What is a Seal of Biliteracy and How Does it Promote Bilingualism?

According to Education Weeks’ Learning the Language Blog,  22 States and the District of Columbia have recognized high school students who have achieved fluency in two or more languages by affixing a Seal of Biliteracy to their high school diploma and/or transcript. This is a movement that began in California in 2012 and has become more prevalent as the number of Dual Language Programs have increased across the United States.

The Seal of Biliteracy is a special recognition that promotes and validates bilingualism and biliteracy in English and another language. It can be awarded to native English speakers who have become fluent in a foreign language and to English language learners who are biliterate in their home language and in English. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE), the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL), and TESOL International Association, have officially drafted recommendations for the implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy.  At the heart of the Seal of Biliteracy is the belief in the value of bilingualism.

Here are six cognitive benefits of bilingualism:
• Bilingual children are able to stay on task more easily.
• Bilinguals have an advantage when task-switching .
• Bilingual children are more perceptive and observant.

• Bilingual children have better problem-solving skills; they make more rational decisions.
• People who are bilingual have increased working-memory capacity.
• Bilingualism delays onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

New Jersey Seal of Biliteracy Passed by State Legislature
The awarding of a Seal of Biliteracy to students began in 2012 so this process is fairly new to those of us who live in other states. I urge those of you whose states have not adopted this process to get involved and advocate for bilingualism. As a member of New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages/New Jersey Bilingual Educators (NJTESOL/NJBE) I am very proud to belong to an organization that was part of the process when our state legislature passed the New Jersey Seal of Biliteracy in January 2016. Members of NJTESOL/NJBE Advocacy Committee collaborated with the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey (FLENJ) to get this bill passed. NJTESOL/NJBE strongly believes that the Seal of Biliteracy supports our goals of bilingualism not just for English learners but for all students.

The goals of the New Jersey Seal of Biliteracy are to do the following:

    • Encourage students to study languages and participate in Advanced Placement courses
    • Recognize and value foreign language instruction in our schools
    • Acknowledge the biliteracy skills of all students
    • Raise the status of minority languages
    • Certify the attainment of biliteracy, thus giving employers a way of identifying people with these skills
    • Give schools of higher learning a way to identify and give credit to applicants with biliteracy skills
    • Give students a competitive edge in the job market
    • Provide students with crucial 21st century skills
    • Strengthen intergroup relationships and affirm the value of diversity
    • Honor the multiple cultures and languages of a community

Even if your state has adopted a Seal of Biliteracy, your school may not be participating in the program. Advocate for your English learners by informing your school administrators about the benefits of being bilingual.


About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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3 Responses to What is a Seal of Biliteracy and How Does it Promote Bilingualism?

  1. Juliet says:

    This seal would definitely motivate learners to continue to maintain their first language in a country that pushes for learning the English language. It is great that it could also be a factor in motivating monolingual English speakers to acquire a second language proficiently. Nowadays, it is too often that children of immigrant parents or those students who are immigrants themselves feel as if they need to shift over to English to assimilate to the American culture and so forth. With this recognition, these first language speakers outside of English will place more value on their own language. To be honest, coming from an immigrant family community, being literate in the home language is difficult without motivation. Too often do the English students place little value on their first language, and the attitude towards the first language is absolutely negative. Students then have little motivation to further their education in the first language. Parents and students alike should be aware of the benefits of being bilingual along with this seal of bi-literacy. Hooray to the makers!

  2. Deirdre Bates says:

    In the 21st century, all American learners, as in much of the rest of the world, ought to be bilingual. In an effort to reach untapped potential in learning capital, it would be wise to begin a push toward national bilingualism with our ELL’s. Students who are learning English should be encouraged to retain their native language and acquire English proficiency, as well. These additional cognitive abilities and subsequent skill-sets should be celebrated. A seal of bi-literacy on the diploma is certainly an excellent place to start recognition for these cross-cultural learners. Graduates who posses multi-literacies will be in high demand as recent waves of immigration change the consumer base and ultimately the national economy.

  3. Ryan says:

    Until recently I had not known much about Bilingual education. It was not until I looked into it further that found out all the great benefits of it being implemented in schools. After reading this blog post I learned about the Seal of Biliteracy. I really liked how you listed out the positive things that New Jersey has discovered for students who become bilateral. This is such a great opportunity for all students!

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