Dual Language Immersion Overview & FAQs

Apr 29, 2024

What is DLI? Why should I consider starting a DLI program? Why should I enroll my child? 

Dual Language Immersion (DLI) programs are school programs in which students learn grade-level content in English and a second language. For example, students might learn math and science solely in Arabic, but they learn social studies and language arts solely in English. All students also learn Arabic as a language. DLI provides two academic outcomes: Arabic language bilingualism and biliteracy and grade-level content learning.

Many DLI schools offer a variety of language options to choose from (Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic tracks, for example), while some specialize in only one modern global language offering alongside English. Various programs follow different models; some follow a 50:50 model (half of the school day is taught in Arabic, and half is taught in English), while others may follow 80:20 or other such models.

DLI programs typically follow one of two different models.

  • One-way models: The classroom is primarily comprised of students who are English-proficient and who are all learning the target language.
  • Two-way model: English proficient and English language learners or native speakers of that language learn together.

DLI programs also offer different teacher approaches:

  • Side-by-side approach: One teacher instructs in English, and the other teaches in the target language.
  • One teacher approach: One teacher instructs students in both languages.

Why should I consider starting a DLI program? Why should I enroll my child?

Numerous studies support the cognitive benefits of language learning and bilingualism. These benefits include enhanced cognitive flexibility and executive function – including greater listening skills, memory, and grasp of one’s native language – and social connections – including an improved concept of self and openness to and appreciation for other cultures. Studies also show that students in DLI programs outperform their counterparts in standardized testing in English and math.

Also, young students don’t experience many of the insecurities that come with learning a language as an adult. Children are willing to take more risks and make more mistakes, which helps them achieve more as learners. And starting young allows students to not only become bilingual but biliterate.

Why an Arabic DLI program?

Arabic is a Category IV language for native English speakers; it requires more contact hours to attain proficiency than other languages. A DLI program gives students the contact hours they need to develop greater levels of proficiency quicker.

DLI is also a great option for students who speak Arabic as a first/native/heritage language. Often, such students aren’t necessarily fluent, speak a dialect at home, and/or have no formal training in Modern Standard Arabic or in Arabic reading, writing and grammar. A DLI program enables such students to benefit from formal training in Arabic and to build on their language repertoire.

Multilingualism is increasingly important in today’s interconnected world. People who speak two or more languages stand out on college and job applications – especially people who speak critical languages like Arabic – and are likely to receive higher salaries as a result. Learning Arabic at an Arabic DLI program opens the doors to careers in numerous fields such as diplomacy, business, education, policy and journalism.

Looking to start an Arabic DLI program in your area? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Consider your surrounding environment:

  • Is there an Arabic-speaking population in your community?
  • Do you have access to a high percentage of Arabic speakers in your area from which you may be able to recruit teachers?
  • Is there an Arabic program at a nearby university that has a school of education from which you may be able to recruit teachers?
  • Do you anticipate serving predominantly native Arabic speakers or non-native learners?
  • Will your local community be supportive of a DLI Arabic language school?

School/Program Logistics

  • What is the goal of your Arabic DLI program?
  • What type of school/program do you plan to open (public, private, charter)?
  • What are teacher certification requirements in your state/region?
  • What type of immersion program do you plan to open (two-way, one-way, 50:50, 80:20, etc.)?
  • What content areas do you anticipate teaching in the target language? (Consider the state-tested content areas and grade level requirements, as well as access to content area resources in the target language.)
  • How do you plan on recruiting students?
  • Will students/teachers stay in the same classroom all day, or will they move from class to class?
  • What grade level do you plan to begin with?
  • What is your approach to teaching Arabic as a global language, including your approach to teaching about culture and dialects?
  • What resources do you have? What resources are available to you?
  • Are there other DLI programs in your school or school district?

Do you have district support? 

  • District support is very important. Being a school with a unique program means there’s a financial cost. DLI programs are more expensive than other schools, and curricula, teaching materials and resources, and other programs have to be reformatted to fit a DLI program’s structure.

Stay true to immersion.

  • It’s tempting to relax on staying in the target language, but your program’s success depends on remaining in the target language as much as possible during dedicated target language hours.

Parent FAQs:

What language should I speak with my child at home?

  • While the goal on campus is to support students with their Arabic content, parents at home should continue to focus on enhancing students’ first language skills. If the spoken language at home is Spanish, parents should continue to speak Spanish with them!

How can I help my child with homework if I don’t speak Arabic?

  • For parents who don’t speak Arabic, teachers can find creative ways to enable them to help students with homework. This might look like sending parents voice recordings of vocabulary, so parents can quiz their children. A parents’ language barrier isn’t necessarily a barrier to helping students learn.

The above is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a starting point as you explore Dual Language Immersion programs. To learn more about DLI, check out these resources:

  1. Allaf, C. (2020). Lessons learned from Arabic immersion programs in the U.S. The Language Educator, 15(2), 45-48. resource article
  2. “Dual Language Programs Explained.” American Institutes for Research. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dzO9upZO8I&ab_channel=AmericanInstitutesforResearch
  3. Howard, E. R., Lindholm-Leary, K. J., Rogers, D., Olague, N., Medina, J., Kennedy, D., Sugarman, J., & Christian, D. (2018). Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
  4. Samples, D. & Met, M. (2020). “Critical Variables that Contribute to Dual Language Immersion Success.” GlobalCred. https://theglobalseal.com/cred-2020-059
  5. Westerberg, G, & Davison, L. (2016). An Educator’s Guide to Dual Language Instruction. Routledge.
QFI Research

Research pertaining to DLI

Exploratory study of public Dual Language Immersion (DLI) programs in the US

See the DLI Research
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