Equity Measures in Dual Language Education: Separation of Language

Dual Language Education is a social justice movement for students who speak a Language Other Than English (LOTE) at home because it is the only language acquisition program research proven to close the opportunity gap for students identified as Emergent Bilinguals.  However, as demonstrated by various studies (Urow & Beeman 2013; Thomas & Collier, 2004) when the nonnegotiables of Dual Language Education are not followed, we do not successfully close the opportunity gap for our students.

“How the program is implemented can influence the rate at which English learners close the gap. Important principles of dual language include a minimum of six years of bilingual instruction with English learners not segregated, a focus on the core academic curriculum rather than a watered-down version, high-quality language arts instruction in both languages and integrated into thematic units, separation of the two languages with no translation or repeated lessons in the other language, use of the non-English language at least 50 percent of the instructional time and as much as 90 percent in the early grades, and use of collaborative and interactive teaching strategies. How faithful teachers are to these principles can strongly influence the success of the program.”

Thomas & Collier, 2004
A poorly implemented Dual Language program will not close the opportunity gap for students identified as Emergent Bilinguals.

Separation of Language

Separation of Language is one of the most important nonnegotiables of Dual Language Education.  Separation of Language is the intentional, exclusive use of the language of instruction on the part of the adults in the classroom.  This means that the adults in the classroom do not translate instruction from the LOTE to English or from English to the LOTE.  This may seem difficult, especially when students are in the beginning stages of language acquisition; however, the right language acquisition strategies can make separation of language easier than it seems. For example, teachers may use visuals, realia, manipulatives, and gestures to help their students understand the lesson.  Total physical response (TPR), looking at students while talking so that they can benefit from watching your lips (when there’s not a pandemic raging), and having students mirror you are also strategies that you can use to help students understand the lesson in the language they are acquiring.

What about monolingual, English speaking adults who enter the classroom?  How can they stick to the language of instruction?  First, monolingual adults should absolutely be invited into Dual Language classrooms, especially during instruction in the LOTE.  Monolingual adults have a special role in Dual Language classrooms.  They can give the teacher feedback about the use of language acquisition strategies in the classroom.  After all, if visitors have no idea what is happening in the classroom, neither do the students in the classroom who are at the earliest stages of language acquisition. To make the visitors’ time in the classroom more comfortable, have a list of commonly used words and phrases laminated and ready for the adults to use.   For instance, in a Spanish classroom, have a laminated list of words that the visitors can hold that includes the phrase, “¿Qué haces?” or “What are you doing?” so that the adults can converse a little with students.  Over time, if visitors are frequent, students will start to answer visitors in the LOTE, but they will do so using the same language acquisition strategies that their teachers use. 

Separation of Language and Evaluations

What is the role of separation of language in evaluating students?  Research tells us that evaluations should be in the language of instruction.  Hence, if math was taught in the LOTE, the exam should be in the LOTE.  However, if math was taught in English, the test should be in English.  It is okay, however, to have word banks or visuals on the test to help students access the content (Gottlieb, 2016).  

Separation of Language on the Part of Students

Do you remember how the definition of separation of language referred to adults?  That was on purpose.  Students, in general, are allowed to use their entire linguistic repertoire.  For instance, when students are engaged in group work, students may translanguage amongst themselves although the teacher, while intentionally rotating among groups, should stay in the language of instruction.  Furthermore, if a student writes in Mandarin on a math test that is in English, the teacher should accept the answers.  That said, the teacher can use their professional judgement to push students to use more of the language, of course, depending upon the students’ linguistic abilities.  For instance, in a class that is facilitated in Spanish, if a student uses the word “watermelon” while speaking, the teacher could recast by saying, “sandía.”  The teacher could also recast and then have the student repeat the word.  If the word is a vocabulary word or a word the teacher has specifically taught, the teacher can expect the student to use the word.  (Of course, if the student uses a different word in the same language that is used in a different region or country, we would accept the word and not expect the student to use the word taught.)  Other strategies to increase students’ use of the language include using sentence stems or essay structures.  

Overall, in order to ensure that Dual Language Education successfully closes the opportunity gap for our students, we must adhere to the nonnegotiables of DLE, including separation of language.  How well are you doing with staying in the language of instruction?  Do you have any additional tips not mentioned here?  Please comment below.


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