Language Programs in California for English Learners

by multilingualmania on April 8, 2009

in Bilingual Education, English Learners, Policy

photo by shavar

photo by shavar

There are various language instruction models for students classified as English learners:

  • English Language Mainstream program, which consists of instruction overwhelmingly taught in English
  • Structured English Immersion (SEI), which consists of instruction overwhelmingly taught in English with specialized academic techniques designed for students at lower proficiency levels of English language development
  • Alternative Courses of Study, which consist of some form of instruction through students’ primary language

Alternative course of study programs can range in diversity from early-exit transitional forms of bilingual education (i.e., students are transitioned into English) to dual immersion programs (i.e., students’ languages are developed and maintained). In order to participate in an alternative course of study program in California, parents must sign a waiver on an annual basis in order for their child to participate in a bilingual program.

English Language Mainstream Programs

English Mainstream classrooms are the most common method of educating language minority students (i.e. English learners) in California.Skuttnabb-Kangas (2000) defines English Mainstream classrooms as contexts in which “powerless …minority children…are forced to accept instruction through the medium of a foreign…high-status language” (p.583).In such classrooms, language minority students are placed with fluent speakers of the majority language and receive little or no specialized assistance.The teacher may or may not speak or understand the primary language of the students and may or may not be knowledgeable of appropriate second language acquisition or effective sheltered instruction strategies. The ultimate aim of such programs is social and cultural assimilation.

Structured English Immersion (SEI) Program

Language minority students with less than reasonable fluency in English are sometimes placed in Structured English Immersion (SEI) programs.The goal of SEI programs is monolingualism just as in English Mainstream classes, i.e., the primary language is not developed and is replaced with English.SEI programs are specifically designed to facilitate rapid English language acquisition in order to transition language minority students into English Mainstream classes as soon as possible.Students placed in such programs are generally at thebeginning levels of English language proficiency and are provided sheltered content instruction by teachers ideally trained in both second language acquisition and strategies to effectively modify the core curriculum.While in some programs teachers may use the students’ primary language for clarification, typically little or no primary language support exists.

Transitional Bilingual Education Programs (TBE)

Primary language instruction, although hotly contested around the country, is an instructional option actually open to only a small fraction of language minority students.One common form of bilingual education is Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE).A TBE program is a “more sophisticated version of submersion programmes, a more ‘humane’ way of assimilating” (Skuttnabb-Kangas, 2000, p. 593); the aim of such programs is majority language monolingualism.Students enrolled in TBE programs are taught academic subjects through the medium of their primary language for a temporary period of time as they acquire proficiency in English.These classes provide access to the core curriculum until students have acquired enough proficiency in English to effectively participate in an English Mainstream classroom.In these programs, the minority language is used merely as a vehicle for facilitating the acquisition of English and is subsequently neglected once students have sufficient proficiency in English.

According to Soltero (2004), there are two common forms of TBE: Early-exit Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE)and Late-exit Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE).Early-exit TBE programs provide primary language instruction for approximately two years and then students are transitioned into monolingual English instruction around second or third grade. Students in Late-exit TBE programs receive primary language instruction for a minimum of forty percent of the instructional day until they are transitioned into English-only instruction around the sixth grade.A number of researchers have found that well-implemented TBE programs are more effective in the long-term than either English Mainstream or SEI programs (Lindholm-Leary, 2001; Ramirez et al, 1992; Thomas & Collier, 1997).

Developmental Maintenance Bilingual Education (DBE)

A less common form of bilingual education is Developmental Maintenance Bilingual Education, sometimes referred to as One-Way Developmental Maintenance (Thomas & Collier, 1997).The aim of Developmental Maintenance programs is to develop and maintain the primary language of language minority students.Students are provided primary language instruction for a minimum of fifty percent or more of the instructional day as they simultaneously acquire the majority language.Developmental Maintenance programs differ from Late-exit TBE programs in that they add a second language while they protect and further develop the primary language, as opposed to the eventual replacement of students’ primary language with English.

Dual Immersion Programs

Dual Immersion programs, sometimes referred to as Two-Way Bilingual Immersion, are an enrichment form of bilingual education in which language majority (i.e., English speakers) and language minority speakers are integrated throughout the entire school day and taught through the medium of the minority language for fifty percent or more of the instructional day (Lindholm-Leary, 2001).They are similar to Developmental Maintenance Bilingual programs in the design and goals; the only difference between Developmental Maintenance and Dual Immersion programs is that language majority students are included in the Dual Immersion program and all students are taught to read, write, and speak two languages.

There are two common variations of dual immersion programs:90/10 and 50/50 (Soltero, 2004).In a 90/10 model, the minority language is taught to both language groups for ninety percent of the school day starting in kindergarten.With each additional school year, the majority language is increased by ten percent until students receive instruction for fifty percent of the day in the minority language.Once students receive fifty percent of their instruction in Spanish and fifty percent in English, they maintain equal percentages of the two languages throughout the subsequent years of their schooling.In 50/50 programs the minority language is taught for fifty percent of the instructional day at each grade level beginning in kindergarten and throughout high-school.

About the Author: Melanie D. McGrath is the founder and editor of Multilingual Mania. Melanie also provides technical assistance and trainings to schools with an emphasis on effective practices for English language learners and bilingual education programs.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Barker April 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm

The problem of dying languages throughout the World is a serious one.

Although there are at least 7,000 languages throughout the World, they are threatened by the linguistic imperialism of both Mandarin Chinese and English.

The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008.

The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations’ Geneva HQ in September. or

The Unapologetic Polyglot April 9, 2009 at 1:27 am

Thanks Brian, I look forward to learning more about Esperanto.!

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