Why should I consider enrolling my child in an immersion program?

Immersion programs are the fastest growing and most effective type of foreign language program currently available in U.S. schools. Most immersion students can be expected to reach higher levels of second language proficiency than students in other school-based language programs. Becoming bilingual opens the door to communication with more people in more places. If you want your child to be armed with the skills necessary to interact competently in an increasingly interdependent world community, then you should consider the language immersion program at Jenison Public Schools. Children are language sponges, and numerous studies have shown that immersion at an early age in a foreign language is the best way to ensure future fluency.

What is less commonly known is that such immersion also increases vocabulary growth in the native language and enhances overall cognitive development. Put simply, children who experience immersion learning acquire distinct advantages that go far beyond fluency in a second language. Immersion learners benefit cognitively, exhibiting greater nonverbal problem-solving abilities and more flexible thinking than their non-immersion peers. It has been suggested that the very processes learners use to make sense of the teacher’s meaning in a second language make them pay closer attention and think harder. These processes, in turn, appear to have a positive effect on cognitive development.

More than three decades of studies consistently have shown that immersion students achieve as well as, or better than, non-immersion peers on standardized measures of verbal and mathematics skills administered in English.

Are there any other advantages to language immersion?

In survey after survey, company presidents and business executives cite the ability to speak and write clearly and effectively as the most important qualification they look for in a job candidate. At the same time, however, they often complain how difficult it is to find candidates with adequate communication skills. Technology and economic interdependence have made the world a smaller place. Never before have so many people from different countries been able to come together to share knowledge or do business. And never before has there been such a need for talented and well-trained young people in all fields who are conversant with other cultures and who can communicate well in English and in another language.

How will learning everything in a second language affect my child’s English language and literacy development?

Many parents are initially fearful that immersion may have a negative impact on their child’s English language development. But research consistently has demonstrated that the immersion experience actually enhances English language development. It should be noted that full immersion students’ English development may lag temporarily in reading, word knowledge, and spelling while instruction is occurring exclusively in the immersion language. However, after a year or two of instruction in English language arts, this discrepancy disappears. It is important for parents to understand that this lag is temporary and to be expected. Immersion students need consistent exposure to, and support for, English at home. Parents need to provide their children with experiences that will enhance their English language and literacy development. For example, they should read to their children every day and involve them in games and activities that complement their classroom learning. Research shows that the stronger the development of the native language, the greater the proficiency in the immersion language, so children who enter an immersion program with a strong base in English will succeed more easily than those whose English skills are not as strong.

What are the effects of immersion education?

A growing body of research on immersion education has shown that immersion students consistently meet or exceed academic expectations in the following areas: Second language skills: Immersion students by far outperform students in traditional foreign language classes. They are functionally proficient in the immersion language and are able to communicate according to their age and grade level. Immersion students build a strong second language base upon which to continue moving toward full proficiency and to develop proficiency in subsequent languages. English language skills: In the early years of English instruction, there may be a temporary lag in English reading and writing skills. By the end of elementary school, however, immersion students do as well or better than students in English-only classes. Content areas: Immersion students achieve in academic areas as well as students in English-only programs. Immersion students have well developed problem-solving skills, which leads to consistently high achievement in mathematics beginning at an early age. The achievement of immersion students in other content areas is at least equal to students in English-only programs. Cultural sensitivity: Immersion students are more aware of and show positive attitudes towards other cultures.

What common issues should I expect and how do I handle them?

Be prepared for the fact that your child will initially be confused and even frustrated. They will likely be very tired at the end of the day, as language learning is cognitively demanding. This reaction is very normal for first- time immersion learners and can last from two weeks to two months depending on the child’s age and basic language ability. Children are generally very resilient and will soon feel comfortable with the second language.

Here are some common concerns.

  1. Slow initial performance. Your child may initially learn to read and write English at a slower pace than students in single language schools. Parent involvement is essential at this stage to encourage English reading at home. Once this temporary stage has passed, most immersion students perform at or above grade level in both languages.
  2. Homework help. Parents who do not speak the second language may feel frustrated at times because they don’t know exactly what their child is doing. If you are concerned about your child’s progress, do not hesitate to call and ask to have a conference with his or her teacher. The teachers are anxious to help you understand and participate in your child’s education. There are also websites in French/English and Spanish/English that are helpful to many families.
  3. Well-meaning friends and family. Well-meaning friends, neighbors and relations may be critical and unsupportive at first. You may be told that what you are doing is not in the best interest of your child. When people see that your child doesn’t forget his native language, does learn to read in English and does keep up with the neighborhood children, they will be assured that you made the right decision.

How will my child understand what to do in the classroom?

In the beginning stages of learning the language the teachers will use exaggerated hand and facial expressions to illustrate what they are saying. Keep in mind that many, if not all, the other children in the classroom will be in the same position. The teachers use songs, stories, and activities to help build vocabulary and an understanding of the second language. Language learning is carefully structured to ensure that instruction is comprehensible.

What can I do to support my child’s immersion experience if I don’t speak the second language?

Like all parents, parents of children in immersion programs should maintain an active role in their children’s education by providing experiences that help develop their English language skills and enhance their cognitive and affective development. Parents should read with children daily in English and engage them in activities where they need to apply what they are learning in class. Parents should also communicate with the teachers on a regular basis about their children’s’ academic, social, and language development. They should become well informed about immersion education, make a commitment to keep their child in the immersion program, and support their children’s use of the immersion language outside the school context, for example, by providing reading materials in the immersion language at home.

Who are the teachers?

The Spanish Immersion teachers at Jenison Spanish Immersion are all fluent or native speakers and have extensive knowledge and experience in Spanish speaking countries.  They are all highly qualified under Michigan teacher-licensing requirements.

Source: CMS Oaklawn Language Academy