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Early & Late-Exit Bilingual Programs: Definition & Differences

Instructor: Ralica Rangelova

Rali has taught Public Speaking to college students and English as a Second Language; She has a master's degree in communication.

This lesson presents a description of two transitional bilingual programs: early-exit and late-exit. Both programs' goals and approaches are described, followed by a summary of the two programs' differences.

Transitional Bilingual Programs

If you know how to make a chocolate cake, you can easily transfer that knowledge to figuring out how to make a banana cake. Similarly, researchers have found that linguistic skills learned in the native language are easily transferred to the second language. Based on that finding, bilingual programs are developed to assist English language learners in transitioning to mainstream classrooms.

Let's take a look at the two major types of transitional bilingual programs: early-exit and late-exit programs, and then compare them.

Early-Exit Bilingual Programs

Early-exit bilingual programs, also called 'transitional bilingual programs,' use English language learners' first language as a foundation for building English language competency. Students receive instruction in both languages to progress academically and prepare to transfer rapidly to a mainstream classroom with English native speakers. The program can last from one to four years, from kindergarten to third or fourth grade. Although it is called a 'bilingual' program, in fact, as students' competence in English increases, it gradually takes the place of the first language, so English is taught at the expense of the first language.

Nuts and Bolts of Early-Exit Bilingual Programs

English language learners who share the same first language are grouped in the same classroom. They have bilingual teachers who teach content subjects such as math and science both in the students' first language and also in English. The goal is to provide students with sufficient academic knowledge to use once they have the English proficiency to move forward to a mainstream classroom. At that point, they are going to continue their education solely in English. However, as the main focus of such programs is to expedite English acquisition and the integration of students into mainstream classrooms, as students advance, less attention is paid to subjects other than language. There is no continued emphasis on the development of first-language skills. As a result, students don't exit the program truly bilingual.

First and Second Language in the Early-Exit Classroom

Even though early-exit bilingual programs share the same general features, the amount of first-language instruction may vary from school to school and grade to grade depending on local needs and characteristics, demographics, culture and available teachers. A younger child, in kindergarten, will need more instruction in their first language. As mentioned before, a first language provides a set of transferable tools and strategies facilitating second language acquisition, so in early stages of the program, the native language is used at least 50 percent of the time. Typically, students start to learn reading in English only after they have truly mastered reading in their first language.

Besides language, grammar, composition and reading of the native language, at least three other subjects are taught in the first language. Non-academic classes such as physical education and music can be taught in English. Alternatively, some schools may offer simultaneous linguistic instruction in both languages. As students gain more knowledge and confidence in English after the first year, instruction in the first language diminishes.

Late-Exit Bilingual Programs

Late-exit bilingual programs, also called 'maintenance bilingual programs,' provide a balanced combination of academic instruction in students' first language and English. English language learners' first language serves as the foundation for development of English language skills and later, academic knowledge in both languages. The ultimate goal is transition to mainstream classrooms where students continue their education with native English speakers. The program lasts six to seven years, from kindergarten to sixth or seventh grade.

Nuts and Bolts of Late-Exit Bilingual Programs

In late-exit bilingual programs bilingual teachers work with English language learners who share the same first language. Students receive instruction in both languages until they reach linguistic, cultural and academic proficiency in both their native language and English and can join mainstream classes. They start by using primarily the first language to build the second, and once they have the basics, they start to add more English instruction. While second language acquisition is an important target, content areas aren't neglected either. Instruction in content is provided in different amounts in both languages. Students exit the program truly bilingual.

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