As Utah’s demographics change, public schools need to rethink their programs for teaching non-native English speakers.

Tim Shultz, a spokesman for U.S. English (sponsor of Utah’s Official English initiative), has publicly stated support for a program called dual immersion
(Washington Post, March 15, 2000).

Despite the heated battles between supporters and opponents of official English, this is one area in which both sides agree. Opponents of “English only” also support dual immersion. Even Newt Gingrich has endorsed the concept.

Unlike so-called “bilingual” programs in California, dual-immersion students are taught in English for a specific amount of time, starting day one, and are always in a classroom with native English-speaking students.

For half the day, class instruction is done in English. For the other half of the day, class instruction (reading, math, science, etc.) is done in the native language of the other students. This ensures that minority-language students are not left behind in the content areas while developing their English-language skills.

As an added bonus, the native English-speaking children learn the language of their classmates. Because half the day is in English, these students are able to develop academically in both languages.

Historically, Utah has been a leader in recognizing the language-learning ability of children. Cherry Hill Elementary School in Orem, for example, has been teaching math, reading, science and other subjects in Spanish as a way to teach the language to native English-speakers since 1974.

Timpanogos Elementary School, in Provo, currently has two dual-immersion first-grade classes. Utah is not the only state that has discovered the value of such programs. There are over 250 dual-immersion programs across the United States; has more information. These programs are not new or experimental but have been running successfully for years.

Dual immersion is a program design specifically listed as eligible for federal Title VII grants. These federal dollars could be used in Utah schools for planning and implementing additional dual-immersion programs.

Extensive research has been done on dual-immersion programs. Dual-immersion students end up in high school with English reading scores at or above the level of native English speakers. In contrast, traditional English-immersion students are scoring in the bottom 20-30 percent on English reading tests by high school; see page 53 for program comparisons).

In language acquisition and education in general, short-term gains are nice,
but what matters most is long-term academic achievement. Laws and policies that restrict “bilingual education” may inadvertently restrict dual-immersion programs as well.

As we evaluate our educational programs in light of demographic changes, we need to be sure to look at long-term research and programs that have been shown to lead to improved English scores throughout a student’s academic career. Dual immersion is one very strong option.

Rebekah Martindale of Orem teaches English as a second language for the Provo School District. She has taught English-language learners in Taiwan,
Colorado, Oregon and Utah.

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