Important Factors in Bilingual Education
- A multi-year program: A bilingual program should extend over at least six years.
- Academic instruction in both languages: Over the course of the program, students should be learning 50% of their academic content in each language, but that doesn’t mean that 50% has to be in each language every year. For example, students could begin with full immersion in English, then gradually add in more Portuguese.
- Acquiring the new language through academic content: Students learn the new language because it is being used at their language level, for content instruction.
- Intentional language designations: The school needs to plan how, when and where each language will be used. Some possibilities are:
- Switching languages each day
- Designating certain hours or locations for certain languages
- Designating certain subjects, in specified grades, for certain languages. This is the most common.
- Understanding: All stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, leaders) need a good understanding of what bilingual education is.
- Teacher training: Teachers who will teach in English must be able to use specific strategies so that students who don’t yet have a very high level of English can understand the content … AND continue to develop their English. Teachers must have both content and language objectives on their lesson plans, and provide corrective feedback as students use English.
- Planning, and adhering to the plan: A good bilingual program is well-planned. The language of instruction of each subject at each grade level is planned in advance. Schools and teachers must adhere to the plan. If teachers switch to Portuguese because students are not understanding the content, for example, the bilingual program will not be effective.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do all teachers need to be fluent in both languages?
A: This is helpful, of course, but no. Teachers just need to be able to teach their content in their designated language, using strategies for language and content learning if they are teaching in the students’ new language.
Q: Do lessons include both languages?
A: Typically, no. If a certain lesson is to be taught in English, the teacher mostly needs to keep the language of instruction in English, but at the level of the students.
Q: What language level do students need, in order to have academic classes in English?
A: What is important is that the teacher can teach the content at the language level of the learners.
Q: Can the teacher switch languages throughout the same year, in the same subject?
A: This is not common, but it could work if the school has planned it this way. The language of instruction is not up to the teacher. The teacher needs to teach in the language that has been planned by the school for that subject in that grade.