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Language Learning

Why Dual Language Students Thrive Academically and Socially

The academic benefits of dual language (DL) education have been researched and documented for more than 20 years. Students in DL environments enjoy higher scores on standardized tests and greater language proficiency. This is true across all student demographics and school districts in urban, suburban, and rural settings.  

Participate Learning has helped schools and districts implement DL immersion programs for more than 15 years. During this time, we have worked closely with members of the Participate Learning Network to measure their quantifiable successes. Along the way, we also hear and see firsthand the way DL has changed the lives of all the students who take part in these programs.

Bilingualism and biliteracy may be the most obvious results of DL programs, but they are not the only benefits. Students also have improved self-esteem, enhanced cognitive skills, and well-developed sociocultural competency. This results in students who are poised to become leaders in a global marketplace and find success beyond the classroom.

Improved self-esteem

In speaking about her program, Rachel Benton, principal of Cape Hatteras Elementary, shared that the school’s third and fourth graders “are a very confident group of students. They are much more empowered…They take ownership of their learning.”

The process of becoming bilingual through DL education builds more confident students. There is enormous value in retaining a strong grip on one’s identity. As students strengthen their voice and identity in their first language, they also develop confidence in a second language. It is a huge boost to self-esteem and helps students remain connected to their own culture even while they experience new ones.

Enhanced cognitive skills

From the beginning of their educational journeys, students in DL programs are asked to mentally juggle more than one language at a time. The cognitive benefits of dual language education lead to improved working memory and increased attention, as well as a boost in problem-solving abilities for students. These are skills that are not only useful for learning a second language—they are essential to a student’s education as a whole, as well as their future careers.

At Cape Hatteras Elementary, Benton has observed that DL teachers “have to teach their students to be more independent and to problem solve more, and so when I walk in those classrooms I naturally see students helping each other more, taking advantage [of working together], just not going to bother the teacher, asking each other for things, [and] directing each other.”

At South Elementary School of Global Learning in Person County, North Carolina, Principal Patrick Holmes has watched his own students develop perseverance while problem-solving.

“Now that I’ve gotten to watch [the DL program] more, what I have observed is the grit that these students have developed, the ability to work through challenging activities without giving up. In regular classes you see so many students who stop if it’s hard; in DL programs I don’t see them quitting—even if they get it wrong, I see them trying to come up with the right answer.”

Sociocultural competence 

Learning a new language is about far more than just acquiring new vocabulary. It also exposes students to other cultures outside of their own experiences and helps them to become more curious and empathetic about the wider world and people from different backgrounds.

In her DLI program at William H. Owen Elementary School, Latreicia Allen has “seen empathy…We’ve seen that the students are really putting themselves in other cultures’ shoes and other classmates’ shoes. To really empathize with their learning experiences and their overall culture experiences so empathy would be one [benefit], I think, that we’ve seen reiterated in those dual language program classes.”

It’s clear that students in dual language environments enjoy academic, social, and cultural advantages from learning another language. Bilingualism and biliteracy will prepare students to be thoughtful, global leaders in our interconnected world. To learn more about how a DL program can benefit your students, download Participate Learning’s latest e-book, Building a Bilingual District.