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Children at school
Children at school

Bilingual education involves teaching academic content in two languages, in a native and secondary language with varying amounts of each language used in accordance with the program model. Bilingual education refers to the utilization of two languages as a means of instruction for students and considered part of or the entire school curriculum,[1] as distinct from simply teaching a second language as a subject.

Importance of bilingual education

Children's Bilingual Theater Dr Seuss Day
Children's Bilingual Theater Dr Seuss Day
The bilingual French-speaking school Trung Vuong
The bilingual French-speaking school Trung Vuong

Bilingual education is viewed by educators as the "pathway to bilingualism", which allows learners to develop proficiency and literacy in both their mother-tongue and second-language. The competency in two languages is believed to broaden students' opportunities to communicate with people from other communities [2] or revive another language. Another advantage of bilingual education is "promoting equal education" [3] and becoming "the cure and not the cause of underachievement",[4] as it gives students an opportunity to showcase their knowledge and skills in their first language. When students' first language is valued and used as a resource for learning, it has a positive effect on learners' self-esteem [2] and "identity affirmation".[5]

Not only does bilingual education introduce new linguistics and maintain home languages, but it also promotes cultural and linguistic diversity. This allows for positive intercultural communication, which can lead to a better understanding of cultural and linguistic differences. As Baker and Wright (2017) point out, children in dual language bilingual schools "are likely to be more tolerant, respectful, sensitive and equalized in status. Genuine cross-cultural friendships may develop, and issues of stereotyping and discrimination may be diminished".[6] The official language policy of International Baccalaureate Organization (2014) also emphasizes the importance of "cultivation of intercultural awareness, international-mindedness, and global citizenship" [7] in international schools where students speak more than two languages. Other benefits of bilingual education are considered to be improved cognitive performance,[8] "particularly in the performance of complex tasks that are controlled by executive functioning processes and working memory" [9] and such economic advantages as increased job and education opportunities around the world.[10] Bilingual education can also revive native languages in colonised countries.

Bilingual education program models

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The following section surveys several different types of bilingual education program models.

Immersion bilingual education

Immersion is a type of bilingual education in which subjects are taught in a student's second language. The students are immersed into a classroom in which the subject is taught entirely in their second language (non-native language). There are different facets of immersion in schools.

Total immersion

Total immersion is a type of bilingual education in which the whole class is only taught in the second language, without any use of the native language.

While not explicitly referred to as a bilingual education program in the United States of America, the Structured English Immersion program, required by the states of California, Arizona, and Massachusetts, is a total immersion programs, as the whole class is taught only using the second language of the students, English, in the Structured English Immersion program.

Partial immersion

The second type of bilingual education is known as Partial immersion, when the native language is used in the class, and about half of the class time is spent learning the second language.

Two-way or dual language immersion

The third type of immersion within schools is called two-way immersion, also known as dual immersion. Dual immersion occurs when half of the students in class natively speak the second language while the other half do not. Dual immersion encourages each group of students to work together in learning each other's language.

Dual language or two-way immersion education refers to programs that provide grade-level content and literacy instruction to all students through two languages, English and a partner language. These programs are designed to help native and non-native English speakers become bilingual and biliterate. There are four main types of dual language programs, these programs refer to how a student would best learn with dual language immersion based on their previous language skills.

The first type are developmental, or maintenance bilingual programs. These programs enroll students who are native speakers of the partner language to learn English. The second type are bilingual immersion programs. These programs enroll both native English speakers and native speakers of the partner language. The third type are foreign language immersion programs. These programs primarily enroll students who speak English as their native language. Finally, the fourth type are heritage language programs. These programs enroll students who are primarily dominant in English, but a close relative (e.g. parent or grandparent) speaks the partner language.

Another form of bilingual education is a type of dual language program that has students study in two different ways: 1) A variety of academic subjects are taught in the students' second language, with specially trained bilingual teachers who can understand students when they ask questions in their native language, but always answer in the second language; and 2) Native language literacy classes improve students' writing and higher-order language skills in their first language. Research has shown that many of the skills learned in the native language can be transferred easily to the second language later. In this type of program, the native language classes do not teach academic subjects. The second-language classes are content-based, rather than grammar-based, so students learn all of their academic subjects in the second language. Dual language is a type of bilingual education where students learn about reading and writing in two languages. In the United States, the majority of programs are English and Spanish but new partner languages have emerged lately such as Japanese, Korean, French, Mandarin, and Arabic. The concept of dual language promotes bilingualism, improved awareness of cultural diversity, and higher levels of academic achievement by means of lessons in two languages.

The 90/10 and 50/50 models

There are two basic models for dual language immersion. The first model is the 90/10 model. The two-way bilingual immersion program has 90% of the instructions in grades K-1 in the minority language, which is less supported by the broader society, and 10% in the majority language. This proportion gradually changes in the majority language until the curriculum is equally divided in both languages by 5th grade. The two-way bilingual immersion program is based on the principle of clear curriculum separation of the two languages of instruction. Teachers do not repeat or translate the subject matter in the second language but strengthen concepts taught in one language across the two languages in a spiral curriculum in order to provide cognitive challenge (Thomas & Collier, 1997). The languages of instructions are alternated by theme or content area. This type of immersion is required to develop the dual language proficiency, as social language can be mastered in couple of years, but a higher level of competency is required to read social studies texts or solve mathematics word problems, roughly around 5 to 7 years (Collier, 1987). The goal of gradually increasing the majority of the language is for instruction to become 50% of English and 50% of the partner language. The second model is the 50/50 model. In the 50/50 model English and the partner language are used equally throughout the program.

Dual immersion programs in the US

Dual immersion classrooms encourage students' native language development, making an important contribution to heritage language maintenance, and allow language minority students to remain in classrooms with their native English-speaking peers, resulting in linguistic and socio-cultural advantages. As of May 2005, there were 317 dual immersion programs operating in elementary schools in the United States in 10 different languages.

Dual language programs are less common in US schools, although research indicates they are extremely effective in helping students learn English well and aiding the long-term performance of English learners in school. Native English speakers benefit by learning a second language. English language learners (ELLs) are not segregated from their peers. These students are taught in their mother tongue yet still in the typical "American" classroom, for both cognitive and social benefits.

Transitional bilingual education

Main article: Transitional bilingual education

Transitional bilingual education involves education in a child's native language to ensure that students do not fall behind in content areas such as mathematics, science, and social studies while they are learning English. When the child's English proficiency is deemed satisfactory, they can then transition to an English Only (EO) environment. Research has shown that many of the skills learned in the native language can be transferred easily to the second language later. While the linguistic goal of such programs is to help students transition to mainstream, English-only classrooms, the use of the student's primary language as a vehicle to develop literacy skills and acquire academic knowledge also prevents the degeneration of a child's native language. This program model is often used in U.S. public schools.[11]

English as a second language

Main article: English as a second language

This program entails learning English while with people that speak the same native language. ESL is a supplementary, comprehensive English language program for students trying to learn the language to better function in American society. People are learning English as a second language because English has been assigned communicative status in that country. Singapore, India, Malawi, and 50 other territories use English as part of the country's leading institutions, where it plays a second-language role in a multilingual society. ESL is different from EFL (English as a foreign language). ESL is offered at many schools to accommodate the culturally diverse students, most often found in urban areas, and helps these students keep up with subjects such as math and science. To teach ESL abroad, a bachelor's degree and ESL teaching qualification is typically required at minimum.

Late-exit or developmental bilingual education

In this program model, education is in the child's native language for an extended duration, accompanied by education in English. The goal is to develop literacy in the child's native language first, and transfer these skills to the second language. This education is ideal for many English learning students, but in many instances the resources for such education are not available.

Effects of mother-tongue instruction

Continuing to foster the abilities of children's mother tongue along with other languages has proven essential for their personal and educational development because they retain their cultural identity and gain a deeper understanding of language. Two 2016 studies of mother-tongue instruction in Ethiopia and Kenya respectively show that it had positive outcomes for the students in both countries. The following list contains multiple benefits that researchers have found from children being educated bilingually.


Theory of mind is connected to empathy because it helps us to understand the beliefs, desires, and thoughts of others. Researchers studying theory of mind in bilingual and monolingual preschoolers found that bilingual preschoolers performed significantly higher on theory of mind false belief tasks than their monolingual peers.[12]


Researchers found that students in a dual-language immersion program in Portland Oregon performed better in English reading and writing skills than their peers.[13]


Many studies have shown that bilingual children tend to have better executive function abilities. These are often measured using tasks that require inhibition and task switching. Bilingual children are typically able to hold their attention for longer without becoming distracted and are better able to switch from one task to another.[14][15]

School performance and engagement

Researchers Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier conducted school program evaluation research across 15 states. They found that students in dual-language classroom environments have better outcomes than their peers in English-only classrooms in regards to attendance, behavior, and parent involvement.[14][16]

Benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism

Learning a new language not only enhances your ability to speak another tongue,[17] but it also helps you discover different cultures, their way of life and, improves your communication skills. A second or third language assists you in connecting with people effortlessly. Moreover, your language skills can prove to be a significant competitive advantage in the job field. Many jobs nowadays prefer bilingual candidates, and learning a new language will undoubtedly give you an advantage over your monolingual peers.

By country or region

Main article: Bilingual education by country or region

See also


  1. ^ ASCD. "Bilingual Education: Effective Programming for Language-Minority Students". Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Baker, Colin; Wright, Wayne E. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (6th. ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. p. 343.
  3. ^ Kong, Peggy A.; Yu, Xiaoran (July 3, 2019). "Bilingual education for a harmonious multiculturalism: the importance of policy discourse for students of ethnic minority groups in China". Multicultural Education Review. 11 (3): 190. doi:10.1080/2005615X.2019.1664017. ISSN 2005-615X. S2CID 204391713.
  4. ^ Baker, Colin; Wright, Wayne E. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (6th. ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. p. 279.
  5. ^ Cummins, Jim; Early, Margaret (2011). Identity texts: The collaborative creation of power in multilingual schools. Trentham Books. p. 38.
  6. ^ Baker, Colin; Wright, Wayne E. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (6th. ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. p. 311.
  7. ^ "IB Language Policy" (PDF). International Baccalaureate. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 26, 2015. Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  8. ^ Bialystok, Ellen; Craik, Fergus I.M.; Green, David W.; Gollan, Tamar H. (2009). "Bilingual Minds". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 10 (3): 89–129. doi:10.1177/1529100610387084. ISSN 1529-1006. JSTOR 41038805. PMID 26168404. S2CID 8825836.
  9. ^ Baker, Doris Luft; Basaraba, Deni Lee; Polanco, Paul (2016). "Connecting the Present to the Past: Furthering the Research on Bilingual Education and Bilingualism". Review of Research in Education. 40: 821–883. doi:10.3102/0091732X16660691. ISSN 0091-732X. JSTOR 44668638. S2CID 151975015.
  10. ^ Baker, Colin; Wright, Wayne E. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (6th.ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. p. 585.
  11. ^ Durán, Lillian K.; Roseth, Cary J.; Hoffman, Patricia (April 1, 2010). "An experimental study comparing English-only and Transitional Bilingual Education on Spanish-speaking preschoolers' early literacy development". Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 25 (2): 207–217. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2009.10.002. ISSN 0885-2006.
  12. ^ Goetz, Peggy J. (April 2003). "The effects of bilingualism on theory of mind development". Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. 6 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1017/S1366728903001007. S2CID 145711790.
  13. ^ Burkhauser, Susan; Steele, Jennifer L.; Li, Jennifer; Slater, Robert O.; Bacon, Michael; Miller, Trey (September 2016). "Partner-Language Learning Trajectories in Dual-Language Immersion: Evidence From an Urban District". Foreign Language Annals. 49 (3): 415–433. doi:10.1111/flan.12218.
  14. ^ a b Kamenetz, Anya (November 29, 2016). "6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education". Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  15. ^ Bialystok, Ellen (June 1, 2015). "Bilingualism and the Development of Executive Function: The Role of Attention". Child Development Perspectives. 9 (2): 117–121. doi:10.1111/cdep.12116. ISSN 1750-8592. PMC 4442091. PMID 26019718.
  16. ^ Collier, Virginia; Thomas, Wayne. "The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All" (PDF). NABE Journal of Research and Practice. 2.
  17. ^ "Language Throne- The Best Resources To Speak Any Language Fluently". Language Throne. Retrieved August 30, 2022.

Further reading