Dual-language programs that offer students the ability to develop competency in two languages are becoming increasingly popular across the United States.
While a variety of types of these programs exist, most provide all content, including subjects like science, math and social studies, taught in both English and a foreign language, typically Spanish. While a varying amount of time is spent with each language, the goal is to have a half-and-half split by the time students enter the third grade.
Researchers estimate that 1,000 or more such programs exist throughout the nation.
Supporters of the movement argue that becoming bilingual allows students to better compete in the global economy, while researchers agree, saying such students perform better academically than students who only speak one language.
A program in Colorado began as a grassroots effort. The programs operated on their own, working with consultants to set them up. However, as the programs have grown, districts are beginning to focus more on offering support in order to make their schools more successful.
Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools have seen an increasing number of immigrant families recently, and report the programs helping these students become fluent in English more easily. However, not all programs offer equal access, writes Yesenia Robles for The Denver Post.
“We’re really trying to play more of a role with our dual-language programs,” said Susana Cordova, chief of schools for DPS. “We are definitely looking at having more support for the implementations, bringing in some consultants and looking at how our training of teachers aligns.”
A similar program is offered in Rochester, NY, where students receive instruction one day in English and the next in Spanish. The goal is for students to gain fluency in both languages by the sixth grade in an effort to stress the importance of learning Spanish both for Spanish-speakers and English-speakers.
“They learn they’re really different from other kids in the world, and they need to learn how to communicate and get along and cooperate,” said parent Rachel Larson. “That’s not something I can teach them growing up in a white middle-class family. … For them to have to start thinking and working out those challenges now will make them great citizens of the world.”
Parents of the program would like to see it continue into the seventh and eighth grades, as no programs currently exist that can suit their skills or increase them. The additional classes would provide a bridge for students to reach the advanced language classes that are available once they reach the high school.
Studies have proven that multilingual people have an increased capacity to think creatively, are open to more opportunities later in life, and show a decreased risk of developing dementia.