Want your kids to grow up bilingual? Check out Global Washington’s guide to dual language education in Washington state.
A friend of mine living in Beacon Hill recently had a little baby girl. She’s a few months old and, understandably, isn’t speaking much yet, but her parents are hoping that someday she’ll be able to converse in multiple languages. While kindergarten is still five or six years away, they are already taking steps to enroll their daughter in a dual language program–a school program that not only teaches multiple languages, but teaches important school subjects in those multiple languages.
Here’s five reasons that you should do the same:
1. Dual language programs are the best way for English speakers to learn new languages.
Whether your target language is Spanish, Hindi, Italian, or Mandarin, studying important topics like social studies and history in two languages – not to mention mixing two different groups of speakers – really beefs up learning. It helps build a multifaceted understanding of the topics, and it increases students’ cognitive ability to negotiate language creatively and increase the accessibility of the target language for use in everyday life.
2. Dual language programs are better than ‘pull-out’ or ‘remedial’ English programs for minority language speakers.
Many school districts teach English via a “pull out model,” in which English language learners (ELL) are taken from regular instruction and given extra ‘remedial’ courses in English. Yazmin Gill, who formerly taught in one of these programs, describes it as “completely disconnected from regular instruction.”
Gil now teaches in Hilltop Elementary’s dual language program, which keeps all the kids learning together, at the same level. Gil says this creates fewer feelings of inferiority (or superiority) and produces more rapid language learning results for both the ELL students and the English speaking students who are learning the target language.
3. Dual language programs give other languages higher worth
Though well-intentioned, programs that take non-English speakers out of the classroom often contain messages that rate ELL students as ‘sub-par’ students who are struggling with the ‘problem’ of not speaking English well. According to Bernard Koontz, Language Learning Coordinator of Highline Public Schools, this message is internalized by students and often becomes multigenerational.
Dual language programs help to deconstruct the ideas, discourse, and institutionalized racism around language policy. According to Koontz, “in saying Spanish matters, and matters so much that we will spend half of the school day focusing on it, we are making an affirmative statement about other cultures. We are changing the civic discourse around language and language policy and that is really powerful.”
4. Being bilingual is a valuable professional asset.
It is very likely that soon, monolingual English speakers are going to be at a significant professional disadvantage. As the US continues on its demonstrated multicultural trajectory, a second if not a third language will be the minimum requirement for most jobs, particularly the well-paid and desired ones.
Luckily, Washington school systems have seen this need and have begun to rise to the occasion. The Highline School District has four dual language programs with the oldest cohort about to enter 5th grade. Three of these programs are Spanish and English, two-way, 50/ 50 programs, meaning that half of the school day is taught in English and half in Spanish. And notably, the program starting this year in White Center Heights is a 50/50 Vietnamese program which indicates, according to Koontz, “a step in the right direction” in terms of recognizing the importance of a variety of languages. Already, Hindi and Arabic programs are on the horizon.
5. Dual language programs don’t cost any more than single language programs.
Isn’t that going to be expensive? Not really, says Highline’s Bernard Koontz, who calls budgetary concerns a “red herring” when it comes to dual language programs. Of course there are start-up costs, but “[dual language programs] aren’t any more expensive than general education programs once they are up and running. You still have to buy stuff, it’s just different stuff.”
Assessment, staffing, and aligning the program to fit with the rest of the school district’s processes do pose challenges, but Koontz points out that “the hard work of school teams is worth the terrific benefit of having this method of instruction become the mainstream.”
Many people – like my friend in Beacon Hill – are so excited about dual language education that demand may soon outstrip supply.
Do you want dual language programs in your school district or want to support the ones that are already there? Bernard Koontz encourages calling your school system and showing support. Or calling them up to demand that your language be included in a program. He welcomes these critical conversations as they help to engage the community in conversation.
Dual Language Programs in Washington
Here is a sortable directory of dual language programs in Western Washington. If we missed any, please feel free to comment and add them. With programs popping up all over the area, sometimes it’s hard to keep up.
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Data collected and analyzed by Marta Mikkelsen, PhD Student, University of Washington College of Education, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Summer 2012.
- Washington Association for Bilingual Education
- Washington State Superintended of Public Instruction: World Languages
- Washington State World Languages Learning Standards
Global WA has partnered with The Seattle Globalist to produce “Growing up Global”: a series of articles for parents in the Seattle area seeking internationally-oriented opportunities for their kids.
Please add Denny International Middle School and Chief Sealth International High School to your list (Seattle Public Schools). Students who have gone through the K-5 dual language program at Concord International will be 6th graders at Denny IMS this fall. Denny IMS has been running a dual language program for the past four years and Chief Sealth IHS is launching a dual language program this fall. At CSIHS, students in the DL program will be able to take social studies classes in Spanish along with upper level Spanish language classes. This will provide a K-12 dual language pathway from Concord to Denny to Chief Sealth.
Thanks for this info Noah! We’ve added Denny and Sealth to the list. Can you give us the time split for both of those programs–and are we correct that both are Spanish/English?
I teach at Denny and will be teaching Dual Language social studies this year. At Denny, our students have 1/3 of their day in Spanish. They have a reading/writing class and a social studies class in Spanish.
Also, Hamilton International Middle School has a continuation immersion program from John Stanford International School that has one period of Spanish or Japanese per day. The students then can continue in high school at Ingraham, where students are integrated into the Spanish and Japanese language programs there.
Thank you Liz! We’ve added Hamilton to the list and updated the info on Denny. Please let us know if it looks like we’re missing any further detail.
The author’s friend may want to check out El Centro de la Raza’s dual language, day care and pre-school programs on Beacon Hill. It is Spanish/English, accredited by NAEYCanime pre-K classes are funded by the city and other organizations because it is a designated high quality, early learning center.
I really want to believe #5. In programs without large numbers of native speakers, how are the Immersion IAs paid for? As per the MacDonald PTA budget, they are spending close to $350K on immersion supports:
Bravo to PTAs that can raise those kinds of funds but how can you achieve equitable access to LI if it costs so much to implement well? I admit that my knowledge on this is shallow. I welcome a more in depth explanation of how the costs don’t exceed other schools. Thanks!
Monroe School District has a dual-language program at Frank Wagner Elementary. It’s in its third year and has K, 1st and 2nd grade classrooms now. They will add a new grade for those moving up each year. Class is split 50% English and 50% Spanish.
The bottom line is not the dual language program, but the parents need to be respected as to what they want for their own child. We have children in this country that have disabilities that would not actually do good in a dual language class. All English classes can not be eliminated from American public schools since we do need them.
Does anyone know of a dual language program around Bellingham, Wa? Thanks
We have a two year old program in South Kitsap School District at Burley Glenwood Elementary.
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