Bilingual is Better

“Hello. My 5 yr old attends a full immersion language school and is in the Spanish program. We practice reading English frequently at home, but I am concerned that she is not ‘catching on’ to reading English fast enough. Also, both my husband and I are monolingual. Is it a bad idea for her to be in a full immersion school when we are not able to help her in Spanish? Do most children really ‘catch up’ to their native language in reading in about 3rd grade? I am concerned that she may not be reading in English or Spanish by 3rd grade. Thanks!

Heidi”


Hi Heidi!

What good questions… We just started an immersion program in my school district, and I have heard very similar concerns expressed by parents in our schools. I can share with you what the research says, and I can share anecdotal information about what parents have reported from their own children’s experiences with immersion, but bottom line: immersion programs require a leap-of-faith on the part of parents! So don’t think you’re alone in this – I bet that every parent who considered immersion for their children has had similar doubts and fears…

Now, the truth is that every child learns to read at different rates, so it is hard to say if your daughter is catching on “fast enough.” Since she is no doubt doing literacy work in Spanish in school, those skills will transfer into her learning how to decode in English. I would continue to read with her in English, expose her to books at home, and visit the library frequently. It is also important to express your concerns to the classroom teacher so that s/he can keep an eye on your daughter and make sure that she is progressing at appropriate rate.

The good news can be reported both through research and anecdotally! Students in immersion programs may display a lag on standardized test scores, but usually score on grade level by around grade 3 and frequently above grade level by the end of grade 5. Here is a nice summary of one school’s summary of what can be expected in a total immersion program.

As for being monolingual parents, this should also not be a problem. Homework should be clear enough that students should be able to complete it on their own, or the instructions might be written in English (for the parents’ sake). Explaining what needs to be done in English to parents is often part of the homework experience for immersion students, so ask your daughter to explain homework to you and your husband. Then you can help with the content.

There are some excellent resources from CARLA, the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquistion – especially from the ACIE (American Council on Immersion Education). Here are some links that might help answer some of your questions:

•    What Parents Want to Know about Foreign Language Immersion Programs
•    Immersion FAQs
•    Parent Support

I hope this helps, Heidi! Keep the faith!

Lori Langer de Ramirez.- -Bilingual educator who began her career as a teacher of Spanish, French and ESL. She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is currently the Chairperson of the ESL and World Language Department for Herricks Public Schools, New York. Lori is the author of Take Action: Lesson Plans for the Multicultural Classroom and Voices of Diversity: Stories, Activities and Resources for the Multicultural Classroom, as well as several Spanish-language books and texts. Her interactive website (miscositas.com) offers teachers over 40 virtual picture books and other curricular materials for teaching Chinese, English, French, Indonesian, Italian, Spanish and Thai. Her areas of research and curriculum development are multicultural and diversity education, folktales in the language classroom and technology in language teaching. You can read her answers here and submit your own question for any of our experts here.

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