Foreign Language Immersion Programs In Primary Grades


                                                                     What is it?

 Foreign language immersion programs are choice based educational alternatives offered in public school systems. In these programs core subjects are taught in two different languages. The students native language are used along with a second language students are learning. This second language is called the partner language. The partner language is not taught as a separate subject. Instead partner languages are used to teach the core subjects like mathematics, and language arts. This partner language is used for a minimum of 50% of core instruction. This can be divided many different way in different programs. They can alternate days or weeks or each day can be split with the two languages. These programs generally start in preschool or kindergarten, and will continue through fifth grade. There are some programs that will continue through high school. Teachers in these programs have to be proficient in both languages used for instruction. There are some programs that hire teachers who are from a place where the partner language is the primary language used. For example if you are starting a Spanish immersion program they might find a teacher from Spain who has been trained to teach in an immersion program. There are three kinds of immersion programs listed below.

One way immersion – All students in the classroom primary language is English. This the most commonly seen immersion program

Two way immersion – The primary language of the students in the classroom can be either one of the languages used for instruction.

Indigenous immersion – An indigenous language is used to as the partner language


 Foreign language immersion programs have been growing over the last decade, but they have been around for over 50 years. One way immersion was started in Canada around 1960. There was a concern with English speaking parents of the growing importance of speaking French in Canada. They wanted to find a way for their children to be bilingual in French and English. They came up with a program called language bath. They later changed the name to language immersion because language bath was not sophisticated enough for a school setting. This program launched with 26 kindergarten students. Students received instruction in all core subject areas in French from kindergarten – 3rd grade. They would start to incorporate English in their instruction starting in 4th grade. This has grown into the most common form of language immersion we see now.


  The two way immersion program was developed in Miami-Dade County in Florida. The idea came from parents who had be exiled from their native country of Cuba, and were living in Florida. They believed that they were only going to be living in Florida temporarily. So they wanted to make sure that their children were still learning would Spanish while they are learning English at the same time. They then placed Spanish speaking English learners and English speaking Spanish learners in to a classroom together. Students received instruction in both languages. This program was so successful that is grew across the rest of Florida and the rest of the country.

Is it Successful?


 In today’s education world we all know that success is driven by scores on standardized test. So that lead me to the question how are students in these immersion programs are doing compared to students in a standard classroom. Research has shown that students in immersion programs may lag behind traditional students in English development in the early grades. It also shows that by the time they reach 3rd grade they are performing on the same level if not higher then students is traditional classrooms. So immersion programs are not hurting students when it comes to standardized test. There is not as much research the partner language because there are not many standard test that are given in other languages then English. The research shows that students in immersion programs are more proficient in their second language then students in traditional language programs. Over the years immersion programs have shown to be the best way to learn a second language. It is also believed that students in immersion programs will develop higher level cognitive skills. There still needs to be more research done, but there are positive trends in the research that has been done so far.



This link is to a directory of foreign language immersion programs in U.S. Schools. This can be used to locate foreign language immersion programs near you.

This link will give you a more information on the research done on language immersion. This important in showing how and why it is successful.


Below there are a couple videos that give you a look inside immersion programs.

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