• by Kristin Grayson, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • April 2012 •Kristin Grayson, M.Ed.

Two major objectives guide the implementation of two-way dual language immersion programs, namely, (1) having a successful forum for addressing the language and academic needs of English learners, and (2) having an opportunity for other students to gain a world class education that instills the promise of a more interdependent world. For English learners (ELs) to have an equitable education, programs must be in place that value languages in addition to English as a means for learning the academic concepts required of successful students.

The promises are many: the academic gap can cease to exist and the United States can become the exemplar of multicultural societies working together toward a common goal. ELs will become students who achieve academic success, leaving high school with a diploma and college-ready. One program model that can help make this a reality for ELs is a two-way dual language immersion program.

A two-way dual language program is based on the premise that two groups of students (each with different home languages, in the United States one being English) learn together in a systematic way so that both groups become bilingual and biliterate in the two languages. Stephen Krashen (1999) and Jim Cummins (1996) are two language researchers who heavily influenced the growth of bilingual and dual language programs. Both have asserted and confirmed in their research that, given time, the stronger language-minority students become in their native language, the more proficient they will become in their new language. Collier & Thomas (2004), two other noted long-term researchers in this field, describe a two-way program as an enrichment model that is transformative for teachers, parents, administrators and communities.

There are benefits for both groups of language students in a two-way program. Language-minority students build their native language proficiency, which in the long run strengthens their acquisition of the majority language (English). English speakers develop proficiency in a new language, and their English skills are strengthened by this additional cognitive process. They maintain use of English in the majority culture, so their English skills do not diminish during the time they are immersed in the new language, and their English school achievement eventually outperforms that of native English speakers who have been schooled in English-only instruction.

Both of these outcomes are well documented by Collier & Thomas (2009) in their numerous long-term studies. While dual language enrichment models help two groups of students become biliterate, they also are seen as one of the best options for closing the achievement gap for English learners.

In a two-way dual language program, there are generally two accepted models for language use and language instruction. In a 90/10 model both groups (native English and ELs) receive 90 percent of their instruction in the minority language (such as Spanish) and 10 percent in English in Year 1 (kindergarten). The percentage of English is increased by 10 percent each year until students are receiving 50 percent of their instruction in each language. In a 50/50 model, the instructional day throughout the elementary years is always 50 percent English and 50 percent the minority language.

Careful consideration in curriculum planning is done to alternate the language of instruction of content areas so that students become equally versed in math, science and social studies in both languages. Language arts for each language also is taught while paying strict attention to the different methods used in teaching literacy in different languages.

For example, Spanish literacy has traditionally been based on a very systematic sequence of learning vowels, syllables, and then syllables combined into meaningful word units. English, on the other hand, is typically learned through a phonological approach where individual letters are sounded out to decode the given words. Other high frequency words (sight words) are learned through recognition and memory. The vast number of linguistic origins of the English words leads to current debates over the best approach for learning to read and write in English.

Once the two-way dual language program model has been adopted along with teacher training, teachers and students need to have access to the standards and resources that will enable them to develop skills in both languages. The program must address language standards in both languages as well as content standards appropriate to each grade level.

Collier & Thomas (2004) describe the implementation of the dual language model with strict adherence to five key principles as essential for student achievement and the closing of the achievement gap for ELs.

These key principles are:

  • focus on core academic curriculum,
  • include high quality language arts instruction in both languages with use of thematic units,
  • complete separation of the two languages without use of translation or repeated lessons,
  • use a 90/10 or 50/50 model, and
  • use interactive and collaborative teaching strategies.

The school administrator is a key person to ensuring the fidelity of the model implementation and program principles and for creating a partnership between the school, parents and community to strengthen success.

Finding quality dual language teachers has posed a challenge in many school districts. Teachers must demonstrate proficiency in the academic language of instruction in which they teach. Teachers also must be qualified to teach the grade level and content to the students with whom they are entrusted. All of these competencies must be in line with corresponding federal, state and local teacher standards.

Parents of dual language students should be educated in the process of dual language instruction. They must understand that language learning is a process and that the data show that results may take three to five years to reveal the full effect of the bilingual benefits. Parents can be involved at many levels from supporting their own children to being advocates in the community about the program and its accomplishments. Parent, school and community partnerships strengthen all schools, especially dual language programs.

Dual language programs must be evaluated through an ongoing and systematic review process. Leadership is critical for ensuring that the program is well defined from the beginning and that there is schoolwide support and understanding of the program. This includes the secretarial, library, custodial, lunch-room and other school staff. Leadership needs to ensure that programmatic details are defined, well implemented and evaluated accordingly, both informally and formally at the appropriate times.

Dual language programs have been shown to be the most effective way to close the achievement gap between ELs and native English speakers. In a well implemented two-way dual language program this gap closure usually occurs by the fifth grade (Collier & Thomas 2009). Program administrators need to be aware that these benefits do take place but will not happen overnight.

Data collection should be conducted to document student progress in proficiency in both languages within the domains of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Academic achievement also must be assessed. Having a strong database illustrates stories of student success, provides feedback for improving the dual language program implementation, and builds support and credibility to continue this unique and incredible opportunity for students to become fully bilingual and biliterate. As it has been said, “¡Dos vale más que uno!  [Two is worth more than one!].”


Collier, V., & W. Thomas. Educating English Learners for a Transformed World (Albuquerque, N.M.: Dual Language Education of New Mexico, 2009).

Collier, V., & W. Thomas. “The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All,” NABE Journal of Research and Practice (2004) 2 (1).

Cummins, J. Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society (Ontario, Calif.: California Association for Bilingual Education, 1996).

Krashen, S. Condemned without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1999).

Robledo Montecel, M. “Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” in Robledo Montecel, M., & Goodman, C.L. (eds), Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Villarreal, A. “Ten Principles that Guide the Development of an Effective Educational Plan for English Language Learners at the Secondary Level – Part II,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2009).

Kristin Grayson, M.Ed., is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org

[©2012, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2012 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]