What is a Language Immersion Program?
Language immersion is a type of learning that involves total immersion in a particular foreign language. In immersion programs, a variety of subjects are taught in the language, rather than the language being taught as a separate subject. The language being learned is spoken about 90% of the time during the program.
Research shows that immersion education is effective for a wide variety of learners, including academically and intellectually gifted students, non-native English speakers, and students with special education needs and/or socio-economic challenges. The benefits of studying a second language include
benefits for children with disabilities
benefits for gifted children
Is a Spanish Immersion program right for my child?
Selecting an immersion program for your child is an important decision. There are many resources that address language development and the effects of learning a second language. Please review our Resource Links section at the bottom of this page for further reading. Successful students of language immersion programs fall into one of the categories below.
Does your family speak Spanish at home? A child’s understanding of his or her native language may be enhanced by a Spanish immersion program, as he or she will begin to see the roots of English words that are present in many foreign languages.
Does your family speak a language other than Spanish at home? Children enrolled in language immersion programs tend to become fluent in the language they are being taught, even if it is not spoken at home. In addition, language immersion may make it easier for your child to learn other languages in the future. Students of language immersion programs enjoy a variety of opportunities and positive effects. Read on to learn more!
Does your child learn by direct experience? In language immersion, your child will be experiencing the language first-hand. This really appeals to some children and helps them learn the language easily. If your child is an experiential learner (he or she learns best by direct experience) than an immersion program will be a good fit.
Is preschool too early to start an immersion program?
Toddlers, preschoolers, and primary school-aged children are at the prime learning stage of their life. Young children are naturally and easily able to grasp the same new language skills with which older children and adults often struggle. “The child’s brain is different from the adult brain in that it is a very dynamic structure that is evolving […]. The four- or five-year-old learning a second language is a ‘perfect model for the idea of the critical period’.” According to Dr. Susan Curtiss, Professor of Linguistics at UCLA:
…the power to learn a language is so great in the young child that it doesn’t seem to matter how many languages you seem to throw their way […]. They can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity. Their brain is just ripe to do this.
Dr. Patricia Kuhl, a Speech Scientist at the University of Washington, reports that “babies are born ‘citizens of the world’ in that they can distinguish differences among sounds (temporal, spectral, and duration cues) borrowed from all languages.” (Reprinted from research notes published by the National Network for Early Language Learning. Visit nnell.org to learn more.)
How early should my child begin an immersion program? How often should he or she attend?
There are many advantages of learning foreign languages as early as possible, as well as recent neurobiological research that strongly suggested that the best time to learn a second or third language is before age 10. (Holman, J. R., “Learning A Language.” Better Homes and Gardens, 41 & 43. January 1994.) Holman also emphasized that adequate time must be devoted to language study in order to achieve the desired results. The more time the child spends immersed, the greater the language acquisition.
Does learning a second language increase language delay?
No. “Although many parents believe that bilingualism results in language delay, research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.” (Research quoted from a 2006 report at the Center for Applied Linguistics.)
Will learning a second language confuse my child?
“Despite many parents’ fear that using two languages will result in confusion for their children, there is no research evidence to support this. On the contrary, use of two languages in the same conversation has been found to be a sign of mastery of both languages.” (Research quoted from a 2006 report at the Center for Applied Linguistics.)
My child is learning to read English. Will he or she be confused by learning to read Spanish at the same time?
“Parents and educators sometimes express concern that learning a second language will have a detrimental effect on students’ reading and verbal abilities in English. However, several studies suggest the opposite. For example, a recent study of the reading ability of 134 four- and five-year-old children found that bilingual children understood better than monolingual children the general symbolic representation of print” (Bialystok, 1997). […] Numerous other studies have also shown a positive relationship between foreign language study and English language arts achievement (Barik and Swain, 1975; Genesee, 1987; Swain, 1981). All of these results suggest that second language study helps enhance English and other academic skills” (Marcos, 1998.)
“The Bilingual Advantage” by Claudia Dreifus. The New York Times.
“Why Bilinguals Are Smarter” by Yudhijit Bhuttacharjee. The New York Times.
“Second Language Learning: Everyone Can Benefit” by Kathleen M. Marcos. The ERIC Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, Fall 1998. Reprinted at techknowlogia.org.
“Raising Bilingual Children: Common Parental Concerns and Current Research” by Kendall King and Lyn Fogle. Center for Applied Linguistics.
National Network for Early Language Learning