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Foreign language immersion for only one year

Original post made by Palo Alto mom, College Terrace, on Mar 21, 2010

Hi,

My child was offered admission into a private foreign language immersion school and after careful consideration of our financial situation we came to a conclusion that we will not be able to afford more than one, maximum two years in private school. We are deliberating if it is worth sending the child for just kindergarten and then switching to public. Will only one year of foreign language give any benefit for the child later on in life? Surely, he will forget it quickly, but will it be any easier for him once he starts foreign language in middle school? I can't seem to find any research on benefits of short term foreign language immersion for children...
The school is under-enrolled so we are not taking anyone's spot.
The psychological aspect of switching from one school to another is not a big consideration - the child is very social and adaptable.
We just can't decide if one year immersion is worth it or not.

Comments (36)

Posted by Yes, go for it.
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm

My 2 cents..if it is an immersion program structured like most, it will mean 90% of your child's first year, and 80% of his second, will be in the foreign lanuage.

Imagine how much a 2 year old understands and can communicate already..from just 2 years at a baby level.

Yes, if you child is sociable and flexible, and won't mind switching from school to school ( in my opinion, a good way to build adaptability into a kid with the right personality), and if it seems your child has no language comprehension or speech issues, I would say GO FOR IT.

Besides, you don't know what the future holds..who knows, maybe you will be able to afford more years if you see it is great.

In the end, any immersion, for even a year, let alone 2 or more, puts the language sounds, music, phonemes, structure etc into a rapidly developing brain, ready for access later when and if she or he pursues that same language as a middle schooler or teen. It helps develop the "language" part of the brain, just in general, also.

One caveat..if this is not an alphabet based language, might be a good idea to supplement with some alphabet/vocabulary building in English if you really think that it will be for only a year or two, else the alphabet and English decoding might be a bit of an issue when the crossover happens.

Obviously, when you think of the millions of us who have simply transferred countries to here, with no English background, in elementary school, and within a year we are surpassing our peers, this is not a big concern for typical kids.


Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 5:13 pm

My wife lived in Colombia for a couple years when she was 3/4 years old. Apparently she and her sister picked up Spanish and spoke it fine. Her father was fluent in Spanish already. When they returned to the US, they promptly lost their Spanish and never regained. Her dad apparently made a little effort to keep it up with them, but with no real need to use it, they did not retain it. In high school and college she studied other Romance languages and had a similar aptitude to others.

Not that there's anything wrong with learning foreign languages, but given that this seems to be a financial sacrifice - why are you so keen for your child to learn a foreign language? I know many people who speak other languages and many more who do not - I've never noticed any great benefit for those that do. It is a nice skill to have, just like many others, of course. And people can, and do, learn other languages successfully later in life, particularly when they are motivated to do so. Just my 2 cents.


Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm



Accurate, reliable Machine Translation is already here and will be available on cell phones this year, according to Google and others.

The international language of Business, Diplomacy and the Internet is American English-- the Machine Translation--actually Software Translation systems-- are coming on line to build the new " Tower of Babel"
in which anyone can talk to anyone regardless of their indigenous language or lack of proficiency in American English.

It makes sense to have common international standards for - Accounting, Science, Engineering and Language.
They will all be here in the next 2 years-- based upon American standards.

Other areas such as the arts and religions will continue in local languages.
It is interesting that the Global Religion of Catholicism still uses Latin , as it has for 2000 years.
Islam will continue use Arabic, Judaism Hebrew ---- etc, for religious their practices.


America builds and certifies the standards in all those areas.


Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Correction--small screen

I mean----
"It makes sense to have common international standards for - Accounting, Science, Engineering and Language
America builds and certifies the standards in all those areas"

Religion is a different matter, though World Religions are generally migrating towards American Standards in some areas-- such as the rights of Women.


Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Your kid will pick up the language basics readily. However, he will lose that language unless it's reinforced. Basically, quicker to learn/quicker to lose is the deal with kids.

So, yes, there will be a benefit, but think about how you'll reinforce and maintain the language when he's no longer in the program. (afterschool? weekend? Trips overseas?)


Posted by Use Some Common Sense
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 8:52 pm

"I can't seem to find any research on benefits of short term foreign language immersion for children..."

Because there are none and no one recommends it.

Think about it: Throw you child into the "deep water" for one year, then pull him/her completely out afterwards.

To make it even clearer, use that exact analogy: I'm going to send my kid to a program designed for Olympic swimming hopefuls, but just for one year because that's all I can afford. Hopefully he/she will be a decent swimmer because of it.


Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Use Some,

That's incorrect. Short-term immersion--two years--is, in fact, recommended by many as a way of getting ESL kids up to speed.


Posted by other things to consider for middle school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:32 pm


"but will it be any easier for him once he starts foreign language in middle school?"

if your main goal is to make it easier for your child in Middle School, there are other considerations besides foreign language ability. namely, are they academically strong and organized enough to handle the extra work required to take a language as an elective in middle school?

better to focus on their Math, Science and English, so that when they get to middle school, taking a language is not an extra burden





Posted by other things to consider
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:40 pm



Ohlone Par,

"Short-term immersion--two years--is, in fact, recommended by many as a way of getting ESL kids up to speed."

Hello! helpful for ESL kids to get up to speed with ENGLISH in America -that's like immersion on steroids

I agree with "use some common sense"

especially if you are making a financial sacrifice,



Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:42 pm

other things,

Look, I wouldn't bother with one year myself. My point is that there is research on short-term immersion for kids and it is recommended in particular situations. Kids do pick up languages quickly, but they don't retain them unless they use them.


Posted by Mom
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I agree that it would be a complete waste of time. I too, know kids who had Spanish speaking nannies and then quickly forgot the language once it was no longer reinforced.

@OhlonePar,

Those ESL students are immersed in English and continue to be immersed because everyone around them is speaking English. It is completely different than learning Spanish for one year and then reverting to an English-only environment.


Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Mom,

Yes, exactly. The kids benefit from a short-time intensive immersion experience and then the language is retained by continuing use and exposure.

As I was saying . . .

So, if you wanted your kid to do Spanish immersion for one year and then continued to make sure your kid used/studied Spanish on a regular basis, there would be some retention of the language and it might be worth it.


Posted by Bilingual family
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I agree with all those above who said 2 years in an immersion school in K/1 followed by monolingual public school will be a waste of time and money.

Language skills take constant maintenance... Your kids won't have enough exposure, long enough.


Posted by other things to consider
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm



PA mom,

There are also many other less expensive things that you can do to make your child comfortable with a language,

I've heard great things about Learnika in Palo Alto, but most every community has programs for kids



Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2010 at 8:25 am

A family member took his family to a foreign country for 3 years and they entered school where the foreign language was learned quite well. As they returned to their English speaking school they were behind in all languages, not just English, as having to relearn subjects like maths when they had been used to "thinking" in the foreign language and use those terms for math terminology put them at a setback for quite a while. They also had a very hard time with English grammar and spellings for a long time.

I would suggest a good after school language program with as much exposure as possible to be a better introduction for accent and retention - watching movies, reading popular books, babysitter or playdates with family that speak the language plus the parents attempting to learn and speak with the child. This mirrors the most successful methods taught in Europe where many children grow up to speak 2 second languages to their mother tongue.


Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2010 at 11:40 am

It would be nice if ALL of Palo Alto's elementary school children were introduced to a foreign language as is done in Europe. If the foreign language parent advocates had advocated for ALL children instead of just their OWN children, we'd be in a better place.

Parochialism in foreign language learning politics...ONLY in entitled Palo Alto.


Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2010 at 11:56 am

My child attends a foreign language immersion school but he has continued on to the elementary program.  We knew several families who enrolled their children only through kindergarten because they wanted their children exposed to the basic sounds of the language at an early age. We can all learn languages later in life but we may never master the complex nuances of pronunciation and tone since our minds develop strong habits of speech early on.  There is research that supports language learning/exposure at an early age. Here is one link:

    Web Link

You may want to look into after-school  language immersion programs and summer camps as alternative ways for your child to continue learning the language after kindergarten.


Posted by Maria
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Having my two children go through a similar program I discovered that unless the use of the foreign language is continue beyond those two years and reinforced at home, the children will rapidly discontinue using it and forget a certain amount of it before they are halfway through elementary school. Picking it up again in middle or high school allows some of it to come back and make learning that language easier - but my daughter didn't really become fluid and then retained most of it until she had spent a summer in that country with native speakers.
I would be careful in spending hard earned money on language immersion at that early age.


Posted by Maria
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Having my two children go through a similar program I discovered that unless the use of the foreign language is continue beyond those two years and reinforced at home, the children will rapidly discontinue using it and forget a certain amount of it before they are halfway through elementary school. Picking it up again in middle or high school allows some of it to come back and make learning that language easier - but my daughter didn't really become fluid and then retained most of it until she had spent a summer in that country with native speakers.
I would be careful in spending hard earned money on language immersion at that early age.


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Hi Palo Alto Mom...

My undergraduate education is in Bilingual Education and I am Texas classroom certified in Bilingual Education and ESL (with reciprocity here in California). It would help if you could give us a bit more background in regard to your situation. Is your child a non-English speaker adapting to English in this nation? Is your child an English speaking child learning a foreign language in preparation for something?

My family immigrated to the United States when I was in junior high school. My parents did not (and still do not) speak English. Thus, my siblings and I participated in ESL classes. I am strongly opposed to the "slow integration" concept behind most modern ESL programs. In such programs, children are slowly introduced to English for an hour or two each day, and then placed into English-only classrooms. I have seen the frustration on faces of children who are sitting in a Chemistry classroom who do not speak English. I can also tell you from firsthand experience that this program is a well-meaning but unnecessary step designed to teach English to non-native speakers.

There is a push in Texas by ESL teachers who view this sort of slow program as "setting children up for failure." Many ESL certified teachers prefer "total immersion" as a more viable means of preparing non-English speaking children to properly and effectively master the English language. Why should a child attend classes in Biology, Algebra or Government if the child cannot properly understand the language of the teacher?

In the case of our family, we learned more English through total immersion during our time spent performing migrant farm work. My father needed a translator, so he allowed us (his children) to learn English effectively enough to serve in that capacity. We learned English through total immersion and interaction. We watched only English television (thank God for Sesame Street!). We interacted with English speakers in grocery stores, gas stations and trailer parks. My father would sit around the dinner table and ask us to translate expressions into English. By the time school rolled around, we had enough supplemental education (via the school of hard knocks) to not fall far behind in school. I believe that total language immersion is the fastest and most beneficial form of learning a language.

However, there are plenty of variables to consider. If you are desiring your child to learn a non-English language, your task is much more difficult. Like others have stated, you will need to reinforce that language at home while also monitoring the pronunciation skills of BOTH languages. I still believe that total immersion is much faster and more effective than slow integration. During grad school, I studied for a few semesters in Spain. It was a great time and allowed me to check my skills in Spanish. I was happy to learn that my Spanish skills had not diminished -- even though English had become my primary language.

If possible, it would be better for us to understand your situation a little more before we actually give you much more instruction. Typically, every situation is unique and instructional tools and techniques should reflect the child, the home, the situation and the desired outcome.


Posted by Just a thought
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2010 at 5:07 pm

One year would not be helpful unless you speak that language and can help your child continue using it.

It might be better (and more fun) to take your child to a country that speaks that language for a summer, enroll him/her in a school in that country, and do this every year until your child is older.

I am from another country and learned English as a child, but I took English classes every year, watched English shows and movies, and listened to music in English. When I moved to the US, I still had problems with the language, but in a matter of months I was fluent. I also learned French as a child, but only for a few years, and I never used it. Today I cannot speak French.

Do not waste your money if all you can do is one year and do not have the resources to continue instruction in that foreign language.


Posted by huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2010 at 5:39 pm



Nayeli,

maybe this got lost in translation, but the way you define slow integration vs immersion for ESL sounds odd

you say you oppose slow integration because you'd learn a subject such as Biology in English, and that makes no sense if you don't know English,

but with immersion you'd learn Biology in what language?




Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Hi huh?...

What I mean is that I favor total immersion ONLY (or, predominantly) until a child can be integrated into regular classrooms. There is no reason to push kids into classes in which they cannot communicate or even understand instruction. Unfortunately, that is what many ESL and bilingual education programs are now doing.

I apologize for the confusion from my post. I believe that a student should know the language before he/she is expected to learn in that language.


Posted by Kristen
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2010 at 9:07 am

I would put the kid in the immersion school, if you like the school and the program, not just the language side of it.


Posted by other things to consider
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2010 at 9:17 am



Nayeli,

So what you mean by slow integration is that an ESL student learns the subjects like Biology and English at the same time but with Immersion they only learn English, and take subjects only after they know the language.

Elementary immersion programs seem to do slow integration then, they don't wait for the kids to know the foreign language to teach Math in that language for example.

I'd be careful about using information or research about ESL, learning English as a foreign language in the United States in High School, to make a decision about going to a K/ELementary world language immersion program.




Posted by J. Simon
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2010 at 9:41 am

Check with the Immersion School. I bet they offer financial aid. You as a parent could also take language classes in the target language. Your child will benefit from hearing you practice. Use language tapes in the car. Play foreign language music CDs. Plan a vacation. Show your child that you're a life-long learner. Money isn't everything and money spent on education is never a waste. Cars break down, computer equipment goes out of date, etc. But new experiences, new friends, meeting other families with different language backgrounds our priceless. Good luck!!!


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2010 at 11:05 am

Hi other things...

Yes, that is correct. "Total immersion" methods result in primarily teaching sufficient language skills before teaching other subjects in that particular language. An ESL "total immersion" program would teach students English (and other subjects) inside of ESL "total immersion" classrooms. A proper English language skill assessment would take place BEFORE deeming that those ESL students are proficient enough to be integrated into regular classrooms.

Currently, many states and districts use "slow integration" ESL methods. However, there is nothing "slow" about the integration process. Non-English speaking students participate in one or two ESL classes that struggle to teach them English as a foreign language. Then, those students leave that ESL classroom and are suddenly thrust into "regular" classes where they do not yet understand the language of the instructor or the textbook.

I have taught ESL at the High School and Middle School levels in schools that consisted of a large immigrant student body. I have witnessed children bury their faces in their hands as they wept from the frustration of being forced to sit through and participate in Chemistry, Biology, Government and Economics classes where they couldn't communicate or understand the instruction. It is painful to watch this, because I experienced the same thing as a Junior High School student when my family immigrated to the United States. Our family was successful ONLY because my parents used a "forced immersion" method for learning English (even though they did not speak English themselves). English was always around us, so my parents insured that we learned to communicate proficiently in the language. However, we still received enough reinforcement in Spanish so that my mastery of that language did not diminish either.

In regards to teaching English to non-English speakers, I think that total immersion is the most effective and appropriate method of teaching English here in the United States (or in other English speaking countries). Of course, this is partially due to the fact that English is all around us here. English is literally reinforced by signs, books, friends, television programs, etc... It is almost impossible to live in this nation without being influenced by the English language. I suppose that a sheltered child could be removed from English interaction enough to have difficulty with pronunciation; however, a normal child attending an English school will have enough interaction to prevent most major pronunciation difficulties.

Now, this would be a different response if it is in regard to teaching a foreign language to a native English speaker. Total immersion works well with teaching English in the United States because of the language reinforcement that comes with living in this nation. "Total immersion" of a foreign language to a native English speaker will only be as good as the continued reinforcement that the student will receive. Others have stated this previously...and it is certainly true.

Of course, we don't know all of the specificities in regard to Palo Alto Mom's initial question. Much of our advice could be moot if we are incorrect in regard to what her specific situation entails. I don't think that we yet know if she is desiring to teach ENGLISH as a second language or a different language to an English-speaking child.


Posted by MC
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Niyali,

I can't untangle what you are saying, and I think your use of "immersion" and "total immersion" is getting in the way. That's not what it's called in education.

First, California districts typically place non-fluent speakers of English into "sheltered classrooms," where their English skills are ramped up for a year or less (in middle or high school). They continue to learn the other parts of the curriculum (social studies, etc.) in English in their other classrooms. All of these classrooms are run entirely in English. Students who achieve a certain level of proficiency are placed in mainstream English language arts classrooms, where English is the only language of instruction.

Second, CA has a number of dual-language immersion programs, whose goal is to educate bilingual, biliterate students. In these schools/programs, two languages are used from start to finish. There are also some private schools that follow this model. This is what the original poster is talking about.

The kind of set-up you say you prefer is the way California schools used to operate, and it was unsuccessful at teaching students English.


Posted by other things to consider
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2010 at 2:23 pm



MC,

California is not the model for best methods for dealing with non-English speaking students, or even English speaking ones.

What Nayeli says makes complete sense, nobody can learn Biology in two languages at the same time, something ends up being dropped along the way

for older kids, better to learn enough English first, then later take the regular Bio class in English. In the meantime, Biology can be studied in Spanish or any other language.



Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Hi MC...

I suppose that it might be my fault for not properly articulating it as well as I should. Plus, I think that I am speaking partially from experience (both as an ESL student and a teacher). In college, we differentiated between TOTAL immersion and SLOW immersion in regard to English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.

I have to admit that I am not completely aware of the guidelines for California ESL (as far as whether the decisions are left to districts or on a state level). Texas leaves these decisions up to the district itself, so each district handles things differently and according to local needs.

When I moved to the United States, I was placed in "slow immersion" ESL classes. These classes are like those "sheltered classrooms" that you described, and were required as long as my English skills were lacking. Students are required to attend ESL classes for an hour or two each day. These classes simply take the place of typical English or Language classes that are required curriculum for English-speaking students. The rest of the school day was spent being integrated within mainstream, English-speaking classrooms. As you can imagine, it is virtually impossible to effectively learn Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science or Government (etc...) classes when you cannot speak English proficiently.

I was able to succeed in my quest to learn English -- but only because of the persistence of my parents. They pushed us to learn the language (and excel in school) even when they didn't know how to speak English. They immersed us in the English language. I and my siblings were the unofficial "translators" for my parents wherever we went. We watched English television, translated newspaper articles, translated road signs, and communicated with landlords and business workers. This was a constant reinforcement that went on for years (and continues to this day). As a result, we succeeded in school where so many of our fellow ESL classmates failed. In fact, out of all of the students in my ESL classes during Junior High School, I was the ONLY student to graduate from High School (and I graduated with honors). In fact, all of my nine siblings graduated from high school with honors (and went on to graduate with honors from college with at least a bachelor's degree -- except for the two youngest [one in school at Texas and one here at Stanford]).

I suppose that there is an argument that "total immersion" methods at teaching English were unsuccessful in California. However, the current "slow integration" method has proven itself less effective (at least in Texas). In Texas, those target districts where ESL is taught without "total immersion" methods show the highest drop out rates amongst immigrants and non-native English speakers. Many Texas school districts have shifted into teaching via sheltered, self-contained "total immersion" classrooms as long as necessary -- but have also integrated the teaching of other subjects (Math, Science, Government, etc...) within that instruction. The students spend the entire school day in those separated classes where the emphasis for education is clearly to become proficient in the English language. It will be some time until the results can be properly analyzed, but the results already seem much better than the typical methods used by the districts where I was employed.

Of course, California is a different state with different methods. However, it seems that CA is having a very difficult time with bilingual students from Spanish speaking countries. If I remember correctly, the drop out rate amongst those students is quite high and increasing.

Anyway, I don't mean to do anything more than share my two cents -- which might be worth only that. I am merely speaking from experience from two different fronts -- as a former ESL student and an ESL teacher. In fact, my poor ESL experiences in those schools were the motivation that I used to choose this very discipline for my undergraduate education. I didn't want to see students experience what I experienced. To this day, I am still quite conscientious in regard to my language and pronunciation skills. Most of my siblings feel the same way.

BTW, I wonder if we are really helping Palo Alto Mom because we don't know the specificities regarding her situation. She might not be attempting to teach her children English as a Second Language (ESL) at all. Her situation might be different altogether.


Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm

School is secondary education. Primary education is kid's time spent with parents. If you're busy working to pay for secondary education and then distracted even when you are with them worry about finances, then primary education lacks.

Seems counterproductive to me.


Posted by Palo Alto mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Thank you for all for the great responses. I am convinced now that a couple of years of foreign language immersion is not worth it. As much as I value early foreign language education and high quality of private schools, when I compare the cost of it to what this money could buy if invested for 20 years (it will surely be enough for a nice downpayment on his first house) then the decision comes much easier. I wish money was not a factor, then I'd definitely go for immersion school, which in addition to foreign language, opens up minds to foreign cultures like no textbook can.


Posted by other things to consider
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm



PA Mom,

Your original concern to make things easier for your kid in Middle School will still be well served if you enroll him/her in an after school type program, or use language tapes so he/she can become familiar and comfortable with pronunciation, vocabulary. k-6th grade is a long time to get basics. I'd also check with the middle school language teacher for suggestions. Though I agree with much of what J. Simon said above, I'm not sure money isn't everything, especially if you have to save for college too.




Posted by MC
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Other things,

"California is not the model for best methods for dealing with non-English speaking students" Probably not, but that begs the question of what is.

"What Nayeli says makes complete sense" I think this is a wrong-headed approach. It doesn't help to sit and dream up, a priori, the best system that "makes sense." As a matter of empirical fact, it is incorrect that "nobody can learn Biology in two languages at the same time...." And anyway, that is not the system here. The students learn it in ONE language (English), which is a shame because that is the subtractive method (one language is lost).

Your suggestion would mean that the non-speaker spends all his time learning English, never quite catching up in the language, and he falls impossibly far behind in the other subjects. The additional problem is that he doesn't acquire the necessary academic language for the classroom or his other classes, so the transition becomes even harder.

As for learning Bio in Spanish: sure, in an immersion program. Otherwise it's illegal in the school and a teacher can be held legally accountable for breaking the law if she abets a student learning bio in Spanish.

The middle school language teachers will tell you that any exposure is better than none--but in any case they're not going to let your child skip the 7th grade course and go straight to the 8th grade anyway....

Niyali,

"I have to admit that I am not completely aware of the guidelines for California ESL" State tests, and it's up to the district to decide when to mainstream.

"As you can imagine, it is virtually impossible to effectively learn Chemistry... when you cannot speak English proficiently." Hard, yes. Impossible, naw.

I would entirely agree with you that a major factor in your success was your parents support and high expectations, coupled with the opportunities for English immersion in everyday life--this is the modern success story for immigrants from all over the world. Your story is similar in many ways to the story of a Chinese family I know.

I still don't know what you mean by "sheltered, self-contained total immersion classrooms." What is taught? English only? Other subjects? All in English?


Posted by Mom
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Mar 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I enrolled my son for a year of Spanish afterschool class at the International School of the Peninsula, (located next to the Main Post Office off Highway 101) when he was in 5th grade as an introduction to the language. The teacher was fantastic. Students cannot take world language in PAUSD until 7th grade, at which time he did enroll and by then, he had forgotten most things, being that for 6th grade he had no Spanish practice. Don't waste your time - kids forget if they aren't speaking it each day.


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Hi MC...

- You wrote: "I think this is a wrong-headed approach. It doesn't help to sit and dream up, a priori, the best system that "makes sense." As a matter of empirical fact, it is incorrect that "nobody can learn Biology in two languages at the same time...." And anyway, that is not the system here. The students learn it in ONE language (English), which is a shame because that is the subtractive method (one language is lost)."

I don't know what to say.

Students in ESL are often proficient in their native language (at least, proficient enough to learn). The language that they need to learn is English. The problem, however, is that I truly believe that people have an obvious handicap if they cannot speak, read and write in English in this nation. Although it isn't politically correct to identify it as such, the United States IS an English-speaking nation. There are obvious handicaps that must be born by those who cannot speak English proficiently.

No one is saying that it is IMPOSSIBLE to learn a subject in both languages. I (and I think that "Other things" too) was simply saying that it is IMPOSSIBLE to learn a subject (like Biology or Chemistry) that is taught in English, requires an English textbook or must complete homework in English -- IF you don't even read, write, speak or understand English.

- You wrote: "I still don't know what you mean by "sheltered, self-contained total immersion classrooms." What is taught? English only? Other subjects? All in English?"

The "total immersion" method that is beginning to take hold in Texas follows a methodology that I described earlier. Non-English speaking students are enrolled in ESL classrooms. The primary goal for those classrooms are to TEACH ENGLISH. The program seeks to increase the English proficiency in those students enough that they can be eventually integrated into non-ESL classes.

Initially, students are taught only basic English. Once they have learned enough basic English grammar, vocabulary and usage (measured through proficiency tests), they are moved to learning English through other subjects. These core subjects are taught in English in an effort to build English proficiency while teaching other subjects.

Now, these students REMAIN in ESL classrooms (instead of being integrated into regular, non-ESL classrooms) -- but they are learning specific subjects in those classes as they sharpen their English proficiency. Again, the goal of each of those classroom lessons is to BUILD ENGLISH MASTERY while also educating the student in the given subject.

Once students have shown that they have mastered the English language (through diagnostic testing), they are slowly integrated into regular (non-ESL) classes. This period will vary from student to student. The students are not moved out of the ESL program UNTIL they have mastered a certain degree of English proficiency in which they will not be at too great of a competitive disadvantage amongst English speaking students. Even after they move on, the ESL student have access to ESL program counselors that are available in case those students need them.

I hope that this explains it better.

If I had gone through a program like this (versus the ESL integration-style program that I endured while growing up), I think that I would have had an easier road to academic success. You're right, though. I had parents who encouraged and challenged me to succeed. Unfortunately, many migrant and non-English families are not so blessed. That is part of the reason why the dropout rate amongst ESL students (particular from Spanish backgrounds) is much higher than students with English-speaking parents.

"Old Palo Alto" is correct. You can pump millions of dollars into schools serving needy students, but if those students are not encouraged by parents or legal guardians at home, their chances for success are greatly diminished. The best that we can do as educators is supplement those students with as much encouragement as possible while providing the tools that they might not be receiving at home.

:-)


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