Language immersion

The Arabic Al-Waha at Vergas, Minnesota, and Japanese Mori no Ike at Dent, Minnesota camps of Concordia Language Villages perform a cultural exchange evening program, in which the Arabic villagers learn Japanese and a bit of calligraphy through Japanese language immersion.

Language immersion, or simply immersion, is a method of teaching a second language in which the learners’ second language (L2) is the medium of classroom instruction. Through this method, learners study school subjects, such as math, science, and social studies, in their L2. The main purpose of this method is to foster bilingualism, in other words, to develop learners' communicative competence or language proficiency in their L2 in addition to their first or native language (L1). Additional goals are the cognitive advantages of bilingualism.

Immersion programs vary from one country or region to another because of language conflict, historical antecedents, language policy or public opinion. Moreover, immersion programs take on different formats based on: class time spent in L2, participation by native speaking (L1) students, learner age, school subjects taught in L2, and even the L2 itself as an additional and separate subject.


The first modern language immersion programs appeared in Canada in the 1960s. Middle-income Anglophone (English-speaking) parents there convinced educators to establish an experimental French immersion program enabling their children 'to appreciate the traditions and culture of French-speaking Canadians as well as English-speaking Canadians'.[1]



Class time

L1 students



Learning a foreign language has its assets, and studies suggest that immersion is an effective way to learn foreign languages.[6] Many immersion programs start in the elementary schools, with classroom time being dedicated to the foreign language anywhere between 50% and 90% of the day.[7] Learning a second or third language not only helps an individual's personal mental skills, but also aids their future job skills. Jean Piaget, a developmental psychologist, had a theory that stated that when a child faces an idea that does not fit their understanding, it "becomes a catalyst for new thinking". As a new language is completely foreign to a child at first, it fits perfectly as this "catalyst for new thinking".

Baker[1] found that more than 1,000 studies have been completed on immersion programs and immersion language learners in Canada. These studies have given us a wealth of information. Across these studies, a number of important observations can be made.

Cases by country

In the United States, and since the 1980s, dual immersion programs have grown for a number of reasons: competition in a global economy, a growing population of second language learners, and the successes of previous programs.[7] Language immersion classes can now be found throughout the US, in urban and suburban areas, in dual-immersion and single language immersion, and in an array of languages. As of May 2005, there were 317 dual immersion programs in US elementary schools, providing instruction in 10 languages, and 96% of programs were in Spanish.[8]

In Israel, the first full immersion program, the Brandeis University-Middlebury Program in Israel was founded in 2011. Participants are required to take the Middlebury College Language Pledge, a promise to speak only the language they are studying for the duration of their time in the program.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Baker, C. (1993). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  2. , Full-Immersion Intensive-General English
  3. 1 2 Benefits of Being Bilingual, Reshma Jirage,
  4. 1 2 3 Benefits of Being Bilingual, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (reprinted from the Center for Applied Linguistics)
  5. 1 2 Why study a foreign language?, Bernadette Morris, LEARN NC, a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education
  6. Cognitive Benefits of Learning Language, Duke Gifted Letter: Volume 8, Issue 1, Fall 2007. The Duke University Talent Identification Program. Online Newsletter for Parents of Gifted Youth
  7. 1 2 3 Freeman
  8. Potowski
  • Anderson, H., & Rhodes, N. (1983). Immersion and other innovations in U.S. elementary schools. In: "Studies in Language Learning, 4" (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 278 237)
  • Andrade, C., & Ging, D. (1988). "Urban FLES models: Progress and promise." Cincinnati, OH and Columbus, OH: Cincinnati Public Schools and Columbus Public Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 292 337)
  • Chen, Ya-Ling (2006). The Influence of Partial English Immersion Programs in Taiwan on Kindergartners' Perceptions of Chinese and English Languages and Cultures. The Asian EFL Journal Vol 8(1)
  • Criminale, U. (1985). "Launching foreign language programs in elementary schools: Highpoints, headaches, and how to's." Oklahoma City, OK. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 255 039)
  • Curtain, H., & Pesola, C.A. (1994). "Languages and children-Making the match. Foreign language instruction in the elementary school." White Plains, NY: Longman Publishing Group.
  • Freeman, Yvonne (2005). Dual Language Essentials For Teachers and Administrators. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH, 2005
  • Potowski, Kim. Language and Identity in a Dual Immersion School. Multilingual Matters Limited, 2007.
  • Tagliere, Julia. "Foreign Language Study--Is Elementary School the Right Time to Start?"
  • Thayer, Y. (1988). "Getting started with French or Spanish in the elementary school: The cost in time and money." Radford, VA: Radford City Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 294 450)
  • Walker, Cheryl. "Foreign Language Study Important in Elementary School". Wake Forest University.
  • The Wingspread Journal. (July 1988). "Foreign language instruction in the elementary schools." Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation.
  • Artigal, Josep Maria & Laurén, Christer (a cura di) (1996). Immersione linguistica per una futura Europa. I modelli catalano e finlandese. Bolzano: alpha beta verlag. ISBN 88-7223-024-1
  • Baker, Collin (1993). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • California. Office of Bilingual Bicultural Education (1984). "Studies on immersion education: a collection for United States educators". The Department.
  • Genesee, Fred (1987). Learning through two languages: studies of immersion and bilingual education. Newbury House Publishers.
  • Lindholm-Leary, Kathryn J. (2001). "Dual language education". Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. ISBN 1-85359-531-4
  • Maggipinto, Antonello (2000). Multilanguage acquisition, new technologies, education and global citizenship Paper given in New York (Congress of AAIS-American Association for Italian Studies). Published on Italian Culture: Iussues from 2000.
  • Maggipinto, Antonello et al. (2003). Lingue Veicolari e Apprendimento. Il Contesto dell'Unione Europea... Bergamo: Junior. ISBN 88-8434-140-X
  • Potowski, Kim (2007). "Language and Identity in a Dual Immersion School". Multilingual Matters Limited.
  • Ricci Garotti, Federica (a cura di) (1999). L'immersione linguistica. Una nuova prospettiva. Milano: Franco Angeli. Codice ISBN 88-464-1738-0
  • Shapson, Stan & Mellen Day, Elaine (1996). "Studies in immersion education". Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. ISBN 1-85359-355-9
  • Swain, Merrill & Lapkin, Sharon (1982). "Evaluating bilingual education: a Canadian case study". Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. ISBN 0-905028-10-4
  • Swain, Merrill & Johnson, Robert Keith (1997). "Immersion education: international perspectives". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58655-0
  • Wode, Henning (1995)."Lernen in der Fremdsprache: Grundzüge von Immersion und bilingualem Unterricht". Hueber. ISBN 3-19-006621-3
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