More to the Story on Dual-Language Immersion

By Lesli A. Maxwell — March 23, 2012 2 min read
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I’ve got a new story up on this morning that takes a look at the steady growth in dual-language immersion programs across the nation and why educators are increasingly adopting this approach to teach English learners.

The story has a bit of a kitchen sink feel to it because I tried to wedge in a number of examples from across states and a range of national perspectives. Because of that, and because I can’t write a 5,000-word story, I had to leave out scenes from the dual-language classrooms I visited in California and I didn’t get to address how states and districts are finding the teachers they need for these very demanding programs.

I told you a little bit already about the dual-language classrooms at Gardner Academy in San Jose and how, in the program’s third year at the school, students, especially the English learners, are showing promising progress.

I also hung out at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, a large, comprehensive high school that has a thriving Chinese immersion program. At Lincoln, a mix of native Chinese speakers—some are immigrants while others are U.S. born—and non-native speakers who have been learning the language since the early grades, are taking advanced language courses together. These students are also taking at least two content courses a year in Chinese. One of those courses is biology, taught by teacher Fan Fang, who, with both a Chinese language credential and biology content credential, is a bit of a rare find.

Finding teachers like Fang is one of the biggest barriers to expanding dual-language programs into the upper grades. And in states like Utah and North Carolina where there is not a huge source of local teachers with bilingual skills, education officials are using agreements with countries such as Mexico, China, and Taiwan to hire teachers for up to three or five years. In Utah, the foreign teachers are paired with local teachers to split the instructional day into English and the second language.

Though Lincoln doesn’t offer a dual Spanish immersion program per se, it does have an advanced language pathway in Spanish. Some students in the advanced Spanish courses have come through a dual-language program in Spanish/English in elementary and middle school, while others are native Spanish speakers who might still be English learners. Spanish teacher Suzann Baldwin is a big advocate for her students and has convinced many of the native Spanish speakers who have become more English-dominant to keep developing their primary language to become fully bilingual and biliterate.

The students I interviewed at Lincoln understand the advantages they will have in college and beyond with their bilingualism and biliteracy. And these are not kids of privilege. Most of them come from low income families and started out their schooling careers as English learners.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.