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.
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