Immersion Education Information for Families
1. Why begin learning another language in kindergarten?
A young child’s brain is built for acquiring language. It has many more synapses (connecting points) than older brains, because our brains strengthen the connections they use often and trim the synapses they no longer use. All children use this natural capacity to learn their home language. And, when children are regularly and systematically given the opportunity to learn more languages at this point in their lives, they use this same capacity to learn other languages, too.
2. What is immersion education?
Simply put, immersion education is another way to learn. Children at Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion learn Spanish at the same time they are learning other subjects, because their instruction in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and health happens in Spanish. The immersion program follows the same curricula, and at times even uses a Spanish version of the same materials as all the other elementary schools in Eden Prairie Schools. The goal is to acquire a high level of Spanish and learn all the other content.
In the early years of immersion, our teachers know that students will not understand everything they say. Therefore, they use many other strategies to support student learning, such as visuals, body language, manipulatives, exaggerated facial expressions, and expressive intonation. Children initially communicate with each other and their teacher using a mixture of English and the words and phrases they have practiced in Spanish. As students acquire more Spanish, they are encouraged to use it more.
3. Why choose immersion?
Families and educators in Florida started the first immersion education program in the United States in 1963, and immersion programs have existed in many languages and many countries around the world for even longer. Throughout that time research has repeatedly shown immersion education to be the most effective way of gaining proficiency in another language. There are several reasons for this.
- Language is acquired most effectively when it is learned in a meaningful social context (or setting). An elementary classroom is a place where children naturally spend the day communicating with other children and their teacher about what they are thinking and feeling. Practicing language happens all the time!
- The interesting topics learned in an elementary classroom provide a motivating context for learning and communicating in the new language. For example, children have much more interest in using their new language skills to make a graph about their favorite flavor/color of apple, than to just practice color words.
- The joining of language and content learning gives children the chance to learn a wider range of language than standard world language classrooms. Literature, math, science, etc. each have their own set of vocabulary and type of language, and children get to learn it all in immersion!
- Young children learn these three processes simultaneously: learn language, develop cognitive skills, and learn social skills. Learning in each area supports learning in the others.
4. What are the benefits of immersion?
Gaining a high level of proficiency in another language brings many benefits to children. In terms of cognitive abilities, fully proficient bilingual people outperform monolingual people in the areas of divergent thinking, pattern recognition, and problem solving (Fortune
, 2012). They also have higher skills in selectively focusing their attention, interpreting non-verbal communication, and thinking about how language works, which further helps them in acquiring additional languages. In terms of academic achievement, over 30 years of studies consistently show that immersion students achieve as well or better than non-immersion peers on standardized tests of verbal and mathematics skills conducted in English (Fortune
, 2003). In our global economy, being proficiently bilingual and developing intercultural competency opens up a multitude of opportunities for bilingual/biliterate students and adults including employment possibilities. It also gives people opportunities to communicate with a wider range of people and learn about other cultures and perspectives, leading to a new understanding of oneself. This expanded worldview means that bilingual people not only know more, they know differently.
5. Won’t my child’s skills in English suffer?
Many parents initially worry that immersion will have a negative effect on their child’s development of language skills in English. However, as mentioned above, research actually shows that immersion education benefits English language development. We should note that while students’ initial instruction is all in another language (Spanish for us) their English development may lag temporarily in reading, word knowledge, and spelling. However, after a year or two of instruction in English, this difference disappears. To reiterate, this lag is temporary and to be expected. Parents of immersion students commit to continue to support their child’s development in English at home during this time by reading to them every day in English and involving them in activities that complement their classroom learning.
6. What does immersion look like at Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion (EHSI)?
Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion is a public K-6 elementary school. At Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion, we have created an immersion education program designed to bring children to high levels of proficiency in Spanish. As research on immersion shows, more time spent learning the new language (Spanish, in our case) leads to greater proficiency. At Eagle Heights children in kindergarten through second grades spend 90% of their day learning in Spanish. The remaining 10% of their day is in English during their classes of Art, Music, and Physical Education. Beginning in third grade, we add formal English instruction for one period per day during English Language Arts. In fifth and sixth grades students spend nearly half their time learning in English.
Most immersion students gain fluency and confidence in listening and reading after two to three years. Proficiency in writing and speaking at an academic level takes much longer, five to seven years. This is why families need to commit to immersion long-term.
7. What is the role of parents at Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion?
A firm commitment is essential for children to gain the benefits that immersion education offers. Parents need not have any knowledge of Spanish, in fact most of our families do not know Spanish. However, EHSI parents support their children in the following ways:
- Making a long-term commitment to immersion.
- Becoming knowledgeable about immersion education.
- Providing experiences outside of school to develop English language skills, most importantly reading in English to their children daily.
- Supporting the use of Spanish outside of school through daily reading.
- Encouraging daily attendance.
Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion has an active and strong parent community in the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and the Spanish Education Fund (SEF). Both organizations offer many volunteer opportunities for families to support our students.
8. Who are the teaching staff at Eagle Heights?
All teachers at EHSI hold a Minnesota Teaching License, and must be highly proficient in Spanish. Some teachers are native speakers, although this is not required. Most Eagle Heights teachers have either lived or traveled abroad, have developed a strong understanding of other cultures, and value an education with a global worldview.
At EHSI we are fortunate to have Spanish-speaking interns and classroom assistants working in our classrooms alongside our teachers. Our international interns live with volunteer host families from our school during their time with us (either a school year or a semester), and are supported by our parent organization, the Spanish Education Fund.
Please join us at our Open House visit in January to be able to see our immersion students and teachers “in action.” This is a child-friendly visit during the school day, so children are welcome.
A couple of weeks after the Open House, we host a Parent Information Night geared toward parents. We offer a presentation about immersion in general and EHSI specifically. This event also allows an opportunity for families to ask questions of the many staff present.
Click for information on enrolling in Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion.