Spanish Immersion Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Immersion Education?
In order to be considered an immersion program, 50% of the day must be taught in the second language and is taught through subject area instruction. This means children are learning numbers, letters, colors and other preschool and pre-K subject matter in English and Spanish. Our Spanish teachers are completely bilingual. They will speak to children in English for clarity or for comfort if they feel it is helpful. They endeavor to keep a clear and sustained separation of languages as they teach. Programs that teach colors, numbers and songs a few times a week or for a half-an-hour a day in Spanish, are not considered immersion programs. Furthermore instructors that are not native or near native speakers cannot convey the correct inflection and accent necessary for proper second language acquisition.
- How does Spanish Immersion work?
- Hello children, how are you doing? [The teacher smiles, is very welcoming.]
- Please come in. [The teacher uses her arms to usher the children into the classroom.]
- Put your backpacks here. [With a big smile she takes a backpack from one of the children to show everyone what it is.]
- Backpack. [She holds up the backpack and has them all say the word several times.
- What are the benefits of learning a second language?
Numerous studies have shown that children who learn a second language demonstrate greater cognitive development, creativity, and divergent thinking than monolingual children. Also, when children have adequate exposure to two languages at a young age, they are more flexible and creative (Bamford and Mizokawa, 1991). Other studies show that people who are competent in more than one language outscore monolinguals on tests of verbal and nonverbal intelligence (Bruck, Lambert, and Tucker, 1974; Hakuta, 1986; Weatherford, 1986). Please see our links to recent Time Magazine & New York Times articles discussing the huge trend toward immersion programs in early education, and the documented cognitive benefits of exposure to second languages in the preschool years.
- Is any prior exposure or knowledge of Spanish required?
No prior exposure or knowledge of Spanish is required. We assume children coming to our class are being exposed to Spanish Immersion for the first time.
- Do we, as parents/guardians, need to know how to speak Spanish?
It is not necessary that parents/guardians speak Spanish. The teachers instruct your student with proper pronunciation, grammar, and accent. Of course, having reinforcement at home is always an advantage, but children with little or no reinforcement of Spanish at home are just as successful in immersion programs as those with native speakers at home. Parents/guardians often enjoy learning Spanish at the same time as their students. Most parents/guardians observe that the younger students quickly surpass adults in their learning curve.
- Why learn a second language in the preschool years?
Studies have determined that a “critical period” for second language acquisition exists early in life when language is most easily acquired. (Brown, 1987). This period begins at birth and is generally thought to end at 10. Furthermore, experts generally agree that the best age for learning language is between the ages of 0- 5. It is during this period the brain is most primed for language acquisition. Children who are exposed to multiple languages in the preschool years (0-5) are more likely to become fluent in the language, to develop a native like accent in the language and to have an easier time learning 3rd and 4th languages later in life.
- When can I expect my student to start using their second language?
Most children will go through a “silent period” when “the child is building up competence in the second language via listening, by understanding the world around him” (Krashen, 1982). All children are different and the length of the “silent period” varies from child to child. Your student’s personality certainly plays a role. Finally, by sparking interest, providing low anxiety environments, and supporting your student’s self esteem, children at preschool will feel more comfortable using a second language more quickly.
- Will my student have a hard time when introduced to a school program taught in English?
No. Studies show that exposure to a second language at an early age enhances the part of the brain that processes language.
- What happens to my student's Spanish fluency after preschool? Will my student lose it?
Learning a second language is much like riding a bicycle. The foundation for the language has been created, the wiring is in place. We are hopeful that language instruction in Three Rivers will continue.
- Will my student be confused or will they have English language delay as a result of Spanish Immersion?
No, children in immersion programs do not experience language delays or become confused. This is a misnomer. Please see our link to recent articles discussing the cognitive benefits of immersion education and the overwhelming trend toward immersion preschools and elementary schools. These studies indicate that children exposed to more than one language excel in terms of test sores and IQ tests when compared to monolingual students.
- How will my student understand what is going on in class?
Young children learning a second language will learn Spanish the same way they learned their first language. The teacher will use hand and body cues, stories, inflection, facial signals, songs, games, and fun to make clear what is being conveyed. This way of teaching is known as Total Physical Response (TPR). River Kids teachers receive training specifically designed for language immersion preschool teachers. Immersion programs at the preschool and elementary school level are not new, nor are they unusual. Cities such as Washington DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, Portland and everywhere in between are brimming with immersion programs. The State of Utah recently passed legislation requiring all schools in the State to provide second and third language acquisition immersion programs. Immersion programs are in high demand and often require a lottery process for admission.