dual language immersion programs

Dual Language Immersion Programs

Exploring the World of Bilingual Classrooms

Over the last few years, dual language immersion programs have become increasingly famous and available to all families. In some schools, parents now have the option to enroll their children in dual-language classrooms. However, some families are sometimes skeptical about enrolling their children in a dual-language program.

What is a dual language immersion program?

Dual Language Immersion Programs are also called one-way or two-way Bilingual Immersion. Dual language programs use two languages to teach literacy and content to all students. Programs use English and a partner language, often English and another language, to teach academic content in both languages.

There are substantial benefits that come with enrolling in dual language immersion programs. Researchers have documented that students participating in dual language programs achieve high academic performance. The goal of the instructional model is to have all kids reach bilingualism in both languages of instruction.

Being bilingual has its perks. Bilingual students learn about other cultures and have access to more job opportunities. The interest in becoming multilingual has grown tremendously, and it is an interest that is widely accepted. Dual language programs allow kids to celebrate languages, be accepting of other cultures, and enjoy learning.

Although we know that learning a language provides terrific benefits, learning a language is a challenging process. The process of learning a language is different for every individual. There are language acquisition stages that each learner experiences from beginning to end.

Some kids learn a language at home through interaction and exposure, while others learn a language through school immersion. What is clear is that the process of learning a language in schools differs for students depending on the learner’s age. Below, I discuss the two dual language immersion programming models that elementary schools often implement.

Language Program Models

Various bilingual education programs are employed in schools to cultivate bilingual students. The prevalent programs include maintenance bilingual, transitional bilingual, and dual language education programs. Each program has distinct objectives and approaches to implementation.

Maintenance Bilingual Education Programs

In a maintenance bilingual education program, students receive instruction in their native language while they learn English as an additional language. The maintenance bilingual program aims to maintain and enhance a student’s native language proficiency. In addition, this program focuses on teaching English to improve a student’s English language proficiency.

The focus of the maintenance bilingual program is to preserve and develop a student’s first and second language simultaneously. In this program, a student receives instruction in their native language for a significant portion of the day. Specific periods or subjects are taught in the student’s native language, while other periods or subjects are taught in English.

Transitional Bilingual Education

Transitional bilingual programs focus on gradually transitioning students from instruction in their native language to English instruction. In this program, a student’s native language is used to support the student’s content learning. Over time, the use of the native language is gradually removed, and content instruction transitions to English.

Students in transitional bilingual programs spend a substantial part of their day learning in their native language. As students progress, instruction in the native language lessens, shifting to teaching in the English language. Transitional bilingual programs teach core subjects like math, science, and social studies in the native language to facilitate a smoother transition to English proficiency.

Developmental Bilingual Education

Developmental bilingual education (DBE) is sometimes referred to as late-exit bilingual programs. DBE is similar to dual language programs because they aim to develop bilingualism and bi-literacy in students. Students who participate in developmental bilingual programs spend a more extended period of bilingual instruction to develop proficiency in both languages over an extended time.

This program teaches academic content in both languages, and planning begins with focusing on both languages. Developmental bilingual education aims to maintain a student’s native language and culture as the ultimate goal. DBE is mainly used in schools that want to preserve a student’s native language and plan language and academic instruction with that goal in mind.

Dual Language Programs

In dual language programs, students receive instruction in two languages. The focus is to help students develop language proficiency in two languages using a balanced approach. Effective dual language programs provide ample exposure and intervention to both languages with the goal of bilingualism.

Some schools offer a school-wide dual language program, while others may offer dual language programming in specific classrooms. There are several teaching models that are used in dual language immersion programs. Two main teaching models generally refer to “90/10” and “50/50”. Both models aim to teach two languages and to make kids equally proficient in both languages. However, the approach of each model differs with similar goals.

90/10 Instructional Model

In the 90/10 model, 90% of instruction in the first year or two is in the partner language, while 10% is in English. Throughout the primary grades, the percentage of instruction in the minority language decreases while the rate of instruction in English gradually increases. By about fourth or fifth grade, instructional time in each language reaches a 50/50 ratio.

For example, in an English and Spanish dual language program, 90% of instruction begins in Spanish while 10% is in English. As the student moves along in the primary grades, instruction in Spanish decreases while instruction in English increases. By the time the students enter 4th and 5th grade, instruction in English and Spanish reaches 50% for each language.

50/50 Instructional Model

In the 50/50 model, English and the partner language instruction is divided evenly at all grades. In this model, some schools alternate language instruction in a particular language every other day. For example, instruction is in English one day and the other in Mandarin. However, other schools offer instruction in both languages every day.

For example, in a Mandarin and English immersion program, students would receive education in English in the morning and Mandarin in the afternoon or vice versa. In the 50/50 dual-language programs, students learn Mathematics in the target language with support from the English teacher. Instruction in the target language focuses on language arts—specifically reading, listening, speaking, and writing. While English language instruction focuses on English language arts, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Teachers use music and movement to teach young learners and make learning fun.

Availability and Program Types

Across the USA, districts might offer two different dual language immersion program options for Dual language immersion programs within schools. Some schools offer dual language immersion as a school-wide elementary immersion school where all students attending such schools participate in dual language immersion programming.

Other schools offer an add-on immersion program available in limited classrooms. As an add-on program, specific classrooms offer dual language immersion programming by grade level. For example, an elementary school with four different KN classrooms may offer immersion in two of the four classrooms. As the KN students move on to Grade 1, they continue dual language learning until they reach 5th grade.


Dual language immersion programs are here to stay. These programs have shown substantial benefits that I hope many more students continue to take advantage of. Both program types, 90/10 or 50/50 programs, work when well implemented. These results are also very similar in school-wide and add-on classroom-level immersion programs.

Share your experience so far with bilingual language programs.

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1 thought on “Dual Language Immersion Programs”

  1. I agree that dual language immersion programs can be highly beneficial for students. Learning two languages can help open up new opportunities, expand one’s worldview, and create a deeper understanding of different cultures. It is critical that we continue to support bilingual education programs so that all students have the opportunity to benefit from this enriching experience!

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