Differences Between Bilingual and Language Program Types Explained


 by Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen, Ed.D.

Immersion or Structured Immersion???  Dual Language or Bilingual?!?  Are they the same?!?    There are so many different programs in education.  Language education is no stranger to a multitude of confusing program titles and names.  Help is here.  Thanks to the U.S. Department of Education, I will share with you a handy chart that will help you understand the type, program, and description for each language instruction program.  Unfortunately, the chart utilizes the U.S. Government term for English learners, Limited English Proficient (LEP) - I don't see limitations in language learners just possibilities.  I prefer pBBB (potentially Bilingual Bicultural and Bilingual), but they've yet to adopt my term!


Definitions of Language Programs





Programs that use English and another language

Two-way immersion or two- way bilingual

  • —  The goal is to develop strong skills and proficiency in both L1 (native language) and L2 (English).

  • —  Includes students with an English background and students from one other language background.

  • —  Instruction is in both languages, typically starting with smaller proportions of instruction in English and gradually moving to half in each language.

  • —  Students typically stay in the program throughout elementary school.

Dual language

— When called “dual language immersion,” usually the same as two-way immersion or two-way bilingual.

— When called “dual language,” may refer to students from one language group developing full literacy skills in two languages—L1 and L2.


  • —  The goal is to develop English skills as quickly as possible, without delaying learning of academic core content.

  • —  Instruction begins in L1 but rapidly moves to L2. Students typically are transitioned into mainstream classrooms with their English-speaking peers as soon as possible.

Developmental bilingual, late exit transitional, or maintenance education

  • —  The goal is to develop some skills and proficiency in L1 and strong skills and proficiency in L2.

  • —  Instruction at lower grades is in L1, gradually transitioning to English. Students typically transition into mainstream classrooms with their English- speaking peers.

  • —  Differences among the three programs focus on the degree of literacy students develop in the native language.

Heritage language or indigenous language program

— The goal is literacy in two languages.
— Content is taught in both languages, with teachers fluent in both languages. — Differences between the two programs: heritage language programs typically

target students who are non-English speakers or who have weak literacy skills in L1; indigenous language programs support endangered minority languages in which students may have weak receptive and no productive skills. Both programs often serve American Indian students.

Programs that use English only:

  •   Sheltered English or sheltered instruction obser- vational protocol (SIOP),

  •   Specially designed academic instruction in English (SDAIE), or

  •   Content-based English as a second language (ESL)

  • —  While there are some minor differences across these programs, the overall goal is proficiency in English while learning content in an all-English setting.

  • —  Students from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds can be in the same class.

  • —  Instruction is adapted to students’ proficiency level and supplemented by gestures and visual aids.

  • —  May be used with other methods (e.g., early exit may use L1 for some classes and SDAIE for others).

Structured English immersion (SEI)

— The goal is fluency in English with only LEP students in the class.
— All instruction is in English and adjusted to the proficiency level of students so

subject matter is comprehensible.
— Teachers need receptive skills in students’ L1 and sheltered instructional


English language development (ELD) or ESL pull-out

— The goal is fluency in English.
— Students leave their mainstream classroom to spend part of the day receiving

ESL instruction, often focused on grammar, vocabulary, and communication

skills, not academic content.
— There is typically no support for students’ native languages.


An approach often mentioned by States among the “other” types of English-only instruction is ESL Push-In. The goal of this approach is fluency in English; students are served in a mainstream classroom, receiving instruction in English with some native language support if needed. The ESL teacher or an instructional aide provides clarification and translation if needed, using ESL strategies.

* Modified from Linquanti, 1999, and National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2000.

Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen
Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen


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