Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the benefits of a dual language program?

    Research shows numerous benefits for students who participate in dual language, including:

    • Educational: Students who learn literacy in one language can transfer those skills to their other language.
    • Cognitive: Students who understand two languages show more cognitive flexibility, creative thinking and problem solving abilities compared to monolingual students of the same age.
    • Socio-cultural: Understanding another language and interacting with students from diverse backgrounds promotes cultural awareness, greater understanding and tolerance.
    • Economic: Knowing two or more languages enhances employment opportunities when students enter the work force.

    How will the teacher help my child learn and understand in a second language?

    The best way to acquire a second language is through meaningful and authentic experiences. Academic content instruction provides this meaningful context, and forms a strong basis for the power of dual language education. Your child's teacher will use a variety of strategies to help students understand oral and written language without the need of translation. Translating, or switching from one language to the other during instruction, is not helpful because students tend to "wait" to hear the instruction in their stronger language. This impedes opportunities to acquire the second language. Therefore teachers and visitors to the classroom are strongly encouraged to adhere to the target language during instructional time.

    What will a typical school day look like?

    Your child will be assigned to either a self-contained bilingual teacher (same teacher all day) or to two different teachers, one for Spanish and one for English. Throughout the day, in each language, your child will learn new vocabulary related to the academic subjects being learned. If your child struggles to say something in their new language, the teacher will do lots of modeling and provide plenty of practice. Your child will learn language as the class sings songs, reads books, draws, labels, plays games, works on projects, carries out experiments, and writes about what they are learning. Your child will work with children who speak Spanish at home, as well as children who speak English or other languages at home. Because every day includes time in your child's home language and time in the other language, she or he will have chances to be an "expert" and other chances to learn from others.

    What is expected of students in a dual language program?

    Students will be expected to learn the same academic content as any other ACPS student. In addition, they are responsible for:

    • Participating actively in learning their two languages.
    • Showing effective effort through participation during class activities, including class work, team work, and independent work in Spanish.
    • Demonstrating critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving competencies in response to authentic scenarios and simulations common to the content of the course.
    • Revisiting work when standards and expectations are not achieved.
    • Playing an active role in monitoring their own progress, including recording formative and summative assessment data in their binders.
    • Demonstrating efficacy and responsibility, continually affirming their active and direct role in their learning process.
    • Demonstrating respect for the teacher and classmates, including demonstrating respect for others' cultures and traditions.

    How will my child be assessed?

    Dual Language students participate in the same Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) assessments and other school and district-wide tests taken by students throughout the division. In addition, Dual Language students will be assessed in the language of instruction (i.e., content areas taught in Spanish will be assessed in Spanish and those taught in English will be assessed in English) using a variety of classroom-based and commercially available assessments.

    How will my child be graded?

    Similar to all ACPS students, progress reports will reflect student performance in each subject area (e.g., math, science, social studies, and language arts). In addition, dual language students will receive a progress report in Spanish language arts.

    Help! I don't speak the language! How can I support my child?

    You can help your child by:

    • Encouraging friendships with students who speak the other language.
    • Understanding it takes time to learn a second language. Be patient, and encourage your child to persist.
    • Asking your child to explain what he or she is learning and doing. Your child should do this in the home language.
    • Developing a working relationship with your child's teacher.
    • Providing a quiet work space for your child so that he/she can work without outside interruptions.
    • Reading and speaking to your child frequently in your home language.
    • Some parents may be interested in learning the second language. This is great, and shows your child that you value language learning.

    However, parents are not expected to model the other language if they are not yet proficient in it. Children will benefit more when their parents talk to them in their stronger language. This will develop a strong foundation in the home language, thereby preparing them to acquire their second language.

    What about homework?

    Homework will consist of practice and extension of the instruction given during the school day, and is given in the language of instruction. For example, if the student receives Science content in Spanish, then the Science homework must be completed in Spanish. It is the responsibility of teachers to ensure that students understand the homework assignments so that they can be completed independently at home. Students are responsible for completing the assignment independently, in the language of instruction. To ensure students continue to develop each of their languages, parents/guardians are discouraged from translating homework. When a student is experiencing difficulty with homework assignments, the student should attempt to complete the assignment to the best of her/his ability. Parents should communicate difficulties directly to the teacher.

    What else can I do to support my child at home?

    • Make a good-faith commitment to maintain your child in the Dual Language program at least through the end of Grade 5.
    • Ask questions and monitor your child's learning in Spanish and all subject areas, including monitoring out-of-class work, on-task behavior, and understanding of instruction.
    • Help your child find a buddy who speaks the other language so your child can call him or her with homework questions.
    • Check your child's backpack daily for messages from your child's teacher.
    • When issues or questions emerge concerning your child's progress and how to assist your child, please contact your child's teacher first.
    • Take an active role in your child's learning experience.
    • Watch the school calendar for open houses, parent forums and school events related to Dual Language.

    What volunteer opportunities are available?

    There is a wide variety of volunteer opportunities in which you may participate. If you have a particular area of expertise that you would like to share with the students, you may offer to come in to the school as a guest speaker. If you would like to join one of the outings or field trips, you may sign up as a chaperone. If interested in volunteering your time, or if you would simply like to speak with the teacher, contact your teacher by voice mail or by email. We thank you and look forward to seeing you at our upcoming dual language and school-wide events.

    What if my child encounters difficulty in the dual language program?

    The work load in a dual language program can be challenging, particularly as students move into the upper grades. It is very common, for example, for students to struggle somewhat as the academic and language demands increase around second grade. Some parents have wondered if they should withdraw their child who is struggling. While every case is different, students who participate all the way through to fifth grade or beyond are usually glad they stuck with it. If you have concerns about possible learning issues beyond the expected challenges associated with learning a second language, it is very important to work with your child's teacher and administrators to explore the need for additional supports.

    We speak a language other than Spanish or English at home. Can our child benefit?

    Yes! The Dual Language program is a great place for students from all language backgrounds, because every teacher has been trained to use strategies that support second (or third) language learning.

    What should I expect at a parent-teacher conference?

    Twice each school year, you will have a chance to meet with your child's teacher to discuss your child's progress in the Dual Language program. Just as in any other parent-teacher conference, you will learn about your child's progress in each subject area. In addition, you can ask about your child's progress in their second language. You can help the teacher by sharing information about anything going on at home that may affect your child's learning (such as a new baby, a divorce or family health issues). If your child has two teachers (one for each language) you might meet with both teachers, or with just one of them. In the latter case, be sure to ask how your child is doing in the other teacher's class.

    Before the conference, talk to your child about how he or she feels about school and whether there is anything your child wants you to talk about with the teacher. If you speak a language other than English and your child's teacher does not speak your home language, you may request an interpreter.

    Make a list of questions before you go. For example:

    • What are my child's strengths and weaknesses?
    • Is my child making progress in English? Does s/he enjoy learning English?
    • Is my child making progress in Spanish? Does s/he enjoy learning Spanish?
    • Does my child hand homework in on time?
    • Does my child participate in class?
    • Does my child seem happy at school?
    • What can I do at home to help?

    How long will it take my child to learn the second language?

    While individual children vary, it typically takes students from 1-3 years to acquire social language (the language of the playground) and at least five years or more to acquire academic language (the language of school). Students encountering a second language for the first time may experience a "silent period" that lasts anywhere from one day to six months or more. During this time, they are acquiring receptive understanding, and should not be forced to speak. Even as they develop proficiency, children may be reluctant to "perform" in their second language for adults at home.

    The following are some common stages that students experience as they learn a second language:

    Silent/Receptive Stage
    • Up to 6 months
    • 500 receptive words
    • point to objects, act, nod, or use gestures
    • say yes or no
    • speak hesitantly
    Early Production Stage
    • 6 months to 1 year
    • 1000 receptive/active words
    • produce one-or two-word phrases
    • use short repetitive language
    • focus on key words and context clues
    • may appear to have a smaller vocabulary than other children in each language, but a larger vocabulary across the two languages
    Speech Emergence Stage
    • 1-2 years
    • 3000 active words
    • engage in basic dialogue
    • respond using simple sentences
    Intermediate Fluency Stage
    • 2-3 years
    • 6000 active words
    • use complex statements
    • state opinions and original thoughts
    • ask questions
    • interact in more lengthy conversations
    Advanced Fluency Stage
    • 5-7 years
    • content area vocabulary
    • converse fluently
    • understand grade-level classroom activities
    • argue and defend academic points
    • read grade-level textbooks
    • write organized and fluent essays

    The five stages of language acquisition described above are a general framework for understanding how students progress. However, language learning is an on-going, fluid process that differs for every student. Children may move between stages of language acquisition, depending on the linguistic and cognitive demands of the academic language.