The world of education is constantly evolving, and one of the most significant advancements in recent times is the recognition of dual language immersion as a core component of education.

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portrait of Nancy Hong.

In this recent episode of the It’s All About Language Podcast, Nancy Hong, Ed.D., Director of Dual Language at Glendale Unified School District, shared invaluable insights into the world of dual language programs. Her perspectives help us understand why these programs are about much more than just learning a second language; they are about shaping well-rounded, culturally competent, and academically successful students.

Here are five reasons why dual language is integral to core education.

1. Balanced and Accelerated Bilingual Proficiency

One of the primary goals of dual language programs, as highlighted by Nancy Hong, is to develop high levels of proficiency in both languages. Unlike traditional language learning, which often prioritizes one language over another, dual language immersion strives for a balanced bilingual experience. This approach doesn’t just teach a second language; it fosters a deep understanding and fluency that can only be achieved through immersive learning.

A 2017 RAND study showed that English learners assigned to dual language immersion were more likely than their peers to be classified as English proficient by grade 6. This effect was stronger for students whose native language matched the classroom partner language​. 

2. Academic Excellence Across Disciplines

Dual language learners are not just learning two languages; they are achieving academically across all disciplines. This approach enhances cognitive skills like problem-solving and critical thinking. Dual language programs are not language classes; they are a way of teaching core subjects in a manner that enriches the student’s understanding and engagement with the material, leading to higher academic achievement overall.

That same study by RAND found that students in dual language immersion programs “outperformed their peers on state accountability tests in reading by a significant margin. In grade 5, dual language immersion students outperformed by 13 percent of a standard deviation and by 22 percent of a standard deviation in grade 8. These results represent approximately seven to nine additional months of learning.” This finding is particularly powerful given that the study also accounted for ‘parent-choice’ bias.

3. Socio-Cultural Competence

Another significant aspect of dual language programs is developing socio-cultural competence. Students learn to navigate different cultural spaces with ease, understanding nuances like gestures, registers, and appropriate language usage in various situations. This goes beyond merely understanding how another culture thinks and does things; it’s about developing empathy, respect, and the ability to interact appropriately in a diverse world.

4. Reflecting and Embracing Community Diversity

Dual language programs often reflect the linguistic and cultural makeup of their communities. As such, Glendale Unified offers languages like Armenian, Spanish, and Korean as well as the more commonly found French, German, Italian, and Japanese. These programs validate the identity of students, fostering a sense of belonging. Students embrace all parts of themselves, bringing their whole selves to the learning process. This additive-based model honors the first language or home language and builds upon it, ensuring that learning a second language does not hinder or confuse but enriches and complements their existing linguistic skills.

5. Holistic Growth and Fiscal Benefits

Dual language immersion supports learning in all subject areas, meeting the goals of a district in terms of positive outcomes, student engagement, and social-emotional health. Moreover, these programs attract families from outside the district, offering significant financial benefits. Parents recognize the advantages of this educational model for educational and career opportunities. These programs emphasize student interaction and maximize possibilities for learning in more than one language.

Challenges and Considerations

While the benefits of dual language immersion programs are clear, there are also challenges in implementation, such as the need for specialized professional learning for teachers, managing a range of learner differences, and ensuring the effective teaching of more abstract and complex concepts in the upper grades. These challenges highlight the importance of well-planned and supported programs to achieve the best outcomes​. 

Effective Implementation and Teacher Practices

Research on the implementation of two-way dual language immersion programs in the Portland Public School District in Oregon highlighted the effectiveness of these programs in achieving their goals. Teachers in these programs adhered strongly to guidelines about language use, and students also showed considerable adherence to the partner language during class activities. These findings indicate that well-implemented dual language programs can successfully foster bilingualism and biliteracy​.

Avant can support dual language immersion implementation and ongoing practices in your school or district. Check out MORE Effective Dual Language Immersion (MEDLI) for more information.