Prospective Immersion Parent FAQs
Why should I choose immersion education for my child?
Parents want to make the best educational choices for their children, and many would like them to have the advantages of bilingualism. The ability to understand and speak more than one language is not the only benefit of immersion education. Research shows that students gain additional cognitive, academic and employment benefits.
How does immersion differ from other types of language instruction?
In traditional second language instruction, the target language is the subject of instruction. Immersion programs use the target language for instruction and as a means of communication. This authentic communication allows students to learn a second language in a similar manner to the way that they have learned their first.
Do children need above average academic ability to succeed in immersion?
Students with lower academic ability do as well in immersion as they might in English programs and have the additional benefit of bilingualism. Researchers found that “below-average students in immersion scored at the same level as below-average students in the English program on English language and academic achievement tests.” In addition, “below-average students in immersion scored significantly higher on second-language tests than the below-average students in the English program” (Genesee, in press).
Can my child really learn math and science in their second language?
Reviews of research studies found that immersion students met or exceeded English program students’ performance in mathematics and science, and province-wide assessments in three Canadian provinces* found that at grades 6, 8, and 10, respectively, immersion students did as well as or achieved at a significantly higher level than those in the regular program. (Bournot-Trites & Tellowitz, 2002; British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2000; Dube & MacFarlane, 1999; New Brunswick Department of Education, 2000; Turnbull, Hart & Lapkin, 2000.)
*Although other provinces and territories conduct province-wide assessments, they do not separate the results of immersion and English program students.
What are the cognitive benefits of being bilingual?
- Mental Flexibility
Bilinguals are better able to analyze their knowledge of language. They learn that there are at least two ways of saying the same thing and understand the relationship between words and their meaning. They are able to focus more on meaning and take into account only relevant features when there is distractive information. (Heightened metalinguistic awareness.) Bilinguals demonstrate more mental flexibility and perform better on tasks requiring mental manipulation. They are original in verbal expression, demonstrate non-verbal intelligence and can answer open-ended questions more freely than monolinguals (Lazaruk, in press).
- Increased sensitivity to others; heightened awareness, receptivity and appreciation of language.
Students with two well-developed languages are more sensitive to communication. There is some evidence to suggest that they are better able to understand the needs of others and to respond appropriately. Through exposure to cultural differences they may become more respectful of differences between people and their cultures and may be able to communicate with a large variety of people (Lazaruk, in press).
What are the employment benefits of immersion education?
Bilinguals have access to a wider range of national and international jobs. Thousands of businesses operate in more than one language – airlines, import-export companies and other international businesses require employees with second-language skills and cultural sensitivity.
How can I help my child if I don’t know the language?
Immersion teachers know that most parents don’t understand the target language. You can help make your child’s second-language experience positive and lasting by being supportive and enthusiastic. Research shows that students whose parents have positive attitudes towards the target language do better in immersion programs. Remember that most skills learned in the first language are transferred to the second. Provide opportunities to use the target language outside of the classroom: borrow or buy books and videos, watch second-language TV with your child, etc.
The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA):Articulation of Language Instruction, carla.umn.edu/immersion/acie/vol10/may2007_parentsten.html.