs, we need to ensure that we are not privileging students for whom the program is a nice-to-have over students for whom the program is a must-have. This means that we should make sure that we have, in Two-Way Dual Language programs (or programs with students from both English backgrounds and backgrounds representing the partner language), 33% of our seats saved for our Emergent Bilinguals and 33% saved for balanced bilinguals (or students who are equally proficient in both languages). You may consider opening One-Way Developmental Dual Language programs for our EBs so that all of our students who need the program get the program. Your One-Way Developmental Dual Language program may even live alongside your Two-Way program – for example, in Windham Public Schools, CT, I opened Dos Ríos, a One-Way program, to serve the EB population that did not get into the existing Two-Way Program, Compañeros through the lottery.  

It is only when you keep your EB students at the forefront that you can truly be focused on language and equity. DLE is a must-have for our EBs, and that is whom we need to keep at the forefront of our bilingual education programs.

Aradhana Mudambi
Author: Aradhana Mudambi

Dr. Aradhana Mudambi is the founder and Chief Advocate for Students at Language and Equity Education Solutions LLC, a consulting firm that supports schools and school districts to build and improve their multilingual programming, especially their Dual Language Education programs. Through Language and Equity, she provides professional development, consulting, and coaching. For the past few years, Dr. Mudambi has run her popular blog, Social Justice and Education. She has taught several courses such as Intercultural Communications, TESOL Methods, and Assessments for Bilingual Students at Eastern Connecticut State University. Furthermore, she serves as the Director of Multilingual Education at Framingham Public Schools in Massachusetts where she oversees Dual Language programs in Spanish and Portuguese. Additionally, she worked as the Director of Bilingual Education at Windham Public Schools, not only overseeing and restructuring Windham’s Two-Way Dual Language program, Compañeros, but also founding and building Dos Ríos, New England’s first One-Way Dual Language program. Dr. Mudambi has served as a building leader, a Dual Language teacher, an ESOL teacher, and a Spanish teacher. She has worked in India, Mexico, France, England, and The United States. You can reach Dr. Mudambi at

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