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Second Language Programs for English Learners

There are a number of instructional program models available for English learner students throughout the nation. The programs typically range from English-only instruction to bilingual instruction models, or may include English instruction with support in students' primary language. This article will briefly outline the following program options for second language learners: English Language Mainstream; Structured English Immersion; Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE); Developmental Maintenance Bilingual Education; and, Dual Immersion bilingual education.
English Language Mainstream Programs

English Mainstream classrooms are the most common method of educating language minority students (i.e. English learners) throughout the nation. In such classrooms, language minority students are placed with native English-speakers and may receive little or no specialized assistance or support in students' primary language. 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 monolingualism, as well as social and cultural assimilation.

Structured English Immersion (SEI) Program

English learner students with less than reasonable fluency in English are sometimes placed in Structured English Immersion (SEI) programs. Similar to the English Language Mainstream program, the goals of SEI programs are monolingualism and assimilation. 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 the beginning levels of English language proficiency and are provided sheltered content instruction by teachers ideally trained in both second language acquisition. Although in some programs teachers may use the students' primary language for clarification, typically little or no primary language support exists. The main difference between an SEI program and an English Language Mainstream program is that SEI programs consist exclusively of English learners at the lower levels of proficiency, while English Language Mainstream programs may contain native English-speakers.

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). The ultimate aim of such programs is monolingualism, and students enrolled in Transitional bilingual education 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 in the students' primary language until students have acquired enough proficiency in English to effectively participate in an English Mainstream classroom. In these programs, the students' primary language is primarily utilized to facilitate the acquisition of English and primary language instruction is discontinued once students have acquired sufficient proficiency in English.

There are two common forms of Transitional bilingual education: Early-exit Transitional Bilingual Education and Late-exit Transitional Bilingual Education. Early-exit Transitional bilingual education programs provide primary language instruction for approximately two years until students are transitioned into monolingual English instruction around second or third grade. Students in Late-exit Transitional bilingual education 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 Transitional bilingual education programs have been found to be more effective in the long-term than either English Mainstream or SEI programs.

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 or heritage language education. The aim of Developmental Maintenance programs is to develop and maintain both students' primary language as well as English. Students are provided primary language instruction for a minimum of fifty percent or more of the instructional day as they simultaneously acquire proficiency in English. Developmental Maintenance programs differ from Late-exit Transitional bilingual education 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 that frequently occurs in Transitional bilingual education programs. Developmental Maintenance bilingual education is an enrichment form of bilingual education.

Dual Immersion Programs

Dual Immersion programs, sometimes referred to as two-way immersion or dual language education, are an enrichment form of bilingual education in which English learners and native English-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. They are similar to Developmental Maintenance Bilingual programs in the design and goals; the main distinction between Developmental Maintenance and Dual Immersion programs is that native English-speakers are also 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. In a 90/10 model, the minority language (i.e., Spanish, etc) is taught to students for ninety percent of the school day starting in kindergarten. With each additional school year, English 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 the minority language 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.




Regardless of program option, English language learners must be provided access to grade-level content standards. Teachers in all language programs have a dual obligation: to provide effective English language develop (ELD) while at the same time exposing students to grade-level content and concepts. Teachers must use a variety of ELD and SDAIE strategies in order to make content comprehensible to students at all proficiency levels of English language development.