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How Georgia’s K-12 Students are Learning Bilingual Skills

July 18, 2017

Language impacts everyone. It’s the root of communication and connection.

And the opportunity to learn a second language is becoming more and more important in our educational system. Bilingual skills prepare students to interact with diverse populations, and work in roles where interpretation is needed, like in business, politics, and education.

Students who learn a second language develop critical language and cultural skills for the workforce of tomorrow, while becoming more proficient in their native language. The programs also benefit students still learning English, and help all students achieve at higher levels in the classroom.

For the first time in Georgia’s history, students can earn a Seal of Biliteracy on their high school diplomas. This seal recognizes high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency speaking, reading, and writing in one or more languages in addition to English.

And the number of dual language immersion programs is growing. Just last school year in 2016-2017, 37 programs were up and running statewide.

What is Dual Language Immersion?

In Georgia, students in dual language immersion schools receive instruction for half the school day in English and the other half in another language. The immersion programs in Georgia include German, French, Spanish, and Chinese, with most of the programs in Spanish.

Typically, the immersion student starts the program in kindergarten and then expands their knowledge with each grade level. Science and math are taught in the target language, immersing the student in the second language while they simultaneously study two of their core subjects. Then a teacher will give lessons in English for English/language arts and another subject, like history.

Why Dual Language Immersion?

The evidence supporting bilingual education is clear and mounting.

Known benefits include:

  • Cognitive gains,
  • Economic benefits,
  • Increased academic achievement,
  • Helping students achieve at higher levels in the classroom,
  • Improving students’ ability to learn a second language,
  • Increased English literacy skills,
  • Increased performance on standardized tests,
  • Higher attendance rates, and
  • Better understanding of other cultures.

This research has been confirmed by a variety of different sources including studies by: the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, the Modern Language Association, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The studies confirm what we’ve known all along: Language is important to educating the whole child.

Where are Georgia’s Dual Language Immersion Programs?

Georgia’s first dual language immersion (DLI) school, Unidos Dual Language School, opened its doors in 2007 in Clayton County. In 2008, additional DLI programs opened in Hall County at the World Language Academy and in DeKalb County at the Globe Academy.

During the 2013-2014 school year, there were 6 dual language immersion programs in the state. And by the 2016-2017 school year, there were 37 total programs. You can find these programs in Clarke, Cobb, Dalton, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, and Rockdale counties, along with Atlanta Public Schools. Forsyth County has also announced its plans to open 3 dual language programs for the 2018-2019 school year.

Please note that most of these programs have waiting lists or lottery systems for entry, due to their popularity and growth. If you’re interested in entering your child in a lottery system for a DLI program, contact your school district.

Dual language immersion is a great opportunity for Georgia students, and a great opportunity for our state! If you’d like to learn more, connect with the Georgia Department of Education’s World Languages staff on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Or, you can reach out to me at pwallace@doe.k12.ga.us.

About the Author

Patrick Wallace is the Georgia Department of Education’s Program Specialist for World Languages and Global Workforce Initiatives. He is a former German teacher with over 22 years of experience teaching world languages in Georgia at all grade levels.  He is a two-time Teacher of the Year, online world language innovator, and author and 2014 recipient of the Foreign Language Association of Georgia Fostering Partnerships Award. He is bilingual in English and German.

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