Every child is unique and has their own background that they take with them to the classroom. For many children, this background includes a different language that is spoken at home. English language learners are students who are in the process of learning English in the classroom while their home language is different. In the past ten years, the number of dual language learners has increased in classrooms across the country, and so much new research about how best to teach these children has come to the forefront. Two schools of thought have emerged from this research: immersion and dual language learning.
Immersion school benefits have been studied for years, while the benefits of dual language learning are still being analyzed. That being said, programs in which the two practices overlap tend to have the best results. Benefits of immersion programs that feature dual language learning include speed and the ability to make connections between both languages. What exactly do these programs consist of? And what are the pros and cons of immersion language programs?
Immersion Programs and How They Work
Immersion programs can be enacted in a variety of ways. Some are full immersion, which means the teacher speaks in only English with little to no regard for the student’s other home language. This sink-or-swim approach has not proven particularly effective, often frustrating and discouraging children rather than teaching them. What is preferable is a partial immersion program. These programs provide resources that acknowledge and work with the child’s home language while still teaching mostly in English. Home language resources could be flashcards with important vocabulary in both languages or having a bilingual instructor spend some one-on-one time with the child at certain times during the day.
While immersion takes place in a school or daycare environment, the role of home is just as important. Students who become proficient in English but not in their native language are often unable to keep up with their peers later. This is because people learn different words when they hear them used in context. Most of a child’s context-based conversations are held at home, meaning that most of their vocabulary is discovered in their home language. Dual language students then pair those vocabulary words with their English counterparts to build their understanding. If a child’s home language is ignored once they reach kindergarten-level English proficiency, their vocabulary will not expand in either language. That’s why it’s important to continue teaching the child’s native language as well as English, be that at home or in special classes taken after school.
Pros and Cons of Immersion
Like any teaching method, immersion programs have benefits and drawbacks.
- Requires the student learn quickly in order to keep up with the class
- Increases likelihood of the child becoming fully bilingual at a young age
- Refrains from alienating the student by taking them out of the classroom environment
- May be discouraging at first when the child is struggling to understand English
- Doesn’t address the issue of parent-teacher language barrier
- Language growth can stagnate if not expanded through the following grade levels
What Parents Can Do
A parent’s role in their child’s language development is infinitely important, no matter what language their child is learning. If your child is in an immersion class, attempt to make connections with the instructor to see how it is working. Contact your child’s school about resources like translators who can act as a go-between at parent-teacher conferences. If your child is struggling with the level of immersion, ask the teacher if they can include more of elements of the home language in the classroom. In this case, you may be responsible for providing tags and books for the teacher to use, perhaps favorite books of your child’s that can be read in both English and your language.
And, of course, continue to teach your child at home! Education is not limited to the classroom, especially where language is concerned. Read to your child in your home language; teach him games and tell stories. Whenever he learns in one language, he is able to apply that information to the other as well, boosting his linguistic skills in both. This is a fantastic skill to have, and it can only be achieved with help from teachers and parents. Learning multiple languages need not be difficult for your child provided they have the right learning environment.