A Overview of ESL and Bilingual Program Models

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Each day, more and more children enter American schools with a little or no English language skills. As this diverse student population continues to increase, schools across America must be prepared to meet the challenges that this entails. To meet this challenge, teachers must implement a variety of program models for language minority students. Although many of these program models differ from district to district, there are a few models that are predominantly used throughout America. Transitional Bilingual Education, English Immersion, and Dual Language Education are three of many models that are used throughout American schools.

Bilingual Program Models

Transitional bilingual education is a model in which some subjects are taught in the student's primary language initially but the instruction in the primary language is rapidly phased out. The goal of transitional bilingual education is to transition students out of their native language and into English as quickly as possible. This program model fosters "subtractive bilingualism" since the primary language is often lost as the second language is acquired. This program generally places less emphasis on developing the students' primary language and more emphasis on using the first language as a bridge to English language development.

There are two variations to this program model. Early-exit transitional education usually transitions to mainstream students within 2 to 3 years. This variation The Late-exit transitional program continues to develop the primary language for a longer period of time and these skills are then transferred to the second language. Students in this model will usually remain in the program throughout their elementary years.

A disadvantage of using the Transitional Bilingual Education model is that it can often take years before an English language learner is able to be mainstreamed into the classroom. This happens due to the lack of development in the primary language.

Dual language is a form of education that allows students to be taught literacy and content in two languages. This program provides high-quality instruction for students who arrive in our schools speaking primarily a language other than English. While doing this, it also provides instruction in a second language for English speaking students. The language is taught through content by adapting the instruction to ensure that children understand what is being taught as well as by using content lessons to teach vocabulary and language structure. Dual language education promotes bilingualism and biliteracy. Students in a dual language program develop listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in two languages.

The dual language (also known as Two Way Immersion) has variations within the program. Full immersion (90/10) programs usually begin literacy instruction in the primary language and then add formal literacy in English by the 2nd or 3rd year. Students entering kindergarten receive 90% of the instruction in their primary language and 10% of the instruction in English. Each year that percentage decreases so that by the 4th or 5th year, the students receive 50% the instruction in their primary language and the other 50% in English. Partial immersion (50/50) programs provide 50% of the instruction in the primary language and the other 50% of the instruction in English. This division of languages starts from the beginning.

There are many advantages to using this program model. English is best acquired by those students that have strong oral and literacy skills in their native language. In implementing the full immersion program, non English speakers are taught in their primary language. This strengthens their native language skills which then allow them to more likely achieve in acquiring the second language. The student will not need to relearn to read, many of their skills will easily transfer to the new language. Dual language programs promote "additive bilingualism" in which a primary language is developed and maintained as a second language is acquired.

Native English language speakers greatly benefit from a dual language program. By participating in this type of model, these students will acquire a second language as well. Dual language programs promote cross cultural awareness. It promotes cross cultural friendships and it fosters interaction among students and parents. Students in this program model maintain a connection with their heritage. English language learners achieve more confidence in this type of environment since they are not segregated due to their lack of English language proficiency.

ESL Program Models

Districts that have a very diverse population with many different languages represented are likely to use ESL (English as a Second Language) programs rather than bilingual programs since ESL programs can accommodate students from different language backgrounds in the same class and the teacher doesn't need to be proficient in the home language of the students. There are various ESL program models used throughout the schools in our country.

ESL pull-out programs consist of English language learners spending part of the school day in a mainstream classroom but are pulled out for a portion of each day to receive instruction in English as a second language. This type of model is most often used in elementary school settings. Students that participate in this program model usually work in a small group setting with an ESL teacher.

ESL class period is most often used in middle school settings. English language learners attend an ESL class for one period of their school day. Generally the students are grouped for instruction according to their level of English proficiency.

The ESL resource center is a variation of the ESL pull-out program in which students come together from different classrooms or schools. This resource center is staffed by at least one full-time ESL teacher that provides support to English language learners. The ESL resource center focuses on having ESL materials that will make content more comprehensible for the English learner.

Other Program Models

English immersion programs is an instructional program in which students are taught by an ELL certified teacher. The teacher follows the same curriculum as mainstream teachers in the same grade level except adapts it to the student's needs. The pace of instruction is also set according to the academic level of the students. English immersion programs use English as the primary language instruction. Teaching of English occurs simultaneously with teaching of all the subjects.

There are two variations to this program, submersion and structured immersion (SIE). Submersion is the "sink or swim" and the structured immersion program builds on vocabulary. In the structured immersion program, content instruction is in English except sheltered English instructional methods are implemented making the content more comprehensible.

An advantage to this type of program is the English language learner will assimilate the culture and language faster than if they were in a bilingual program. A disadvantage is that the primary language is not developed nor is it used to foster the new language. This program model also doesn't teach English language learners to maintain their cultural or linguistic heritage.


The effectiveness of the different program models for English language learners continues to be the subject of controversy. When considering which program model to implement, districts must consider different factors. The demographics of the district or school are important. The number of language minority students, the number of students from each language background, and the distribution across the grade and schools are factors to consider. Student characteristics such as the academic level in their primary language will also influence the type of program that will be more beneficial. Another thing to consider when choosing the program model to implement is the resources available within the school or district.

In order to close the gap in our education system, English language learners must develop academic skills while learning English. These program models must provide language minority students with the instruction necessary to allow them progress throughout school at the same rate as their native English speaking peers and eventually allow them to succeed in our society.