What is a Bilingual Education Degree?

Degree programs in bilingual education prepare students to teach individuals who do not speak English as their primary language. Courses cover teaching methodology, linguistics and language acquisition, literacy, bilingual arts and sciences instruction, culture/multicultural education, research, and behavior and classroom management. In the United States, many of these programs focus on Spanish as the non-English language. Programs are, of course, also available in other world languages, including French, Italian, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and others.

It is important to note that ESL (English as a Second Language) education programs are not the same as bilingual education programs. The two are closely connected, but the typical ESL teacher speaks only English and his/her class is most often made up of students of various language backgrounds. On the other hand, as the name suggests, the bilingual education teacher speaks both English and the single native language of all of the students in his or her classroom. The ESL teacher teaches English, and only English. The bilingual education teacher teaches a broad elementary or secondary school curriculum.

Program Options

It is important to select programs accredited by the National Council for Teacher Education. This will ensure eligibility to take your state’s tests for teacher certification.

Bachelor’s Degree in Bilingual Education – Four Year Duration
In the United States, many of these programs are Spanish bilingual education programs. This is due to the significant and rising Hispanic population in the country. It is also quite common for these programs to encourage students to complete a minor in the Spanish language. For applicants who are already English/Spanish bilingual, these requirements may be relaxed.

In addition, programs are typically specific to either teaching at the pre-kindergarten through grade six (Pre-K-6) or the grade seven through grade 12 level. Regardless of the education level, program components include arts and sciences, linguistics and culture, education theory and practice, assessment, and curriculum development. Some schools also offer study abroad opportunities.

Here are curriculum samples for each level:

Pre-K – 6

  • Introduction to Art Education
  • Music Appreciation
  • Children’s Literature
  • General Psychology
  • World History
  • Integrated Science
  • Mathematical Reasoning: Number Systems
  • Mathematical Reasoning: Algebra, Geometry, Statistics
  • The Emerging United States to 1865
  • The United States since 1865
  • World Regional Geography
  • Confronting Persistent Social Inequities in American Schools
  • Confronting Racial, Cultural, Gender, and Social Inequities in Urban Classrooms
  • Child Development
  • Introduction to Language and Language Acquisition
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Introduction to Education
  • Educational Technology
  • Disability, Education, and Public Policy
  • Foundations of Health Education
  • Literacy Development for Bilingual Students: Instruction and Assessment
  • Civic Context of Education
  • Methods in Bilingual Education and ESL
  • Issues in Bilingual Education
  • Reading and Writing Assessment
  • Assessment in Special Education
  • The Student Teaching Experience – Bilingual Education and ESL
  • Student Teaching Practicum

7 – 12

  • Structure of English
  • Foundations of Language
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Introduction to Education
  • Educational Technology
  • Special Education and Adolescents
  • Introduction to Adolescent Development
  • Introduction to Language and Language Acquisition
  • Literacy Development for Bilingual Students
  • Social Context of Education
  • Civic Context of Education
  • Issues in Bilingual Education
  • Methods of Teaching English as a Second Language
  • Reading and Writing Assessment
  • Assessment in Special Education
  • Classroom and Behavior Management
  • The Student Teaching Experience – Bilingual Education and ESL
  • Student Teaching Practicum

Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education – Two Year Duration
At the master’s level, bilingual education programs provide students with advanced ESL training. This encompasses further examination of the implications of cultural diversity in language learning. In addition, the master’s curriculum looks at educational research and typically branches into differentiated instruction – tailoring instruction to meet individual or group needs. Programs, therefore, may offer courses that prepare aspiring bilingual education instructors to teach specific kinds of learners, such as gifted or special needs students. The master’s program’s culminating requirement is normally a thesis based on original research.

This is a sample of core courses that may be part of a master’s program:

  • Interpreting Educational Research
  • Teaching and Learning with Technology
  • Diverse Learners
  • Educational and Behavioral Psychology
  • Applied Linguistics
  • Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
  • How to Increase Student Levels of Bilingualism and Bi-literacy
  • Bilingual Content Instruction
  • Culture and Community in Education
  • Language Teaching Research, Theory, and Practice
  • Classroom Instruction and Assessment for Language Learners

Here are two examples of course content for learners requiring differentiated instruction:

Gifted and Talented Focus

  • Educating the Gifted and Talented – characteristics of the gifted and talented, identifying and assessing gifted students, analyzing the traits of effective teachers, developing models for working with gifted students
  • Creativity: Theories, Models, and Applications – identifying creativity, enhancing creativity, challenges faced by creative individuals, models of creativity
  • Curriculum Development for Gifted and Talented Learners – adapting the curriculum for individual differences
  • Growth and Development of the Gifted – strategies for helping gifted students develop social and interpersonal skills

Special Education Focus

  • Foundations of Special Education – policies, laws, and practices related to education for individuals with disabilities
  • Assessment for Special Education – preparing and interpreting educational assessments of students with disabilities
  • Instructional Strategies for Intensive Intervention – techniques used to teach struggling readers
  • Behavioral Interventions in the Classroom – management of the special education classroom

Doctoral Degree in Bilingual Education – Three to Four Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Bilingual Education is focused on teaching philosophies and theories and on preparing candidates for careers as university professors and researchers in the field. The typical doctoral program consists of limited required coursework, extensive research in a chosen area of the discipline, comprehensive oral and written exams, a dissertation proposal, and a doctoral dissertation.

Here is a sampling of doctoral dissertation topics:

  • Translanguaging for and as Learning with Youth from Refugee Backgrounds
  • Democratic Language Policy for Multilingual Education Systems
  • School, Parents. And Communities: Leading parallel Lives in a Two-Way Immersion Program
  • Bilingual Education methods: Pros and Cons

Degrees Similar to Bilingual Education

Early Childhood Education (ECE)
A degree in early childhood education provides students with ECE fundamentals and helps them develop leadership and advocacy abilities, as well as the administrative skills required to work in the field. Typical coursework in degree and certificate programs focuses on child growth and development, behavior guidance, supporting children and families, children with exceptionalities, and effective curriculum planning.

Students who major in education study the learning and teaching processes. Among the courses they take are educational psychology and teaching techniques.

French Language
French language degree programs teach students how to speak, read, and write French. Some programs focus on French literature and others on the study of the linguistic structure of the French language.

Programs that include both a literary and a linguistic component are quite common. Some schools offer specific degrees in French translation and interpretation.

German Language
German language degree programs teach students how to speak, read, and write German. Some programs focus on German literature and others on the study of the linguistic structure of the German language.

Programs that include both a literary and a linguistic component are quite common. Some schools offer specific degrees in German translation and interpretation.

Linguistics explores the nature of language variations and dialects, how language evolves over time, how it is processed and stored in the human brain, and how it is acquired. It is the scientific study of language and communication, both within a single language and across language groups.

Its primary sub-areas are phonetics – the study of the production, acoustics, and hearing of speech sounds; phonology – the patterning of sounds; morphology – the structure of words; syntax – the structure of sentences; semantics – meaning; and pragmatics – language in context.

Spanish Language
Spanish language degree programs teach students how to speak, read, and write Spanish. Some programs focus on Spanish literature and others on the study of the linguistic structure of the Spanish language.

Programs that include both a literary and a linguistic component are quite common. Some schools offer specific degrees in Spanish translation and interpretation.

Special Education Teaching
Graduates with a degree in special education are qualified to teach students with physical or mental disabilities. They help students develop basic life skills and must be prepared to adapt their curriculum to do so.

Degree programs in translation prepare students for careers as translators. The work of a translator is to convert written documents and spoken text from the ‘source’ language to the ‘target’ language. The curriculum covers translation of various kinds of content, from technical, scientific, and educational to legal, commercial, and literary. Students learn about the history of translation, the sociology of translation, media and translation, and how to use translation memory software and specialized dictionaries.

Skills You’ll Learn

The process of learning a second language is a workout for the brain. Because language learning is complex, it improves cognitive skills and overall brain function. Quite simply, it makes the brain stronger. This means that graduates of a bilingual educational degree program bring more than their language competency and teaching skills to their work. Studies have shown that adult speakers of more than one language typically:

  • have higher general intelligence
  • are more creative
  • are more patient
  • are better listeners
  • have better concentration abilities
  • have greater mental flexibility
  • are better at planning and making decisions
  • score higher on reading, vocabulary, and math tests
  • are more aware of their surroundings
  • are more likely to understand different points of view
  • are less likely to fall for marketing ploys
  • are better at multi-tasking
  • have better memory and memorization skills

What Can You Do with a Bilingual Education Degree?

Bilingual education graduates most often work in these roles:

Bilingual Education
In the bilingual education classroom, the students all have the same language background and the teacher speaks both languages.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Education
The following are often referred to under the general ESL banner. However, there are subtle differences:

  • English as a Second Language / Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL / TESL) – the students come from various language backgrounds and the teacher is only required to speak English
  • Teaching English as a Second Language to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) – the students are speakers of multiple languages or have had some English language training in their native country
  • Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) – teaching English to non-English speakers in their native country

Grads of bilingual education may also qualify for non-teaching positions in sectors such as these:

  • Curriculum Development
  • School Administration
  • Community Organizations
  • International Agencies
  • Publishing Companies
  • Multinational Corporations


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