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The Wealth of Language Immersion

Wealth of Language ImmersionLanguage immersion is still rather new. The first language immersion program started in Canada in the 1960’s.

There are 2 different immersions; complete immersion and partial immersion.

Complete immersion, almost 100% of class time is spent in the foreign language. Subject matter taught in the foreign language is incorporated as necessary throughout the course. The goals are to become functionally proficient in the foreign language, and to master subject content taught in the foreign language. This type of program is usually sequential, cumulative, continuous, proficiency-oriented, and part of an integrated grade school sequence.

In partial immersion, about half of the class time is spent learning subject matter in the foreign language. The goals are to become functionally proficient in the second language and to master subject content taught in the foreign language.

In content-based foreign languages in elementary school (FLES), about 15–50% of class time is spent in the foreign language and time is spent learning it as well as learning subject matter in the foreign language. The goals of the program are to acquire proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing the foreign language, and to use subject content to acquire foreign language skills.

In FLES programs, 5–15% of class time is spent in the foreign language and time is spent learning the language itself. The goals of the program are to acquire proficiency in listening and speaking of the second language, to acquire an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures, and to acquire some proficiency in reading and writing.

Learning a foreign language has its assets, and studies suggest that immersion is an effective way to learn foreign languages. [Cognitive Benefits of Learning Language, Duke Gifted Letter: Volume 8, Issue 1, Fall 2007. The Duke University Talent Identification Program. Online Newsletter for Parents of Gifted Youth] Many immersion programs start in the elementary schools, with classroom time being dedicated to the foreign language anywhere between 50% and 90% of the day. Learning a second or third language not only helps an individual’s personal mental skills, but also aids their future job skills.

More than 1,000 studies have been completed on immersion programs and immersion language learners in Canada. These studies have given us a wealth of information. Across these studies, a number of important observations can be made:

  • Improvements in linguistic and meta linguistic abilities
  • An increase of cognitive abilities such as divergent thinking, concept formation, verbal skills, listening skills and general reasoning.
  • Improves one’s understanding of his/her native language.
  • Opens the door to other cultures and helps us understand and appreciate people from other countries.
  • Increases job opportunities in many careers where knowing another language is a real benefit.
  • Superior SAT scores and standardized testing.
  • Enhances memory.
  • Early immersion students fall behind their monolingual peers in literacy (reading, spelling, and punctuation) for the first few years only. However, after the first few years, the immersion students catch up with their peers.
  • Immersion programs have no negative effects on spoken skills in the first language.
  • Early immersion students acquire almost-native-like proficiency in passive skill (listening and speaking) comprehension of the second language by the age of 11, but they don’t reach the same level in reading and writing because they have enough level to communicate with their teachers. Also, if they communicate only with their teachers, they don’t learn the skills to hold day-to-day conversations. [Baker, C. (1993). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.]
  • Early immersion students are more successful in listening and reading proficiency than partial and late immersion students.
  • Immersion programs have no negative effects on the cognitive development of the students.
  • Monolingual peers perform better in sciences and math at an early age, however immersion students eventually catch up with, and in some cases, outperform their monolingual peers.
  • Studies have also shown that students in immersion programs have a “more positive attitude towards bilingualism and multiculturalism.”

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