Why Language Immersion is So Effective

Jul 12, 2020 by

Language immersion is a process of consistent second language exposure for the entire duration of the class time. Immersion classes, as the name suggests, involves surrounding the student with the language in the form of speech, play, games, cultural activities such as dance, music, and food. This “enriched” version of a language class is a very effective method for young children to learn a second language.

Immersion classes help children develop skills outside of language literacy; they support cognitive development which manifests itself as enhanced ability in other school curriculum. Exposing a child to a second language at a time when the neural pathways are still in development allows children to learn the language more easily than adults exposed to the same intense learning methods.

Parents seeking to give their children a competitive edge can start early by exposing their young toddlers to a foreign language through fun activities such as playing games, music, and repetition. When the neural synopses are being formed, children can quickly learn and remember as those synapses become permanently wired. Before the child turns three years old, the number of synapses is double that of an adult. Repetition of the language makes it habitual and the habit makes it become normal, natural behavior that is learned, remembered, and ingrained into the child’s memory.

Later in life, students tend to perform better on tests, have a better attitude towards people from different cultures and get better grades in their classes. The earlier a child gets started, the more likely he or she can become fluent at a young age.

Traditional Language Classes vs. Immersion

In most U.S. schools today, foreign language is first introduced at the junior high level. The classes are instructed primarily in English with homework and classwork assignments entailing mostly written work.

Immersion classes are conducted fully in the foreign language and are most effective when introduced at a very early age. How early? Some language programs for kids begin offering mommy and me style classes for toddlers as young as two years old.

In addition to the early age learning benefits, hearing the language constantly and being compelled to reply in that language train the brain to “translate” faster.

There are varying degrees of immersion in between the two methods, some focusing half the time on immersion activities and the other half learning the culture of the foreign country.

Perhaps the most intriguing form of immersion class is the dual immersion class format which features two different languages. Half of the students might speak Spanish, the other half English. Time spent speaking each language is split giving students of each population the opportunity to experience immersion in the other language.

Immersion Versus Foreign Study

When a student is old enough to travel to a foreign country, experiencing a new culture where the language is spoken 24/7 and culture surrounds the student all day long, learning is an immersion experience. Living with a family who does not speak the student’s native language is perhaps the most intensive language experience the student receives. (In class, there’s always a professor to assist the student when he or she does not comprehend the curriculum).

Arguably, the student can learn more in a semester abroad than all the years leading up to that semester combined. Hearing the language all the time allows the student to refine his or her accent and begin to respond without having to first process the translation in his or her head.

In other countries, students start learning foreign languages at a younger age and cannot opt out of the curriculum. In the United States, we are lax about foreign language learning and there are clearly so many benefits for the child both during school and after graduation when a second language can be a great asset in the workplace.

The intensive immersion experience is rarely presented in a public school setting. If parents want their children to reap the rewards of full-time immersion, exposing kids at a young age is the best way to do it full-time. When the child is in school, an after-school or summer camp setting can continue that exposure as the child grows older.

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