What Are Dual Language Programs?

A teacher leads instruction in a dual language classroom at a school in Shelton, WA.

On August 24, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal will announce his plan to increase student access to dual language learning programs across Washington’s schools. In advance of that announcement, we’ll review the current state of dual language programming.

What are dual language programs?

In schools that have dual language programs, classroom content is taught partly in English and partly in a partner language. In Washington, most dual language programs are taught in Spanish and English, though other partner languages include Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, and tribal languages. The local school district selects the partner language alongside their community.

Dual language programs begin in preschool or kindergarten and continue throughout high school. In elementary school, students may have one multilingual teacher who teaches both languages at different times of day, or two teachers who each teach exclusively in one of the languages.

How do dual language programs work?

There are two types of dual language programs: one-way or two-way. One-way programs enroll mostly students who are multilingual/English learners, while two-way programs enroll a balance of multilingual/English learners and native speakers of English. In Washington, multilingual/English learners are prioritized for at least half of the seats in dual language classrooms.

In the classroom, the use of the two languages is usually divided in one of two ways: 90/10, or 50/50. In 90/10 programs, students begin in kindergarten with 90% of the school day taught in the partner language and 10% taught in English. English instruction is then increased by approximately 10% each year until students are learning in English half the time and in the partner language half the time.

In 50/50 programs, students begin in kindergarten with 50% of the school day taught in the partner language and 50% taught in English. This balance of language instruction is maintained through high school.

Why are we placing importance on dual language education?

Dual language education is approved by Washington state as the most effective way to develop English language skills for multilingual/English learners. Decades of research show that dual language education is the only program model that prevents and closes opportunity gaps for multilingual/English learners and other student groups that have been historically underserved.

Dual language education is in alignment with Superintendent Reykdal’s strategic goal to provide Washington students with equitable access to strong foundations. All students engaging in dual language education have the opportunity to achieve bilingualism and biliteracy proficiency, sociocultural competence, and high academic achievement in all subject areas. With biliteracy proficiency, high school students can earn the Seal of Biliteracy, an indication on their diploma that they are proficient in English and another language.

How many schools in Washington have dual language programs?

As of the 2020–21 school year, 102 schools in Washington had dual language programming.

Where can I find additional information?

For more information about dual language programs, check out the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website: