Language Immersion Education

Language immersion is the most intensive approach to foreign language instruction in which the usual curriculum in math, science, social studies, physical education, and other classroom activities is conducted in a foreign language. Because students are immersed in Chinese all day every day, they acquire the language faster and better than students in traditional foreign language classes. At The Northwest Chinese Academy, we strive to ensure that the goals of immersion education are met: high levels of academic achievement, bilingualism and biliteracy, and heightened sensitivity and understanding of Chinese culture.

A large body of research supports the effectiveness of language immersion in achieving positive academic outcomes. Immersion students are found to perform at least as well, if not better, than their demographically similar, non-immersion counterparts (1,2). Additional research has demonstrated the cognitive and linguistic benefits of immersion education. For example, immersion students have greater non-verbal problem solving skills and heightened awareness of the components of languages and how they function to create meaning (3). Some recent studies suggest that for bilingual language learners there is a third language learning advantage (3, 4).

Immersion students by far outperform students in traditional language classes. Although students usually do not become “native-like” in the foreign language, they do become functionally proficient in the immersion language and are able to communicate according to their age and grade level (2, 5).

There is some concern that immersion may have a negative impact on English literacy. Research consistently finds, however, that immersion education actually enhances English language development because cognitive processes that underlie the ability to read transfer from one language to another (6). Although there may be a temporary English lag in areas such as spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary, within a year or two of English literacy instruction the discrepancy disappears (2).

This highly successful approach to language and culture learning has strong support in the U.S. and abroad. According to a recent survey, there are over 400 schools in 27 states in the U.S. that offer total, partial, or two-way immersion programs in 11 different languages (7). For more information on immersion education, visit the website for the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) . The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) also has a wealth of information on immersion education.  Two CAL publications are particularly helpful: “What parents want to know about foreign language immersion programs” and “Foreign language immersion programs: features and trends over 35 years”.

The educators and families at The Northwest Chinese Academy have a high level of passion and commitment to Chinese language immersion education. Not only do students develop proficiency in Chinese, they also develop increased cultural awareness. Given that China is the world’s most populous nation and has many political and economic ties to the U.S., being bilingual in Chinese and English will open many doors for our students in the future.

References

  1. Cummins J. (2000). Immersion education for the millennium: what we have learned from 30 years of research on second language immersion. Retrieved 7/31/08 from
  2. Genesee F (1987) Learning through two languages. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.
  3. Fortune TW, Tedick DJ (2008). Pathways to multiculturalism: evolving perspectives on immersion education. Clevedon, England: Mulingual Matters, Ltd.
  4. Miller K, Fortune TW, Tedick DJ (Eds.) (2007). The ACIE Newsletter 10(3), Tenth Anniversary Issue. Minneapolis, MN. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota.
  5. Johnson RK, Swain M. (Eds) (1997). Immersion education: international perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Cloud N, Genesee F, Hamayan E (2000). Dual language instruction: a handbook for enriched education. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
  7. Center for Applied Linguistics. (2006). Directory of foreign language immersion programs in U.S. schools. Retrieved 7/31/08, fromhttp://www.cal.org/resources/immersion/ .