Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Two-Way Immersion Education

What Is It?

Two-way immersion is an educational model that integrates native English speakers and native speakers of another language for all or most of the day, with the goals of promoting high academic achievement, first- and second-language development, and cross-cultural understanding for all students. In two-way immersion programs, language learning takes place primarily through content instruction. Academic subjects are taught to all students through both English and the non-English language. As students and teachers work together to perform academic tasks, the students' language abilities are developed, along with their knowledge of content area subject matter.

Why Did It Get Started?

The earliest two-way immersion programs began in the 1960s and 1970s, in programs such as Coral Way in Miami and the Inter-American Magnet School in Chicago. However, transitional bilingual education quickly became the predominant model for including native language use in the education of language-minority students, and these programs were typically not integrated with second language instruction for native English speakers. It has only been over the past decade that there has been greater interest in the two-way immersion model. This increasing interest in the two-way immersion model is most likely due to the convergence of bilingual education research, which has indicated that extended native language development has positive educational outcomes for language-minority students, and foreign language immersion research, which has shown that native English speakers benefit from early foreign language instruction through the immersion model.

How Does It Work?

While there is a great deal of variation with regard to program features of two-way immersion programs, there are also some important core similarities:

The student populations are balanced, with approximately 50 percent native English speakers and 50 percent native speakers of the non-English language.
Academic instruction takes place through both languages, with the non-English language being used from 50 to 90 percent of the time.

In this way, all students have the opportunity to be both first-language models and second-language learners. Furthermore, two-way immersion creates an additive bilingual environment for all students, since the first language is maintained while the second language is acquired.

Other effective program elements are described below.

Teaching Strategies for Language and Content

Two-way immersion teachers tend to use cooperative learning, thematic units, hands-on materials, and visual and graphic displays to teach content area material. Most classrooms have language-rich environments, and strategies such as repetition and rephrasing are used to make language comprehensible. In addition to language modeling from the teacher, students are afforded many opportunities to read, write, and speak in both languages in order to facilitate their language development.

Separation of Languages by Teachers and Students

Teachers in two-way immersion programs teach for extended periods of time in one designated language, and encourage both native speakers and second-language learners to communicate in the language of instruction to the best of their ability.

Integration of Students

Students from both language backgrounds learn together for significant portions of the day. Some programs separate students by language background for language arts instruction in the native and/or second language, while others maintain student integration for the entire day.

Duration of Program

Programs provide bilingual instruction for at least 4 to 6 years, and parents are advised that continuous student enrollment for the duration of the program is advisable.

Family and Community Involvement

The most successful two-way immersion programs recognize the importance of support from families and the community at large. Serious efforts are made to ensure that both languages and cultures are valued equally, and that all families are included in school decision-making processes.

Availability of Resources

Because bilingualism is one of the three main goals of two-way immersion programs, it is important that the school have not only classroom materials in both languages, but also school-wide materials such as library resources and computer software in both languages.

What Are The Costs?

There are no obligatory costs associated with two-way immersion programs. That is, no specific materials are needed, nor is there a required program facilitator. However, the availability of both bilingual pedagogical materials and a bilingual coordinator who is free from teaching responsibilities can greatly enhance the quality of a two-way immersion program. In addition, because many teachers lack teaching experience in two-way immersion classrooms, it is helpful to provide pre-service and in-service training to the teaching staff. Extra costs involved with two-way immersion programs are frequently funded from Federal and state compensatory and bilingual education funds in the school.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

The impetus for developing a two-way immersion program can come from a variety of sources: parents, teachers, administrators, or research partners. Schools that are interested in implementing a two-way immersion model usually begin by collecting information about the model through research centers, such as the Center for Applied Linguistics, as well as through schools that currently have such programs in operation. This information allows the school to make decisions about key features of the program:

Once these key decisions have been made, most schools invite a professional developer with expertise in two-way immersion programs to train teachers and support staff in effective two-way immersion teaching strategies. Many new programs seek help from established programs, both for pre-service and in-service guidance. These mentoring partnerships help new programs to deal with unanticipated issues that may arise during the first few years of implementation.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

Many two-way immersion programs have received Title VII funding, and have therefore been required to conduct annual evaluations of student progress. A review of these findings indicates that while there is a wide range of variation with regard to academic achievement and language proficiency outcomes of students enrolled in two-way immersion programs, many programs have determined that their students perform as well or better than comparable students enrolled in alternative programs within the same district. On a state level, these findings have been replicated in a study of two-way bilingual programs in California. Other studies, including a national longitudinal study of two-way bilingual programs, have also found that language-minority students enrolled in two-way immersion programs attain higher levels of academic achievement over the long term than students enrolled in other educational programs within the same district.

Where Can I See It?

Two-way immersion programs are currently in operation in 19 states. For information on program location, as well as background and contact information for all programs, contact the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Whom Do I Contact?

The Center for Applied Linguistics
1118 22nd Street NW
Washington DC 20037-1214
Telephone: 202-429-9292; Fax: 202-659-5641

The Research Base

A number of principles from both bilingual education research and foreign language research provide the theoretical rationale for two-way immersion. First, bilingual education research indicates that content knowledge learned through one language paves the way for knowledge acquisition in the second language. When native language instruction is provided with balanced second-language support, students can attain higher levels of academic achievement than if they had been taught in the second language only. Second, researchers in bilingual education assert that a second language is best acquired by language-minority students after their first language is established.

Specifically, language-minority students with strong oral language and literacy skills in the first language tend to achieve greater levels of second-language proficiency than students with limited native-language ability. Third, immersion programs enable language- majority children (those who are native speakers of the high-status language of the society, i.e., English in the United States) to develop second-language proficiency without compromising their academic achievement. Finally, for all students, language is learned best when it is the medium of instruction rather than the exclusive goal of instruction. In immersion settings, students learn language while learning content, because there is a real need to communicate while engaged in content-related tasks.

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