Transitional Bilingual Education Programs: Pros & Cons

Instructor: Jennifer Moon
This lesson provides an overview of bilingual education programs in American schools. It outlines the pros and cons of the programs which should be helpful for teachers and schools implementing transitional education programs.

What is Transitional Bilingual Education?

A transitional bilingual education program is a teaching model with two main focuses: first to ensure that students master educational content in their primary language, then to assist students in becoming fluent in the second language. The idea behind this method is that students who are first fluent in their native language are more capable of becoming fluent in a foreign language--usually English. The skills they learn in their native language can be translated into the second language.

Teaching Methods

Within the transitional bilingual education classroom, there are two main methods of instruction dependent on the students' language proficiency:

The early-exit model involves mastering the students' primary language and then exiting out of that language and into full-time English instruction early on (often by first grade). In this model, students receive a majority of their lessons in the second language. However, reading instruction is often delivered in the students' primary language, as reading is a requirement across the curriculum.

The late-exit model generally delivers less than half of the students' instruction in their primary language. Unlike the early-exit model, more time and attention is given to mastering literacy in the students' primary language to support new learning in the second language. Students typically spend a greater deal of time--especially in elementary school--learning in their native language. By middle or high school, the students will have gradually increased learning in the secondary language to full-time English instruction.

Pros and Cons of Transitional Bilingual Education


  • English learning is systematically assessed and supported.
  • Individualized English language instruction is possible.
  • Students are exposed to social settings with English-speaking peers.
  • Students observe and learn nuances common in academic settings.
  • Cultural identity is preserved because the native language is not abandoned, but rather supported as English is learned.
  • Students can learn at their own pace within a smaller environment.

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