Language as a medium in education


Does it work?


Case Study: The Bilingual Stream – preparing the children for the world of tomorrow: The positive impact this approach is having on children and how learning another language is enhancing and enriching the school’s curriculum.

20 years of Spanish immersion make Lawrence Township a model for Indiana: A recently passed bill encouraging more dual-language study could mean more students learning in both English and a new language. “When they arrive here we can see huge changes in the language,” Fall Creek Valley Middle School language arts teacher Gema Camarasa said. “From seventh grade first day to the end of eighth grade, those two years, if they really work as we tell them to do, day by day, the language speeds up.”

Bilingual Learning: The science, options, and dilemma of dual language education.

Dual language immersion programs have increased five-fold since the early 1990s in California; more than 300 schools in the state now have programs in languages that include Spanish, Armenian, German, Italian, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Japanese: The programs typically start in kindergarten, with native-speaker and non-native speaker children combined in one classroom. Some immigrant parents see these programs as a way to pass along not just language, but also culture, traditions, and what can best be described as a special way of relating that can be lost in translation.

What the research says about immersion: This research looks at the benefits of language immersion education, such as academic achievement, language and literacy development in two or more languages, and cognitive skills; and also exposes some of the challenges that accompany the immersion model, with its multilayered agenda of language, literacy and intercultural skills development during subject matter learning.

“There is research that children who learn or acquire two languages simultaneously, that their brains are stretched in the process and they are actually better equipped in other cognitive areas because of acquiring two languages,” says Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, Associate Dean for International and Interdisciplinary Programs at the University of Utah.

Dual immersion students are scoring higher than their mono language peers in every subject. State Sen. Howard Stephenson, who championed the legislation that started dual immersion in Utah, says “brain researchers are looking into that wondering what is going on… The students brains are more activated.” Young dual-immersion students create a more elastic brain, making even math and science easier to learn.

The proven benefits of dual language immersion, according to the Utah State Office of Education:

  • Second language skills: students achieve high proficiency in the immersion language.
  • Improved performance on standardized tests: immersion students perform as well as or better than non-immersion students on standardized tests of English and math administered in English.
  • Enhanced cognitive skills: immersion students typically develop greater cognitive flexibility, demonstrating increased attention control, better memory, and superior problem solving skills as well as an enhanced understanding of their primary language.
  • Increased cultural sensitivity: immersion students are more aware of and show more positive attitudes towards other cultures and an appreciation of other people.
  • Long term benefits: immersion students are better prepared for the global community and job markets where a second language is an asset.

Joining the global conversation: Multilingual education is not just good for job prospects – it can also make young people better learners across the curriculum. But those who miss out may be left at a great disadvantage, even if they are native English speakers.

According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages: research suggests that language learning is beneficial to both monolingual English and English language learners in bilingual and two-way immersion programs.

Could the UK develop a craze for bilingual learning? A recent Times article features the CLIL initiative at Bohunt School in Hampshire, where each immersion class (one group per year) learns one third of the curriculum through French or Spanish. Chinese is being introduced in addition for the new Year 7 cohort next term, each year’s immersion class learning one of the three languages. The immersion programme runs for five consecutive years and pupils take GCSE languages in Year 9 and A level languages in Year 11. A wide range of subjects are involved, with different subjects chosen for each language according to teachers’ subject and language skills. As has been shown in other UK schools, the ‘immersion’ pupils achieve better results in all subjects whether or not they have learned it through the target language. The article also refers to an ‘explosion of interest’ for immersion learning in the United States, based on research evidence that the pupils achieve higher levels of cognition. So far the trend has led to a thousand US schools introducing bilingual education, in most cases teaching 50% of the curriculum through the target language.

Coast immersion stands up to the test: Students in the Chinese immersion program at Varsity College in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, are outperforming English-speaking classes in national literacy and numeracy tests.

Children in Milwaukee learn through Spanish immersion: The children come from English-speaking backgrounds and learn to function in Spanish throughout the school day. A great film with comments from the teachers and children which reflect similar comments made by teachers and pupils involved in CLIL/immersion initiatives in the UK.

Foreign language immersion is on the curriculum for pioneering schools: Students taking part in bilingual programmes do better across the board: “after two years in the Spanish immersion programme, the Year 8 pupils are performing a year and a half ahead of their peers in Spanish… But they are also performing a year ahead of their peers in English and maths. Making things harder for the children and the teachers seems to make other things easier.”

Teaching Non-Language Courses in a Foreign Language Improves Language Learning, Research Suggests: Students who in addition to their traditional German language courses are taught other courses in German end up with both a stronger vocabulary and a better communicative ability, according to a new doctoral thesis in German from the University of Gothenburg.

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