Long-lasting Connections: An Essential Ingredient in Dual Language Programs

I have had a lot of questions recently about dual language support and dual language programs?  What is the difference between a bilingual program and a dual language program?  Can I just change the name? Well, in truth, that’s one option, but it does not truly get at the “jist” of what makes each program model unique and it might not be the most effective way to make lasting and meaningful change for students and the teachers who serve them?  So what is the difference between the two?   In short, it comes down to what each program believes is best for students to develop their language skills and their content mastery.

In short, here is a very simplified breakdown:


One of the most important and noticeable differences is the function language plays and how each language is intentionally used to strengthen the other.  So what does that mean?  In most dual language programs, the use of the non-English language, let’s say Spanish, continues even after students have continued beyond 4th grade and have been deemed proficient in English.  The “point” then is not necessarily to acquire English at the expense of the other language at their disposal, rather to continue to add to how effectively they can use both Spanish and English. This “additive model” allows students to be more intentional linguists, more aware consumers of information, and more effective global citizens.

Students are able to use use each language to strengthen the other through intentional work on the part of the teacher and students.  Through bridging (Beeman, 2013), students are able to make powerful connections from what the know about one language in order to bring it over to the other.  It involves a number of moves designed to allow students time to study what is happening in the language being used, before applying that learning over to the other language. Students, then, are asked to look at, study, and analyze what is similar and what is different in how words sound (e.g. doctor and doctor), what they look like (e.g. bicycle and bicicleta), how we order words in a sentence (e.g. the car blue or the blue car) or syntax, and other grammatical features that help students to understand the rules of the language.  This time in the Bridge is critical time for students to make connections that allow them to not just understand the content standard but the language that they need to communicate what it is that they know.

These connections, in fact, are one of the most important ingredients in dual language programs, particularly in a common core world.  Do students have time to take what they’ve learned in order to connect it to the other language?  Or will they need to relearn the entire lesson once they’ve switched from Spanish to English?  If this need to relearn everything exists, how will they ever catch up to their monolingual peers?  The connections we make in the bridge allow students to be aware of the language, the rules, and all the other ingredients in their language system in order to  use this information when they need it the most.  This awareness is what is needed for students to develop strong and critical literacy and language skills that increase outcomes for all students.  So when I am asked what is the biggest difference between monolingual, TBE and dual language programs are?  I tell them, don’t forget to add those long-term connections to the mix.


Beeman, K. & Urow, C. (2013).  Teaching for Biliteracy: Strengthening Bridges between Languages. Philadelphia: Caslon Publishing.