Dual-language immersion programs surge

Push for foreign language requirements highlights teacher shortage
By: | September 4, 2019
Research shows that children can learn best from long-term exposure to a language. A child’s ability to analyze language and phonological awareness help lead to fluency. (gettyimages.com: skynesher)Research shows that children can learn best from long-term exposure to a language. A child’s ability to analyze language and phonological awareness help lead to fluency. (gettyimages.com: skynesher)

Dual-language immersion programs and foreign language education are expanding rapidly across the U.S. as a way to prepare students for a global economy. But the movements are requiring school districts to find new ways to address teacher shortages. 

Languages of high interest include Spanish, Russian and Mandarin, according to a report in The New York Times

Robert Slater, a senior fellow at the American Councils for International Education, told the Times that there are now at least 3,000 dual-language programs in the U.S. That’s up from an estimated 2,000 cited in a 2017 study published by the RAND Corp., and notably higher than the 260 cited by the U.S. Department of Education in 2000.

In Louisiana, more students are starting the school year using another language, particularly in French immersion schools, the Times reports. Meanwhile, Saugus High School in Massachusetts requires all students to take two years of either Spanish or Latin to graduate, Wicked Local reports. 

Research shows that children can learn best from long-term exposure to a language, according to a report in The Conversation. A child’s ability to analyze language and phonological awareness are critical attributes that lead to fluency, the article says.

In addition, elementary students who have studied another language develop greater cognitive skills, including mental flexibility, creativity, higher-order thinking and multitasking, experts told DA in a 2015 report.

DA detailed how Cave Creek Unified School District in Arizona immersed elementary school students in Spanish and Chinese, which led to increased test scores. 


Read: Dual-language immersion push reveals California teacher shortage


But it can be difficult to find qualified language-immersion teachers. In California, the Department of Education’s Global California 2030 initiative calls for schools to have half of all K-12 students on track for proficiency in two languages by the end of the next decade. 

Earlier this year, DA reported that California has provided $5 million in grants to eight programs that will allow bilingual teachers across the state to renew their certifications so they can return to dual-language classrooms within a year to 18 months.

“It’s a heavy lift; if they’ve been out of bilingual classes, they need to be updated in the new pedagogy,” said Magaly Lavadenz, Californians Together president and a professor in the college of education at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, in the DA report. “There are new ways to use materials and develop curriculum.”