Dual Language Series: Part 1 - Who Are Our Learners?

Dual Language Series: Part 1 - Who are our learners?

by: D. Garcia

"The roots of the term education imply drawing out children's potential, making them MORE than they were; however, when children come to school fluent in their primary language, and they leave school essentially monolingual in English, then our schools have negated the meaning of the term education, because they have made children LESS than they were". (Cummins, 1989)

Read Part 2 and Part 3 in our Dual Language Series.

"Las raíces del término educación implica extraer el potencial de los niños,

haciéndolos MÁS de lo que eran; sin embargo cuando los niños vienen a la

escuela siendo fluidos en su lengua materna y ellos dejan la escuela esencialmente

monolingües en inglés, entonces nuestras escuelas han negado el significado del

término educación, porque ellos han hecho niños

MENOS de lo que eran. (Cummins, 1989)

In the United States, we educate and inspire children and young people who are learning Academic English along with over 350 different languages spoken at home and in their communities, 75% being Spanish Speakers.  According to the Migration Policy Institute, this population grew by 60% over the last decade making these students the fastest growing population in United States Schools.  These figures may stimulate the questions about whether our U.S. Schools are being taken over by one particular language met with historic opposition: Spanish.  

Subtle or not so subtle rhetoric in 2018 certainly suggests the we take a look at the question.  In fact, recently I interviewed a potential ESL Teacher who gleamed with the opportunity to teach her “America Heritage” to her future students.  The reality is that Spanish is not and has never been a foreign language in the United States. The reality is that over 85% of English Learners in Pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade are also United States citizens, as well as 62% of secondary English Learning Students (Zong and Batalova, 2015).  The United States with 41 million native and 11 millions bilingual speakers is the largest Spanish speaking population outside of Mexico at 121 Million Speakers (Guardian, 2015).    There is some suggestion using U.S. Census Data that by 2050 the United States will be the largest Spanish speaking nation in the world (Instituto Cervantes, 2015).  Since the 1830’s the United States has engaged in some sort of treaty based land grab in the Southwest, Caribbean, or other strategic territorial expansion into areas culturally and linguistically inhabited by Spanish speaking Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans and Cubans.  Spanish and English have commingled in intertwined connection and contact for generations.

We’ve recently left the decade long era of NCLB that characterized students learning English as “Limited English Proficient (LEP)”as a way of indicating our responsibility to ensure English Proficiency.  This short sighted view of the complexity and the resources that multilingualism brings to the cognition, learning, and identity of learners, brings me to question this recent practice and how it prepared a landscape for English only policy in many of our nations states.  Both language sovereignty and the English only movements have coexisted since the founding of our nation resulting in our plurilingual constitutional protections.

However policy and law have not always permanently changed people and communities.  For generations of students, an English only education results in subtractive schooling, where schooling actually results in a loss of learning, in this case language loss.  Language erradiction is part of our social design and a story that can be told and retold in the United States as a means of asserting power over a population.

While language eradication is not always the first goal, it is often the outcome of other endeavors that have now found to have no research base whatsoever, such as:

  • the earlier English is taught, the better the results ("the early-start fallacy")
  • the more English is taught, the better the results ("the maximum-exposure fallacy")
  • if other languages are used much, standards of English will drop ("the subtractive fallacy")

(Phillipson, 1992)

As myths about language learning, language learners and bilingualism persist, scores of monolingual English speaking parents vie for seats in immersion programs around the country so their child has the 21st century edge of bilingualism and biliteracy.  While linguistically talented students who navigate learning through two or more linguistic and cultural identities outside of school may continue to experience well meaning, but potentially “subtractive schooling”. Subtractive schooling has been defined in more or less similar ways as a “form of schooling that systematically divests in the linguistic, cultural and ethnic funds of knowledge of minority students with the intention of causing assimilation to the empowered group”  (igi-global.com).  One of the main forms of Subtractive Schooling include English only opportunities to learn for multilingual students. We know these learners have greater potential than our policies and communities have committed to in education. Are we doing what we could and what we should for the preponderance of Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin speakers who make up the largest population of English learners in schools today?  Are these learner’s right to learn only English, also a violation of their right to Biliteracy and a Biliterate identity that is social as well as scholarly? Are we creating immersion programing to add a prestige language to already privileged populations, while failing to ensure access to “native speakers”? Could we add to what a student brings to their learning linguistically? Can we envision and then implement programming and services for students that guarantee academic achievement at or above grade level in English, but also ensure this in a partner language?  Can we envision and create graduates who can effectively communicate with diplomatic, academic and social networks with the entire Western Hemisphere and critical parts of the Eastern Hemisphere? Will be ensure Bilingualism and Biliteracy? How will we begin this courageous work? 

Join with me in learning about the journey in developing vision and action towards Dual Language Program Development which offers the holistic promise of making schooling an additive experience for all learners.  I look forward to sharing with you my experiences in building Pre Kindergarten through 12th grade programs for Linguistically Talented youth-that just happen to be great for ALL learners. This is largely impossible for English learners in English only learning contexts.  Dual Language Programing can help districts honor and develop the linguistic capacity, thus the academic scholarship of our Linguistically Talented youth. Let’s get to work!

Jim Cummins inspires us all to embrace "The roots of the term education imply drawing out children's potential, making them MORE than they were”.


What are two linguistic profiles of our bilingual students?  Hear D discuss the answer to this question below:


The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/29/us-second-biggest-spanish-speaking-country

Instituto Cervantes http://www.cervantes.es/imagenes/File/prensa/El%20espaol%20una%20lengua%20viva.pdf

Migration Policy Institute


Phillipson, Robert (1992), Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford University Press. 

Zong, Jie, and Batalova, Jeanne.  2015. “The Limited English Proficient Population in the United States.” Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/limited-english-proficient-population-united-states#Age,%20Race,%20and%20Ethnicity

To Further Your Learning:

From Confianza's Collaboration with Teaching Channel's ELL Deep Dive Video Library:

Bridging Content and Language: Strategies from a Dual Language Classroom

Teaching for Biliteracy


See our set of professional learning offering options.


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