Volume 12, Issue 1 (2021)

Dual Language Programs and Practices


We are very excited to introduce our special themed issue of Journal of English Learner Education addressing the topic of Dual Language teaching and learning, including articles on dual language, multilingualism, social justice, and teacher training for working with diverse communities. Our introduction is written by Dr. Ryan Pontier. A former 2nd and 3rd grade dual language teacher, Ryan W. Pontier is an assistant professor with expertise in bilingualism, biliteracy, bilingual education, and teacher education. His research interests include authentic instructional practices for emergent bilingual learners, teacher education preparation for working with emergent bilingual learners, and teachers’ language ideology. Dr. Pontier serves as President-Elect of the Florida Association for Bilingual Education (FABE), Co-Chair for the Research and Evaluation Special Interest Group within the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), Immediate Past President of Miami-Dade TESOL and Bilingual Education Association, Member-at-Large for Sunshine State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Co-Moderator of the Sunshine State TESOL advocacy group, Chair of the Early Childhood Bilingual Education Council for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Florida, and Co-Chair of the Government & Media Relations Committee for LULAC Florida.

Revisiting a Cautionary Note

Pontier Headshot

I grew up speaking only English in a mostly monolingual English region of the Northeastern US, but I reveled in the opportunity to learn Spanish beginning in 7th grade. I was supported along the way by teachers and professors, friends and family, and host parents in Spain, and I tried my best to master my new language so that I could be perceived as a native speaker. My experiences teaching 2nd and 3rd grades at dual language schools in Florida and Texas, respectively, supported the idea that native speakerism in each target language was the goal of bilingualism. Anything less seemed like it did not (should not?) qualify as bilingualism. It was not until graduate school that I had my world rocked, when I was introduced to translanguaging (García & Wei, 2014) and the corriente that was always flowing (García et al., 2017) both in my own life and in the lives of my former students. It changed me, and more importantly, it positively changed my view of my students and the communities in which I had lived. In this brief introduction, I hope to support readers in seeing the role that dual language education has played in supporting or oppressing minoritized students’ linguistic practices (among other things) and to critically examine the ways that we teach, learn, assess, and evaluate in dual language programs.

Dual language programs were—and still are—constantly referred to as the “gold standard” for educating English learners (Howard et al., 2018). Dual language education, or the intentional use of two named languages (e.g., Spanish, English) to teach content with the goals of bilingualism, biliteracy, and sociocultural competence (Howard et al., 2018), has spotlighted the value of bilingualism. Initially implemented in the US as the Coral Way Experiment (Coady, 2019) to support the maintenance of Cuban refugees’ Spanish as they began to learn English, this approach drew on the linguistic strengths of students who are commonly referred to as English learners today. In other words, the programs were intended to support language minoritized students’ bilingual development. However, research on dual language education suggests that it is effective for English learners and for English speakers (Lindholm-Leary, 2001). Moreover, English learners in dual language programs tend to outperform their English learning peers who attend English-only programs (Collier & Thomas, 2002; Lindholm-Leary, 2012). This was critically important news since many people believed that bilingualism would cause delays and/or disorders.

It seems that the message was taken to heart by wealthier, whiter, more monolingual families. Already in 2017, it was noted that dual language programs were proliferating (Steele et al., 2017), but often to the detriment of minoritized students. As has been noted on numerous occasions both empirically and journalistically, whiter, monolingual families are enrolling their children in dual language programs at a higher rate than families of minoritized students (Williams, 2017). In fact, Valdés (1997) first warned us in the 1990s. And new dual language programs still tend to pop up in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods, leading researchers to conclude that bilingualism is viewed as valuable for some, but not for others (Strauss, 2014).

Another aspect of dual language education worthy of investigation is the theoretical constructs that are used to understand bilingualism, create policies, and structure programs. Typically, dual language programs are built on principles of second language acquisition, not flexible and dynamic language use (García & Kleifgen, 2018). This distinction is important because second language acquisition tends to conceive bilingualism as the sum of a speaker’s two (or more) separate languages, whereas a flexible and dynamic approach sees bilingualism as an always-evolving and complex set of social practices that is all part of a unitary system. As such, dual language programs expect “full” bilingualism and “balanced” bilinguals (Pontier & Ortega, forthcoming), meaning that students are expected to be able to understand and express themselves equally in both languages. In essence, the goal is to have two monolinguals comprise one bilingual person. This is accomplished in dual language programs by separating the languages by time of day, teacher, or subject area (Lindholm-Leary, 2001).

Unlike second language acquisition, dynamic bilingualism argues that equal proficiency in two (or more) separate languages is not only unnatural for bilinguals but also impossible and unrealistic. Rather, focusing on practices, which vary from one task to another and over time (García & Wei, 2014), allows teachers to see how bilingual students uniquely engage with content and different contexts, and to provide necessary and natural bilingual support for them to effectively participate in grade-level work (Sánchez et al., 2017). Such an understanding of bilingualism opposes a separation of languages and instead purposefully leverages everyone’s full linguistic repertoires. Viewed this way, dual language programs that maintain strict separation between target languages may deny students access to rich (bilingual) ways of understanding and producing knowledge.

As we continue our work as educators (practitioners, researchers, and beyond) in dual language education, I encourage you to ask key questions:

  • Who does this program privilege?
  • How are we creating and sustaining a welcoming bi/multilingual ecology?
  • How do we collect information on students’ languaging practices (and not simply their proficiencies in each separate language)?
  • How does our research design draw attention to the natural ways that bilinguals learn and language?
  • How do our theoretical lenses and conclusions encourage greater criticality, including self-reflection?


Coady, M. R. (2019). The Coral Way bilingual program. Multilingual Matters.

Collier, W., & Thomas, V. (2002). A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long-term academic achievement. Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.

García, O., Ibarra Johnson, S., & Seltzer, K. (2017). The translanguaging classroom: Leveraging student bilingualism for learning. Caslon.

García, O., & Kleifgen, J. A. (2018). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs, and practices for English learners (2nd ed.). Teachers College Press.

García, O., & Li Wei. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism, and education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Howard, E. R., Lindholm-Leary, K. J., Rogers, D., Olague, N., Medina, J., Kennedy, B., Sugarman, J., & Christian, D. (2018). Guiding principles for dual language education (3rd ed.). Center for Applied Linguistics, Dual Language Education of New Mexico, Santillana.

Lindholm-Leary, K. J. (2001). Dual language education. Multilingual Matters.

Lindholm-Leary, K. (2012). Success and challenges in dual language education. Theory into Practice, 51, 256-262.

Pontier, R. W., & Ortega, D. (forthcoming). Experienced bilingual dual language elementary teachers and the reproduction of monoglossic ideology.

Sánchez, M. T., García, O., & Solorza, C. (2017). Reframing language allocation policy in dual language bilingual education. Bilingual Research Journal, 41 (2), 1-15.

Steele, J. L., Slater, R. O., Zamarro, G., Miller, T., Li, J., Burkhauser, S., & Bacon, N. (2017). Effects of dual-language immersion programs on student achievement: Evidence from lottery data. American Educational Research Journal, 54 (1), 282S-306S.

Strauss, V. (2014). Why is bilingual education “good” for rich kids but “bad” for poor, immigrant students? Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/10/24/why-is-bilingual-education-good-for-rich-kids-but-bad-for-poor-immigrant-students/

Valdés, G. (1997). Dual-language immersion programs: A cautionary note concerning the education of language-minority students. Harvard Educational Review, 67 (3), 391-430.

Williams, C. P. (2017). The intrusion of white families into bilingual schools: Will the growing demand for multilingual early-childhood programs push out the students these programs were designed to serve? The Atlantic. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/12/the-middle-class-takeover-of-bilingual-schools/549278/

In this Issue

Our lead article, Dual Language Effectiveness to Narrow Achievement Gaps: A Quantitative Correlational Study, is written by Belinda Reyes of Osceola county. She shares a data analysis of mainstreamed English Learners (ELs) and ELs receiving dual language instruction, analyzing their language acquisition, reading scores, and ACCESS scores. Luciana C. de Oliveira from Virginia Commonwealth University and Ruslana Westerlund from WIDA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison contextualize present a case study to showcase how the functional approach can be used in dual language classrooms in A Functional Approach to Language Development for Dual Language Learners. Tunde Szecsi of Florida Gulf Coast University and Janka Szilagyi from The College at Brockport present a phenomenological study that explores mainstream classroom teachers’ EL language assessment literacy and the need for professional development in language assessment literacy, including a more systematic deconstruction of negative views of ELs through Language Assessment Literacy: Analyzing the Perspectives of Mainstream Teachers toward English Learners. In Multilingual and Multicultural Education: The Intersectionality of Cult ure Mindset and Instructional Practices, Brendon Thiry, an English as a Second Language Educator from Kansas City, Missouri and James P. Concannon of William Woods University question how prepared teachers are to work with ELs and students with interrupted or informal education, showing that surveys of cultural competency and responsive teaching practices may help support school districts to provide quality professional development. With an Analysis of Elementary School English Teachers’ Perceptions of and Design for Differentiated Reading Instruction, Chin-Wen Chien of National Tsing Hua University details how workshops for differentiated reading instruction may be helpful to elementary school English teachers to bridge the gap between their competence and implementation of differentiated reading instruction for ELs. Venus Chan of The Open University of Hong Kong, in Factors Influencing Intelligibility and Comprehensibility: A Critical Review of Research on Second Language English Speakers, demonstrates how the varieties of English have led to the paradigm of Global Englishes, English as a lingua franca (ELF), and World Englishes. LaSonya Moore in Uncommon and Non-traditional Relationship Strategies: From Relations Loss to Relationship Recovery gives specific examples how to incorporate the C10 model in the classroom, increasing teacher knowledge regarding effective communication strategies and how they impact teacher and student relationships within and beyond the school community. In Revisiting Attitudes towards English in Cameroon and the Rush for EMI: positioning Education For All Vision, Eric Enongene Ekembe, from the Higher Teacher Training College, ENS Yaounde, shares with readers how the rush for English and English medium education is a global tendency and research in the domain needs to extensively explore the effects on social justice, quality education, economic, and power dynamics across contexts.

Our next issue will be published December 2021.

Kerry Purmensky and Laura Monroe, Editors