Migrants’ educational success through innovation: The case of the Hamburg bilingual schools

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Duarte, J. (2011) Migrants’ educational success through innovation: The case of the Hamburg bilingual schools. International Review of Education, 57, 631-649


This article explores the social and educational situation of language minority students, specifically those with a history of migration, within the context of Germany. Duarte begins by examining the goals set by European Union member states in 2000: “to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world,” (p. 633) and how this goal was understood to apply to migrant and language minority groups. She reiterates common issues for language minority learners, namely low academic achievement levels and high drop-out rates, and introduces the European Union wide studies, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and PIRLS(Progress in Reading Literacy Study) to illustrate issues within the EU.

The next section engages in a discussion of the policies of the EU as well as Germany itself. Duarte also delves into the numbers and types of migrants into Germany, as well as issues surrounding these numbers and their definitions. She then transitions into discussion of the realities of bilingualism for migrants and their families into Germany. While it is usually accepted that the Dominant Discourse will naturally tend to replace the heritage language of migrants within two to three generations, Duarte argues that the daily reality of the lives of bilinguals in the modern age make this unrealistic. Globalization and technology have made maintaining the vitality of the heritage language a reality for many migrant groups.

The new, unassimilated linguistic reality of migrant groups has created issues for the migrant students in mainstream education, which Duarte details in the next section before moving into a detailed examination of the Hamburg bilingual schools and the six year long evaluation of the program done by the University of Hamburg, starting in 1999. After detailing the breakdown of teaching methodology and daily division of teaching in the school, Duarte shifts to the learning outcomes of the program. She frames these outcomes through a series of four research questions:

  • How can cognitive academic language in bilingual schooling contexts be defined and what is the role of first language in its development? (p. 643)
  • How does oral and written academic language acquisition develop in a bilingual model? Are there any transfers? (p. 644)
  • How do students in bilingual models perform in relation to students attending immersion classes? Does a coordinated alphabetization lead to higher educational achievement in both languages? (p.645)
  • What didactic factors influence student outcomes in bilingual education models? (p.645)

Analysis and Audience

While I doubt many students of SLA research would be surprised by the outcomes that Duarte mentions in reference to learner achievement in the Hamburg bilingual schools, this article is, nevertheless, a useful resource for SLA researchers, students or teachers looking for research to support dual-language bilingual education within their own schools or spheres of influence. While the arguments and theories discussed may not be new to the discipline, the concrete examples used, interspersed with the supporting research and theoretical foundations would enable the majority of readers to clearly understand the arguments being made in favor of bilingual education.

I was, personally, intrigued by the section detailing the daily reality of bilingualism for many migrants in Germany. The investment that members of these groups have in maintaining a vital, dynamic relationship with their heritage language, to the point that they defy the common trend of losing the language skill within two to three generations is astounding to me. Why are immigrants to Germany so much more invested in maintaining ties to their heritage language and culture? Is this something that they do because the social situation allows for it, or is there something unique about the immigrants to Germany that makes them so invested? Why do these same language groups not maintain their language vitality in the United States? This is especially counterintuitive to me due to the fact that Germany has an official national language, while the United States, legally, does not. Does the legal protection of the status of the German language make it secure enough to allow other languages to thrive?

In her discussion the historical and social realities of migration into Germany, Duarte reflects on the ideas that both Crawford (2004, Chapter 4) and Garcia (2009Chapters 1 and 4), have expressed on the role of language in the creation of national identity as well as the idea of the nation-state itself, namely the ideas that the national language become part of the national identity and thus other languages may be seen as a problem to be overcome, rather than a tool that may be used for the enrichment of the nation. She further points to one of the paradox of the EU language policy; the belief that unity can only be achieved through allowing the member states to maintain their diversity, however, as she quotes from Moore (2011), “European Union (EU) Language policy, while striving for the multilingualism of its citizens, rejects immigrant languages as acknowledged social tools, by attempting to replace them with a multilingualism restricted to EU languages.” This paradox has, arguably, gained more importance in recent years due to the high number of immigrants and refugees entering the EU, and Germany specifically, from predominantly Muslim nations and the resurgence of nationalism that is currently occurring throughout the European Union and the United States. It will be interesting to see if bilingualism will still be held as a core value of the EU and make room for non-EU heritage languages to be supported, or if a more assimilationist line of rhetoric will take over the educational policies.


Crawford, J. (2004) Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom. Bilingual Education Services, INC.

Duarte, J. (2011) Migrants’ educational success through innovation: The case of the Hamburg bilingual schools. International Review of Education, 57, 631-649

Garcia, O. (2009) Bilingual Education in the 21stCentury: A Global Perspective. Malden, MA, WileyBlackwell

Moore, R. (2011) Standardisation, diversity, and enlightenment in the contemporary crisis of EU language policy. Working Papers in Urban Language and Literacies, paper 74

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