Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teaching in Dual Language Programs

Dual language programs provide unique opportunities for students and unique opportunities for teachers as well. These programs are on the rise, for two reasons: A large sub-set of the school population speaks a language other than English. Bilingualism is increasingly seen as a big asset in a world of increasingly global connections – it’s an advantage that English speakers, too, want for their children. Research even shows that growing up with two languages fosters aspects of brain development.

Dual language can begin as early as preschool. Dual language programs continue through high school, with some modifications to accommodate secondary school schedules and learning objectives.

Dual Language Models

Students in dual language programs receive instruction in English for part of the day; they receive instruction in another language for part of the day. There are multiple models and many variants.

Heritage dual language speak primarily English but have some connection to another target language; it may be the language of older family members or a language that was used even further back in family history.

In one-way models, there is a dominant language group. Typically, it’s children who are learning English as a second language, though it can be English-predominate students whose families place a high value on bilingualism. Some states have made a commitment to dual language. Utah states that target languages were selected based on their importance to Utah’s economic development. Washington DC has dual language preschool programs that serve primarily largely low-income, minority, but English-speaking populations; they exist to foster brain development and future opportunity.

One-way models may be employed in areas where there is a high proportion of Spanish language speakers. So can two-way models. Two-way models include students from English language backgrounds and other language backgrounds in relatively equal numbers. Having an equal number of students from each of the two language groups is the ideal, states a Chula Vista (California) Elementary School District administrator – though it’s not always a feasible ideal (

Dual language literature includes terms such as 50:50 and 90:10; in 90:10 models, instruction takes place primarily in the non-English target language.

50:50 Dual Language Programs

In 50:50 two-way models, the two languages are each used for half the day. The actual number of students from different backgrounds will depend on the district's policies for school enrollment/ school choice as well on demographics.

Seattle, for example, has multiple international schools scattered through the city and drawing students from different neighborhoods. Some are in primarily English-speaking areas. Seattle Public Schools students speak more than 100 languages. One Seattle neighborhood (as defined by zip code) boasts 66 languages – the most of any zip code in the nation. While dual language is not feasible for some language groups, languages are selected for their relevance. John Stanford International provides English-Spanish and English-Japanese tracks; the school notes that these languages were selected based on input from thousands of parents and business leaders. Beacon Hill Elementary, drawing students from the International District and Chinatown, has programs to allow children to spend half a day learning in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, the other half in English. Some Beacon Hill students receive all instruction in English. Seattle international schools focus on world culture as well as world language.

Specific content areas may be designated for instruction in the non-English language. In Washington State's Highline District, elementary students receive science and social studies instruction in a non-English language. Math, though, is taught in English. In the neighboring Seattle District, one will find children in the primary grades learning math in a non-English target language.

Utah’s dual language program offers five non-English target language options; Portuguese, Chinese, German, French, and Spanish. In Utah’s statewide model, elementary students receive math in both English and a target language ( In grades 1-3, math is primarily in the target language; in grades 4-5, it is primarily in English with reinforcement in the target language. Grade 6 mathematics is taught in the English language. Utah has been a leader in the dual language movement. Delaware is among the other leaders (

Staffing Dual Language Programs

The two languages are kept separate. A district may utilize bilingual teachers or may have each child spend half the day with an English teacher and half with another language teacher. Thus one doesn't need to be fluent in another language to be a dual language teacher, at least in some geographic areas. A teacher can work as the English teacher in a bilingual team teaching partnership. He or she will see one group of students in the morning and another in the afternoon. The school may opt to provide each teacher with a classroom and have the children switch classes. In this case, the walls, too, will represent a single language.

Dual language has been growing rapidly. There is great need for teachers, especially those who are fluent in a non-English language. Dual language teaching calls for a unique skill set, even when one is teaching in his or her native language. While all teachers need to be sensitive to the needs of students learning two languages, dual language teachers need a heightened awareness all their students are language learners and they bear primary responsibility for their education. They need proficiency in sheltered language instruction and differentiated language instruction. Team teaching across languages is itself a challenge.

A 2015 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education describes competencies and notes standards set by particular states (

Dual language teachers may need ELL, bilingual, or dual language credentialing. Utah was the first state to create a dual language endorsement.