The following article by Julie Sweitzer, “Why Immersion?” from the The ACIE Newsletter, Volume 2, February 2001, explains the benefits.
- Children of today will need to be bilingual to be successful in the global society and economy of their adulthood. Today two languages are useful – tomorrow they will be required, and a third language will be desired
- Childhood is the best time to develop an appreciation and understanding of diverse cultures, peoples and perspectives in the world. Preschoolers are aware of differences, but the harmful prejudices develop during the elementary school ages. Consistent positive exposure and interaction are the best prevention.
- Humans learn language best prior to age 12. Research on brain development in recent decades have confirmed this fact, with wide discussion in the popular media. Our brains are wired to produce all sounds, but if we don’t learn to make certain sounds, we can lose that ability. (Some of us use this as a convenient excuse for our difficulty in learning another language as an adult, but it isn’t a barrier, just a reason to start young.)
- Children learn language by listening and repeating, and don’t have any fear of a “foreign” language. This was one of those clic! moments for me, when I realized that immersion teaching taught the immersion language in the very same manner children already learn English – by speaking and repeating in context. It is very natural for children. My children attended a university preschool, where many of the children spoke a different language at home, yet even the newest children participated fully, understood, and quickly spoke in English. Again there is research to support this concept, and schools recruiting students should make copies available, but it is a commonsense explanation as well.
- Academic skills are actually enhanced. Studies consistently show that immersion students do as well as or better than comparable non-immersion students in English language skills, math, science, and social studies. If you’ve studied another language, you know that those classes taught you much of what you know about English grammar. Increasingly research has also demonstrated the connections between math, music and language skills.
- Children are guaranteed to be challenged. Immersion learning takes extra effort from children (and parents) in that reading and writing skills need to be practiced in two languages. I was surprised to learn that nonetheless programming for gifted children can be difficult in the early years, when their minds work faster than their developed vocabulary in the new language. A successful immersion program provides both gifted and special education assistance to meet the needs of all students.
- Parents will be involved. In most districts, parents have to choose to send their child to an immersion school. I expected, and it is true, that the parent community would be supportive of the school, the children, and each other. Involved parents are one of the most critical elements of a successful educational program.
Sweitzer, Julie. “Why Immersion?”. The ACIE Newsletter. Volume 2, February 2001.
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