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Language Learning

Dual Language Implementation Models

When starting a dual language immersion (DLI) program in your school or district, one of the first steps is deciding which program model best serves your students. You will want to consider factors such as language allocation and student demographics, home language, and amount of time in the target language. 

The goal of these programs is to support students’ academic achievements, and the mastery of skills and concepts across two languages. Within DLI programs, the amount of time spent in the target language (50 percent or more) varies, based on the model type.

Two common approaches to instruction are full immersion and 50/50 immersion. Below, we have outlined each one and its unique components, so you can compare them.

Model name

Full immersion, also referred to as one-way immersion, 90/10, or 80/20

How do you describe full immersion?

Full immersion program models teach in the partner language 90 percent of the time in the primary grades (usually kindergarten and first grade), and 10 percent in English. The ratio is gradually adjusted each year so that, in upper grades, the partner language is typically used for 75 percent of instruction time. 

Programs with this model usually serve children from English-speaking homes and create an environment in which the target language is used exclusively during core content times. Students spend more of their time learning the language that is new to them. Full immersion programs may also be referred to as 80/20, depending on the ratio of the target language to English used.

How is instruction delivered in full immersion program models?

With full immersion, core subjects—language arts, math, science, and social studies—are delivered entirely in the target language. Starting in second grade, explicit instruction in English language arts (ELA) is introduced. Students may receive 60 minutes of direct ELA instruction. The ratio of English instruction can progressively increase to about 25 percent of the instructional time by upper elementary. As a result, students become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural.

What are the staff requirements for a full immersion program?

In a full immersion model, all core-content instruction is conducted in the target language, so a teacher needs to have native or native-equivalent proficiency in the target language. Additionally, both the target language and English partner teacher must be certified for grade-level instruction and have knowledge of second language development strategies.

Model name

Two-way immersion, also referred to as 50/50

How do you describe two-way immersion?

In the two-way immersion model, students spend 50 percent of their time studying in the target language and the other 50 percent in English. Programs that align with this model typically serve classes made up of both native English-speakers and native speakers of the target language, with the goal of making all students bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. The equal division of instructional time between the languages allows students’ first and second languages to progress.

In a 50/50 program, English language learners (ELLs) learn in an enriching environment, rather than a remedial one. ELL students are recognized as equal experts in their heritage language, which helps avoid the language loss that can happen when they are pulled out of the classroom. When implemented well, DLI programs can serve as a complement to traditional ELL programs.

How is instruction delivered in two-way immersion program models?

Two-way immersion offers students the benefit of exposure to all content areas in both languages. The ratio of instruction in the target language to instruction in English stays the same throughout all grades.

There are also several ways to structure classroom schedules effectively. Following an A/B-day model is one such method. With this structure, students spend an entire day learning in one language, and the next day in the other language. This offers continuity in one language for the entire day.

Another recognized implementation method is the roller-coaster model. Instead of students learning in only one language throughout the day like the A/B-day model, they transition between languages every day. In this model, it is essential to switch which language students start instruction in each day. Students also switch which language they learn core subjects in each year, or every few years. For example, students may learn math in English during kindergarten and first grade, and then learn math in Spanish in second and third grades. The schedule ends up looking something like a roller coaster. 

What are the staff requirements for a two-way immersion program?

Primary teachers must have native or native-equivalent proficiency in both English and the target language. Due to the scarcity of educators who fit this requirement, it is a common practice for 50/50 models to rely on a paired team with one target language instructor and an English language counterpart. In this teacher team model, students switch between the two language-specific classrooms to learn core instruction.

Whichever model you decide is best for your school, Participate Learning’s dual language experts can support you each step of the way. This includes helping you implement the right schedule and recruit highly qualified DLI educators from around the world. Partnering with Participate Learning, a certified BridgeUSA program sponsor, gives you a strong foundation to start your program with success.

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