Is language immersion in kindergarten too much?
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! It seems that many people are welcoming new children into their lives and, with that in mind, it is the perfect time to take a look at raising bilingual children and the different ways that one might approach teaching their children a second language. Irrespective of what the child's first language ends up being, by teaching them a second language their lives will be irreversibly improved for the short and long term.
This is especially true if you are able to impart on them a love for foreign languages from the beginning. The hope is that with some guidance both you and your children will be speaking several languages around the house. That said, before getting into the possibilities for external immersion programs, it is worthwhile to look at the internal immersion options available to you.
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Language Immersion Programs at Home
There are ways to build an immersive environment directly in your own home that both you and your children will benefit from, but it all starts with choosing a language to learn. Depending on your heritage, location, interests, and family/friends you may simply decide to go with something that is common enough to be heard from time to time by you and your children.
However, if you are looking for ways to set your children, and potentially yourself, up for success in the business, tech, or financial world, there are languages that are more conducive to that end as well. If you are looking for suggestions, you can check this article for some of the options available to you as well as some things to help you get started.
Irrespective of what you choose, technology is your friend. While it can often feel daunting to have so many options, having technology at your fingertips allow you to set up an environment better suited to facilitate language immersion than most public schools. The goal is going to be developing an environment of localized immersion.
In short, what that means is creating an environment in which both you and your children are forced to interact with the target language multiple times per day in multiple ways. For a deeper dive on localized immersion, you can check out this previous article you may have missed:
Beyond setting up your immersion environment, it is important to vet the technology you decide to use. As many have noticed, there are many resources out there that are not what they claim to be and it is imperative to maintain your children's privacy when teaching them anything. With that said, here are some ways to vet the technology you use and some suggestions to get you rolling.
- Go through the program first
If you are teaching your children a language that you don't speak it is worth learning the language with them; and if you are going to do that you might as well spend time vetting the materials you plan to have them use. Irrespective of what you choose, there is likely to be something you disagree with involved in the lecture, therefore it is imperative to list out your non-negotiables.
- List out your non-negotiables
While it can be difficult to nail down exactly what you want when you are looking for resources, it is far easier to nail down what you absolutely do not want. This is powerful in that it can help you filter through options quickly without missing anything. If it is something you would not want your children listening to, write it down and ensure it never comes up.
With how many available resources are out there, it is not a problem if you are critical in deciding which you do and do not want to put in front of your children, or consume yourself for that matter. Once you have the resources you feel comfortable with, you have already proactively solved one of the greatest issues with learning, students spend half their time looking for appropriate resources. If you need recommendations, you can always reach out to me as well. If you are learning Spanish, I have some resources I have already vetted, though you should always check for yourself, you can find those here:
Beyond the ability to construct an immersion environment at home, it is also possible to outsource this. Many language immersion programs are offered around the world, some better than others. There are, however, many questions that people new to second language immersion programs may have and hopefully most of those will be answered here.
Outsourcing to find immersion programs
When you are looking at immersion programs there are a few things to look out for that can save you lots of headaches later down the line. One of the primary things is understanding what the immersion program entails. This is especially true for elementary schools and middle school learners. While becoming adept at the target language is the goal of any immersion program, it is not the only goal and one thing to look out for is your child learning a new language to the detriment of their primary language abilities.
Many dual language immersion programs are perfect for preventing this. The ones I have seen the most success from are those that offer equal time immersed in both the mother tongue and the target language. Splitting time at school will allow them to learn the new language without losing their skills in their native language. Unfortunately, something that often takes a hit first is language learning and that includes learning and mastering English.
The ideal immersion program will force the students to speak the language they are studying, if this is not happening, it is not worth whatever they are charging. Any way out will result in subpar language acquisition and when dealing with immersion programs it will likely include a large price tag.
When you are vetting immersion programs be sure to ask how they ensure students enrolled will be speaking as often as possible. Everything beyond speaking is rather simple to facilitate, immersion students get most of the value out of being forced to speak the language they are learning.
When it comes to dual language immersion programs there isn't necessarily a best time to start, but there are times that are more and less beneficial. As a general rule, the younger the better, however it can be difficult to want to send your own children away for hours every day before they are even speaking English perfectly. However, the younger they are the smoother the language acquisition will be. Of course, this is why constructing a localized immersion environment in your home is so important.
Whether the students are in elementary school, middle school, or high school, jumping into an immersion environment will make everything easier down the line. They will walk away with superior problem solving skills, a better understanding of other cultures, and potential access to a global community depending on what program they choose. Not only that, but it will make standardized tests easier down the line, but more on that soon.
Ensuring Quality Immersion Education
If you are dealing with immersion students, the "what did you learn at school today?" question will not yield the ideal results. In fact, with most students learning most anything that questions is not likely to give you what you want nor will it allow you to evaluate the quality of the education. Evaluating language skills requires slightly more buy in from you, but that is just another reason to learn the language with your child.
When it comes to evaluating language skills, one of the things to look for is whether or not they are struggling with grammar in the language they are not being immersed in throughout the day. This is where you come in and help to ensure they do not lose their ability in their native language. If the student is consistently maintaining their first language without any real effort, they likely are not as immersed as they should be in the target language. Another way to do this is by truly diving in and reviewing their school day.
While open ended questions are generally good for conversation, when you are trying to evaluate your child's education it is more important to ask pointed, direct, and comprehensive questions that will make them think. If they respond too quickly, it is worth diving in deeper to the topic.
Even if you are unable to ascertain exactly what was done, you will get a feeling of where they are at mentally, as learning a new language is mentally exhausting. From there, you can offer support and each time you do this they will be more likely to share openly and honestly to the fullest extent possible. The ability to do this is imperative not only for those who are sending their children into external immersion programs, but also for those who decide to build an immersion environment within their own homes.
Whether you decide that dual language immersion programs or localized immersion is more tenable, it is important to vet the resources that are being used. Ensuring that your child's education is in line with your values is of the utmost importance. Using the localized immersion methods discussed above and in the prior piece will allow you to have far more control, however it will also be more difficult if you are not already fluent in the language you are seeking to teach your child/children. If that is the case and you need help hunting down some resources, please do not hesitate to reach out, I'd be happy to help.
Learning a language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.
Be sure to check out Second Language Strategies to catch up on anything you missed, find me on Twitter or Instagram for some short form content. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, join our Discord! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.