Dual-Language Immersion Programs Growing in Popularity

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2011


More than a decade after California voters eliminated most bilingual programs, first-grader Sofia Checchi is taught in Italian nearly all day–as she and her 20 classmates at Franklin Elementary School have been since kindergarten.

Yet in just a year, Sofia has jumped a grade level in reading English. In the view of her mother–an Italian immigrant–Sofia’s achievement validates a growing body of research indicating that learning to read in students’ primary languages helps them become more fluent in English.

The Glendale Unified School District has become one of the nation’s leading laboratories for such dual-language immersion experiments, offering programs in Italian, German, Spanish, Armenian, Japanese and Korean. At Franklin, instruction is 90% in Italian and 10% in English in kindergarten and first grade, a proportion that will shift to 50-50 by fifth grade. {snip}

Growing in popularity, dual-language immersion programs are the new face of bilingual education–without the stigma. Though bilingual education was often perceived–and resented by some–as public handouts only for immigrant families, dual programs offer the chance to learn a second language to native-born American children as well.


Sugarman [Julie Sugarman of the Center for Applied Linguistics] estimated that dual-language immersion programs have grown in the last few years from a few hundred to 1,000 or more nationwide, with California and Texas leading the way. California had 224 programs in 100 school districts as of 2008–a number that officials say has risen considerably in recent years. The majority of the programs are in elementary schools.

About 1.5 million students, or one-quarter of California’s school-age population, are English-language learners. The vast majority are placed in English-only programs, an approach essentially mandated by Proposition 227 in 1998.


So far, dual-language programs have not stirred the controversy that surrounded bilingual education.


Diversity has increased, with the proportion of low-socioeconomic families falling from 77% to 53%, school officials say. Only two families–both Spanish-speaking–declined to select dual programs for their children this fall; they will be offered spots in all-English kindergartens at other district schools.



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17 Responses to “Dual-Language Immersion Programs Growing in Popularity” Subscribe

  1. Anonymous May 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    As a Canadian who has experienced first hand what linguistic division can do to a country I can safely say this is a terrible, terrible mistake. You should be promoting only the English language and doing so zealously. At best this is a foolish and misguided program that wastes money. At worst it is intentionally aimed as a Trojan horse cultural attack to undermine the Anglophone community with awful long term consequences. Americans, always be EXTREMELY wary of anything to do with language. No matter how they try to package the message, believe me, it is very bad news for you. Canadians know.

  2. Tim Mc Hugh May 9, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    I used to do a lot of work for a likeable Mexican-American patron. One day he told me that I should have tried harder to learn his language growing up.. I responded by telling him that when I was a kid they`d paddle the Mexican kids for speaking Spanish, so what chance did I have?!?! He didn`t have an answer for that one, about the only time I saw him speechless…

  3. BannerRWB May 9, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    Well, they’re close to getting it right. I think what we’ll end up with though by going this route, is a bunch of people who can only speak broken English to each other while still living in ethnocentric enclaves and speaking their “native” language. Maybe not, but we’ll have to wait and see. Otherwise, how are the English-Italian folks going to talk to the Germans who only speak German? I think a better approach would be to have a native “National Language”, (English for Americans), and have everyone in the White world learn Latin as a second language – and do so starting at a very early age. For those concerned about non-White immigrants, or those who speak Mexican or whatever, I have to say I am not looking at this as a world-wide concern, but as a concern for White cohesion and survival.

  4. Anonymous May 9, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    White parents in many cities have discovered that Mandarin Chinese language dual-language programs drive away blacks and hispanics. Thus, white liberals can claim to love diversity while sending their kids to comfortable, orderly white and asian schools.

  5. TomSwift May 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    “About 1.5 million students, or one-quarter of California’s school-age population, are English-language learners.”

    In the first grade, I moved from Ohio to Texas. At first I thought the poor education system here was caused by the redneck conservative culture — To the extent that children have political opinions, mine were liberal. I was completely oblivious to race and immigration. I noticed that the students generally had darker skin than up north but I thought this was like eye color and didn’t think anything of it.

    Then in the sixth grade it hit me. Half the school didn’t speak English as their native language. So I looked it up online and guess what I found? The states with the highest amount of immigrants have the worst education systems. We, the American people, worked our butts off building these schools and then we can not education our children because we have to wait for the Spanish speakers to catch up? How fair is that? Immigration control became my first conservative opinion.

  6. TeaMan May 10, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    I spent over 20 years teaching Mexican “American” kids. Some of them actually spoke English as their first language. Some. Not a lot. Overwhelmingly, they spoke Spanish as their first language and Spanish as their second language, too.

    Absolutely all of our pre-kinder and kinder teachers had to be bilingual in my district. In practice, this meant that 90% of instruction was in Spanish for the first 2 years that kids were in school. At first grade, English speaking students went to English-only classes and the rest went to bilingual.

    The “bilingual” students spoke so little English that by the time I got them in the 6th grade, they spoke with a very heavy accent that was, basically, irreducible. Low pass rates on their State reading and writing tests and very small English vocabularies.

    Bilingual education is just a way of appeasing the ethnocentric world view of non-White minorities. It doesn’t help the kids become functioning members of our national society.

    The article mentioned that the Italian-English bilingual program was being run in California. That explains it all.


  7. Greg May 10, 2011 at 1:37 am #

    Oh, the strenghts of diversity…

    We all know race to be the impossible divide that it is, but language complicates and adds another layer to the problems. Anonymous 1, the Canadian, could probably tell about the French-English problems between Quebec residents and the English speaking residents–and this is between groups of whites.

    Yet another reason to completely shut off immigration and send the burrito-eaters home.

  8. Anonymoose May 10, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    Bilingual education began with a legitimate purpose but soon got out of hand. Originally, the concern was that children from non-English speaking homes which also were culturally deprived in their own language needed to do things like learn the names of colors, learn numbers and the names of common things. So far so good. The idea was that they would also learn English at the school and eventually transition into the English-speaking classroom.

    Once a bureaucracy was established, however, children often were forced to remain in a Spanish-speaking classroom throughout their school years. This was not what the parents, even those who spoke only Spanish, or the children themselves wanted.

    In late 1990s, I saw the results of this first hand when I worked as a sports reporter and had contact with high school kids in rural California communities. Hispanic teenagers who had lived in America all of their lives and who were obviously mentally adequate struggled to communicate in English because they had been forced to remain in a “bilingual” classroom. This stopped in California only when the voters forced and end to it.

    I have heard, some who were raised under bilingual education as it existed earlier, have never learned English adequately and sometimes have to live as outcasts, at least in the employment system.

    Bilingual education can be legitimate at times, but not when it prevents people who are going live their entire lifetimes in American society from learning English. It is not in their interest, and not in ours either

    Having middle class and upper middle class children learn a second language as they grow up is another issue. Not a problem. But I would prefer to see Euro-American children try to learn a modern European language rather than Chinese or another Asian language.

    The most important thing is to learn the second language successfully. Learning the language of a country which you can reasonably live in for some period of time or visit repeatedly may be the best way to go. Very often, that means learning one’s ancestral language.

    Sorry to put a pin in so many balloons all at once, but that’s telling like it is.

  9. Anonymous May 10, 2011 at 4:20 am #

    Children can learn to speak new languages quickly and effortlessly; their little brains are designed to do this. The problems are these:

    1-They can forget them equally quickly.

    2-Unless they continue to study and improve, they will not be able to discuss adult subjects. I have known several Italian-Americans who thought they were fluent in Italian. Then they went to Italy and tried to talk about politics, business, cars, etc. and the Italian-Americans realized how limited their Italian was.

    3-Many graduates of U.S. high schools seem proficient only in simple conversational English. Schools should concentrate on English proficiency before experimenting with other languages.

  10. diversity = adversity May 10, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    With all due respect to my fellow white survivalist anonymous # 1, I am a Cajun. We are racial siblings to the Francophone Acadians. French is a European language. Most older Cajuns today are bilingual but sadly many of the younger Cajun generation are mainly Anglophone. I don’t think that immigrant mexicans should be handed all american education in spanish, especially not when Cajun children have been forbidden to speak our language in public schools since my grandmother was a child. Mawmaw was punished with a ruler slap on the hand for speaking French. She was born here in Louisiana as were her parents, and everyone in southern Louisiana spoke French. Only now do have Cajun language teachers. We know how fundamentally important a language is to a culture, our culture is all but lost along with our language.

    We can use these bilingual programs to save English, and are not necessarily destructive to English. I am currently teaching myself Old English (Eald Englisc) from an old college textbook. I intend to gain deep understanding of language as a cultural art, and work as a translator, and write lessons in Cajun Francais.

    If White survivalist act now we can take advantage of the bilingual programs to promote English and German.

    The cynical pessimism rampant on here is quite depressing.

  11. Anonymous May 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    We are teaching our 4-year-old twins to speak and read English, German, and Russian. So far, great!

    I wouldn’t throw mexican into the mix. I hear it lowers your IQ.

  12. Anonymous May 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Three Comments:

    1. Look at the ethno blocks they use as examples where dual language learning helps improve literacy in both tongues: All high intelligence, European or East Asian, kids. i.e. the ones who will have the least difficulty assimilating into a high literacy new culture to begin with. Where are the huge numbers of hispanics and poor indians we KNOW make up the majority of California and Texas school youth?

    2. Look at what is NOT said: how it effects whites. White children should be reading with their parents as or before they enter kindergarten. Does learning a second language help them improve grade levels or does this remain an excuse for unfairly transfering school funding to immigrant youths, using the ‘Italian’ label to avoid race issues?

    The one constant in the Termites (1500 highly gifted California students studied longitudinally, beginning in the 1920s) was that the most intelligent ones actually learned to read -late- some as late as 6-7.

    Fixing the brain to a written language standard, any standard, also imprints the way the mind conceptualizes thought and that is not always a good thing in very brilliant children. But in the absence of extensive written literacy competence, you MUST continue verbal stimulus so that when the reading comprehension rises, it is in a familiar vocabulary and complimentary diction.

    If you are already native-English speaker, you gain gradual literacy improvement as immersion through conversational application. If you are an ‘English-learner’, continuing to teach in your native tongue acts as a HUGE barrier in developing two different standards or strands of conceptual logic.

    The way you think is then dictated by the first language you learn, not the second you learn to read and ‘Italian’ has no place in our society.

    This is especially true for Central Americans, many of whom are illiterate, even in Spanish, and thus have -no- root language familiarity to go by. If you want to create specific language group familiarities, you must begin early and you must be _exclusive_.

    Because Hispanics are far less peopled with genius and their family bias in aculturated attitudes on education lowers their expectations of success in school, dual-language teaching amounts to sabotaging tech savvy, advanced, society in favor of one which panders to lower-IQ weakness of ability in sustaining the very welfare proceeds that draws these immigrants in the first place.

    3. Twenty Five Percent of California’s children are English learners. If you are a liberal and want to beat the assimilation game as a function of making sure all minorities remain ethnic isolated dependents of the sucked-dry states (at the benefit of liberal enabler agencies); remove the barriers to education -at all- and you have automatically guaranteed white race replacement by language as well as birth rate in the economy. Because the lingua franca dictates how many high tech, white-advantaged, jobs are available.

    When I went to school, not only was it all English from the moment you entered but there were minimum standards for English competency which -had to- be met beforehand: “Your child will be able to read, speak and write his alphabet prior to entering first grade.”

    This led my parents to some late-nighter emergency session mastery with me because I was on the borderline of age groups for kindergarten (I also was home schooled in cursive to be ready for 2nd grade).

    But it made me a smarter kid, better able to master my 3Rs in preparation for what came next in terms of early composition and word-problem mastery of mathetics.

    Dual Language Learning makes America a hostile place for the indigene peoples and does nothing to make ‘learners’ able to support themselves or their lower-IQ population group to our standards because our standards are what the liberals are trying to say are unnecessary to _compete_ with the likes of Japan, China and Europe.

  13. Anonymoose May 10, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Anonymous wrote at 4:20 AM on May 10:

    “2-Unless they continue to study and improve, they will not be able to discuss adult subjects. I have known several Italian-Americans who thought they were fluent in Italian. Then they went to Italy and tried to talk about politics, business, cars, etc. and the Italian-Americans realized how limited their Italian was.”

    People who learn a family-ancestral language at home as a secondary language to English or people who participate in a long-term second language program in their school often end up with what is called “facility” in a language, not fluency. Fluency is harder to achieve. What brings a smile to “nana’s” face is not what you need to do business or live in a foreign country. But learning a language is a worthwhile endeavor. Keep that in mind.

  14. Vick May 10, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    I live in the area and know about this program. It’s populated by upper middle class parents (white, asian and otherwise) who have been sold on the merits of raising children who can speak more than one language.

    There’s nothing wrong with it of course, though I’m a bit skeptical that fluency in a foreign language as a child translates into an adulthood much different from those who didn’t go to such schools. One reason why most Americans only speak one language is that there isn’t any reason to know any other languages. Without any need to know the languages they’re learning, I doubt most of these kids will be bilingual their entire lives.

    Also, I want to add that among a lot of these upper middle class white parents I see a rush to try to get their kids to learn Spanish. I think this is a big mistake.

    Sadly, more and more Spanish is going to be in common use in this country in the future. Whites have a choice about how to deal with this. Spanish is already in many places the language of “the help” – the language you sort of muck around in in order to speak to the landscaper, the waitress, the maid, the manual laborer – there’s no need to learn it beyond that.

    These foolish upper middle class types think that teaching their kids Spanish will give them sort of leg up in the US of the future. Wrong. While there will in fact be a kind of “parallel” Spanish-speaking society in this country with its own media and own Spanish-speaking professionals this enclave with be hispanic-only, make no mistake about it. White kids who expend a lot of effort learning Spanish in order to gain entry into the Spanish-speaking society-within-a-society of 20 or 30 years from now are wasting their time – this parallel world is one where whites will NOT be welcome.

    From a white perspective, we should keep Spanish the language of “the help.” I don’t see any reason to learn it. Make them learn English if they want to do business with us.

  15. Anonymous May 11, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    Reply to #10:

    I don’t think you realize the true issue or what the implications of your thoughts lead to. Once language becomes a political issue and the ‘language-industrial complex’ (for want of a better term) becomes involved, you have opened Pandoras’ box – never to be closed. You may think there is nothing wrong with preserving an archaic version of French in the bayous of Louisiana. But that is not what “bilingualism” means. Here in Canada two bills were just defeated, and ONLY because the Conservatives finally won a majority government afer four elections in seven years. Bill C-232, which would have made it mandatory for all judges on the supreme court to be fluently bilingual in French and English. And bill S-220 which would have made it mandatory for all mounties who patrol the trans-Canada highway to be fluently bilingual, except in Quebec where the Quebec provincial force is unilingually Francophone. Only about 15% of Canadians are bilingual and most of these are Francophone Quebeckers, just as most Spanish-English “bilinguals” in America are undoubtedly Hispanics. What if all the judges on the SCOTUS had to speak Spanish? What if all state troopers on all the interstates had to speak Spanish? If this seems ridiculous to Americans today, let me assure you it seemed even more ridiculous to Canadians in 1969 when our (Francophone, naturally) prime minister made Canada a “bilingual” country.

    Reply to #13:

    “but learning a language is a worthwhile endeavour..”

    This is the canard that is often used here in Canada to promote bilingualism and give it an air of respectibility. True, there is nothing wrong with learning another language. BUT THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE POLITICAL REALITIES ASSOCIATED WITH BILINGUALISM. Bilingualism is a Trojan horse to disenfranchise English-speakers and empower other ethnic groups at their expense. It is a linguistic version of A.A.

    When it comes to languages, I just don’t think Americans get it…(I would love to be proven wrong though)..

  16. division17 May 11, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    Careful, dual language immersion programs are just another ploy in the race to mediocrity in education. In my school district the PC “elite” on the school board make a policy and then cherry-pick parents in agreement to say they have parent input. I politely crashed the meeting for parent “input” on developing a dual language immersion charter school.

    The language chosen for this was Spanish. Why not a language such as Chinese? They admitted that point of charter school was to close the gap between non-native and native English speakers. Argument was that children were failing academically because they were struggling to overcome language issues. OK, if your concern is for the children’s learning, I asked, why not Hmong? The Hmong population at our school district is more than twice that of the Spanish speaking (read Mexican) population. The response was that English speaking parents wouldn’t be interested in having their children learn Hmong. It was crucial to have native English speakers (read white) involved in the program.

    I didn’t understand this until I learned how the program is to be run. Both groups would learn reading beginning with their own language and then increasing the amount of time learning reading in the other language. However, the Mexican kids would get other core classes such as math, science, social studies in Spanish while the white English speakers would have the joy of total language immersion for their core coursework. Funny, I though being immersed in English was what was causing the Mexicans to be academic underachievers.

    And here’s the kicker, to demonstrate that this program works, only the kids within the program will be compared; native Spanish to native English. In other words, saddle the white kids with the same handicap that you say was dragging down the Mexican kids and the achievement gap is closed.

  17. D=A from the Bayou May 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm #


    Thanks for pointing out the political implications of bilingualism that I had not considered. I’m just “offended” that Spanish (Spanifone?) Central American and South american immigrants are now pouring into my bayou town and opening mexican bars. I think the Parish should have Francais and Englsh signs before English and Espãnol. My great-aunt is still primarily fluent in Cajun Francais.

    I didn’t know Quebecois were unilingual, I thought it was Francais and English. Thank you for your post pointing out what I missed.

    Who let all these mestizos into my parish anyway? Was it Hindu born Bobby Jindahl?

    On an unrelated note: if anyone would like to know: ‘Acadian’ and ‘Cajun’ are related words, as the Acadians migrated south, their accent led them to pronounce the ‘d’ as a ‘j’. “I’m Acadian” became “I’m a Cajun” Cajun vowel pronunciation can be complicated.