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Total Immersion and Partial Immersion Programs: Different Models

By Maria J. Treviño

TOTAL IMMERSION PROGRAMS:  Total Immersion or One Way Immersion Programs are programs in which English-speakers are taught all academic subjects in Spanish.  The program begins in Kindergarten and continues up to grade 5 or grade 6 depending on the configuration of the elementary school. Besides their Spanish immersion in academics, students learn to read in Spanish first rather than in English. Since no English is spoken in the classroom, parents whose children are enrolled in Total Immersion Programs are encouraged to work with their children on their English language skills at home.  Parents read books to their children in English, do various activities that develop English language skills, and of course converse in English with their children.

In second grade, English Language Arts are introduced to the immersion students. At this point, the students are immersed in Spanish 80% of the day.  At each grade level, an additional subject is added in English so immersion is reduced to 70% in 3rd grade, 60% in 4th grade, and 50% in 5th and 6th grades.

PARTIAL IMMERSION PROGRAMS:  Partial Immersion Programs provide a different percentage of Spanish instruction during the school day. Programs beginning in Kindergarten can have a 70/30, 60/40, or 50/50 split between Spanish immersion and English instruction.  Programs can vary from district to district and even school to school.  The school chooses the percentage split as well as the subjects to be taught in Spanish.  One school may teach mathematics and science in Spanish while another school may teach mathematics and social studies in Spanish. Studies also show that these programs are highly successful in developing language proficiency.

DUAL LANGUAGE PROGRAMS:  Dual Language Programs are also known as Two-way Immersion Programs.  These programs serve both English-speaking and Spanish speaking students in the same classroom.  This is not a bilingual program.  The purpose of this program is to permit both sets of students to become bilingual.  This is achieved by teaching half day in Spanish and half day in English.  In general, the amount of time in each language is a 50/50 split. Due to the reduction in time, the students’ Spanish skills may not be as highly developed as in total immersion programs, but these programs have proven to be very successful also.

MULTIPLE IMMERSION PROGRAMS:  Multiple Immersion Programs are exceptional but not impossible to implement. Students may be enrolled in an immersion program in Kindergarten in one language and then begin a second language in second or third grade.  Another version may include students enrolled in a Kindergarten dual language program while also studying a third language.  Multiple Immersion Programs vary on the needs and focus of the school. Though I have mentioned that the programs begin in Kindergarten, some districts have selected to begin programs in upper grades in order to meet their particular needs. Which program is the right one for your school?


María J. Fierro-Treviño

Instructional Specialist, Northside Independent School District, San Antonio, TX. (Retired)

Director for Languages other than English, Texas Education Agency (Retired)

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