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How Does Dual Language Build Sociocultural Competence in Students?

The Center for Applied Linguistics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting language learning and cultural understanding, considers sociocultural competence one of the three primary goals of dual language education. But what is sociocultural competence, and how is it developed in dual language classrooms?

Defining sociocultural competence

Sociocultural competence encompasses identity development, cross-cultural competence, and multicultural appreciation for all students. Learning in a dual language classroom, particularly from an international teacher who is a native speaker and ambassador of their heritage and culture, allows students opportunities for deeper cultural understanding as they develop bilingual and biliterate language skills. What does this look like in a dual language classroom? Here are three ways dual language programs support the development of sociocultural competence in students.

1. Using multiethnic, multicultural curricular materials in dual language classrooms

Learning in another language is a challenge that develops resilience and higher-level thinking in students. In a dual language classroom, it’s important to challenge students further by asking them to make connections between themselves, the material they are learning, and the world outside the classroom. Make learning relevant to all students by providing opportunities for students to see themselves reflected in their learning, especially through multicultural curricular materials.

Diverse book collections are among the best tools to create a classroom environment in which all students feel seen, respected, and valued. When students see themselves reflected in lessons and learn about people who look like them or think like them, they also begin to see the world through a global lens and develop an understanding of their place in the world.

2. Teaching dual language with equity in mind

During program development, school administrators consider how a dual language program structure and model can best serve all student populations. Dual language programs are often used as an opportunity to expand learning opportunities for students of color, or to complement traditional existing programs for English Language Learners (ELLs).

Within the classroom, dual language teachers show respect for the cultural and linguistic customs of all their students and families. Acknowledging cultural differences, encouraging empathy when learning about new cultures, and considering other perspectives are several ways to cultivate multicultural appreciation among students. Furthermore, teachers need a lot of patience to create lessons that are approachable for all of their students when establishing an equitable learning environment. Students deserve to learn in a way that unlocks their potential, that challenges them, and that recognizes their lives outside the classroom.

3. Designing learning activities that promote social justice and empower students

In a 2016 study by Heinrichs, it was found that, overall, the structure and practical learning within dual language programs builds 21st-century skills. In addition to bilingualism and biliteracy, students also develop critical thinking skills and begin to flex their sociocultural competence muscles. Take opportunities to design learning activities that introduce students to concepts of social justice and empower them to think critically about the world around them.

An example of this is when dual language students at South Elementary in Person County, North Carolina, created a kid-friendly fire safety video in Spanish. Students saw a need to make information more accessible to Spanish-speaking children and created a resource to meet that need.

As educators, we are well qualified to instill confidence in our students, along with the belief that, even from a young age, they can make the world a better place. Developing bilingual and biliterate skills in the dual language classroom means that students can communicate with even more people around the world and promote equal opportunities for all people. What better way to help students become leaders and make a positive impact on the world?

Want to find out more about dual language programs and how they can transform schools? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page or access resources for dual language teachers here.