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Dual Language Schools

By Janet Castrejon

Teacher with children

When your child is ready to begin Kindergarten, an option to consider in some cities is dual language schools. In dual language schools, instruction is provided in English for part of the time and another language (most often Spanish) for part of the time. The goal of this type of program is for all students to become bilingual and biliterate. Half the students entering these programs are native English-speakers and half are native speakers of the other language.

Instruction in dual language programs is generally separated either by content area (e.g. social studies are taught in English, math is taught in Spanish), time (e.g. different languages are used at different times of day, on different days, or during different weeks), or person (one teacher speaks only Cantonese to the children and another speaks only English). There are two dominant models for dual language programs in the United States. In the "90/10” model (90% minority language and 10 % English), the minority language is used in the early years for almost all of the instruction (90%). The English portion is then gradually increased over time until it reaches a ratio of about 50/50. In the “50/50” model, students are taught 50% of the time in English and 50% of the time in the minority language throughout the program.

Instruction in the dual language classroom is modified to serve the unique needs of students learning a new language. Because half the students in such a program are typically being taught in a language that is not native to them, teachers must employ teaching strategies to make instruction comprehensible. Some examples of such techniques include speaking slower, simplifying vocabulary and grammar, repeating information, using models, visuals, and graphic organizers.

Another modification that is often used is basing instruction around themes to provide students with an overall schema to aide in understanding. For example, if the theme is dinosaurs, the students could learn about the different types of dinosaurs in science class, write poems about dinosaurs in language arts class, compare average sizes of types of dinosaurs in math class, and draw dinosaurs in art class.


The following are some of the benefits of dual language programs.

  • Both native English-speaking and English language-learning students develop advanced levels of second language proficiency.
  • While most language classrooms only provide one model (the teacher), dual language classrooms provide a unique opportunity for exposure to many native language models for both groups of students because half of the students are native speakers of the other language.
  • In studies, students who have gone through dual language programs tend to perform as well or better on standardized achievement tests in reading and math than comparison groups.
  • Students develop friendships in the classroom independent of race or ethnicity and hold positive attitudes toward bilingualism and the minority culture.
  • Literacy skills developed in the first language provide a solid basis for acquisition of literacy skills in another language.
  • Students develop academic vocabulary and language in their first as well as second language.

In the United States, dual language schools are often run as public magnet or charter schools. You would need to request a transfer to the school when you enroll your child in Kindergarten. To find out if there is a dual language school in your school district, call your district headquarters.

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