When Your Program is Not Really Dual Language

All that glitters isn’t gold. All that is called Dual Language (DL) isn’t DL. Photo by Achira22 on Pexels.com

Dual Language (DL) programs are often on the chopping block.  Poor data will quickly push those in power to say, “Dual Language doesn’t work.” The closing of DL programs, then, discourages other districts from launching DL programs. However, the research is clear that DL programs do work.  So what is the disconnect?  One of the problems with the ostensible failure of DL is that not all programs that claim to be Dual Language actually are DL.

All that glitters is not gold.  Therefore, we often find programs that do not follow the nonnegotiables of Dual Language to claim that they are Dual Language programs.  The four nonnegotiables for Dual Language are as follows:

  1. At the elementary level, at  least 50% of instructional, content area time is in the Language Other Than English (LOTE).
  2. At the secondary level, there is at least one advanced language arts class in the LOTE and one content area class (science, social studies, or mathematics) in the LOTE.
  3. There is a strict separation of language on the part of the adults except when there is intentional bridging.
  4. The program lasts for at least 6 years, generally K-5.

Unfortunately, not every program that calls itself Dual Language follows these nonnegotiables.  Here are a few examples of programs I have seen that either need to stop calling themselves DL programs or need to change their structures:

  1. Programs that do not enforce separation of language.  There has been a false dichotomy between separation of language and translanguaging.  Both have a place in Dual Language.  Adults should engage in strict separation of language although they may engage in intentional translanguaging during bridging.  Students, however, can use their entire linguistic repertoires (translanguage), especially as they are gaining fluency in either or both languages.
  2. Programs that stop in 3rd grade.  I have seen programs that transition into English-only classrooms at the elementary school-level call themselves Dual Language.  These are transitional bilingual programs, which are not as successful as Dual Language programs.  Hence, they should not call themselves as such.
  3. Secondary programs that only offer an advanced level of the LOTE.  Many secondary programs have students who went through elementary Dual Language programs who then take the LOTE at a higher level when they get to middle or high school.  This is a fine option when it is not possible to offer a full fledged Dual Language program at the secondary level, which requires at least one content area in the LOTE as well.  However, such programs should not be called Dual Language programs.  In my own district, we  have opted to call such programs, “Dual Language Extension” because we are extending our Dual Language program with advanced Spanish or advanced Portuguese with the intention of someday adding a content area class; however, until then, we want to distinguish our secondary programs from actual DL programs.

It is important to call our programs by the correct nomenclature and not let programs that are not Dual Language be called as such.  Otherwise, we risk muddying the waters and making Dual Language appear to not be the successful program it really is.  This is not only harmful for your own program, which may someday be able to otherwise turn into an actual DL program, but it’s harmful for the field, which is constantly needing to defend Dual Language.  And in the end, it’s the kids who get denied DL programs who are hurt the most.

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