Spanish Dominates Dual-Language Programs, But Schools Offer Diverse Options

By Corey Mitchell — January 14, 2020 2 min read
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School districts across the country are offering students a broad array of target languages to learn in dual-language programs.

Schools now offer dual-language education in 18 languages, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Education. The report from the office of English language acquisition lists the number of states that offered programs in each language during the 2016-17 school year.

Spanish, by far the most common home or first language of the nation’s English-language-learner students, topped the list with 30 states.

Federal data show that roughly 75 percent of the nation’s English-learners are Spanish-speaking. No other language accounts for more than 3 percent of school-age language-learners.

Mandarin Chinese was next on the list, with programs in 13 states, followed by French in nine states, German in six states, and Vietnamese in four states.

A desire to preserve native languages has driven demand for programs for decades. Economics play a role too, with a growing number of states seeing foreign language as the key to accessing the global economy. There’s also a growing recognition among educators that dual-language learning has shown great promise for increasing achievement for English-learner students.

In dual classes, teachers split instruction time between English and the target language, though the balance of time spent teaching in each language can vary program to program.

But the home languages of English-learners are not always the most popular choices for dual-language programs. The percentage of Arabic-speaking English-learners, the second-largest group in U.S. schools, has increased 75 percent over the past eight years to 122,000. Yet, only two states reported offering dual-language programs in Arabic.

Two states also reported having dual-language programs in Hmong, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Somali. Like Arabic, Somali is also among the top five home languages for English-learners in U.S. schools yet it isn’t broadly offered as a dual-language option.

One state each reported having dual-language programs in Armenian, Cantonese, Haitian, Hebrew, Italian, and Korean.

The report does not list which states have programs in those languages, but did report that California offers programs in 13 different languages. Fifteen reported that they do not have schools that offer dual-language programs.

Here’s a look at the fact sheet:

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Dual-Language Learning: 6 Key Insights for Schools

Dual-Language Programs Boost Student Achievement in English, Study Finds

Bilingual Teachers are In Short Supply. How Can Schools Cultivate Their Own?

Photo: Kindergarten teacher Priscilla Joseph works with students starting their second year enrolled in the Toussaint L’Ouverture Academy, a Haitian Creole dual-language program at Mattahunt Elementary School in Boston. --Gretchen Ertl for Education Week

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