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HomeFeaturesThe Multilingual Paradigm in California

The Multilingual Paradigm in California

Fernando Rodríguez-Valls, María Capdevila-Gutiérrez, and Jordi Solsona-Puig discuss multilingual initiatives in California

The idea of asset-based and responsive education coined in the ELA/ELD road map is a key element in well-designed and effectively implemented dual-immersion programs. It is widely understood that the language/s spoken, developed at home, and/or acquired and learned at school have a long-standing influence in the building of social and individual identities.

The cultural implications attached to this process and the misfortunes of a defective or biased approach to multilingualism are also well researched. The promise of DI instruction is clear when instructional practices are ingrained in the critical pedagogy—an approach that recognizes that teaching and learning are never politically or socially neutral. Families, practitioners, scholars, and by extension every stakeholder must be cognizant of the transformative power of equitable and socially just instruction. Conversely, they must be responsive to the perils of prejudiced approaches to learning languages. And this philosophy must go beyond elementary levels, into secondary DI programs, which are much less common and much more challenging to design and implement.

Concerned DI educators wonder about equity issues and cultural biases or worry about the culturally balanced approach of their classes, or how social-emotional development may affect the identities of their beloved students. These are fair concerns that show the scope and depth of these committed practitioners.

DI programs have been (and continue to be) instrumental in changing the flawed approach to EL/EB students, who have been portrayed as lacking in a certain skill that needed to be improved. In dual-immersion settings, all students are emergent bilinguals possessing linguistic skills ready to be used as cultural and linguistic assets by their peers. From preschool to high school, students, educators, and families embrace culturally sustaining practices where the other feels valued—diverse languages are cool and difference is an asset. Languages become bridges to new and bold opportunities, a step closer to a more balanced, multicultural, and multilingual society. This ideal can be reached in classrooms where the languages of instruction, the registers, and the students’ languages and dialects are treated equally and embraced uniformly by all participants: students, teachers, school staff, and administrators.

Engaging, Meaningful and Intellectually Challenging Instruction
In a DI classroom, there are a plethora of developmental stages of language skills. Different levels of target language and English proficiency meet in these rich classrooms in which both languages are ends in themselves as well as the tools to reach biliteracy. DI teachers need to utilize strategic teaching practices that serve all levels of proficiency in the target language. The beauty of it is that those same practices will be simultaneously supporting and enhancing English literacy for all students.

With such an array of levels, teachers need to juggle providing adequate instruction to promote language acquisition for students at emerging stages of language proficiency and, at the same time, providing intellectually challenging instruction both in content and language use for all students. The language of instruction as well as the content taught cannot, by any means, be watered down with the unrealistic intention of helping some students attain content and language proficiency.

With an advanced, highly academic, and developmentally appropriate use of the target language, teachers need to provide the linguistic model to which students aspire. To address the needs of all language learners and emergent bilinguals, teachers must implement practices that are engaging, meaningful, and accessible to all students and all language levels. Chapter 9 of the ELA/ELD framework presents UDL (universal design for learning) and MTSS (multitier system of support) as the two main systems to support all language learners—two systems that are essential in any classroom with emergent bilinguals.

One of the main goals of DI is to help reduce the potential achievement and opportunity gaps that some students might face when they speak a language other than English. Far from being an impediment or subtractive, this skill should be utilized as leverage for student success. As such, students’ home languages need to be the starting point and always placed at the center of instruction. An essential aspect for teachers to keep in mind as they design and deliver instruction is that when we use advanced academic language, we promote advanced literacy and help equip students with tools for success. Keeping high standards and learning expectations requires consistent use of strategies that help make learning accessible, such as scaffolding, strategies for decoding, teacher and peer support, or strategies for transferability.

The Road Map for ELD/ELA Instruction stresses the need for a class that promotes intellectually challenging, engaging, and meaningful instruction through the use of advanced language. These requirements are identical in the DI classroom, which, in reality, is a language arts class, in a language other than English, in which all students are language learners and emergent bilinguals in two languages.

Critical Leadership to Support EL/EB Students and Families
According to research studies (Dixon, 2012; Hakuta, Butler, and Witt, 2000; Hamilton and Krashen, 2006), an EL/EB student needs four to nine years to fully close the so-called achievement gap that comes from learning in a second language. DI programs are more effective in closing this gap in all profiles of student (de Jong and Howard, 2009; Valentino and Reardon, 2015; Wilson, 2011). Consequently, we argue that a consensus exists among all levels of school systems that dual immersion is effective in providing EL/EB students the best instruction possible, in addition to non-EL students. Dual-immersion leaders are all in when it comes to embracing its multiple advantages.

However, DI leaders often cite challenges like the lack of appropriate grade-level materials and/or resources in the target language, the need for more trained teachers, and the existence of asymmetries in the students’ outcomes. To this list, we can also add the lack of up-to-date DI databases, the difficulty of sharing best practices due to instruction in multiple target languages, and the scarcity of DI programs in certain areas, levels, and languages. Nonetheless, there has been an explosion of interest in recent years in these programs that has led to the creation of specific college courses and professional development for teachers.

With success come other problems; Gándara (2010) claims that a gentrification process is taking place in DI programs, where wealthy families are taking over these programs initially intended to mostly serve EL/EB students. In this way, the original beneficiaries are segregated by language, race, and socio-economics.

District leaders and publishing institutions should embrace, reinforce, and provide materials and assessments to build capacity for a continued improvement of such programs. DI leaders are the guardians of the critical conscience that DI classrooms embrace. To fully support teachers and continually engage minority parents, DI leaders must never lose sight of their foremost instructional goal—academic equity. EL/EB students and their families must be at the core of every effort or initiative regarding effective instruction.

Universal Multilingualism
Following worldwide models, learning multiple languages should continue from birth through to university. DI programs should be available starting from daycare and preschool programs, so all students have the opportunity to begin, in Donaldo Macedo’s (1987) words, “reading the world and the words with multilingual and critical eyes.”

Language development is a social process that occurs in various settings (Vygotsky, 1986). It is better for children who speak one or more languages to share them in their communities and make them part of their education.

When various languages are part of the teaching and learning environment, classrooms and schools become linguistically inclusive spaces. In these spaces, the term language learner applies to all students. Moreover, linguistic inclusivity breaks the paradigm that defines languages as social constructs attached to a nation-state conceptualization of linguistic and literary identity.

The full implementation of the ELA/ELD road map is a key milestone when moving from monoglossic spaces in which English proficiency is the outcome to heteroglossic spaces where multilingualism is a common and achievable benefit. The latter could and should be feasible in both DI programs and English-only programs where other languages are taught as part of the mandated curriculum. In either case, multilingualism calls for a vertical articulation across all the systems. Best practices in both models are always the outcome of clear planning and assessment across grade levels. This alignment should occur also between models. English-only teachers should plan with and learn from DI teachers and vice versa.

Our expectation is that the implementation of the ELA/ELD road map will go beyond the idea of seeing languages other than English as assets. We see such languages as instrumental, strategic, and intentional tools when teaching and learning, whether the learning setting is an English-only classroom or a dual-immersion one.

Building Multilingual Societies
We are seeing the blossoming of asset-based and inclusive education practices in English-only classrooms. Concurrently, the number of DI programs is growing exponentially year after year in California and across the nation. Such prospects lead us to believe that the future is bright for all language learners. The strength and sustainability of this glittering future will depend on many factors: linguistic equity, cross-linguistic instructional practices, and multilingual discourses overpowering monolingual ideologies.

It is of utmost importance to create spaces where all language learners have the opportunity to become multiliterate, multicultural, and critically conscientious students. From our experiences and scholarship, DI programs are closer to fulfilling these three goals for students and families. At the same time, dual-immersion classes add components of equity and social justice to the process, thus advancing society with a multicultural approach.

The best way to implement the road map is to focus on the prioritization and expansion of robust dual-immersion programs across all levels and languages. If the goal is to create universal access to multilingualism, we must make sure that each language counts at all levels: funds of knowledge, lesson design, implementation, assessments, accountability, frameworks, policies, and legislation. If we are true to our quest for multilingualism, DI practitioners and scholars must spearhead a road map through which each student in California, regardless of their classroom setting, is a lifelong language learner who is continuously building breadth, depth, and complexity in comprehending and communicating in multiple languages (ELA/ELD framework).

de Jong, E. J., and Howard, E. (2009). “Integration in Two-Way Immersion Education: Equalizing linguistic benefits for all students.” International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 12(1), 81–99.

Dixon, J. J. (2012). Timelines for English Language Acquisition: A Study of the Rates of Second Language Acquisition among Hispanic English Language Learners Including Exceptionalities. Doctoral dissertation. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (Nº 3492862).

Gándara, P. (2010). “Overcoming Triple Segregation.” Educational Leadership, 68(3), 60–64.

Hakuta, K., Butler, Y. G., and Witt, D. (2000). “How Long Does It Take English Language Learners to Develop Oral Proficiency and Academic Proficiency in English?” Stanford, CA: University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute.

Hamilton, K., and Krashen, S. (2006). “Bilingual or Immersion?” Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 23(5), 23.

Kolmar, C. (2020). “The 10 Most Diverse States in America for 2020.” Homesnacks.

Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. Westport, CT: Praeger

McCann, A. (2019) “Most and Least Diverse States in America.” Wallethub.

US Census (2020). “California Quick Facts.”

Valentino, R. A., and Reardon, S. F. (2015). “Effectiveness of Four Instructional Programs Designed to Serve English Learners: Variation by ethnicity and initial English proficiency.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(4), 612–637.

Vygotsky, L. V. (1986). Thought and Language. Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Wilson, D. M. (2011). “Dual Language Programs on the Rise: ‘Enrichment’ model puts content learning front and center for ELL students.” Harvard Education. Letter, 27(2).

Dr. Fernando Rodríguez-Valls ( is professor at California State University, Fullerton, coordinating the Bilingual Authorization Program and the World Languages Program. He has created partnerships with school districts and local educational agencies to develop and implement community-based bi-/multiliteracy programs.

His publications focus on equitable and linguistically inclusive methodologies for emergent bilingual, newcomer, and (im)migrant students as well as on the sociocultural factors affecting their academic achievement, educational continuity, and school engagement.

María Capdevila-Gutiérrez ( is the Foreign Languages Department chair at Toll Middle School, Glendale, CA. Ms. Capdevila started teaching SSL and ESL in 2003 at the University of Castilla–La Mancha (UCLM), Spain. In 2004, she started combining her university teaching at UCLM with high school. She was recruited to Glendale in 2012 to teach Spanish language arts in the dual-immersion program at secondary level. She holds a BA in modern languages (University of Castilla–La Mancha, Spain), and an MA in Spanish and English (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), and is currently ABD (all but dissertation) at UCLM.

Dr. Jordi Solsona-Puig ( is a middle school dual-immersion teacher in Glendale, CA. He spent 16 years in Spain as an elementary teacher, secondary teacher, counselor, and university instructor. He was recruited by GUSD in 2012 as a Spanish dual-immersion teacher. Dr. Solsona-Puig received his BA from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, his master’s in history and psychology from the University of Lleida (Spain), and his doctorate in education from Pepperdine University. He is currently working toward achieving a PhD at the University of Lleida.

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