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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Teaching Opinion

Response: Everything You Wanted to Know About Dual Immersion But Were Afraid to Ask

By Larry Ferlazzo — February 17, 2018 23 min read
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The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What does “dual-immersion” mean? Is it different from bilingual education? What are tips to do “dual-immersion” and/or bilingual education well?

“Dual Immersion” is a phrase you hear more-and-more in education circles. This column will explore what it means in practice.

Today’s guests are Elizabeth B. Beltran, Barbara Gottschalk, Dr. Conor P. Williams, Carol Salva, Margarita Calderón, Ph.D., Shawn Slakk, and Leslie Davison. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Elizabeth, Barbara and Conor on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in past columns that have appeared here on Teaching English Language Learners.

Response From Elizabeth B. Beltran

Elizabeth B. Beltran is a Teacher on Special Assignment for Banning Unified School District in Banning, Calif., a University of California Riverside, Extension Instructor for the CLAD through CTEL and Bilingual Authorization Programs and a member of the Instructional Leadership Corps, a collaboration among the California Teachers Association, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford:

Dual Immersion is a 40-year-old educational program that is highly rigorous and academically challenging, in which participants learn a second language. The program places dual immersion in the realm of bilingual education as students who participate in this program leave the program bilingual, biliterate, and future ready global students. The goal of dual immersion is to develop individuals with bilingual skills, academic excellence, and positive cross-cultural and personal competencies. The program’s design is based on years of research from language immersion models in Canada. (Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition).

The program involves two languages (in some cases a third is introduced), English and a target language—Spanish being the most widely used in Southern California. In dual immersion classrooms, language is taught through content as opposed to teaching language as a separate subject. There is a strict separation of languages; simultaneous translation is never used. The student population is comprised of balanced numbers of native English speakers and native speakers of the target language. The program teachers are bilingual and biliterate in the target language as well as in English; the curriculum, standards and assessments are identical to English only classrooms.

The two most popular dual immersion program designs are the 90/10 model and the 50/50 model (in some 50/50 models, English only teachers teach the English portion of the day). These numbers reflect the percentage of instructional time in each language. Research demonstrates that both models achieve bilingualism and biliteracy, however, the 90/10 model creates higher levels of bilingualism (http://www.cal.org/twi/).

Due to its growing popularity, county offices of education, universities and other higher education entities as well as bilingual organizations such as the California Association of Bilingual Education(CABE) and The Association of Two-Way & Dual Language Education (ATDLE) offer implementation courses, guidance and information to school districts and teachers. There is also a wealth of information on the World Wide Web for those interested in the dual immersion program—also known as dual language and two way immersion.

Placing a child in this program requires commitment and understanding of the basics of the program from all stakeholders—the school district, school, student parents and community. The BASIC understandings of dual immersion (and bilingual education) are as follows:

  • All stakeholders should receive training on the details and process of the program/model to be implemented.

  • All stakeholders need to understand that development of bilingualism and biliteracy does not happen in one or two years. The acquisition of a second language is fully complete in approximately five to seven years. (Stephen Krashen, 1994). This can be a concern for stakeholders who do not fully comprehend the language acquisition stages. For example, parents become alarmed in the second or third year of the program when they realize their child may not be at the same reading level as their English only counterparts. It can be difficult for parents (and other stakeholders) to understand that by the end of the fifth through seventh year of participation in the program, their child will be proficient in TWO languages and will most likely score at or above grade level academic benchmarks.

  • Teachers should receive ongoing professional development to ensure fidelity to the selected model.

  • Parents should receive ongoing parent support to ensure comprehension of the program basics and support for students.

  • All stakeholders should receive continuous data on the progress of the program to ensure program support and accountability.

There are many benefits in learning more than one language, two of the most distinctive are the increase of cognitive development and the multicultural understanding and proficiency which open many educational, global awareness and professional doors for students.

“El que habla dos lenguas...vale por dos”

“He/She who speaks two languages is worth twice as much”

(An old Hispanic proverb)

Response From Barbara Gottschalk

Barbara Gottschalk is an English language acquisition teacher for Warren Consolidated Schools, a public school district in suburban Detroit. She is the author of Get Money for Your Classroom: Easy Grant Writing Ideas That Work:

“Ms. Gottschalk, I can speak Chaldean!” a 1st grade English language learner once announced to me.

“You can?” I replied, “Good for you!”

“Yes,” he continued, “that’s why I can’t read.”

Ouch. I was horrified this young student thought his bilingualism was a bad thing but not surprised. He was simply reflecting misguided beliefs about second language acquisition that the adults around him held. Helping you correct misconceptions like my young student’s is the topic of this Q&A.

So... what IS dual immersion? Is it different from bilingual education? Not really. Dual immersion and bilingual education both refer to teaching academic content in two different languages with the goal of students becoming literate in both. Some dual immersion and bilingual programs teach equally in two languages while others begin equally and gradually switch to mostly English. Asking people what they mean when discussing these models is a good start because misconceptions abound. For example, my own school district had a “bilingual education” department for years, but content was never taught in two languages. I once applied for a “bilingual/reading teacher” job opening and realized at the interview that what the principal really wanted was an English as a second language teacher. I wasn’t bilingual in any of the students’ languages, but I got the job. My principal might have had a more-qualified applicant pool, however, if he’d had a better understanding of the terms he was using in the job announcement.

My young student was wrong; bilingualism in not an obstacle, but an advantage for all kinds of learning. Research shows well-designed and well-executed dual immersion and bilingual programs benefit students, especially in the long term. Such programs are difficult to implement in schools like mine where students speak 26 different languages. How, then, can we bring some of the benefits of dual immersion and bilingual programs to our general education classrooms? Here are some simple tips:

  1. Stress the importance of home language maintenance. In particular it’s critical to educate parents who may have been told to stop speaking their native language with their children and use English instead. Please help stop this “language shaming”!

  2. Encourage language awareness. Get information about your students’ home languages. Ensure your classroom library has bilingual books in these languages.

  3. Establish and strengthen connections with community organizations to further home language development. Public libraries often stock bilingual materials in the languages of the local community while ethnic and religious organizations offer “Saturday school” or other classes to help children learn the language of the home country. Make sure your students and their families are aware of these resources.

  4. Start with the obvious ways to further cultural understanding such as international lunches and multilingual welcome signs, but extend that to deeper connections. For example, invite parents into your classroom for bilingual read-alouds and use literature from your students’ cultures. An Arabic-English version of a Dr. Seuss story is one way to reach your Arabic-speaking students; using an English translation of a traditional Arabic fairy tale your students may already know is even better. The culture as well as the language speaks to students.

  5. Get money. My district doesn’t have a dual-immersion or bilingual program. Even so, I still applied for grant funding to help my school’s pre-K and kindergarten teachers learn about these approaches. Teachers knew the training would help them work more effectively with their many English language learners. I wasn’t successful, but I’ll apply again. If you’ve got a good idea, you should, too!

Response From Dr. Conor P. Williams

Conor P. Williams is a senior researcher in New America’s Education Policy Program and the founder of its Dual Language Learners National Work Group. Find him on Twitter @conorpwilliams (Editor’s Note: Check out Conor’s recent article in The Atlantic, The Intrusion Of White Families Into Bilingual Schools):

Nothing bedevils the language education world so much as terms. What do we call students who speak a non-English language at home and learn English at school? English Learners (ELs)? Limited English Proficient (LEP)? English Language Learners (ELLs)? English as a Second Language (ESL)? Dual Language Learners (DLLs)? Emergent Bilingual Learners (EBLs)? Multilingual Learners (MLLs)? Are all of these terms precisely equivalent? Should we use the term(s) that are best recognized by the field? Or by the general public? Or those that best reflect these students’ unique linguistic development patterns?

Alas, the terminological troubles are no different when it comes to multilingual instructional models. “Dual language programs vary in structure, implementation, and enrolled student populations,” read a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Education (prepared by the American Institutes for Research).

Do they ever. There are over 7,000 languages in the world at present, and sometimes it can feel as though there are an equal number of dual immersion program models. First of all, the field isn’t entirely sure whether to term them “dual immersion” or “dual language.” And that’s only the first, smallest, least-significant challenge. In the United States, dual immersion programs vary by the types of students they enroll (all native English speakers? All native speakers of the target language? A balance of the two?) and the weighting of the language of instruction (an even 50/50 split? A 90-10 split that gradually transitions to 50/50 over time? Some other model). And that’s not all! There are further variations within these models: some 50/50 programs break down the language split by time (assigning precisely half the day to each language), while others break it down by subject (half of the subjects, or half of the key academic subjects, or etc).

“States’ definitions of dual language programs reflect the inconsistent use of multiple program terms in the dual language education field,” the Department of Education report reads.

In other words, there is no single definition of a “dual immersion program.” It’s like asking for a definition of a “mammal.” Sure, there are some relatively common characteristics, but they’re hardly precise enough to guide clear, concrete thinking. In the United States, dual immersion programs usually offer multilingual instruction in English and another language. They tend to emphasize multilingual development in the context of academic content acquisition. Two-way immersion models generally enroll roughly-equal percentages of native speakers of English and of the target, non-English language. One-way immersion models generally enroll native speakers of just one of the languages.

All this ambiguity makes conversations about multilingual instruction—especially dual immersion—complicated. It can make it hard to get clear on how to ensure that these programs succeed. Think of an educational practice—emphasizing early vocabulary development over phonics in both languages, for example. Say that we notice that it seems to work particularly well in a district’s two-way, 50/50, Mandarin-English dual immersion program, but doesn’t work as well in a nearby one-way, 90/10 French-English dual immersion program. Why? We might not be able to say. Perhaps this practice works better in the Mandarin program because of details of its instructional model. Or perhaps it works better because of the basics of early literacy development in a character-based language.

This uncertainty bedevils dual immersion advocates, though they don’t always know it. Each time they use research on one kind of dual immersion program (in a particular context) to sell any and all new dual immersion programs, they may well be preparing public expectations that the new programs won’t be able to meet. For instance, the oft-cited, miraculous-sounding dual immersion research by George Mason’s Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas has significant methodological challenges that rarely make it into public dual immersion discussions. Less sensational research showing strong, but less sensational effects of dual immersion programs... well, measured studies like those don’t get nearly the same attention.

The National Dual Language Immersion Research Alliance is working on these sorts of challenges. It’s working to define dual immersion more specifically—and to sort out what works from what doesn’t. Who knows? With any luck, maybe they can help us narrow down a few of those other terms as well.

Response From Carol Salva

Carol Salva is a High School ESL teacher in Houston and an ESL consultant for Seidlitz Education. She is the coauthor of Boosting Achievement: Reaching Students with Minimal or Limited Education. Carol shares research based strategies through her weekly podcast on voiced.ca and her blog at salvac.edublogs.org


What is a Dual Language Program? According to the U.S. Department of Education, a Dual Language Program, also known as two-way or developmental, has the goal of developing language proficiency in two languages by receiving instruction in English and another language in a classroom that is usually comprised of half native English speakers and half native speakers of the other language.

Bilingual Programs also use the students primary language along with the target language to deliver instruction but these programs are typically comprised of learners who all share the same native language.

A Bilingual Teacher’s Regret

When I was a new Bilingual teacher, I struggled to learn what I could about teaching students who have a native language that is different from the target language of instruction. I was teaching 4th grade and incredibly proud that we had 100 percent of my students pass their state assessments that first year. The exam was rigorous, they learned a great deal. But I didn’t have the sheltered strategies under my belt to further develop their English while maintaining their native language.

Two Way Dual Language

At the same time, my own son was sitting in a Two Way Dual Language (TWDL) classroom down the hallway. We loved that he was in this program. Students in our TWDL program were out performing mainstream students. We only speak English at home so we are thrilled that he was soon able to move between English and Spanish with comprehension. I used to think that Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory was the primary reason he and his peers were so successful. With native languages being different, students were learning a lot from each other. Vygotsky sees "...cognitive growth as a collaborative process.” (Papalia, et al, 2011, p. 34) Peer collaboration is no doubt a major factor but I noticed it was more. I marveled at the TWDL teacher’s use of strategies to make their content comprehensible throughout the day. One teacher told me it was necessary because when you teach in a TWDL program, half of your class is not fully understanding you at all times. As I began to study sheltered instruction, I realized that with thoughtful planning and intentional practices, bilingual classrooms can have this same success.

Bilingual Education and One Way Dual Language

Eventually, our district adopted a One Way Dual Language model by Gomez & Gomez which is still considered a bilingual model but with a great deal of structure. The makeup of the class remained 100 percent native Spanish speakers but this program offered a way of delivering instruction which included a focus on alignment of sheltered strategies. Things like structured conversations with sentence frames, color coding of language in environmental print and other strategies were aligned through grade levels.

Lessons Learned

One of the most valuable things I have learned is that planning ways for students to listen, speak, read and write in the target language is essential regardless of the model. For example, sheltering instruction so that students feel confident to have academic conversations is key in any classroom as it fosters critical thinking. (Zwiers & Crawford, 2009)

I have learned that it is not enough to dedicate minutes to one language or another. Or to only dedicate subject areas to a particular language of instruction. Teachers need support and professional development that will give them tools to develop fluency, literacy and content mastery in both languages for all subjects. It is totally possible and happening in bilingual and dual language classes around the world.


Zwiers, J. & Crawford M. (2011) Academic Conversations: Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers

Papalia, D., Olds, S., & Feldman, R. (2011) A child’s world: infancy through adolescence, 11th edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Response From Margarita Calderón, Ph.D. & Shawn Slakk

Margarita Calderón, Ph.D., Professor Emerita/Senior Research Scientist, Johns Hopkins University and President/CEO of Margarita Calderón & Associates (MC&A). Shawn Slakk, Senior Consultant and VP of Operations for MC&A, former RETELL Coordinator for Massachusetts’ DOE. Margarita and Shawn conduct comprehensive professional development known as ExC-ELL (Expediting Comprehension for English Learners) including follow up coaching and TLCs across the country. You can see their publications here:

Dual-Immersion and Bilingual Education

Bilingual education has been on a rollercoaster. Many structures and approaches have been tried. Yet, the most promising approach is the dual-immersion where students learning English (ELs) and native English Speakers (non-ELs) learn all subject areas in two languages from kindergarten through 12th grade. These programs are different from bilingual transitional programs where only ELs participate, beginning with instruction in their native language and transitioning into all-English instruction in either 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade. Sometimes they do not transition in elementary school and as a result become Long-Term ELs in middle and high school.

Key Components for Success

Regardless of the program type, some key components are imperative as evidenced by two longitudinal studies. One study compared transitional bilingual programs for Spanish speakers transitioning into English-only programs at the 3rd and 4th grade. This experimental-control study found in the What Works Clearinghouse enabled 100 percent of 120 Spanish speakers to transition successfully into all-English instruction at 3rd and 4th with continued success in secondary schools, while only 40-50 percent of the control students in traditional instruction were able to transition. In a parallel a dual-immersion Spanish-English program with Latino English Learners and non-Latino English-only speakers learned together in heterogeneous teams from kindergarten throughout 5th grade and stayed at grade level successfully.

Both programs yielded effective student outcomes due to the same instructional components that have now become the basis of a nationally available K-12 professional development program called ExC-ELL.

The key components for success are:

Academic Language - Vocabulary instruction must start day one. Teachers must explicitly teach 5 words/phrases per day in all subjects in each language. This enables student mastery of 25 words per day per language (= approx. 5,000/year) as a precursor into reading comprehension and writing skills, thus enabling biliteracy.

Reading Comprehension - Inferencing, summarizing and identifying text structures, etc. require close reading and traverse Spanish and English. However, specific syntactical structures must be explicitly taught. Instruction on decoding and basic comprehension skills in both languages commences at kindergarten with reading comprehension skills continuing throughout all grades in all subjects.

Writing - Writing in English is different from writing in Spanish. Students need copious practice in both languages and in every subject (e.g., language arts, science, math, and social studies).

Cooperative Learning = Interaction - Monitored peer interaction is the path to acquiring a language. In teams of four, two Spanish and two English native speakers practice and learn new academic vocabulary, discourse, analytical thinking, social-emotional skills, and ways of working with difference.

Accountability - Regardless of the target language, during vocabulary, reading, writing and cooperative learning, students are held accountable for what they are learning and learning progressions are captured.

Collective Efficacy and Support - Teachers require professional development to develop their expertise in teaching vocabulary, discourse, reading and writing in any language. All PD followed by ample time to plan together and work in Teachers Learning Communities to fine-tune skills and study student learning progressions shows continuous success. New York City and others have us conduct ExC-ELL Institutes in Spanish, thus refreshing teachers’ academic Spanish and providing likeminded educators time to meet and discuss with others who have the same commitment to their bilingual/biliterate/bicultural students. All PD needs the support of administrators and the expectation that the new strategies will be infused into lessons and daily instruction. With that in mind, administrators and instructional coaches attend PD with the teachers and their own session on how to support, observe and give feedback.

Response From Leslie Davison

Leslie Davison is a K-12 dual language coordinator and a high school Spanish teacher. She is also the co-author with Gayle Westerberg of An Educator’s Guide to Dual Language Instruction - Increasing Achievement and Global Competencies, K-12:

Bilingual education is the umbrella term used to encompass several programs where instruction occurs in two languages. Overall, bilingual education values academic achievement, native language, cross cultural connections and the acquisition of another language. While there are many successful examples of both bilingual and dual immersion programs, the distinct differences are apparent when the program goals and structures are examined.

In transitional bilingual programs developing English as quickly as possible is the goal. Students may begin academic instruction in their first language, but transition to classes with their English speaking peers as soon as their skill development deems possible. In developmental bilingual programs, students typically begin their education in the lower grades in their native language and gradually move into mainstream classes taught in English. There is a greater opportunity for students in a developmental program to learn more literacy in their first language before they transition to English. And, there is a greater chance in bilingual programs that transition students quickly to English instruction, development in the first language is minimal and loss of the first language is more likely. Sometimes this model is referenced as a “subtractive” model.

Dual immersion, two-way immersion or two-way bilingual are some of the terms used to reference what we most commonly call dual language education. It is an additive model where two languages are used for all communication and content instruction. Both languages and cultures are highly valued in the learning environment. Research supports that students in dual language programs outperform students who participate in transitional and developmental bilingual programs.

The goals of dual language education include:

❖ Increase academic achievement for all students in both languages

❖ Exhibit high levels of second language proficiency for all students

❖ Demonstrate competencies that contribute to becoming a global citizen

Tips to do dual immersion well:

1. Provide support, coaching and professional learning throughout the change process and throughout program development

2. Hire the best

3. Develop an understanding of language acquisition and using comprehensible input for the entire staff

4. Develop proficiency targets, an understanding of program goals and backwards planning for teaching and learning

5. Create a model for collaborative team planning focused on cross disciplinary learning and language development

6. Create a culture that fosters global competence

7. Measure and report progress

8. Provide ongoing professional learning - leverage technology

Thanks to Elizabeth, Barbara, Conor, Carol, Margarita, Shawn and Leslie for their contributions!

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