Who is Qualified to Teach in a Bilingual Program?

by multilingualmania on April 17, 2010

in Bilingual Ed 101

One of the followers on our facebook page, Angelica, recently asked the following question:

What is the difference between teaching in dual language immersion and regular bilingual ed? Honestly, are all bilingual educators who hold a bilingual credential qualified to teach in Dual language education? Just wondering.

Dear Angelica,

Thank you for asking such an important and complex question. There are a variety of bilingual program models that can be categorized under the umbrella of bilingual education. Such program models can be Dual Immersion, early-exit transitional bilingual, late-exit transitional bilingual, immersion education (as in the Canadian immersion type of program where students are taught two languages such as French and English), and many other instructional models.

I am assuming that when you say “regular bilingual ed”, you are referring to the typical early-exit transitional bilingual education program where students are provided instruction in Spanish, or another minority language, for a few years and are then subsequently transitioned into instruction that takes place all in English. The main aim of transitional bilingual education programs is proficiency and monolingualism in English, and students are only provided enough instruction in their primary language until they are proficient enough to receive instruction exclusively in English.

Dual Immersion, or dual language immersion, is different than the transitional bilingual education program. The main goals of Dual Immersion programs are bilingualism, academic proficiency in both languages, and cross-cultural competence. An additional difference is also that native English-speakers are also present in the Dual language immersion classroom in order to achieve bilingualism, biliteracy and cross-cultural competence.  In Dual Immersion programs, students continue to maintain and preserve their primary language as they learn a second language throughout elementary school and hopefully into middle school and high school.

In both types of bilingual education programs, teachers should be highly proficient in English and Spanish, or other languages that are taught in the particular program. They also should be highly skilled in second language acquisition as well as instructional strategies that are designed to promote second language acquisition. In addition, teachers in both programs should have a firm understanding of their particular bilingual education program model design as well as a sound theoretical understanding of literacy and biliteracy development.

Due to the presence of native English-speaking children in the program, it’s imperative that Dual Immersion teachers are also highly skilled in scaffolding instruction in Spanish, or another minority language, depending on the program. Dual Immersion teachers also require an advanced level of cultural competence and must be highly proficient in working with parents and students of various racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic groups.

The possession of a bilingual teaching authorization (e.g., a BCLAD credential in California) does NOT necessarily mean that a teacher is qualified to teach in either a transitional bilingual education or a Dual Immersion program. A bilingual teaching authorization does not  signify that teachers are prepared for the knowledge and skill that is required of bilingual educators regarding biliteracy development, second language acquisition, and cross-cultural competence–much in the same way that an ESL or CLAD teaching authorization does not signify that a teacher is highly competent in teaching English Language Development in an English classroom.

Having taught in a transitional bilingual education program does NOT qualify most teachers to teach in a Dual Immersion setting, either. Transitional bilingual education teachers are often exposed to only one linguistic group, such as having all native Spanish-speakers, and are typically not accustomed to working with parents of various cultural and linguistic groups. Transitional bilingual education teachers also often take for granted that their students understand everything that is said when teaching in Spanish, and are unaccustomed to having second language learners in the classroom during Spanish instruction.

It is my philosophy that teachers in both transitional bilingual education programs and Dual Immersion settings should have the same levels of expertise regarding second language acquisition and biliteracy development, with Dual Immersion educators having a more nuanced ability of cross-cultural competence. Unfortunately, this is not the case because many transitional bilingual education programs are often viewed politically as remedial programs and therefore teachers are not provided the staff development and resources needed that is the same caliber of many Dual Immersion programs. Similarly, many Dual Immersion educators also unfortunately lack the cross-cultural awareness and understanding that is required to work with diverse students and parents.

For additional information on the critical components of quality bilingual education programs, you might find the following posts to be helpful:

Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs

A Parent’s Guide to the Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs

I hope this answered your question! If not, please feel free to ask additional questions!!

Take care,


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Karl Hoesch April 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm


That was a very well written explanation of the different types of immersion program in schools. I recently began work with a company that assists schools develop what we call a “full immersion” model (native English speaking students speaking 90% Spanish in elementary and 10% English). Would you classify that in the same category as the Canadian immersion programs or is it something different?

I also really appreciated your description of the qualifications of bilingual educators. It is something that we have struggled with as we help administrators with hiring and developing their programs.

multilingualmania April 22, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Thanks so much for the compliment, Karl. We will soon begin a series on the different types of immersion models.

The Canadian models have different models. Sometimes they even have 100% French for a couple of years, but there are a variety of models with different program design. Some of the immersion models are two-way immersion, which has both native speakers of french and native English speakers together.

I would say that if you have all English speakers, you would be a one-way immersion program.

I think that I used the label of Canadian immersion to distinguish it from the “immersion” or “structured English immersion” that we have in the US which is all English-and not the equivalent of the canadian immersion.

Stay tuned for more info about bilingual teachers! We will be starting some additional posts about effective instructional components.

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