To Dual or not to Dual


“He who speaks two languages, is worth two persons.”

“El que sabe dos idiomas, vale por dos.”

Neither my husband nor I are fluent in Spanish. Unfortunate, I know. However having grown up speaking Spanish only to my grandparents I would have to say I am a bit stronger than he when it comes to speaking it. There have been times he has come home from work and asked me what he said wrong because the other person’s reaction was not nice. I will have him repeat what he said to that person and then usually laugh first before explaining to my husband what exactly he told them. So as our two boys grow up I know I’d like to make a greater effort in speaking to them in Spanish and getting them to use it as well.

One way that I hope to do that is through the Dual Language Enrichment Program being offered by several districts in the RGV (Harlingen, Hidalgo, La Joya, McAllen, PSJA and Rio Hondo).  Yes I know we have a couple of years before they are ready for school but it’s never to early to get informed. As the end of the school year drew near and our office was filled with eager parents registering their little ones for Pre K and Kinder one of the most common questions we seemed to hear was: “What is this Dual Language program that you offer?” Here is some information for any other moms out there who are curious about whether to dual or not dual.

What is Dual Language?

– Dual Language is a program in which native English speakers and native Spanish speakers receive instruction in both languages. Results have shown that this leads to higher academic achievement, improved acquisition of English, development of academic Spanish and cultural understanding and respect for all students.

What is the goal of Dual Language?

– The goal of the program is to develop bilingual, biliterate and bicultural students by the end of 5th grade. Students who are able to go out and compete in our global economy and who have multiple views of the world around them.  

-“Research confirms time and time again that the key to strong academic English is a strong academic first language. Linguistic benefits aside, English-language learners in dual-language programs academically achieve up to approximately two grade levels above their English-only peers, according to researchers.” – Statesman, May 2012


How does this happen?

– In McAllen ISD this goal is accomplished by providing instruction that is authentic, challenging and interactive. The classroom is student-centered and inquiry-based. On M-W-F the Language of the Day is Spanish. Tuesdays and Thursdays it is English. This helps validate both languages and is followed throughout the school (eg, music class, PE). Math is always taught in English while Science and Social Studies are learned in Spanish. PK-1st grade language arts is taught in the child’s native language. Once the student enters 2nd grade language arts is taught in both languages. There are no repeated lessons and the curriculum is just as rigorous in dual and non-dual classrooms.

What if my child/I doesn’t/don’t speak Spanish? How can I help with homework?

bilingual pairs

Students are paired up all day with their “bilingual pair.” The pairing is based on language and content ability to support each other’s learning. Dual language classrooms also have Bilingual Learning Centers and Bilingual Research Centers. Homework may come home in both English and Spanish but even with very little Spanish background parents can help complete it. There are also some great apps that can help translate if it gets too difficult. Also keep in mind that one of the best ways to support your child whether they are in a dual language program or not is to keep the lines of communication between you and the teacher open. Most teachers send out a weekly newsletter in which they explain the topics they are covering during the week. This is a great tool to help keep you in tune with what is being taught in the classroom and can help you better understand what your child may be bringing home for homework.

How are the students in dual language assessed?

All local tests are given in the language of instruction. State assessments are administered in the students’ strongest language.

What if we decide the program is not for us?

The one thing to keep in mind is that choosing to take part in this program is a big commitment. It  shouldn’t be a “let’s try it out for a few weeks to see how they do” approach. Most school districts ask that parents commit to staying in the program through fifth grade. During the first year it is important to not lose HOPE. Some days and weeks may be easier than others. Children are so much more resilient than adults. So yes 30-something mom and dad learning a new language can be very hard but for a 5 or 6 year old who knows no different it may come easier. Our children are not afraid of taking risks like we often are. Learning a second language can sometimes come with risks, but a child is not afraid to start speaking and writing in a second language. When a parent truly embraces the program and what it is about, so does the child. Although it may seem to you that there is no progress being made trust that there is. Sometimes this happens overnight! The benefits of a dual language program are truly evident long-term.



I hope that wasn’t information overload. It is a lot to take in and definitely a decision that will take some time to make. I had a big “aha” moment a few months ago while we sat at a restaurant on the island with our two boys. Sitting a few tables down from us was another family with their two older boys. They looked to be about in third and fifth grade. The parents were having a hard time reading the only-English menu and communicating their order with their waitress. The older son jumped in and told his parents, “Let me help you. Tell me what you want to order and I’ll tell the waitress.” Both the mom and dad gave their son their orders in Spanish and without missing a beat he turned to the waitress and in almost perfect English ordered for the family. Now I know this is just a small example of the benefits of being bilingual and biliterate but it truly shows how it can help in what may seem like the smallest of situations.



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