Dual Language Bilingual Education: What do teachers need to know?

What book about dual language bilingual education (DLBE) is so astute that you want to recommend it to every DLBE teacher, regardless of grade or languages taught? Renée DePalma‘s (2012) book about an English-Spanish kindergarten is the perfect primer on teaching in this type of program. Prof. DePalma shows how implementing the “target language only” policy during the instructional period in the less societally dominant language is totally different from enforcing the same policy with the societally dominant language. In this case, enforcing “Spanish only” during Spanish time was necessary for creating a socially just culture in the classroom. Moreover, DePalma explains how four activity types impact the learning of the harder-to-acquire, societally minoritized language: (1) daily rituals, routines, and chants, (2) teacher-led literacy activities, (3) group work, and (4) free playtime. Although the kindergarten teacher, Señora Soto, had a great deal of critical language awareness, DePalma highlights her lack of control over the kindergarten curriculum, its structured assessment, and its overwhelming pace of learning, often resulting in teacher-centeredness in activities that should have been more student-centered. Moreover, Sra. Soto did not seem to question why the children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds found it easier to “claim” Spanish and acquire bilingualism and biliteracy. After summarizing the book, I end with hopeful directions for future research on DLBE.

From December 2022 to December 2023, I will attempt to summarize and comment on the practical implications of 13 classic books about bi/multilingual education that continue to be relevant in the field. Subscribe here to keep up with the blog!

DePalma, R. (2012). Language use in the two-way classroom: Lessons from a Spanish-English bilingual kindergarten. Multilingual Matters.

According to the Center for Applied Linguistics (2009), to qualify as this type of program, a school must:

  • Provide at least 50% of instructional time in the non-English language, not just a Spanish/Mandarin/French/etc. language class; students must learn subject matter in this language.
  • Have a relatively balanced population of students whose first language (L1) is English, and students whose L1 is the other language.

Talk to any DLBE teacher and ask them what their greatest challenge is when teaching… and you will likely find that most of them complain of students—ALL or nearly all students—not using the target language in the instructional time that is designated for the non-English language. There are three reasons for this, which I’ll call three P’s:

  • Proficiency. Kids whose L1 is English are typically not that good in the other language, while kids whose L1 is the other language are typically proficient in English—or eventually become so in a couple years (as they are growing up in an English-dominant country). Therefore, when it comes to
  • Pragmatics, people often prefer communicating in the most expedient language, because they want to be heard/understood easily. For those new arrival students who happen to be more dominant in the non-English language (i.e., they have not yet undergone the language shift towards “knowing English best”), the social situation forces them to “go with the flow” of the shift rather quickly. Furthermore, there are
  • Politics, which makes immigrant students and their families ashamed of speaking their L1 in public and want to assimilate to English as fast as possible. Often, parents don’t speak a heritage language to children to hasten what they perceive as a process of integration into society and potentially upward social mobility—even as the same parents also paradoxically send their children to DLBE programs to maintain their language.

In prior DLBE research, Riojas-Cortez (2001) found a so-called TWI Kindergarten where 11 out of 12 children (all of Mexican heritage) were more fluent in English than Spanish. In another study, Alanís (2000) found that while all the students in a DLBE program developed their English by leaps and bounds, no one developed their Spanish much: English speakers never achieved high levels, and Spanish speakers’ Spanish stayed flat—it didn’t develop beyond what they had in the initial years of the program. Potowski (2004) found that the more student-centered the teaching, with many peer-to-peer interactions rather than teacher-led interaction, the more kids used English rather than Spanish due to social hierarchies and identity management. This is unfortunate, since peer-to-peer interaction is essential for fluency and pragmatics development in either language. These social factors are not helped by the perennial difficulty of finding appropriate materials for teaching Spanish literacy, which is an even bigger challenge for other, less commonly taught languages.

Señora Soto’s class was no exception in terms of profiles of the students. Out of the 21 kindergarten children (11 identified as Spanish L1 speakers and 10 as English L1 speakers), the L1 English speakers had little to no prior exposure to Spanish, while the Spanish L1 speakers had had tons of prior exposure to English—particularly at the English-monolingual preschool they all came from, which Señora Soto reported to be hostile to linguistic diversity. Some “L1 Spanish speakers” were already perfectly fluent in English for their age, spoke English at home, and/or spoke English with siblings at school:

[Señora Soto] mentioned that Joël, at the beginning of the year, had directly told her that he would not speak Spanish in the classroom. This problem of language preference seemed to persist throughout the year, as Sra. Soto reported to me in May that she noticed and reprimanded Oscar and Norma for talking together in English. She reported that Oscar and Wilma also preferred to speak to their siblings in English, although their families spoke Spanish in the home. (p. 61)

Señora Soto also told DePalma:

You have to remember environmentally where we are living… we are in a very depressed economic area, our school is. And they see Spanish as the lower echelon language. The language of people they do not like. … Wilma switches to English, every single time. And that’s because she gave away her Spanish in nursery school last year… She decided last year in nursery school that her not speaking English was not good for her. (p. 62)

There was also a great deal of “structural asymmetry” (p. 64) in the way the school was run. In principle, Spanish time lasted until lunchtime, and when students came back from lunch, instruction would be in English. But during lunch, they presumably spoke English in the cafeteria and playground, and whenever there was an announcement blasting on the intercom (regardless of time of day) it was always in English. The school’s administrative and linguistic landscape, from public signs to announcements to paperwork, was all in English. This undermined Señora Soto’s attempts to implement Spanish whenever it was “Spanish time,” as students would understandably ask themselves what the point was. A funny example was recorded by DePalma (pp. 65-66):

  • Sra. Soto: (in a sharp voice) Mira, Rashid. ¿Por qué sigues hablando de eso en inglés? Si tú vas a hablar commigo en inglés… (Look, Rashid. Why do you keep talking about that in English? If you are going to talk with me in English…)
  • Unknown woman: [Voice cuts in over the intercom] Mrs. Soto?
  • Sra. Soto: Yes?
  • Unknown woman: The number you gave for Kathleen, is it a new number?
  • Sra. Soto: No, it’s her old number.
  • Girl: (to Sra. Soto) What do I have to do?
  • Sra. Soto: Tu alfabeto. (Your alphabet.) [Saying the letters in Spanish] A, B, C, D, E, F…

Sra. Soto reacted by implementing what DePalma called “damage control” (p. 65)—not engaging at length with the lady on the intercom, responding to the girl (whose English utterance seems prompted by the English announcement, even though it was Spanish period) in Spanish, and countering every incursion into Spanish time with “extra Spanish time.” For example, later in the school year, when children had to go to lunch half an hour early for administrative reasons, Sra. Soto added an extra 30 minutes of Spanish time to the afternoon, and was criticized by the principal for “over-emphasizing Spanish.” The other TWI kindergarten teacher did not do the same (p. 64).

DePalma explains why Sra. Soto had such passionate beliefs about “keeping Spanish alive” and “not giving it away.” Born in Argentina, she immigrated to the U.S. in late childhood. Her sister refused to speak Spanish after moving to the U.S., and so lost Spanish proficiency. Later, when the sister decided to reclaim her Spanish, she spent some time in Spain and picked up the Castilian accent. Señora Soto not only implicitly disapproved of this (raising her eyebrows and shaking her head as she told DePalma about it), but “contrasted herself with her sister, attributing her own fluent adult bilingualism to the fact that, unlike her sister, she did not choose to give up her Spanish as a child” (p. 47). Thus, Señora Soto saw Spanish maintenance as a choice. She was well aware of the societal forces that impacted individuals, but also believed—as I do—that individuals give up their heritage languages due to their own volition, which is not necessarily something they have to do.

Having set the scene, DePalma divides the book into several findings chapters. First, she discusses how Señora Soto created an “artificial” (in the good sense of the word) classroom environment where speaking Spanish was both necessary and regarded highly. Then, DePalma explains how this classroom design of Señora Soto’s played out in different ways in four main types of activities: (1) daily routines, rituals, and chants, (2) teacher-led literacy activities, (3) small group work, and (4) free playtime. Finally, DePalma discusses challenges—ways in which Sra. Soto was less of a critical educator—in that she did not criticize the structural constraints of packed curricula and standardized assessments, and did not question individualist values that made it easier for some students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds to claim and succeed in learning Spanish. In the rest of this post, I expand on each of these sections before suggesting future directions for research on DLBE.

A successful, fun “Spanish only” policy

Although DePalma did not study “English time” (instruction after lunch break, which included special/elective classes like PE, Art, and Music), we can assume that students spoke English then, without the need for teachers to remind them to do so. But what happened during the roughly three hours of “Spanish time” in the morning?

DePalma describes Sra. Soto’s Spanish language maintenance strategies as having five main approaches:

  1. Strictly enforcing the “Spanish only” policy during Spanish time.
  2. Explicitly assigning more fluent Spanish speakers (from either group) the responsibility of being Spanish resources.
  3. Adopting the assumption that speaking Spanish is a choice, not an ability.
  4. Cultivating a fun and friendly, game-like atmosphere based on pretend Spanish constraints that do not naturally exist in the real society or even in the classroom.
  5. Involving the children in maintaining and enforcing the game rules.

Sra. Soto had no problem calling out students for not speaking Spanish during Spanish time. She not only said “Speak Spanish” or “say it in Spanish” or “Can you say it in Spanish?” (in passing), which could have little social effect, but lingered negatively on English use, putting students on the spot when they used English during Spanish time:

  • Emily (L1 English student): Joël español. (Joël, Spanish.)
  • Sra. Soto: Sí. Joël sabe español. Así que no tienes por qué estar hablando en inglés. (Yes. Joël knows Spanish. Therefore he has no reason to be speaking in English.)

In this exchange, Sra. Soto not only provides no excuse for Joël (an L1 Spanish speaker) to be speaking English at this moment, but intimates that there is never any excuse for him to be speaking English during Spanish time. She positioned the more proficient Spanish speakers in the class as Spanish resources, holding them accountable for this and pointing out when they were being lax in this role (p. 68):

  • Sra. Soto: La niña quería tener pelo, ¿qué? (The girl [in the story] wanted to have hair, what kind?)
  • A couple of children: ¡Lacio! (Straight!)
  • Sra. Soto: No, rizado. Alicia. ¿Por qué es que tú, que te necesito, para que me contestes a mí las preguntas, estás mirando al aire? (No, curly. Alicia. Why is it that you, who I need to answer my questions, are looking into space?)

In addition, she framed speaking Spanish as a choice (p. 69), chiding students when they did not make this choice:

  • To a Spanish L1 student: Wilma, si no puedo contar contigo, hablando en español, ¿con quien cuento? (Wilma, if I can’t count on you, speaking in Spanish, who can I count on?)
  • To an English L1 student: Rashid, ¿por qué es que tú insistes hoy en hablar en inglés? (Rashid, why is it that today you insist on speaking English?)

One of her major pedagogical strategies was to make a game out of it: “Having stocked the Housekeeping play center with attractive dolls to encourage the children to play house, she declared that the dolls could not speak English” (p. 70). During Spanish time, she even pretended this was the case with her: “Yo estoy escuchando a ciertas personitas hablando en un idioma que yo no entiendo.” (I am listening to certain little people speaking in a language that I don’t understand.) This game required children’s complicity, as demonstrated in the following dialogue:

  • Berto: Yes you do speak English.
  • Sandra: Only in the afternoon, but she doesn’t understand in the morning.

Soon, children became used to calling each other out, and telling on each other, for speaking English during Spanish time. For example, DePalma observed a girl pretend to call another girl’s mother on a toy phone, when they were playing in the Housekeeping center during Spanish time: “Hola, Dorinda’s mother? Dorinda’s mama? Dorinda is hablando inglés en la casa.” (Hello, Dorinda’s mother? Dorinda’s mother? Dorinda is speaking English in the house.)

Thus, remarkably:

It became clear to children as the year progressed that Spanish had become, during official Spanish time, the ‘power language’ (to use Sra. Soto’s own term) in this classroom. Speaking Spanish, as well as turning in another child for not speaking Spanish, allowed the children the chance to gain the moral high ground. (p. 71)

It is important to note that the children didn’t just turn each other in—which happened evenly between L1 and L2 Spanish speakers—but helped each other say things in Spanish:

  • Khamil: (to the dolls) It’s time to go to sleep.
  • Sandra: Khamil, en español, es ‘hora de dormir.’ Es esto en español, es ‘hora de dormir.’ (Khamil, in Spanish it’s ‘hora de dormir.’ It’s this in Spanish, it’s ‘hora de dormir.’)

Different activity types, different social dynamics

DePalma noticed that in different types of activities, the social order was different, which impacted opportunities for Spanish use and acquisition. These impacts could be positive or negative. Four findings chapters detail what happened with (1) daily rituals, routines, and chants, (2) teacher-led literacy activities, (3) group work, and (4) free playtime. I briefly summarize these findings here.

Daily Routines and Chants

These activities signified what DePalma called “safety in the familiar” (p. 80). Even the most emergent Spanish speakers could participate, as they knew exactly what to say, although this did not push them further than that. Moreover, DePalma highlights that this is the most teacher-centered kind of activity (p. 100), restricting students’ output to a fixed set of responses (e.g., “stand up” or “put your hands in the air”). Nevertheless, they served a practical purpose: these were the utterances that directed students what to do when they were entering/leaving the class, cleaning up after themselves, or transitioning between activities.

These structured responses also gave students whose Spanish was limited a chance to “look good” during class discussions with memorized answers:

It is clear that despite these activities’ major limitations, the more timid or reluctant Spanish speakers needed them—to give them the chance to show they could do something successfully in class, helping them save face and increasing the chance they would continue to try and learn. Such routine classroom tasks and chants (e.g., days of the week, months of the year, vegetable names, continent names) could be made use of later, when students had built up enough vocabulary. However, DePalma argues that Sra. Soto could have slightly modified these activities into ones that were still highly structured/rehearsed but required students to search the dictionary and find new things out for themselves: for example, by making a skit or role-play. In other words, more planned student-centered activities were called for; otherwise, the least proficient Spanish speakers, like Rashid and Dorinda, would never end up producing any Spanish beyond memorized phrases.

Teacher-Led Literacy Activities

These kinds of activities included reading together and answering the teacher’s reading comprehension questions. Answers could not be pre-memorized or formulaic, but they were still fairly closed-ended. It is important to note that Sra. Soto not only checked comprehension of the facts of the story, but used questioning to lead students to discover story structure and logic, which is an important higher-order thinking skill: “children were invited to participate in the teacher’s ongoing narrative in carefully structured and guided ways” (p. 18).

Because any student could be called on at any time, this meant that every student constantly paid attention to the input. Thus, this activity—like any other—had its PROS (naturally demands learner attention; input is linguistically rich because it comes from the teacher, and has high pedagogical value because it is enhanced by structure, repetition, careful building of context and visual cues) and CONS (potentially anxiety-inducing; no spontaneous peer-to-peer interaction; students do not control the flow of conversation… but if they did, input might be less rich, pedagogically clear, etc.).

Sra. Soto also worked to connect the reading to students’ own lives and interests, in addition to cross-curricular connections to geography, history and science: “Brief and redundant questions and answers were embedded in richer narratives involving animals, plants and weather that linked their own lives with far-away places and general scientific phenomena” (p. 123). Indeed, Sra. Soto took pride in weaving this cross-curricular connections. However, the students’ own responses were fairly narrowly prescribed to “questions that had specific and unambiguous answers” (p. 123), e.g., which season are most of nature’s babies born in? Students were expected to recall and apply information from previous lessons, and thus contributions to the discussion had to further curricular goals. If a comment that a student made did not contribute to the train of thought Sra. Soto was constructing, it was considered irrelevant with little teacher praise or uptake.

The worst response was an irrelevant comment spoken out of turn, a “good” response was the right answer spoken when called on… but the best response was an “approvable” academic contribution spoken out of turn (i.e., “guess what’s in the teacher’s mind”)—a game that certain students like Sandra were good at playing, to show they could anticipate the thrust of the lesson. Another learner, Kathleen, was not so good at this, and Sra. Soto characterized her as a “silly goose” who paid more attention to social interactions than the content of the lesson.

I now come to the student-centered activities, which, because they were less controlled, had less Spanish use and less organized/structured language and content development.

Group Work

Group work was known as “tables time.” They involved planned activities with goals, but the teacher gave the groups space to work out the tasks by themselves, checking on them now and again. The key here was to foster language interactions between the groups, as well as room to explore without direct instruction.

However, DePalma found that these tasks were designed such that (1) the children were expected to follow instructions carefully, and that (2) the end products could be completed without much interaction between the children, or between the children and the teacher. Such tasks included pasting, cutting, drawing or writing. Even though students sat at group tables rather than individual desks, they might as well have been sitting at individual desks.

DePalma draws on the work of bi/multilingual childhood education researcher Toohey (1998), to argue that classrooms “whose organization and practices are based on an understanding of the child as an individual learner can impede language learning processes and marginalize those who most rely on community processes” (DePalma, 2012, p. 146). Students whose Spanish proficiency was very low could get away with saying almost nothing in Spanish. Their peers may have had friendly attitudes toward them—seeing their participation in the activity (e.g. making a paper bird)—as legitimate, but this does not necessarily entail extensive language practice.

Ultimately, the products that students were working on when they were at these tables (writing, cutting, pasting, drawing, etc.) were related to set curriculum guidelines for kindergarten: it was necessary to have each student produce a range of products. Even if a group were assigned a product to make together, there remained the possibility of the less Spanish-proficient students (or the less English-proficient students during English time) not really practicing language much, as the stronger students took control and directed the others.

In my opinion, the wasted potential during tables time that DePalma observed is a call for DLBE pedagogy (largely related to child language learning) to make more connections with TBLT (largely related to collaborative, meaningful, goal-oriented language teaching for adults). For example, in a 60-page practical book on TBLT, Jackson (2022) argues that tasks must have three characteristics: (1) they must engage all learners in communication, (2) that communication must be personally meaningful, and (3) there must be an end goal or product learners work towards, but it can be gradual and span a number of lessons. The principles of TBLT are fairly universal; however, there is a genuine research gap in adapting them for young learners. The main challenge in integrating these two approaches is the largely circumscribed and packed curricula that require certain “products” every day from K-12 students—worksheets, booklets, artwork, projects. Paradoxically, they might need fewer products/artifacts “proving” they learned something… so they can engage in more interaction to learn things.

Free Play

Señora Soto was particularly critical of herself when it came to free play, because there was a lack of Spanish used, but DePalma interprets the situation differently. What both women observed was a great deal of silent play during Spanish time. For example, in the Housekeeping center, they might see this: Amalia setting the table silently; Sandra entering the house and taking out pots and pans; Alberta taking the plastic food from the cupboard and pretending to cook while Sandra helped Amalia set the table; Amalia pretending to eat…

Of this, Señora Soto said: “I would change things in there to try to make them apply the language they were learning… I should have brought more stuff in, but I ran out of money, energy, so I just gave up.”

In DePalma’s mind, the teacher was trying too hard, and more money and energy would not have changed the situation. Instead, one needed to understand what was going on. DePalma writes:

These comments reveal that Sra. Soto and I held very different perspectives on play. My interpretation of the children’s silent play was that the children were in fact playing, but my definition of valid play included not only verbal but also non-verbal interactions, for example, where one child offers a piece of toy train and another child accepts it… where children participate jointly in the global task of preparing a meal by individually carrying out isolated tasks… The goals of the activity will determine the nature of the play; therefore, the fact that the children’s play was not rich in conversation was not due to the inability of the children to play properly, nor to a lack of attention or planning on the part of the teacher. Conversation generation was a goal of the teacher, not the children, and conversation did not arise in this play because it was neither a goal of the children nor perceived by the children as an effective means to achieve their play goals. (p. 155)

This relates to the blurb at the back of DePalma’s book: “teachers’ goals include bilingualism as well as academic achievement for all. The children may share these interests, but have their own agendas as well.” When Sra. Soto tried to remediate what she (but not DePalma) perceived as a problematic situation, she ended up stepping in and telling the children what to say. On one occasion, she asked them to list: “Yo tango en mi casa… (I have in my house…)” and put words in students’ mouths while they were playing, telling Khamil what to say to Ian: “¿Puedes jugar? (Can you play?)” when Khamil and Ian were already playing together.

Sra. Soto explained in her final interview to DePalma: “I set them up for a reason… I would change things in there to try to make them apply the language they were learning.” However, the children rarely used Spanish when playing—if they needed to talk during playtime, they tended to use English.

On occasion, Sra. Soto did manage to initiate some more productive Spanish conversations during playtime, if (1) she talked to the children herself, because then they would use Spanish with her, unlike with each other, knowing it was her preference, and (2) she let the conversation be open-ended instead of directing students to give a particular answer (pp. 168-172). Even the children with limited Spanish proficiency were able to “construct basic grammatical structures in Spanish that went beyond the usual single-word translation” (p. 172) on these occasions. They engaged in perhaps what was the only opportunity for them to have sustained Spanish conversation (the teacher being a particularly non-judgmental partner who gave good quality tailored feedback in free discussions). What they offered to Sra. Soto were meaningful utterances, if not grammatically correct ones. Thus, DePalma states that “the analysis of the few extended conversations that did arise demonstrates that she was at her best in this unfamiliar territory when she relaxed her control and followed the children’s lead, coordinating her goals with theirs and allowing enough ambiguity and conflict [i.e. occasional lack of comprehension that comes with authentic discussion in an L2] so that the children were forced to use language as a tool for negotiation” (p. 177).

A critical language educator, but needing critical awareness in other areas?

While DePalma characterizes Sra. Soto as a critical language educator, she points to areas where the teacher might have developed a more critical pedagogical stance. First, even though Sra. Soto once observed and criticized a classroom where there was not much interaction between students (Chapter 3), she ran a fairly teacher-centered classroom herself. This was because her learning aims were very clear to her, and she probably felt guilty when these were not being met (e.g., lack of Spanish talk during free playtime). The more student-centered the classroom activities during Spanish time, this would also guarantee increased use of English. In English time, the more student-centered the classroom activities, not only would English be used but also the more English-proficient students would dominate the talk. A teacher-centered class at least assures that all students participate equally and that they bother to speak the minoritized language… but these benefits come at the cost of teacher-centeredness, and students don’t get the learning opportunities they can only get through peer-to-peer interactions.

An additional reason Sra. Soto’s classrooms were teacher-centered was that she had a set curriculum of language, literacy and numeracy objectives, with standards and pacing that she had relatively little control over. This led to a tension between the ideal student-centered model and the skills and knowledge that regulatory bodies stated students should learn. DePalma observes that at the primary and secondary level, “students are expected to independently ‘discover’ the information and skills predetermined by the teacher (in accordance with all the regulating bodies that control learning” (p. 39). Sra. Soto thus became more observably rigid towards the end of the year, reducing free play and student-centered activities as she started running out of time: “She explained that this shift was intended to prepare them for first grade, where play as a form of learning is not as widely tolerated and activities would be more ‘academic’ and demanding. … ‘That’s part of having been a first grade teacher, I know where the first grade teacher will want them to be next year, academically,'” she told DePalma (pp. 48-49).

Finally, while Sra. Soto cared for all students in her class, she did not seem to remark or have much to say about how/why Spanish was easier to lay claim to for some students, primarily middle-class English L1 speakers. She was especially impressed by a pair of twins, Sandra and Emily, the students with the most linguistic and cultural capital in the class. Officially, they were “English L1 students,” but they could also claim the status of “native speakers” because they had one Argentinian parent, and they were white Latinas. Moreover, of all the Latin@/x students, they were the only middle-class ones, familiar with the norms and ways of schooling like “guess what’s in the teacher’s mind and speak up out of turn to ‘challenge’ the teacher with the exact same idea the teacher secretly wanted you to say” (=how school defines “critical thinking”). The rest of the Latin@/x students belonged to the working-class neighborhood that Sra. Soto called a “depressed” economic area, where Spanish was “the lower echelon language.” In other words, since their background was detached from the neighborhood, Sandra and Emily could speak Spanish without the danger of being associated with the ‘hood.

In my forthcoming book (Mendoza, 2023), I urge researchers and educators to pay attention to these students with no apparent linguistic vulnerabilities in the classroom ecology, as teachers must make the best them as role models while managing their hegemony and the inevitable standards they set for everyone else. In contrast to Emily and Sandra, who “progressed rapidly” and had “tremendous cultural capital” (p. 75), there was Berto, who stayed only for a short time at the school and left abruptly. We might surmise that he could have been from a migrant worker family, and while he spoke much more Spanish than English, he adamantly refused to speak Spanish in the class (see, for example, the exchange above when Sandra encourages him to speak Spanish). DePalma describes Berto as a successful Spanish speaker but an unsuccessful Spanish role model, while she describes Emily and Sandra and their English L1 peers as perhaps being able to lay claim to Spanish too easily—even a little emergent knowledge and attempts to speak Spanish are seen as great for them, whereas the much greater English knowledge that the Spanish L1 speakers came with on the first day of class could be taken for granted as unremarkable.

Conclusions: DLBE research needs to (1) look beyond language use at broader issues like teacher/learner autonomy, and (2) with regard to language use, seek to address unanswered questions

There are two reasons I would recommend all DLBE teachers to read DePalma’s book:

  1. It shows that even though classroom language use is important to study when examining what makes teaching pedagogically effective and/or socially just, it is NOT the only important issue. One larger looming issue is teachers’ lack of freedom/control over the curriculum in either language (how packed it is, how fast to go through it, what students will be assessed on to determine if they are ready for the next grade, etc.). This overarching aspect of teachers’ daily lives—how to deliver the curriculum from day to day—impacts everything else, such as whether teachers have time to recycle ideas in different languages and modalities so all students can understand. It impacts how student-centered the learning can be (“student centered” = more effective and meaningful learning but takes way longer).
  2. Going back to how “classroom language use” is a major issue for pedagogical effectiveness and social equity (but not the only issue), letting students use whatever language(s) they want, whenever they want is not always the answer. Sometimes teachers have to create a protected space for the societally minoritized language (Ballinger, Lyster, Sterzuk, & Genesee, 2017; Hamman, 2018) to hold speakers of the majority language as L1 accountable to L1 speakers of the other language.

I end with three original directions for DLBE research that DePalma’s book has made me hope to see, and wish to supervise as an Assistant Professor:

  • MULTI-LEVEL CASE STUDY. How does (lack of) curricular autonomy (unrelated to language policy or bi/multilingualism per se; more to do with common ways K-12 schooling is standardized and monitored) impact activity design in DLBE, and how does the activity design, in turn, impact the degree to which DLBE is successful? Methodologically, how can we develop valid ways of tracing the impact of A on B on C? Such study would require assessing all levels of the situation: macro-level policy, meso-level institutional norms, and micro-level classroom interactions (Douglas Fir Group, 2016).
  • ACTION RESEARCH. How can TBLT principles be implemented with young learners, e.g. DLBE students, to encourage them to use the minoritized language more with each other and not just the teacher during “tables time”? (i.e., Can TBLT be the third choice, apart from individual silence or collaboration that uses way too much of the dominant societal language?)
  • ETHNOGRAPHY. Señora Soto’s strategies for maintaining an artificial Spanish immersion context in her classroom were ingenious. To what extent would students speak Spanish in another teacher’s class with no such language management? What if multiple teachers agreed to institute this social order in their classes, for a school year—at what point would students internalize the anti-hegemonic language norms and thus still choose to speak Spanish with little prompting/out of their own accord? How do teachers help students become self-regulated in this way? How do teachers help students go beyond a favorable attitude towards a language to having a favorable attitude towards the people who speak the language, regardless of how they speak it? [I have a hunch as to how some of these questions in bold can be answered… if you want to know, come attend my talk next week!]


Jackson, D. O. (2022). Task-Based Language Teaching (Cambridge Elements series). Cambridge University Press.

Mendoza, A. (2023). Translanguaging in the plurilingual, English as a Lingua Franca Classroom. Multilingual Matters.

Potowski, K. (2004). Language and identity in a Dual Immersion school. Multilingual Matters.

Published by annamend

Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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