The 7 Sides of Dual Language Instruction™

Graphic curtesy of Multistate Association of Bilingual Education, Northeast

There are three pillars of Dual Language Education (DLE): academic achievement in both languages, biliteracy and bilingualism, and sociocultural competence. Usually, the focus of Dual Language Instruction (DLI) rests upon bilingualism and maybe biliteracy. Academic achievement in both languages and sociocultural competence usually take second and third seats respectively. Let us focus on high academic achievement in both languages for all students today.

While there are many reasons why we provide DLE to our students including the preservation of culture and identity, one of our primary reasons to provide DLE is to ensure that we are closing the opportunity gap for our Emergent Bilinguals, who are largely our Black and Brown students. Unfortunately, when our students are not making academic progress, the fastest solution people choose is always to cut our DLE programs. They quickly claim that DLE programming does not work. However, we have research-based evidence that when DLE programs are properly implemented, they do support students’ academic growth and are actually the only bilingual instruction model that closes the opportunity gap for English Learners. However, we also know that when DLE programs are not properly implemented, they do not close the opportunity gap. 

When students are not making progress in monolingual math classes, do we cut our math classes? Do we say, “Teaching math doesn’t work?” Of course not. We revamp Tier 1 instruction and build MTSS structures to support those students who are not making adequate progress in Tier 1. We should do the same in our DLE programs.

It is for this reason that I have created The 7 Sides of Dual Language Instruction™. I imagine DLI as a heptagon, a shape as uncommon as the concept of bilingualism seems to be in the United States. If any of the sides are left out, the shape is no longer formed, just as if any of the concepts in my framework are left out, our DLI becomes weak. The 7 Sides of Dual Language Instruction™ are the research-based sides of DLI that need to be present in instruction for us to attain high academic achievement for our students.  

  1. Structures – For DLI to be successful, there have to be clear structures in place. You will see that structures will influence the other sides of the instructional heptagon as well. An example of structure is the language allocation plan. Are you a 90-10 model, or a 50-50 model, or something in between? Has the language allocation plan been thought out based on the community’s needs? Have administrators, teachers, students, families, and other stakeholders been involved in these decisions? How are the content area classes and units being divided amongst the languages to adhere to the language allocation plan? Are the teachers following these plans faithfully? Another example of structures are assessments and MTSS structures.
  2. Separation of Language & Translanguaging & Cross-Linguistic Spaces – Recently, this has been a place of controversy where the argument has centered around separation of language or translanguaging. (The concept of cross-linguistic connections often falls by the wayside.) However, the key word is not or but and. While there needs to be separation of language on the part of adults in the classroom, students, especially younger students, should be able to use their entire linguistic repertoire. In other words, students need to be able to use everything they know in every language they know in order to grapple with the material. This of course should never take away from professional decisions made by teachers. For instance, in order to teach specific language objectives, the teacher may choose to have students stay in the language of instruction for a particular activity, and therefore, provide the scaffolds and supports necessary for students to stay in the language. Older students who can stay in the language may be asked to do so as well.  Or there may be intentional translanguaging by the teacher such as referring to a family member by their Spanish title during English time or referring to a book they read in the other language that elevates the culture. Furthermore, during the space supporting cross-linguistic connections, also known as bridging, both the adults and students may be translanguaging, but this should always be an intentional, planned space. 
  3. Speaking Practice and Schema – Academic discourse is important for all students, but especially for language learners. While educators may provide word banks, sentence stems, and other structures in accordance with students’ language proficiency, students need to develop their oracy skills. Students need the opportunity to speak both before starting literacy units but also throughout students’ literacy instruction. Activities that can provide students with opportunities to speak include but are not limited to Readers’ Theatre, Total Physical Response, Whole Class Discussions, Structured Group Work, Debates, Turn and Talks, and Fish Bowl.  Activities that can help build schema include the Language Experience Approach, class discussions, and even field trips (virtual ones work too!). 
  4. Standards – All grade-level content, language, and social justice standards should be addressed. Just because students are in DLE classes should not mean that we are watering down the curriculum. We are still teaching grade-level content in all subject areas. The caveat, however, is that we do not repeat standards across languages. What is taught in Spanish or French or Portuguese or Mandarin is not then retaught in English or vice-versa. Instead, we help students transfer their knowledge to the partner language. Furthermore, every DLE teacher needs to see themselves as both a content and a language teacher. It is important that we are thinking about the language that will move our students to the next level and that we integrate both content and language together. Finally, let us not forget the social justice standards that should be interwoven throughout the lessons in order to reach the third pillar of DLE – sociocultural competence.
  5. Struggle – Often when we talk about grade-level standards, we hear that it is not fair for DLE students to have to do grade-level work when they are learning two languages. It is important to remember that bilingualism and multilingualism is the norm in many countries, especially in countries with strong education systems. Students have to be given grade-level standards (or higher) and be expected to productively struggle with them. The amount of struggle expected should be a Goldilocks-level of struggle. They should not struggle too little, or they will either be bored or surface-level engaged without growth. The struggle should also not lead them to frustration, or they will give up. Instead, there should be a productive struggle that leads students to growth. This Goldilocks-level of struggle will be different for each child and therefore, lessons need to be differentiated for each student.
  6. Scaffolds and Supports – To teach students grade-level standards while ensuring a Goldilocks-level of struggle, we need to provide students with appropriate scaffolds and supports. These scaffolds and supports may include gestures, vocabulary introduction before the lesson, graphic organizers, sentence stems, and/or word banks. Because the Goldilocks-level of struggle will be different for each child, scaffolds and supports should look different as well. It is also important to build schema for our students before embarking upon a unit. Students can successfully work at higher levels when they know about the topic they are reading.   
  7. Subject-related and language-based literacy – The more we teach multilingual learners language in context, the faster they will grow. Therefore, it is important to teach integrated, biliteracy units. Social Studies and Science need to be integrated into literacy units, which means we need to look at scheduling and time on learning differently than in monolingual classrooms. Furthermore, partner languages should not be taught with translated pedagogy. The way you learn phonics-based languages is different from how you learn English. These differences should be honored.

If The 7 Sides of Dual Language Instruction™ are properly implemented in Tier 1 instruction, I am confident that programs will attain the first goal of Dual Language: high academic achievement in both languages. Remember, DLE has been proven to provide high academic achievement, but only when we do it well. 

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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