Speaking
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Yvette Lapayese: Moving Toward a More Holistic View of Biliteracy
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Yvette Lapayese, professor in the LMU School of Education and director of SOE’s Urban Education master’s degree program, recalls the moment she began to view biliteracy in a new way.
Her father had undergone, and barely survived, a complicated surgery that resulted in a harrowing recovery requiring a breathing tube. Lapayese brought in her eldest son, Diego, to the hospital to visit. Fluent in both Spanish and English as a result of his education in a dual language immersion program, Diego sat beside the hospital bed and was able to speak in the native tongue of his grandfather — born and raised in Madrid, Spain — as he listened and nodded with tired eyes.
“At that moment, I was unable to absorb Diego’s biliteracy as a mere reflection of cognitive or even cultural prowess,” Lapayese says. “This moment mirrored something deeper — the bond between human spirit and language.”
Inspired by that experience, Lapayese set out to capture biliteracy differently. Her book “A Humanizing Dual Language Immersion Education,” published in January 2019, makes the case that the most significant challenge for DLI programs and schools in the United States is to protect and deepen the commitment to linguistic human rights against the backdrop of pedagogical models that, among other things, dehumanize education, favor quantity and production over quality and human dignity, and ultimately distance educators from the humanity of their students.
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Although research overwhelmingly supports DLI education, issues of race, immigration and power have undercut policies and practices that support it, Lapayese says. However, she notes, a grassroots movement to build DLI programs and schools in states such as California, where a significant number of language learners reside, is gaining momentum. This resulted in the passage of Proposition 58 in 2017, which reinstated bilingual education in California, and has led scholars such as Lapayese to push for a new, more holistic DLI framework.
“DLI education must be anchored in youth epistemology — their ways of knowing and experiencing the world,” Lapayese says.
To that end, Lapayese ensures that the youth voice anchors all of her research. Just as the interaction between her son and her father in the hospital room served as an epiphany, insights from youth have pointed her toward new iterations of language, identity and culture. “In my work with bilingual youth, I am consistently challenged to examine my own theoretical frameworks or ways of knowing,” Lapayese says. “They exhibit a tolerance for ambiguous and fluid identity markers. They consistently point out their detachment from language identity — but positively. Feeling free to opt in and out of language, to navigate language, were ideas that came up quite a bit. A particular language learner identity was not a permanent marker of their life goals or an all-encompassing marker.”
In my work with bilingual youth, I am consistently challenged to examine my own theoretical frameworks or ways of knowing. They exhibit a tolerance for ambiguous and fluid identity markers. They consistently point out their detachment from language identity — but positively.
A more holistic approach to DLI education
DLI schools carry a historical legacy of honoring heritage languages and community practices, Lapayese notes. Several veteran teachers Lapayese interviewed in the course of her research recounted stories of teaching according to their own pedagogical frameworks, linking the lived realities of their students and the wisdom of their communities to everyday schooling.

“The students learned about their own culture, and cultures around the globe,” Lapayese explains. “The teachers also pointed out the many ways art, theater, play-based learning and music were as integral to the teaching and learning of language as math and language arts. In fact, this was one of the main reasons I sent my boys to a DLI school. The parents didn’t care about standardized test scores, but don’t mess with the ‘Nutcracker’ performance!”
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