It is often argued that instant and complete immersion is the best way for a person to learn a language. In fact this has been a guiding belief in the creation of english
-only classes in the united states
(Cohen, Swain, 1976). However, there is mounting evidence that classes taught bilingually end up teaching just as well as full immersion. My personal belief in this is solidified by my own experiences teaching classes in Quito, Ecuador. In my classroom many of the children
that I teach are at the very beginning of learning english
, with only the very basics. Though I originally attempted to use english
with gestures and pictures to teach, it soon became apparent that in order to actually connect with them and engage them in the lessons, I had to first engage them in their own language (spanish
) in order to get them invested in the coming lesson. It also seemed that when the words were explained in both languages, they caught on to the ideas faster.
There are several reports now coming out that show that both bilingual and immersion teaching give the same results in standardized testing (Slavin, 2010). And the recent change in the united states
from mostly bilingual classes to english
-only classes (which became mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) has had easily observable results for those children
who were originally taught bilingually, but were then switched to immersion. (Baker, 1998. Christian, 1996) Many of them struggled. One student who was struggling was described as a “talker” by the teacher
. It turned out that she was constantly asking the other students what the teacher
was saying because she couldn't understand. (Jost, 2009)
It has also been practice to pretty much leave the students on their own to work through the language (at least since No Child Left Behind) with the idea that they are learning at their own pace. However it has actually led to many students failing to learn english
, and in many States that follow strict english
-immersion guidelines, there has been little to no improvement for english
learners over the past decade, and in some States with large Hispanic populations, there has even been a decrease in english
comprehension. (Jost, 2009) The debate over bilingual education vs. immersion education has even started a federal suit to help non-native speakers. However, this suit has been tied up within the court system for more than a decade now, and does not appear to be resolved in the foreseeable future. (Jost, 2009)
While there are definite benefits to english
immersion programs, they do not work with all students and with all cultures. There should be a balance between exposure to a language, and instruction in it. Though children
may learn another language easier than adults, they do not always have the skills needed to fully comprehend the language if it starts off with only english
straight from the get go. While immersion teaching is preferable and certainly workable for students with higher levels of understanding, I believe it would be more helpful for beginning classes should start out bilingually and work their way towards english
-only lessons as the students become more proficient.
Baker, K. (1998). Structured english
Immersion Breakthrough in Teaching Limited-english
-Proficient students. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(3): 199-204.
Christian, D. (1996). Two-Way Immersion Education: Students Learning through Two Languages. The Modern Language Journal, 80(1): 66-76.
Andrew D. Cohen and Merrill Swain. tesol
Vol. 10, No. 1 (Mar., 1976), pp. 45-53
Slavin, E. Robert. Madden, Nancy. Calderon, Margarita. Reading and Language Outcomes of a Five-Year Randomized Evaluation of Transitional Bilingual Education. Fifth Year Reading And Language Results, (Jan 2010)
Jost, Kenneth. Bilingual Education vs. english
Immersion. (Dec 11, 2009)