Dual Language Education: What Families Should Know

Contact Information

Dual Language Education

Kristin Percy Calaff, Ph.D.

Executive Director of Multilingual Education

Ema Shirk

Supporting Heritage and Dual Language Programs

Teresa Mendoza-Casby

Supporting Dual Language Programs

Dual language education is a form of instruction in which students learn literacy and content in English and another language. Dual language is also sometimes called two-way or one-way dual language, or dual language immersion. Programs begin in preschool or Kindergarten and extend through high school.

State Superintendent Reykdal’s vision is that all students in Washington state will have access to dual language and the opportunity to become proficient in two or more languages by 2030.

Washington State Dual Language Programs

Dual language education continues to grow in Washington. To locate and learn about dual language programs, use the Washington State Report Card tool.

  1. Navigate to the Report Card State Total.
  2. Scroll down and click on Dual Language Programs on the left-hand navigation bar.

You will see a listing of dual language programs in the state. Click on the tabs to see a state map of programs, languages of instruction, and trend data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is dual language education?

Dual language education is a form of instruction in which students learn literacy and content in English and another language. Dual language is also sometimes called two-way or one-way dual language, or dual language immersion. Programs begin in preschool or Kindergarten and extend through high school.

Most dual language programs in Washington are taught in Spanish and English, although there are also programs that use Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Russian or a Tribal language as the “partner” language. Teachers of the partner language have high levels of proficiency in that language. In elementary programs, students may have one bilingual teacher who teaches both languages at different times of the day or two teachers who each teach exclusively in one of the languages.

What are the goals of dual language education?

The goals of dual language education are to help students:

  • Become bilingual and biliterate with high levels of proficiency in both languages.
  • Perform at or above grade level in academic areas in both languages.
  • Develop positive cross-cultural attitudes and global understanding.
What types of dual language programs are there?

There are three main types of dual language programs in Washington, which mainly differ in the student groups they serve.

  • Two-way dual language programs. These programs enroll a balance of multilingual/English learners, including native speakers of the partner language, and native English-speaking students.
  • One-way dual language programs. These programs enroll mostly multilingual/English learners, including native speakers of the partner language.
  • World language immersion programs. These programs enroll mostly native English-speaking students although some multilingual English learners may participate but typically make up less than a third of the class.
How much time is spent in the partner language?

Dual language programs use the partner language for at least half of the instructional day or at least two class periods per day at the secondary level. The two most common models in Washington are:

  • 90/10 – In 90/10 programs, students begin in kindergarten with 90% of the school day in the partner language and 10% in English. English instruction is increased each year by about 10% until students are learning for 50% of their time in each language. Research shows that the 90/10 program is the most effective dual language model because it immerses students quickly in the partner language for initial content and literacy instruction. With this solid foundation, students develop strong English skills as English instruction increases.
  • 50/50 – In 50/50 programs, students have 50% of instruction in the partner language and 50% in English beginning in kindergarten and continuing throughout high school. The 50/50 program model is also an effective model for students, according to research, but may take longer for students to reach high levels of proficiency in the partner language.

In all dual language programs, students are immersed in the partner language for extended periods of time to provide strong language modeling and significant practice in using the language through grade-level academic content and literacy instruction.

Who should participate in a dual language program?

Research shows that many different types of students can be successful in dual language programs. In Washington, multilingual/English learners and American Indian/Alaska Native students are prioritized for at least half of the seats in two-way dual language programs to prevent opportunity gaps and encourage students to fully develop their first or heritage language. English speaking students also benefit greatly from dual language education, including students from historically underserved groups. Students with learning disabilities and other special needs can also be successful in dual language with appropriate supports.

How well does dual language education work?

Research shows that dual language education is highly effective! Students who have participated in dual language score above average on English reading tests for both native English-speaking students as well as multilingual learners. They also perform well in other academic content areas.

It is important to remember that these results come from staying in the program for at least six or more years and ideally through high school. Families who choose to be in dual language should make a commitment to keep their child in the program through high school to reap the full benefits of becoming bilingual and biliterate.

What are the benefits of learning two languages?

Knowing more than one language has many benefits including stronger brain development, higher academic achievement, increased job opportunities, and positive and respectful attitudes towards different languages and cultures.

Some of the benefits of bilingualism are:

  • Intellectual: Studies show that bilingual children have greater mental flexibility and cognitive skills not only in language but also in math and other subjects.
  • Educational: Multilingual students who learn English and continue to develop their home language do better in school than those who learn in English-only classrooms. Both multilingual English learners and proficient English speakers have higher academic achievement in dual language than in English-only classrooms.
  • Personal: Children who are learning more than one language have a stronger sense of identity and value their own and others’ cultures.
  • Social: Children in dual language programs develop greater understanding of global and social issues as well as valuing different perspectives.
  • Economic: The demand for bilingual employees throughout the world continues to increase. The ability to speak, read, and write two or more languages is a great advantage in the job market.

As dual language students reach the high school level, most will be able to qualify for the Washington State Seal of Biliteracy. This honor is recognized at graduation and goes on their transcript to demonstrate their bilingual and biliterate abilities to colleges and future employers.

How can parents be involved in dual language education?

Family involvement is a key factor in dual language education. Whether you speak multiple languages or only one, you can contribute positively to your child’s success and the success of the program.

Here are ways that you can support and be involved in dual language:

  • Locate dual language programs in your area and/or advocate for dual language if your district does not have a program near you.
  • If your child enrolls in a dual language school, learn about how the model works and what students will be learning in each language.
  • Attend school events and learn a few words or phrases in the other language so you can interact with other families.
  • Ask your child about their learning but don’t expect them to use the other language with you at home. Using your own language at home provides the best model and cognitive development for your child.
  • Volunteer or get involved in the classroom or the school. Your child will see that you value their education and efforts to become bilingual.
  • Participate on the district’s Dual Language Advisory Board to ensure the program is effective for all students.
  • Encourage your child to stay in the program even when it feels challenging. Remember that it takes many years to learn another language, especially as children are still developing their first language.