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HomeFeaturesBreaking Down the Monolingual Wall

Breaking Down the Monolingual Wall

Jan Gustafson-Corea introduces a special article series based on a new publication dedicated to dual language success

There couldn’t be a better time for the new book Breaking Down the Monolingual Wall: Essential Shifts for Dual Language Success (Corwin Press) to be published and shared through a special series of articles in Language Magazine. This timely publication, authored by eight dynamic and relevant practitioner authors and edited by Dr. Ivannia Soto, highlights the why and the how of multilingual and dual language education as an imperative for true student success. The series will propel and guide us in continuing to move forward toward building stronger and more sustainable multilingual and dual language learning programs.

You will find insights, strategies, and pathways through concrete, practical, and innovative approaches that can be drawn upon as we continue to uplift multilingualism in our schools as well as to face uphill challenges in breaking down monolingual systems in our educational programs.

With the increased momentum and visibility of the power and impact of multilingual and dual language education programs in US schools, it is a time to celebrate—as our US secretary of education Dr. Miguel Cardona proudly states, “Bilingualism is our SUPERPOWER!” Unmistakably, the time is now to uplift the essential components that are needed to develop, increase, and transform multilingual and dual language programs to become the norm for all students. At the same time, we must keep close the lessons of the past and be proactively aware of and respond to the challenges and opposition that exist for the success of multilingual programs.

And how do we, in fact, ensure that the multilingual programs we develop and nurture will be successful? As you follow this series, you will delve deeper into the following fidelity components that are necessary to ensure high-quality and successful program implementation: the need for more bilingually authorized teachers; high-quality instructional resources; accurate assessment and accountability in the target languages of instruction; updated research studies; being supportive of language and learning needs that arose from the pandemic; ongoing support for leaders of biliteracy programs; attention toward narrowed and weakened support systems; the awareness of the swinging pendulum toward English-only or English-centric program models; instruction of literacy that ignores the assets of multilingualism; the last-gasp approaches by some to continue to support monolingual and monocultural education; and the power and impact of parent and family engagement in successful multilingual programs.

The rich linguistic foundation represented in our schools and across our nation provides the perfect momentum for the growth of multilingual/dual language programs. Dynamic student data throughout the US shows that multilingual and multicultural education is a must. According to a report distributed by the US Department of Education and the Office of English Language Acquisition (2019–20), there are 50 languages or language categories that appear in one or more states’ lists of the top five languages spoken in their communities. Spanish is on the top five list of 45 states and is spoken by more than 75% of emergent bilingual/EL students across the US. Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Cushitic, Tagalog, and Russian, representing smaller percentages, complete the list of the top ten languages spoken in US schools. Nationally, 21% of all students speak another language than English at home, and close to 10% of those students are identified as English learner students (students who are acquiring English as a second language).

While English learner and English language learner continue to be recognized as the official terms used in state and federal systems, a nationwide alternate movement has begun to use assets-based terminology such as multilingual learners, emergent bilingual learners, and biliteracy learners to identify students who have a primary language other than English and are additionally learning English, uplifting the concept that students are speaking and learning in more than one language and are becoming multilingual.

Coming together through research, policy, practice, and advocacy via a book like this is essential in making multilingualism a reality for all our students and their future impact on our world. For decades, the historical, pedagogical, and legal road map of multilingual education in the US has followed a curved pathway that drives, uplifts, and motivates us still today. These legal and policy decisions are numerous and are addressed throughout the book, especially in the final policy chapter: Mendez v. Westminster (1947); Brown v. Board of Education (1954); Lau v. Nichols (1974); Castañeda v. Pickard (1978/1981); California’s Prop 227 (1998) followed 18 years later by Proposition 58 (2016); Colorado’s Amendment 3 (2002); Massachusetts Question 2 (2002); the California State Seal of Biliteracy (2011) and its growth to approval in 49 states; California’s English Learner Roadmap (2017); and many, many others. This timeline of legal and legislative battles reflects both additive and deficit approaches to multilingual and dual language education that have compelled us to pivot from theories of English-only or English-dominant instructional programs and to embrace the powerful potential and possibilities of multilingual and dual language education.

In today’s context, preserving and learning languages becomes an issue of equity and civil and human rights. The comeback surge from our legislative and policy wins has set the stage across the nation for new approaches, updated language, rigorous research, and implementation of highly impactful programs. We have key tools that are addressed throughout Breaking Down the Monolingual Wall, such as the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education (3rd edition, Center for Applied Linguistics, Dual Language Education of New Mexico, and Santillana USA); learning standards and frameworks across different states in languages other than English; and state and national organizations, coalitions, government agencies, university programs, and partnerships whose sole mission is to support multilingual and dual language programs.

Now, more than ever, we have the momentum to recognize the natural potential to grow and increase multilingual/dual language instructional options for all students. Indeed, the drive continues across the nation to build on the assets of students’ languages and cultural backgrounds and to increase the development of additive educational models that expand students’ access to multilingualism (such as dual language, one-way immersion/developmental language education, heritage language programs, etc.) rather than providing a subtractive monolingual, English-only education model that reduces the value and potential of students’ languages and cultures.

This series of Breaking Down the Monolingual Wall chapters will remind us that we are living in a wonderfully innovative and expansive time in which our languages, cultures, and vast life experiences open windows and build bridges to an ever-evolving and connected global society that impacts all aspects of our lives. As educators, we possess the privilege and the responsibility to ensure that our educational systems, our pedagogies, and our practices expand and focus on a multitude of options for all students (and their parents and families). Uplifting the gift of multilingualism and multiculturalism is at the heart of that. We are called to be fully engaged in creating classroom communities that reflect and value the languages and cultures of our students and to elevate the values of equity, justice, kindness, empathy, and love across our classrooms—locally, nationally, and across global borders.

In the words of Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menhcú: “When you are convinced your cause is just [and right], it is worth fighting for.”

Seguimos juntos! Let’s continue the struggle together!

Jan Gustafson-Corea, senior consultant and former CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), has campaigned tirelessly for the right to multilingual education. Breaking Down the Monolingual Wall: Essential Shifts for Dual Language Success, edited by Dr. Ivannia Soto with contributions by eight other authors, is published by Corwin Press. 

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