Dual Language

Check out our Dual Language brochure (en español también)!

Dual Language Frequently Asked Questions

What is Dual Language?
Dual Language is a program to develop bilingualism and biliteracy in English and Spanish. In Harrisonburg, we have a 50/50 ‘two-way’ immersion program: 50% of the day is spent studying in Spanish and 50% in English. Students learn to read, write, speak and listen in two languages.

Where did this idea come from?
The first Dual Language programs began in Canada (French & English) and Florida (Spanish & English) over 30 years ago. Harrisonburg educators became interested in Dual Language several years ago when research showed it to be an effective way for English Language Learners to achieve academic success.

How long will it take for my child to become proficient in the other language?
Research suggest that it normally takes 5-7 years for students to learn to speak and write at high levels in a new language. This is why we ask for a long-term commitment from families.

During the first few years, expect a “silent period” when the student might understand a lot in their new language but cannot yet speak it well. This silent period is natural and necessary. When ready, the child will interact with their peers and teachers in both of their languages.

Is the dual language curriculum different from the other classes?
No. Every teacher follows the Virginia Standards of Learning for reading, math, social studies, and science. But for part of the day, they are learning this content in Spanish instead of English.

Do the students “study language”?
No. Dual Language takes advantage of children’s natural language learning abilities. Using a second language to learn in the classroom is a natural way to acquire the language. The teacher does not translate for the students.

What does all this mean for families?
Families must choose to be in the program. A family does not have to be bilingual in order for the student to be successful and become fully bilingual. But they should be ready for some challenges. The “silent period” of language learning can be frustrating. And it is hard for parents when their child brings homework to do in a second language that the parents do not understand.

Parents must be serious about the long-term commitment. The full benefits come after several years in the Dual Language program. This requires patience on the part of the parents. Children need to know that their bilingualism and school achievement are important to their parents.

How do I help my child in a language I don't speak?
Help your child in the language you do speak and let them know that you greatly value their education. You can teach them concepts, skills, and information that they will keep no matter what language they're using to describe what they know and can do. You do not need to be a passive participant in your child's education.

Where can I find out more?
Center for Applied Linguistics - Bilingual and Dual Language Education
Dual Language Education New Mexico

How do we apply?
Parent information meetings are held in the spring for students entering Kindergarten or first grade the following year. Applications are available at your child’s school when you attend a parent information meeting. Once you apply, you may be interviewed to make sure this option is the best ‘fit’ for your child. We also have to make sure that our classrooms have a good mix of Spanish- and English-dominant children. If there are more students applying than there are slots available, a lottery system is used.

Video: Dual Language at Smithland Elementary

Smithland Elementary Dual Immersion v3 from Shaun Wright on Vimeo