Two-way Bilingual Immersion

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Research Question: How have schools implemented different variations of two-way immersion programs and what are the long-term effects of these programs?


Two-way bilingual immersion (TWBI) programs integrate native English speakers and native speakers of a different language for academic instruction through both languages. Unlike ESL where only language minority students are learning the dominant language, the programs designed by this model are options that benefit both language minority and language majority students. Two-way bilingual immersion education has great potential to promote skills that students will need for the changing global job market and to help eradicate the achievement gap between native English-speaking and English language-learning students (Lindholm-Leary, 56). The major goals of TWBI programs are for students to develop high levels of oral language skills and literacy both English and the non-English language, attain academic achievement at or above grade level as measured in both languages, hold positive attitudes toward school and themselves, and exhibit knowledge about positive attitudes toward other cultures (Lindholm-Leary, 57). Even though most of the programs revolve around the Spanish/English language, other programs include French, Chinese, Korean, Navajo and Portuguese.

Although there is variability in the implementation of these TWBI programs there are two common instructional designs: 50:50 and 90:10. In the 50:50 model, instructional time is evenly divided between the two languages across all grade levels. Usually in the first or second year of instruction, in the 90:10 model, students spend 90 percent of their instructional day with content delivered through the partner language. Over the course of primary grades, instruction in the second language decreases while instruction in English increases. For both the 90:10 model and the 50:50 model, the content area taught in each language depend on the available curriculum and resource materials and on particular needs at each school site (Lindholm-Leary, 57).

Variations in Implementation

All striving for dual language proficiency and academic achievement, schools have implemented different variations of two-way bilingual immersion programs. There are differences in language, student population and enrollment, and program features and designs. Although Spanish is the most prevalent second language, programs differ in target languages and in the proportion of students who speak both languages. Ideally, these programs work best when the numbers of language majority and language minority students are balanced. There are different implementations of this model that may or may not maintain this balance amongst the students. For example, programs with a first come, first served policy does not guarantee this balance because it may enroll more language majority than language minority students or vice versa. Programs also differ in how they enroll students. Some may consider language background and proficiency while others may screen students for other characteristics like learning disabilities. Many of these programs set an upper limit and prevent newcomers from joining the program at upper level grades. Neighborhood based programs and magnet schools attract specifics groups of students. While neighborhood based programs only enroll students from the local neighborhood, magnet schools enroll students throughout the district. Other variable features stemming from local policy or budget decisions include staffing, special resources, summer sessions and language classes for parents (Christian, 70). Amongst all differences, programs vary in design choices and can be grouped as either allocation of languages or student integration. The allocation of languages design focuses on the distribution of both languages while the student integration design focuses on integrating language majority and language minority students rather than separate them.

Long-term Effects

Emerging results from program evaluations around the country point to their effectiveness in promoting academic achievement for minority and majority student, along with high levels of bilingual proficiency for both groups (Christian, 72). One study demonstrated large gains over time in the reading and math achievement test scores of both English language learners and native English speakers. Students who study in these programs have expressed positive attitudes toward school and their program. These programs also challenged them more, gave them more confidence, and gave them a better education than a standard school model would have done (Lindholm-Leary, 58). Today, Latino students have the highest dropout rate in the United States. In one study of Latino high school students, many credited the program with keeping them in school. Although these long-term effects have been studied and reported, there remains concern for different program implementations and factors responsible for variations in student outcome (Christian, 73).

Works Cited

  • Christian, Donna. “Two‐Way Immersion Education: Students Learning Through Two Languages.” The Modern Language Journal 80, no. 1 (March 1, 1996): 66–76.
  • Lindholm-Leary, Kathryn J. “The Rich Promise of Two-Way Immersion.” Educational Leadership 62, no. 4: 56–59.

2 thoughts on “Two-way Bilingual Immersion”

  1. Language learning in education has always been an interest of mine, so your topic fascinates me. You do a good job of establishing your topic by defining TWBI and the way these programs may be implemented. Also, your language is clear and your essay is well organized, making it easy on the reader. I feel you need to work on strengthening your thesis. You briefly address the implementation, but not the long-term effects in your opening paragraphs. What is your main argument in regards to these effects? In your first body paragraph, you give a lot of examples of how these programs are implemented. Can you give more specific examples, like case studies? I also think it would be helpful if you weighed the pros and cons of each variation of these programs. In your later drafts, when you are able to further flesh out your argument, I would like to see you explore the long-term effects in depth. How do TWBI change the structure of schools and/or children’s learning? Make sure you provide ample evidence to back up your claims. Great start, though. I am excited to see how this paper turns out.

  2. I like this topic and find the different types of bilingual education interesting. I’d explore what effects these different types of bilingual education have on the student experience. Also it would be interesting to look at how bilingual education has changed over time. Has there been a shift from one type of bilingual education towards another? Is TWBI education increasing in popularity? What are the factors behind these trends? Looking at these types of questions might give the topic a little more structure.
    Also in your first paragraph, can you cite examples of each? I know you will probably go into specific case studies later (it would be beneficial to do so) but it would be useful to at least reference them here.

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