In the midst of multiple international conflicts, an interwoven global economy and the shrinking nature of our techno-driven world, language learning can no longer be considered an elective subject, but should rather be a necessary core to modern education. Typically, we put language learning on hold through much of elementary school, but this is the time when children's minds are most adept for absorbing words and languages.
Schools throughout the country are realizing this need and implementing Dual Language Education.
From neighborhood schools to charters and magnets, these schools are providing their students with greater opportunity to academically compete with students abroad by diversifying their skill sets in areas of communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and analysis. Some education leaders are even predicting that dual language education will be the future of American schools.
Dual Language Education vs. ESL / ESOL
Dual Language Education is often confused with ESL / ESOL programs. While there are similarities between the two, there are major differences in their agendas.
The Breakdown: Compare & Contrast
Dual Language Education
– Schoolwide approach
– Goal: To provide ALL students with the skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) necessary to become fluent in both languages
– Programs usually begin at a young age (kindergarten or 1st grade) and continue for at least five years
– Students automatically opt in in enrolling in the school
– Depending on the type of program, requirements are placed on instructional time in partner language
– Not available in every school
ESL / ESOL
– Select group of students
– Goal: To provide non-native English-speaking students with the proper skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) necessary for academic success
– Program entrance is on an individual basis and can begin at any grade for any length of period
– Students may opt in or may be chosen based on entrance exams / placement tests
– Program is supplemental to classroom curriculum
– Most public schools have ESL / ESOL
Variation in Dual Language Education
Within the last few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of dual language programs throughout the United States. Results vary depending on the type of program and structure implemented however overall results remain positive. Parents and educators have taken great interest in such programs because they feel they will provide students with multilevel thinking strategies, stronger linguistic skills, and greater communication skills to succeed in the interdependent world.
Dual language programs can be classified into four categories:
1. Two-way Immersion- This type of program requires an enrollment of both native English-speaking students and native speaking students of the partner language. Schools may choose to implement programs that are either full-immersion (50-50 model) or partial-immersion (90-10 model). Both immersion programs have been proven to have high success rates.
2. Heritage Language Programs- Participants of this language program are dominant in the English language but have parents, grandparents or other ancestors fluent in the partner language. This program addresses the needs of heritage language learners.
3. Foreign Language Immersion-Also known as one-way immersion, foreign language immersion involves students that are native English speakers in hopes to become fluent in the partner language. It is more in-depth than spending a portion of your day in Spanish class or French class.
4. Developmental Bilingual Programs- Enrollment in this type of program is specific to those who are native speakers of the partner language. Participants of this program will develop the necessary skills and strategies to not only succeed academically, but also be fully proficient and comfortable in both languages.
Currently, the vast majority of dual language programs in the US are in English and Spanish however other languages with growing popularity include: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
These variances in languages are a determined by a combination of factors including, but not limited to, school district demographics, community needs, and educator or student interest. Dual language programs are most commonly used in states such as Texas, New Mexico, California, and Hawaii however schools nationwide are looking into implementing this type of curriculum.
Success of Dual Language Education
Singapore's current national bilingual education policy is an excellent example of how successful these programs can be.
By government order, students in the Singaporean education system are required to learn two languages, English and one of the other three official main languages of the country (Mandarin, Malay or Tamil). This has allowed nearly the entire literate population of Singapore to be fully bilingual all while unifying all members of its nation without sacrifice to any heritage.