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No child left monolingual: The present and possible future of dual language education in the U.S.
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Kim Potowski is Professor of Spanish linguistics in the Department of Hispanic & Italian Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she also holds appointments in Latin American and Latino Studies, Curriculum and Instruction, and an affiliation with the Social Justice Initiative. She has been directing the Spanish for heritage speakers program since 2002, which now offers 28 sections per year. She has visited over 60 college campuses in the U.S., Mexico, Italy, and Spain to deliver courses and lectures about Spanish heritage language education. She also speaks at K-8 school districts to parents, teachers, and administrators about the benefits of dual immersion programs, which was the focus of her 2013 TEDx talk “No child left monolingual.” She has been a fellow at the Advanced Research Collaborative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York as well as a Fulbright scholar in Oaxaca, Mexico, examining the linguistic and educational experiences of U.S.-raised youth who returned to Mexico. Since 2009, she has served as Executive Editor of the journal Spanish in Context.

Her research focuses on Spanish in the United States, including factors that influence intergenerational language transmission and change as well as connections between language and ethnic identity. Her current projects include:

  • The Spanish proficiency of elementary school children in dual language programs
  • “CHISPA,” a multi-generational corpus of Chicago Spanish (with Lourdes Torres)
  • An advanced Spanish grammar textbook focusing on sociolinguistic variation (with Naomi Shin)
  • The absence and (mis)use of Spanish in mainstream television programs (with Rosalyn Negrón)
  • A multi-generational corpus of Polish and Lithuanian in Chicago, supported by a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies

She has authored, co-authored, and edited works including:

  • The Handbook of Spanish as a heritage/minority language (Routledge, ed., 2017)
  • Conversaciones escritas: Lectura y redacción en contexto (Wiley, 2nd edition 2017)
  • Inter-Latino language and identity: Mexi-Ricans in Chicago (Benjamins, 2016)
  • El español de los Estados Unidos (with Anna María Escobar. Cambridge, 2015)
  • Heritage language teaching: Research and practice (with Sara Beaudrie & Cynthia Ducar. McGraw Hill, 2014)
  • Language diversity in the USA (Cambridge, ed., 2011)
  • Language and identity in a dual immersion school (Multilingual Matters, 2007)


Dual language education in the U.S. serves multiple goals. For language minority students, it has been shown to be the most successful model for learning English while simultaneously developing students’ first language. For English speakers, it provides a rich environment in which to acquire another language. These programs also lead to high levels of academic achievement for all students. We have copious data documenting students’ English learning and academic achievement outcomes, but what has received far less attention is their Spanish: What does it look like, and what are the implications of developing strong academic proficiency in Spanish? After exploring a few myths about multilingualism that plague the U.S. and that serve to curtail these programs and squander the many non-English languages spoken in communities across the country, I present data on Spanish proficiency from two dual language schools in the Chicago area. Among the principal findings are these: (1) Spanish is not used as frequently as planned, which despite the value of translanguaging has potentially negative consequences for Spanish development; (2) A focus on form might bolster the acquisition of certain structures; and (3) Spanish-speaking parents would likely benefit from seeing examples of the decline in Spanish proficiency among students enrolled in all English programs, in particular when deciding what school to choose for their own children. I conclude by describing the social justice implications of well-executed dual language programs as they push our nation to embrace greater cultural and linguistic democracy, outlining some concrete benefits for Latinos – who currently constitute one out of every four school-age children in the U.S. – as well as for the rest of the population.

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