Dual language program offers innovative learning | Bellevue students simultaneously can learn English and either Chinese or Spanish

By Erika Price

Special to the Bellevue Reporter

Studies show that students who learn two languages enjoy numerous benefits, including greater college and career success. In the Bellevue School District’s dual language programs, that means students simultaneously can learn English and either Chinese or Spanish.

Bellevue’s dual language programs use a technique known as two-way immersion. Ideally, 50 percent of students in a class are native speakers of the target language (Spanish or Chinese) and 50 percent are native English speakers. The students learn together while instruction is systematically delivered in two languages.

According to Heidi LaMare, Dual Language Program Supervisor, “Research shows that kids who start out in a balanced group always have a partner to negotiate communication with from the beginning.”

In other words, native speakers of each language can provide support for each other, improving their confidence and communication skills.

Children who are native English speakers learn a second language by honing their reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills daily, while also receiving some instruction in English. Children with Spanish or Chinese backgrounds learn some material in their native language, transferring the knowledge to English once their fluency increases. Both groups of children have been shown to achieve at higher levels academically than their peers in nearly all subjects.

The program is housed at four Bellevue elementary schools: Ardmore, Sherwood Forest, Lake Hills, and Stevenson. Lake Hills and Stevenson are new to the program this year, starting with Spanish kindergarten classes. Ardmore’s first Chinese class is now in first grade, as is Sherwood Forest’s Spanish class. The program will be expanded to additional grade levels each year.

The dual language programs differ from the Spanish Immersion program in place at several other schools in the district because they combine a foreign language with English, serving students learning both languages.

An unexpected benefit of the program is that non-English speaking parents are more involved in their children’s education. For example, says LaMare, last year 17 of 25 parents of a dual language kindergarten class volunteered to be chaperones for a field trip, a number much higher than in most traditional classrooms.

Parents across the district have shown great interest and a wait list began soon after the program started. A lottery system is used to select students from the wait list.

More information on Dual Language Programs in Bellevue School District is available at


Erika Price graduated from Newport High School in 2007 and recently completed her degree in Neuroscience from USC.

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