Mijares: Dual immersion programs benefit English learners and their fluent-English classmates

The Orange County Department of Education’s vision is to prepare all students for college and career readiness, as well as lifelong success. Yet as technology and globalization make our world smaller, we must also look at our programs through an increasingly international lens.

desk-of-al-smallThat raises an important question: How can we prepare our students to function and compete successfully across multiple languages and cultures?

Two-way or “dual” language immersion education, which clusters English-speaking students and speakers of a foreign language, is a good start. In fact, this strategy has gained traction in recent years based on its ability to promote bilingualism and biliteracy for students while narrowing the achievement gap.

Indeed, research indicates that by the end of grade six, students in two-way immersion programs develop proficiency in English as well as the target language. They also develop deeper bicultural awareness and perform at levels that are at or above their peers on standardized tests.

Studies show that English-learner students who participate in dual immersion programs at the elementary level are less likely to drop out of school, more likely to enroll in higher-level mathematics courses and more likely to pass the high school exit exam. Beyond the positive academic outcomes, two-way language immersion programs provide additional cognitive benefits, improving problem-solving skills, reading abilities, memory and overall mental flexibility.

Here in Orange County, we are both ethnically and linguistically diverse. More than 26 percent of our students are not yet proficient in English and speak a variety of the world’s languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish. Our diversity is, without question, one of our greatest strengths. But we also know that meeting the academic needs of English learners poses great challenges.

Well-executed two-way language immersion programs hold extraordinary promise, supporting the academic success of English learners as well as their fluent-English counterparts. As we look to achieve our vision of college and career readiness and success for all students, two-way language immersion programs have the potential to build on the strength of Orange County’s diverse population and support our goal to prepare all students to successfully compete and lead in the 21st century.

For additional information, and a list of Orange County schools that offer dual-language immersion programs, I encourage you to visit our Dual Immersion & World Languages page on the OCDE website.