Language immersion is a technique applied in bilingual language education in which two languages are exchangeably used for instruction in a variety of subjects, like fine arts, natural science, or social studies (Starr, 2016). Programs on language immersion anticipate the English language learner to learn English from the beginning, with their native language playing very little or even no part in daily lessons. Language immersion programs do not generally aim to achieve competency in the foreign language but to gain a further understanding and appreciation of other cultures. These programs specifically assist in building English skills or a progression of classes from basic to advanced, at which time the learner is deemed ready to be mainstreamed in English-only academic courses.
According to Reyes and Kleyn (2010), language immersion programs can be divided into two main styles for learning options: bilingual and immersion. Bilingual programs incorporate English and the students' first language for instruction, allowing English language learners to learn academic content using the home language, whereas in immersion, or monolingual programs, teachers instruct in English only. Compared with immersion, bilingual is more widespread. Also known as dual programs, bilingual programs use two languages for literacy and content instruction for all students and offer a practical alternative to English-only classes. In the United States (U.S.), bilingual programs use English and a partner language, often Spanish. The programs provide the same academic content and address the same standards as other educational programs. They offer instruction in the two languages over an extended period of time, from kindergartens through adult English as a Second Language (ESL) levels. Instruction is in the partner language at least 50% of the time. As Himmele and Himmele (2009) described, both native English speakers and native speakers of another language are provided with an opportunity to experience cognitively intense concept development while learning another language in dual immersion classes.
In my current class, Academic Writing in English, at National Taiwan University (NTU), Taiwan, my instruction is given in both languages at a predetermined ratio of time, e.g., 75 percent English and 25 percent Mandarin, without having content be repeated. In this bilingual style, English language learners and native English speakers enjoy the cognitive and social benefits of learning a new subject. From my previous experience as an English teacher, nevertheless, in an ESL center at a university in the U.S., methodology using bilingual or dual-language delivery is challenging. Northern Illinois University (NIU) has international students from over 50 countries, with a population that speaks more than 40 different native languages. Hiring staff to teach both in English and in the students’ native language will be fiscally unfathomable. Even in realizing that the majority of ESL students at NIU are of Hispanic descent, hiring teachers who are bilingual in English and Spanish would be difficult to accomplish and will alienate other students who are not Hispanic. Therefore, international students at NIU must rely on immersion methods as the delivery choice, as do most ESL students.
Whether in bilingual programs or immersion programs, it is imperative for educators to provide a variety of classroom activities for learners. The use of language learning strategies is direct or indirect, based upon the proficiency levels of the learners, as well as whether the learners were determined to be effective or ineffective (Bai, 2016). In my classes, the following strategies have been applied to assist learners: guessing intelligently, creating mental linkages, applying images and sounds, employing action, receiving and sending messages, analyzing and reasoning, creating structure for input and output, reviewing and practicing, and overcoming limitations in speaking and writing. These strategies represent direct, cognitive thinking by the students. Through these strategies, either in a bilingual style or an immersion style, students are able to advance their learning performance.
Bai, B. (2016). Writing strategies and strategy-based instruction in Singapore primary schools.
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Himmele, P., & Himmele, W. (2009). The language-rich classroom: A research-based framework for teaching English language learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Reyes, S. A., & Kleyn, T. (2010). Teaching in 2 languages: A guide for k-12 bilingual educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Starr, R. L. (2017). Sociolinguistic variation and acquisition in two-way language immersion: Negotiating the standard. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.