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Dual Language Education: Answers to Questions From the Field

Dual language education refers to programs that provide grade-level content and literacy instruction to all students through two languages—English and a partner language. In one-way dual language programs, the partner language is the native language of all of the students in the class. In two-way programs, approximately half the students are native speakers of the partner language and the other half are native speakers of English. Dual language programs typically begin in kindergarten or first grade and continue for a minimum of 5 years and have the goals of promoting bilingualism and biliteracy, high levels of academic achievement, and cross-cultural competence. An ideal dual language program would serve students from kindergarten through Grade 12, but the vast majority are implemented in elementary schools. For English learners, dual language programs offer a positive alternative to monolingual English instruction (also known as English immersion) and transitional bilingual education, which often do not provide the support English learners need to achieve academically and graduate at the same rates as their English-fluent peers (de Jong, 2014; Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2005; Lindholm-Leary & Genesee, 2014). English learner participation in dual language education is associated with improved academic (Valentino & Reardon, 2014), linguistic, and emotional outcomes (Lindholm-Leary & Borsato, 2001).

In addition to closing the achievement gap for English learners (Thomas & Collier, 2012), dual language education provides opportunities for all students to gain valuable multilingual and cross-cultural skills that prepare them to thrive in today’s global world. Key features of effective dual language programs include provision of (a) literacy instruction in the partner language and in English (once introduced) for the duration of the program; (b) content instruction in both program languages over the course of the program; (c) instruction in the partner language for a minimum of 50% of instructional time; (d) curriculum and instructional materials in the partner language that are linguistically and culturally appropriate; (e) professional development for administrators, teachers, and family and community members specific to dual language education; and (f) assessments in the partner language. The authors of this brief travel across the country providing professional development, technical assistance, and job-embedded support for dual language educators and administrators. This brief was written to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions they encounter from the field.