Sarah hangs up her coat and walks into Room 25, ready for another day in her first-grade dual language classroom. What sets this class apart from the more traditional classes is that Sarah is learning in both English and Spanish alongside speakers of both languages.
The teacher is at the door and greets her. “Buenos Dias,” she says to all of the children as they enter the room. Even though Sarah’s first language is English, she understands Spanish, smiles, and replies, “Hola.”
Throughout the day, Sarah is exposed to content in Spanish, not as a foreign language, but as a means to learn the academic languages of math, science and social studies. She spends 90 percent of the school day learning in Spanish. By fifth grade, Sarah will be bilingual and biliterate.
The RUSD Dual Language Program offers both English- and Spanish-speaking students the unique opportunity to learn and excel academically in two languages, while also developing an increased appreciation of multiculturalism.
What started out as an English learning program in Florida in the 1960s has grown into an enrichment program for any student, where the outcome is bilingualism, high level of literacy in two languages or more, and improved academic achievement. Language learning is best done through immersion, occurring the way children naturally acquire their first language.
In a global society, learning a second language during childhood provides developmental and social benefits children will carry with them well after graduation. These children become fluent in a second language in their early years. They not only speak, they write, read and learn in that language as comfortably as they do in their primary language.
Many of these students will be ready to learn a third language by the time they enter high school. A gift like this opens doors throughout their lifetime.
Parents play a critical role. They do not need to be bilingual for their children to enroll and succeed in a dual-language program. Parents are encouraged to read with their children in their home language, as literacy in one language transfers to the development of literacy in the second.
Parents are also important in motivating and encouraging their children to enjoy, practice and study hard in both languages. While it may be difficult at first, it is important that children stay with the program over time. Students learn not only from teachers but also from each other.
Dual Language programs have proven to be an effective approach. Research studies indicate that the achievement of proficiency in a second language associated with Dual Language instruction provides the following benefits for students:
- Enhanced levels of metalinguistic awareness (i.e., knowledge of how language works), proven to be essential to learning how to read.
- Improved performance versus monolingual students on tasks that call for divergent thinking, pattern recognition and problem-solving (1996, Collier Thomas Study)
- Greater awareness and understanding of one’s native language
- Ability to communicate with other ethnic and cultural groups
- Greater understanding, tolerance, appreciation and respect for diverse languages and cultures
- Ability to take advantage of global opportunities
- Enhanced employment prospects beyond graduation
- Designation of the State Seal of Biliteracy on high school diploma
For more information about RUSD’s Dual Language Program, contact 262-631-7108 or visit www.rusd.org.