Partial IMMERSION FAQ's
The three major types of programs available in elementary schools are language immersion programs, foreign language in elementary schools (FLES) programs, and foreign language exploratory (FLEX) programs.
Immersion programs allow children to spend part or all of the school day learning in a second language. In full (total) immersion programs, which are available in a limited number of schools, children learn all of their subjects (math, social studies, science, etc.) in the second language.
Partial immersion programs operate on the same principle, but only a portion of the curriculum is presented in the second language. Under this type of program, a child may learn social studies and science in Spanish or French in the morning and learn mathematics and language arts in English in the afternoon.
The second language is the medium for content instruction rather than the subject of instruction. Children enrolled in immersion programs work toward full proficiency in the second language and usually reach a higher level of competence than those participating in other language programs.
Lexington School District One has implemented a partial-immersion program offered in select schools in Spanish, Chinese, German and French. In this type of program about 50% of the instruction is provided in the immersion language. This percent remains constant throughout elementary school. Reading is taught in both the first and the second language. When feasible, each class has two teachers: one teaches in the first language and the other teaches in the second. As with full immersion, students are usually all native English speakers.
What is Partial-Immersion?
The uniqueness of an immersion program is that the foreign language is not taught as a subject. Instead, the foreign language becomes the language of instruction for part of the curriculum. Children then acquire the foreign language through interesting and meaningful activities in the language as they learn the concepts of the various subjects included in the elementary curriculum. Research studies show that learning a second language at an early age has a positive effect on intellectual growth and leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and improved listening skills.
Why should I consider enrolling my child in an immersion program?
Immersion programs are the fastest growing and most effective type of foreign language program currently available in U.S. schools. Most immersion students can be expected to reach higher levels of second language proficiency than students in other school-based language programs (Met, 1998). Becoming bilingual opens the door to communication with more people in more places, and many parents want to provide their children with skills to interact competently in an increasingly interdependent world community.
What Are the Goals of Partial-Immersion?
The overall goals of the program are to develop students' communicative and academic proficiency in the target language and in English and for students to succeed academically in all subject areas at levels comparable to those they would have reached if they had been schooled only in English. Another benefit of the program is that students develop multicultural awareness and a more global perspective. The program is aimed at enriching all the students in the school via special exhibits, outside speakers, and other cultural activities.
Learning a second language at an early age...
- Enables students to use oral and written language for meaningful and culturally appropriate communication in the situations they are most likely to encounter.
- The program helps students appreciate linguistic and cultural diversity and the contributions of other peoples to world civilization.
How will learning other subjects in a second language affect my child’s English language and literacy development?
Many parents are initially fearful that immersion may have a negative impact on their child’s English language development. But research consistently finds that the immersion experience actually enhances English language development (Cloud, Genesee , & Hamayan, 2000). It should be noted that full immersion students’ English development may lag temporarily in reading, word knowledge, and spelling while instruction is occurring exclusively in the immersion language. However, after a year or two of instruction in English language arts, this discrepancy disappears ( Genesee , 1987). It is important for parents to understand that this lag is temporary and to be expected.
It is assumed that immersion students will have consistent exposure to and support for English at home and in the community. Parents need to provide their children with experiences that will enhance their English language and literacy development. For example, they should read to their children every day and involve them in games and activities that complement their classroom learning. Research shows that the stronger the development of the native language, the greater the proficiency in the immersion language, so children who enter an immersion program with a strong base in English will succeed more easily than those whose English skills are not as strong.
Will my child become proficient in the second language? How long will that take?
After only 2 or 3 years in an immersion program, students begin to demonstrate fluency and confidence when using the immersion language, and their listening and reading skills are comparable to those of native speakers of the same age. While these skills remain native-like, students’ speaking and writing skills lag behind those of native speakers (Johnson & Swain, 1997).
Research finds that immersion students’ second language lacks grammatical accuracy and does not display the variety and complexity produced by native speakers of the language. Achieving high levels of oral and written proficiency in a second language is a long-term process. A long-term commitment is essential, and parents need to understand that native-like proficiency in every skill area is unlikely. Still, immersion students will have a strong second language base upon which to continue moving toward full proficiency and to develop proficiency in subsequent languages.
Language learning is influenced by many factors, including students’ personality and motivation, teacher expectations, parental support, program leadership, and support at both the school and district level. Student success requires the active involvement of all of these stakeholders.
Is immersion an appropriate choice for all children?
Research findings on the effectiveness of immersion education hold true for a wide range of students, including those from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds (Genesee , 1992).
As is sometimes purported, these programs are not intended exclusively for middle- and upper-class Anglo families. In fact, some recent research indicates that immersion may be an effective program model for children who speak a language other than English or the immersion language at home (deCourcy, Warren, & Burston, 2002). It is hypothesized that these learners may benefit from a leveling-of-the-playing-field effect that occurs when all of the students in the class are functioning in a second language. Students who are not native speakers of English are able to be on par with their native-English-speaking peers and enjoy the same kinds of success with learning.
There are, however, many unanswered questions concerning the suitability of language immersion for children with language-based learning disabilities. Research on this topic is scant. Some researchers and immersion practitioners argue that children whose first language acquisition is seriously delayed or who struggle with auditory discrimination skills may be overtaxed in a language immersion program (see review in Genesee , 1992). Previously identified language-processing challenges should be considered prior to enrolling a child in an immersion program. Still, many children with mild learning disabilities, knowledgeable teachers, and supportive families can and do achieve well in immersion programs and develop proficiency in a second language. Parents and educators need not assume that learning in two languages will overtax these children. In fact, many instructional techniques used in immersion are similar to techniques recommended for struggling learners. Understanding how to make language immersion classrooms more inclusive for a broader spectrum of learners is one of many topics of interest to immersion educators.
Will a Second Language Interfere With My Child's English Ability?
In most cases, learning another language actually enhances a child's English ability. Children can learn much about English by learning the structure of other languages. Common vocabulary also helps children learn the meaning of new words in English. Experimental studies have shown that no long-term delay in native English language development occurs between children participating in second language immersion classes and those schooled exclusively in English.
What if I want out of the program?
Parental support for the student and the teachers is very important for a successful learning experience. Language immersion is a leap of faith and requires a long-term commitment. If you are interested in your child participating it is very important for you to understand how important it is for you to be committed to the pedagogy, philosophy and methodology of immersion language learning. Children do not become proficient in a language without exposure and practice over a duration of time. The time it takes for children to begin speaking, reading and writing in another language varies from one child to another. There is a formal withdrawal process that must be adhered to on the parts of the teachers and parents of children in the program. Click here to see the guidelines for the withdrawal process. . The Principal at each school site is able to walk parents through this process or the parents may contact Dr. Liza Speece for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Is there a cost for the program?
There is no cost to the student to be part of this program outside of the regular annual school fees etc...
The expenditures for this program outside of the cost of adding a traditional grade level teacher are primarily in materials and staff development. The district sees great value and investment not only in what this program provides to our students but also to our Lexington community at large.
Why does the program have to start in kindergarten?
While we certainly understand the desire of parents with children currently enrolled in Lexington School District One to be a part of the immersion program, it is very important to understand why we are beginning the program at the kindergarten level. We have done extensive research concerning the best approach to take implementing this partial-immersion program and we are continuing to do so. We have consulted with experts in the field and with other districts who have longstanding, successive programs as well as districts who are struggling to maintain an immersion program in place. The program must have a solid beginning, be sound in methodology, and in pedagogy to ensure long-term success.
Programs that begin at the kindergarten level are most often better able to meet the emotional, mental and intellectual needs of the learner because there is less of a knowledge gap between what the learner already knows in his/her native language within the content areas being taught and what he/she will be learning at school. The kindergarten curriculum is very fundamental by nature and this marries with the linguistic curriculum, the methodology and the pedagogy for partial-immersion instruction best at this level for introduction to the program. Children at this level have been shown to be less insecure and better able to cope with the unknown because their whole world at school is new to them at this point. They are learning everything from "scratch" and will not be intimidated by the content being taught in another language. They will also have a more solid language base to pull from as the content they are learning becomes more complex each year.
Could my child start in first grade as opposed to kindergarten ?
It would not be possible for incoming first-graders to begin the program with an ongoing class that began in kindergarten unless the incoming first grader has had a prior language experience that prepared him/her for such a high level of comprehension and/or proficiency. For learners to enter the program at later grades he/she must pass a performance assessment in the language, IN the areas of math and science and perform to a comparable level as the learners in the immersion classroom at that grade level.
What about transportation?
For students who attend the immersion program from out of the school zone they are attending, parents will be required to provide transportation for their child. If they live in the school zone, the child has the same access to school transportation as all other students zoned for that school.
What about my child's siblings?
If a child in the program has a younger sibling and the parents wish to have the younger sibling participate in the program as well, they can sign the younger sibling up at the designated time (usually prior to the other registration window) and we will hold a slot for these children. If parents do not sign up at the designated time, they will only be able to participate should space be available once registration opens for everyone.
Is there a chance that my child will feel insecure or frustrated in the immersion environment?
The current research on this topic is very reassuring. In their article So You Want Your Child to Learn French, Weber and Tardif report: “During the first days of school, we carefully observed both the regular and immersion students with some of parents’ most often voiced concerns in mind. However, contrary to our expectations, the second-language element did not really seem to be a major source of frustration or difficulty for the children. The video recordings and interviews clearly show that the children were able to construct much meaning from the immersion situation even at the beginning of the year. Many of the children for example, offered the following explanations of how they came to understand the teacher’s French: “I just listen very hard and my brain figures it out,” “I think of a word in English it sounds like,” and “ I ask the teacher.” (pp. 55-60)
If my child has special needs how will the kindergarten partial –immersion program meet these needs?
The immersion philosophy is that all children can learn. In the partial-immersion kindergarten classroom students are provided with learning in a contextualized, tactile environment. Students with a variety of needs and skill levels work and learn together. The students in immersion programs that have special needs such as learning disabilities, behavioral issues and other possible problems have been shown to do as well academically as they could be expected to do in the traditional English classroom, provided that they receive the same assistance as they would if enrolled in the traditional English classroom. Studies also indicate that immersion is not likely to be the cause of learning difficulties; the same difficulties would arise in any educational setting. Any child who can learn to communicate in his first language can acquire a second language through the immersion process (taken from Alberta ’s Learning Guide for French immersion parents Yes, You can help! p. 35). In Lexington School District One we address teacher and parent concerns as they become aware that the child might need additional assistance, as we would in any traditional classroom. If there is an extreme circumstance in which the child has very extreme, serious issues, then the teacher, administrators and parents will meet to determine if the student would be best suited to be in a traditional classroom or placement in a special needs classroom/program. In most cases this is not necessary, nor is it the recommended course of action.
Do I need to speak the language in order for my child to be successful in the partial-immersion program?
The partial-immersion program that we are implementing is designed for non-French or Spanish-language speaking children and parents. The children and the parents are not expected to have any knowledge in the target language. The best way that parents of an immersion child can help to prepare their child for school is to prepare him/her just as you would for a traditional kindergarten experience. Helping your child know how to manage personal needs ( such as dressing, bathroom, tying shoes etc…) to helping him/her feel comfortable being away from you for an extended amount of time while at school are the most important ways you can prepare your child. Anything you might be able to do in advance to familiarize your child with the school setting will also be very beneficial. None of the other students in the class will have prior knowledge in the language so it is not necessary (nor recommended) to prepare him/her in advance with any type of structured tutoring or lessons in advance. At the same time you can help your child get a “taste” of what the language sounds like in a very light-hearted, non-threatening manner by letting him/her listen to music in the target language or watch a cartoon or meet someone who speaks the language. Once your child starts school the classroom teacher will be in constant communication with you about what they are doing in the classroom and will provide strategies and activities that you can use to help your child at home.
Sample schedule of a typical day in the life of a partial-immersion kindergarten student.
Below is a schedule taken from an actual partial-immersion classroom. Remember that the partial-immersion teacher team-teaches with the English classroom teacher. This means that the students spend half a day with each of them. This is the example of the Spanish teacher's schedule (Math/Science instruction with some Language Arts in the target language).
8:20 Large group activity
9:20 Learning Stations
11:45 Change classes
11:45 Large group activity
12:20 Learning stations
1:30 Specials (music, art, PE)
The student would spend half of his/her day in the French/Spanish classroom and then switch to the English classroom. The English classroom teacher would have a very similar half day schedule as the Spanish teacher. That schedule would be based on the remaining content areas to be taught in English (Language Arts/Social Studies).
What parents in immersion programs say about language immersion when asked the following:
Why did you choose language immersion for your child?
“My child was highly verbal and needed a challenge. I knew the research on the benefits of a second language, and saw the results of the students.”
“The thing that most intrigued me about immersion was the thought that my child could actually become fluent in another language while learning the standard curriculum.”
“It was important to us for our kids to know a second language to be competitive for college and the job market. I think will open up all kinds of doors for my children’s future.”
“I was excited that I could give my daughter the gift of learning a foreign language at an early age – and still have the diversity of a public school.”
“It was difficult for me to learn a second language in college and high school. I wanted them to have the chance to learn it more naturally. I also wanted the extra challenge they needed to keep the things they already knew from becoming boring.”
“I wanted my children to learn a foreign language early in life and to be exposed to people of different cultures and history.”
“We decided on immersion because anyone I met from another country knew my language, plus theirs, plus often one other. As an educator from a leading nation, it would embarrass me that I and most other Americans knew only English.”
"Who WOULDN'T want this for their child?"
What Are the Benefits of Knowing a Second Language?
In addition to developing a lifelong ability to communicate with more people, children may drive other benefits from early language instruction, including improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving skills. Knowing a second language ultimately provides a competitive advantage in the workforce by opening up additional job opportunities.
Students of foreign languages score statistically higher on standardized tests conducted in English. In its 1992 report, College Bound Seniors: The 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who averaged 4 or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied 4 or more years in any other subject area. In addition, the average mathematics score for individuals who had taken 4 or more years of foreign language study was identical to the average score of those who had studied 4 years of mathematics. These findings are consistent with College Board profiles for previous years.
Students of foreign languages have access to a greater number of career possibilities and develop a greater understanding of their own and other cultures. Some evidence also suggests that children who receive second language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems. The benefits to society are many. Americans fluent in other languages enhance our economic competitiveness abroad, improve global communications, and maintain our political and security interests.
“Immersion education does not handicap our children linguistically or academically. To the contrary, when parents commit their children to a full elementary immersion program (K-5 in most cases) immersion students will not only do as well as children in English-only classrooms (with the additional advantage of being functionally bilingual at the end of seven years) but are likely to outperform monolingual students on standardized measurements of English language competency. More recent research indicates that immersion students are also successfully transferring content area knowledge from the target language to their native language. For example, test scores in mathematics show the same superior ability of upper level (grade 6 and above) immersion students in comparison to English-only peers.”
~Dr. Fred Genesee, researcher on second language acquisition, author, professor~