ERIC Identifier: ED363141
Publication Date: 1993-11-00
Author: Met, Myriam
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Foreign Language Immersion Programs. ERIC Digest.
Immersion is defined as a method of foreign language instruction in which the
regular school curriculum is taught through the medium of the language. The
foreign language is the vehicle for content instruction; it is not the subject
of instruction. Total immersion is one program format among several that range
on a continuum in terms of time spent in the foreign language. In total
immersion, all schooling in the initial years is conducted in the foreign
language, including reading and language arts. Partial immersion differs from
total in that 50% of the school day is conducted in English right from the
start. In partial immersion, reading and language arts are always taught in
English. Beyond that, the choice of subjects taught in each language is a local
WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF AN IMMERSION PROGRAM?
goals of an immersion program include: (1) developing a high level of
proficiency in the foreign language; (2) developing positive attitudes toward
those who speak the foreign language and toward their culture(s); (3) developing
English language skills commensurate with expectations for student's age and
abilities; (4) gaining skills and knowledge in the content areas of the
curriculum in keeping with stated objectives in these areas.
IN TOTAL IMMERSION, WHEN ARE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS INTRODUCED? HOW MUCH INSTRUCTION IS GIVEN IN ENGLISH?
Different schools phase English
in at different grade levels. The original total immersion model, pioneered in
Canada, introduced English language arts in Grade 2 with the ultimate goal of
instruction being a 50-50 balance of languages in the upper elementary grades.
Some schools do not introduce English language arts until Grade 5, which seems
to be a growing trend. Increasingly, experienced immersion educators are
changing to an 80-20 ratio (foreign language to English) due to insignificant
differences in English language achievement whether the amount of instruction
given in English constitutes 50% or 20% of the day; in contrast, there is a
significant difference in students' continued growth in the foreign language
when the percentage of time spent in that language drops from 80% to 50%.
WHAT EVENTUAL EFFECT DO IMMERSION PROGRAMS HAVE ON VERBAL AND MATHEMATICAL SKILLS IN ENGLISH?
Studies (Holobow et al., 1987; Swain & Lapkin, 1991) have consistently shown that immersion students do as well
as, and may even surpass, comparable non-immersion students on measures of
verbal and mathematics skills.
WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL IMMERSION
Successful immersion programs are characterized by: (1)
administrative support; (2) community and parental support; (3) qualified
teachers; (4) appropriate materials in the foreign language; (5) time for
teachers to prepare instructional materials in the language; (6) and ongoing
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TOTAL AND PARTIAL IMMERSION?
Total immersion is the most effective way of developing
foreign language proficiency. The intensity of the immersion experience coupled
with the amount of exposure to the foreign language assures that students have
the necessary language skills to deal with the curriculum in the upper
elementary grades. Total immersion, however, is not for everyone. Not all
parents or school personnel buy into the concept that students can learn just as
much in a foreign language as in their own. Total immersion also requires a
teacher for each immersion class. Not only are immersion teachers difficult to
find, they may end up displacing staff because most elementary schools do not
already have qualified immersion teachers on board.
In contrast, partial immersion needs fewer special teachers; one teacher can
serve two immersion classes for one half day each. Partial immersion is easier
to staff, and the potential effect on current staff is lessened. It is a more
viable alternative for parents who feel uncomfortable with the idea of their
children learning to read in a language other than English and seems to be more
palatable to a wider range of parents and school personnel. Unfortunately, it is
not nearly as effective as total immersion. Students do not develop the same
level of foreign language proficiency as students in total immersion. A
consequence of this is that students may have greater difficulty dealing with
the school curriculum in subjects characterized by verbal abstractions.
In the long run, partial immersion does not produce better English language
achievement than total immersion. However, the initial lag in English
achievement associated with total immersion does not occur in partial immersion
(Campbell et al., 1985).
AT WHAT GRADE LEVEL IS IT BEST TO BEGIN AN IMMERSION
In the United States, most programs begin in prekindergarten,
kindergarten, or Grade 1. Canadian educators report success with programs
beginning with Grade 4 as well as in Grades 7-9. These programs, however, do not
appear to serve the wide range of ability and achievement levels characteristic
of pupils who enter immersion at the early grade levels.
WHAT KIND OF COMMITMENT SHOULD BE REQUIRED FOR PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR PARENTS?
Many programs do not require a formal commitment from
parents. Others ask parents to commit to keeping their child in the program for
a minimum of six months or one year. Whether a formal commitment is required or
not, extensive parent orientation prior to admitting students is important to
ensure that parents and, where appropriate, students understand the nature of
Periodically, opportunities should be provided to address parents' questions
and concerns that arise once their child is actually in the program. Frequent
and close communication between school and parents helps to maintain the
commitment parents made when choosing the program for their child.
HOW ARE IMMERSION PROGRAMS STAFFED?
teachers who are elementary trained and experienced in the grade level to be
taught, who have near native proficiency in the oral and written forms of the
language, and who have a knowledge of the culture. If current staff members meet
these criteria, they are ideal candidates for the program. Usually, however,
schools find it necessary to employ new staff. Unless new students come into the
school to justify additional positions, a new program may result in the
displacement of some staff members.
It is not easy to find qualified immersion teachers, but it is also not
impossible. Some school systems have been successful in recruiting teachers from
abroad. Others are located in areas where elementary trained teachers who are
fluent in the language may be residing in the local community. Advertisements
may be placed in newspapers of major cities where potential candidates may be
found. Substitutes and replacements are not often readily available, making it
important to identify potential substitutes or replacements well before they are
Existing staff does not need to be supplanted if additional students are
recruited. If half day kindergarten classes are expanded to full day, then
additional kindergarten teachers will be needed. Though this will not solve
staff displacement problems in the ensuing grades, it is possible that they may
be minimized through an increase in the student population or through natural
WHERE CAN ONE GET MATERIALS FOR USE IN AN IMMERSION
French materials are available from both Canadian and European
sources, as well as from a number of American publishers. Spanish materials may
be acquired from publishing firms that offer Spanish versions of basal programs
in reading/language arts, science, mathematics, and social studies. Two
resources (Curtain, 1993 and Curtain & Pesola, 1994) contain appendices of
Parent-teacher interest groups and immersion materials resource centers are
quickly gaining momentum in the field. Interested educators and parents may
develop contacts by writing: Advocates for Language Learning, P.O. Box 32083,
Kansas City, MO 64111, an advocacy group for parents and educators interested in
language learning. An $8.00 membership includes a quarterly newsletter and
conference announcements. A $12.00 membership to National Network for Early
Language Learning, Center for Applied Linguistics, 1118 22nd St. NW, Washington,
DC 20037 includes a subscription to FLES NEWS and participation in special
interest sessions at language conferences. An additional source of information
is the Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers, 1815 Promenade Alta, Suite
101, Ottawa, Ontario, K1G 3Y6 Canada.
WHAT PROBABLE EFFECT WILL AN IMMERSION PROGRAM HAVE ON AN EXISTING FOREIGN LANGUAGE PROGRAM?
Obviously, students in the immersion
sequence are unlikely to profit from instruction in regular foreign language
courses. Immersion students are fluent in the foreign language by Grade 2 or 3.
Provision should be made for their continued growth in the foreign language in
the later grades in the form of specially designed courses similar to the
language arts courses students receive in English.
Non-immersion students may be motivated by the positive attitudes and the
proficiency of immersion students. Learning a foreign language may be viewed as
valuable by all students because of the immersion program's popularity and
HOW MANY STUDENTS SHOULD A SCHOOL PLAN FOR?
The number of
students in a given class is determined by the pupil/teacher ratio. Class sizes
in public school immersion programs generally range from 20-35. Obviously, small
classes are desirable.
In the course of the years there will naturally be attrition. Often, students
who leave the program are not replaced. Therefore, it is important to determine
the desired size of the cohort at the end of the program sequence and then
project backwards to determine the appropriate size of the cohort upon program
entry. For example, a school that wants to maintain a class of 20 fifth graders
may begin with 40 kindergartners or first graders.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
California State Dept. of
Education, Bilingual Education Office. (1984). "Studies on immersion education:
A collection for United States educators." Los Angeles: California State
Campbell, R.N., Gray, T.C., Rhodes, N.C., Snow, M.A. (1985). Foreign language
learning in the elementary schools: A comparison of three language programs.
"Modern Language Journal," 69(1), p 44-54.
Cummins, J. (1983). "Research findings from immersion programs across Canada:
A parent's guide." Ottawa: Canadian Parents for French.
Curtain, H. (1993). "An early start: A resource book for elementary school
foreign language." Washington, DC: ERIC/CLL.
Curtain, H.A., & Pesola, C.A. (1994). "Languages and children--Making the
match" (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Genesee, F. (l985). Second language learning through immersion: A review of
U.S. programs. "Review of Educational Research" (55), 541-61.
Genesee, F. (1987). "Learning through two languages." Rowley, MA: Newbury.
Holobow, N., Genesee, F., Lambert, W., Gastright, J., & Met, M. (1987).
Effectiveness of partial French immersion for children from different social
class and ethnic backgrounds. "Applied Psycholinguistics," 8, 137-152.
Lapkin, S., Swain, M., & Argue, V. (1983). "French immersion: The trial
balloon that flew." Toronto and Ottawa: Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education/Canadian Parents for French.
Lambert, W. E., & Tucker, G.R. (1972). "Bilingual education of children:
The St. Lambert experiment." Rowley, MA: Newbury.
Met, M. (1989). Learning language through content: Learning content through
language. In K.E. Mueller, (Ed.). "Languages in elementary schools." New York:
The American Forum.
Met, M., & Lorenz, E.B. (1993). Preparing global citizens: A foreign
language program for all students. In J. Walter (Ed.). "ASCD curriculum
handbook." Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Snow, M.A. (1990). Instructional methodology in immersion foreign language
education. In Padilla, A.M., Fairchild, H.H., & Valadez, C.M. (Eds.).
"Foreign language education: Issues and strategies." Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Snow, M.A. (1990). Language immersion: An overview and comparison. In A.M.
Padilla, H.H. Fairchild, & C.M. Valadez (Eds.). "Foreign language education:
Issues and strategies." Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Swain, M., Lapkin, S. (1985). "Evaluating bilingual education: A Canadian
case study." Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (1991). Additive bilingualism and French
immersion education: The roles of language proficiency and literacy. In A.
Reynolds (Ed.). "Bilingualism, multiculturalism, and second language learning:
The McGill conference in honour of Wallace E. Lambert." Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
A series of videotapes on immersion teacher training is now available. For
information, write Foreign Language Coordinator, Montgomery County Public
Schools, 850 Hungerford Dr., Rockville, MD 20850.
This Digest is based on an article published in the September 1987 issue of
Foreign Language Annals by Myriam Met titled "Twenty Questions: The Most
Commonly Asked Questions About Starting a Foreign Language Immersion Program."