Why Do You Have a Dual Language Program?

Why do you have a Dual Language Education (DLE) Program? Is it because it’s really chic for the well-to-do to learn an additional language other than English? Is it because your White, monolingual community is clamoring for something to set itself apart on college applications? Or is it because your district believes in supporting students in developing and maintaining their own home language so that they can have access to their family members and culture? Is it because your district understands that the only research-proven way to close the opportunity gap is to provide Emergent Bilinguals with Dual Language opportunities through which they can learn both their home language and English (Thomas and Collier, 2013)?

Dual Language programs were originally created for Emergent Bilinguals, also known as English Learners. Hence, many DLE programs started as One-Way Developmental Dual Language programs or programs that primarily service students who start the program as Emergent Bilinguals. Nevertheless, many of our programs have undergone gentrification and seem to serve already privileged populations instead of the students who really need the programs. Is your program in danger of gentrification? Here are five ways that your district and/or school can ensure that your DLE programs are servicing your Emergent Bilingual population.

  1. Make sure that all Emergent Bilingual students who have the partner language of the DLE program as a home language are enrolled in the program. Before opening your Dual Language program to monolingual, English-speaking students, see if there are still any remaining language-minority students who speak the partner language at home. Dual Language programs should start as One-Way Developmental Dual Language programs whenever possible in order to service those students for whom the program is a “must-have” rather than a “nice-to-have.” Then, once you have secured spots for all of your Emergent Bilinguals, you can invite your monolingual, English speakers into the fold.*
  2. Do not remove Emergent Bilinguals from their English biliteracy block for ESL (English as Second Language) services. In elementary Dual Language programs, ESL services should either be delivered by the teacher who facilitates in English or at least through a co-taught model with a content teacher and an ESL teacher where students are integrated with their monolingual, English-speaking peers. Especially in programs that have both English proficient and Emergent Bilingual students, by removing Emergent Bilinguals from the English block, Emergent Bilinguals essentially are in the program in service of the monolingual, English speakers by serving as language models during the Spanish biliteracy block and not receiving the same benefit during the English biliteracy block. Hence, the purpose of Dual Language programming, to support our Emergent Bilinguals, is essentially forgotten.
  3. Keep academic expectations high. Remember that one of the three goals of Dual Language Education is high academic achievement in both languages. Dual Language programs must  cover the standards and provide grade level expectations for their Emergent Bilingual students. Language Arts need to be taught in both languages each year regardless of the model, and a strict language allocation plan should be followed with intentional space for translanguaging through bridging. Anything less than this description is not in service of the students who most need Dual Language programming.
  4. Involve the parents of your Emergent Bilinguals. If your PTO and other parent events are mostly attracting monolingual English-speaking families, you are not hearing the voices you most need to hear. Consider hosting your events in the Language Other Than English with interpretation in English, and make sure that communication home is accessible for families with differing levels of technology and language literacy. Engage in outreach efforts to involve your Emergent Bilingual students’ families and support them in becoming leaders at these events. The more you can hear from the families of your Emergent Bilinguals, the more you will understand the needs of the students whom Dual Language programs are designed to serve. 
  5. Focus on transcultural acculturation. Your Emergent Bilinguals are likely growing up in a culture that is not the same as the culture of their caretakers.  This can present internal conflicts when it comes to students’ values and identity. Students may feel a sense of push and pull from members of the two cultures where they are being asked by society to assimilate and by their family members to resist assimilation. They may feel an undue pressure to fit perfectly into both cultures while they feel that they fit into neither. Ultimately, our job is to support our students in learning that they are indeed perfect the way they are and to help them navigate their own search for identity and belonging.

If you follow these five suggestions, you are on your way to ensuring that your Dual Language Education program is serving the students who need it most.

*If your Dual Language Education program has both Emergent Bilingual and English proficient students and all Emergent Bilinguals are not being served through the program, I do not advocate dismantling the program. I do, however, advocate keeping your Emergent Bilingual students in mind as you expand your program.

Aradhana Mudambi
Author: Aradhana Mudambi

Dr. Aradhana Mudambi is an accomplished, multilingual educator and social justice activist. She is the proud owner of Social Justice and Education. She is currently the Director of Multilingual Education at Framingham Public Schools, Adjunct Professor of Intercultural Communications at Eastern Connecticut State University, and President of the Multistate Association for Bilingual Education. She has extensive experience writing grants for language acquisition programs. She is also an experienced advocate for Dual Language Education and World Languages, having been invited recently to speak at institutions such as Harvard University and the National Association of Bilingual Education. You can learn more about her and her work at www.socialjusticeandeducation.org.

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