Types of Immersion Education:
An Introduction

The ACIE Newsletter, February 1998, Vol. 1, No. 2

By Jack Brondum and Nancy Stenson, Parents, Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center,
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Immersion education can take a number of forms. These vary according to the amount of the second language used per day, when the second language is introduced, whether a third language is used as well, and whether students come from one of two native-language backgrounds.

The original model of immersion used in Canada and later in the United States is called full (or total) immersion. It is still in wide use today. Typically, students starting a full immersion program are all English speakers. In a K-5 or K-6 elementary school, 100 percent of instruction is in the immersion language in Grades K and 1. Children learn to read in this language first. The amount of immersion instruction then drops to 80 percent in Grade 2 with the addition of English language arts, and continues to drop gradually to about 50 percent by Grade 5 or 6.

Another well known model is partial immersion. Here, less than 100 percent of instruction (usually about 50 percent) is pro-vided in the immersion language. This percent remains constant throughout elementary school. Reading is taught in both the first and the second language. When feasible, each class has two teachers: one teaches in the first language and the other teaches in the second. As with full immersion, students are usually all native English speakers.

A third type of immersion is double immersion - essentially a full immersion program with instruction in two non-native languages. One example of double immersion is the French-Hebrew program in Montreal, Canada.

All three of these models generally begin exposure to the new language or languages in the earliest years of elementary school. However, some programs start later, providing formal instruction early on, followed by two years of 100 percent immersion in Grades 3 and 4 or later. For a given type of immersion, second-language proficiency doesn't appear to be affected by these variations in timing.

The last type of immersion is called two-way (or dual) immersion. This model was first developed in Florida's Dade County schools and is still evolving. Two-way immersion is designed to serve both English and non-English speakers. The latter group will usually make up 25 to 50 percent of the student body. Children from each language group are mixed in the same classroom. The goals of two-way immersion are for both language groups to become bilingual, succeed academically, and develop positive inter-group relations. Two-way immersion programs, as one-way, differ in the amount of time spent in the two languages per grade level. In the upper grades, instruction is typically half in Spanish and half in English. In theory, two-way immersion allows English speakers to learn Spanish while continuing to develop their English skills. Spanish speakers learn English while becoming literate and maintaining oral skills in their native tongue.

Students from full immersion programs are generally more proficient in reading, writing, listening, and speaking the second language than those from partial immersion programs. Partial immersion students, in turn, are more proficient than students who are taught the second language in traditional foreign langu-age classes. Children from well-established two-way programs appear to have skills most similar to those of full immersion students.




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