As Director of Global Bilingual Programmes for Cognita Chile, Tatiana Bustos is responsible for the strategy, content and development of bilingual programmes in Spanish and English. In our latest thought leadership article, Tatiana gives an overview of the strategies required when teaching content and language to bilingual students.

In today’s diverse and interconnected world, bilingual education has gained increasing importance. However, simply delivering lessons in the target language (in our case, English,) is not enough to guarantee academic success. It is crucial for educators to employ effective methodologies that promote English language acquisition while ensuring comprehensive learning of subject content. A holistic approach that encompasses key elements such as active learning, student-centred approaches and a consistent provision of comprehensible input is necessary.

To create an effective bilingual lesson, it is essential to have a systematic framework of interconnected components that are part of the design and delivery of content-based instruction to English language learners. By incorporating components such as pre-teaching key vocabulary, using sentence frames and promoting interaction among students, bilingual teachers can create a language-rich environment that supports both language development and content comprehension. This framework needs to recognize the need for scaffolding and provide teachers with practical tools to make content more accessible and comprehensible.

Active learning methodologies are another key element of a bilingual lesson. This student-centred approach empowers students to take ownership of their learning journey and provides multiple opportunities for students to practice and apply their new learning in the target language. When teaching bilingual students, this approach facilitates language acquisition by promoting active engagement and meaningful interactions. Students have opportunities to express their thoughts, collaborate with peers and construct knowledge collectively. Through activities such as group work, project-based learning and discussions, students develop language skills while gaining a deeper understanding of subject matter.

Another crucial component of a bilingual lesson is comprehensible input. This refers to language input that is tailored to the student’s current proficiency level, allowing them to understand and learn from it. Teachers can use gestures, actions, visuals, real-life examples, simplified language, and context clues to make content more accessible. By adjusting the complexity of language and pacing instruction, educators support students’ linguistic growth and comprehension.

This systematic framework of interconnected components that support content-based instruction must exist alongside a holistic learning approach, which encourages students to make connections, engage in critical thinking, and participate in meaningful activities. This approach emphasizes the integration of various skills and knowledge domains, fostering a deeper understanding of concepts. When applied to bilingual education, this approach enables students to connect their prior knowledge in their native language with new English language content.

Teaching content to bilingual students in English demands more than simply delivering lessons in the target language. To be able to think in another language takes so much more. By employing the bilingual methodologies outlined above and creating language-rich environments that promote interaction, support comprehension and foster meaningful engagement, educators can ensure that bilingual students not only acquire English language skills, but also develop a deep understanding of the subject matter. Embracing these strategies acknowledges the unique needs of bilingual learners and empowers them to thrive academically and linguistically.