English Space, Spanish Space, and Flexible Language Space in Dual Language Classrooms

Opinion Piece by Vivian Pratts, Bilingual Educational Consultant at VP Dual Language/Biliteracy/ESL sponsored by Okapi Educational Publishing

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Emergent bilingual is a term proposed by García (2009) that is used to describe students in schools whose home language is not English. The term emergent bilingual validates the fact that these students are actively becoming bilinguals. This use of both languages of instruction has been referred to by García and her colleagues (García & Kleifgen, 2018; García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017) as translanguaging. They describe translanguaging as the “multiple discursive practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds” (García, 2009). Emergent bilinguals benefit when teachers take a position or stance (García, 2009) toward the use of both languages and do not adhere to an absolute strict separation of languages. In dual language programs where the two languages are strictly separated, students are treated like two monolinguals. For example, in an English-Spanish dual language classroom, students may be treated like monolingual speakers of English during English instruction and monolingual speakers of Spanish during Spanish instruction. This separation does not allow students to strategically draw on their home languages as a resource (Freeman, Freeman & Mercuri, 2018). Cummins (2007) argues for the strategic use of both languages during instruction.

While it is essential to have large, macro-spaces for student language immersion in our dual language programs, where students in dual language programs have time dedicated to the use of each language of instruction, it is also important for smaller, micro-spaces to exist. It is in these micro-spaces where instruction can be intentionally and strategically planned (García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017) by the teacher to support and encourage the flexible use of a student’s linguistic repertoire to make meaning while becoming bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. This could be referred to as a third space in dual language classrooms where instruction is not only in English or Spanish, but both.

The reality in dual language classrooms is that the students’ home language is present even when instruction is in the other language. Often students can be heard speaking among themselves in their home languages to negotiate the meaning of instruction in the other language.

Continue reading to learn more about Vivian Pratt’s thoughts on translanguaging…

Translanguaging is an approach that teachers can employ to promote language transfer as they develop bilingual spaces in the language immersion classroom. There are several ways teachers might create these spaces:

  • A time/space that helps students become aware of similitudes y diferencias at the phonology, morphology, syntax, grammar and pragmatic levels of both languages.
  • A space where content area anchor charts illustrate como se dicen los conceptos in both languages.
  • A whole group or small group lesson design that leverages students bilingualism by introducing a topic, theme or vocabulary in one language (preview), delivers the lesson (view) in the other language, and reviews to affirm understanding or clarifymisconceptions in the language of the preview.
  • Content area instruction that is predominantly in English or Spanish (target language macro-level space), but where students may conduct research in either language (flexible micro-level space) and present in the target language (macro-level space).
  • Turn and Talk where students can turn and talk in the home language and report back in the language of instruction.

It is important for teachers to move away from monolingual instructional orientations. Translanguaging supports emergent bilingual students by helping them become aware of how their languages work and how they can use one language to learn in and about the other language. The use of translanguaging allows emergent bilinguals to develop a sophisticated linguistic repertoire in both languages. They can draw on that linguistic repertoire as they become not only bilingual but also biliterate.

Cummins, J. (2007). Rethinking Monolingual Instructional Strategies in Multilingual Classrooms. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics 10(2): 221-40.
Freeman, Y., Freeman, D., and Mercuri, S. (2018). Dual Language Essentials for Teachers and Administrators. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.
García, Ofelia. 2009. Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Basil/Blackwell.
García, O., Johnson, S. & Seltzer, K. (2017). The Translanguaging classroom. Leveraging student bilingualism for learning. Philadelphia: Caslon.
García, O., & Kleifgen, J. (2018). Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, programs and practices for English Learners. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Kathleen Leos
Author: Kathleen Leos

Kathleen Leos is the President and CEO of The Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development, LLC, (GILD). Prior to establishing this new endeavor, Ms. Leos served six year (2002-2007) presidential appointment as the Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director to the US Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) established by Congress in the 2002 No Child Left Behind-Title III legislation. In that position, Ms. Leos served as principal advisor to the U.S. Secretaries of Education, Dr. Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings, on all matters related to ELL students, and developed regulations, policies and procedures to create a national education and accountability infrastructure in 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico for the 5.5 million Limited English Proficient students who grace America's classrooms K-12. The six year effort included assisting states in developing: new English language proficiency standards, aligned ELP assessments, research-based instructional strategies to train teachers to instruct language development and literacy skills simultaneously, and provide communities and parents with effective education models that support ELL high academic achievement. The goal is to create a national education system that includes ELLs in state accountability systems for the first time in the history of US K-12 public schools. Ms....

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