By Maria J. Treviño
If you think about total immersion education, you could probably say that all students have experienced a “total immersion program.” Since the time they are born, children begin learning English from their parents and later are immersed in English as they study all of their subjects in English. In addition, students study English Language Arts to enhance and improve their English language skills. Native Spanish-speakers from different Spanish-speaking countries are immersed in the very same way learning Spanish from their parents and studying their academic subjects in Spanish. Native-speakers also take additional Spanish Language Arts courses to enhance and improve their Spanish language skills.
Total Immersion Programs, known also as One-way Immersion Programs, refer to English-speakers, in a school setting, immersed in a second language all day. Partial Immersion Programs refer to English-speakers immersed in a second language for a certain time period of the day. For the purpose of this series, I will refer to Spanish Immersion Programs and other related Spanish Programs. The different immersion models will be discussed in the second blog of this series.
Immersion programs were introduced as a way to teach a second language to students at a young age when their minds are more receptive to new information. These programs also promoted languages and provided students opportunities to become bilingual and biliterate by the time they graduated. These programs established a firm language foundation and afforded students opportunities to continue expanding their Spanish language skills in college. Having developed language and cultural proficiency, students were prepared to meet global demands in business, communications, and government to name a few areas.
When administrators, teachers, and parents first hear about students being immersed in Spanish, their reaction is that the students’ English language skills will not develop and the students will lag behind in their academics. They fear that the students’ cognitive skills will suffer and; therefore, the students will not be successful in their academics and will not perform successfully in state mandated tests. Educators are skeptical and are anxious because if the students do not perform well on state mandated tests, they could be held accountable for low student performance, could possibly be denied performance bonuses, and the school could receive lower ratings.
There has been much research conducted with regards to immersion programs in order to determine the benefits as well as the possible negative effects. The research demonstrates over and over that students in immersion programs outperform their English monolingual counterparts in their academic courses, advanced reading skills, and performance on state exams. In addition, students who are exposed to another culture at an early age learn to appreciate cultural differences. Students can make comparisons and comprehend similarities and differences both in language usage and cultural aspects.
Finally, the benefits of immersion programs far outweigh any negative effects that may appear at the beginning. Being able to think and process information in two languages at such a young age, accelerates the students beyond their monolingual counterparts. Immersion programs offer children opportunities that will assist them in performing better academically while they work towards becoming bilingual, biliterate citizens.
María J. Fierro-Treviño
Instructional Specialist, Northside Independent School District, San Antonio, TX. (Retired)
Director for Languages other than English, Texas Education Agency (Retired)