Immersion means that the children are completely immersed in the second language (Spanish) for the majority of their day. It is a natural, flowing part of their environment and, before long, it is completely natural. Teachers will speak in Spanish about 90-100% of the times to infants through Preschool and 50% of the time to VPK and Kindergarten students, where 50% of the day is in Spanish and 50% is in English.
Not a good way to go! Time and Newsweek both ran feature articles on the “window of opportunity” to learn a new language which is between birth and age 10. As a matter of fact, world language instruction has traditionally been introduced in high school with very dismal results (the grammar approach so frequently used in high school has not exactly helped either). Consultant Greg Duncan compared world languages education in the USA to an inverted pyramid: schools offer the least amount of instruction (if any) at the prime time for learning languages (early childhood), and the largest amount of instruction at one of the most difficult times for learning languages (high school). With such a weak foundation, it is no wonder that the pyramid tumbles and falls.
There are many advantages for starting early. Here are a few:
• Auditory and oral motor. As we mentioned above, young children do indeed have auditory advantages over older children and adults. Dr. Patricia Kuhl has done many studies on the issue. I invite you to watch her video presentation “The Linguistic Genius of Babies.” Some people dismiss these advantages as not important, but as time goes on and you lose them it becomes increasingly harder to reach a level of pronunciation that will be understood by natives. Sometimes a thick accent interferes so much that native speakers of the language cannot understand what the person is saying. This is even more of an obstacle when the rhythm and intonation (i.e. the “prosody”) of the languages is very different. For example, this is very much the case when English speakers learn Spanish and vice versa. If you ever attend a parent‐child language class you will be able to appreciate the age difference first hand when you see a child correcting his parent’s accent. It has happened to me! It is quite cute – and telling!
• “Affective Filter” (Stephen Krashen). The younger the child, the less impact factors such as social pressure and self‐awareness have on classroom performance (these factors are at their peak in middle school and high school). As a matter of fact, most toddlers and preschoolers do not even blink about playing in a different language and they find it fun!
• Brain development. Learning a language is one of the best exercises for the brain, and a growing number of studies are showing its effects on cognition and other areas of human development. While this is true for all ages, obviously we may want to stimulate our children and provide them with the best possible educational experiences from the very beginning.
Time. Finally, even with the best strategies and methods, it takes many years to acquire an advanced level in a language. Therefore, the earlier the start, the better the chances of becoming fluent.
Our school is for all children! We expect most of our families, about 80%, to be English speakers. They want their children to be exposed to a second language in the most natural and comfortable way, and that’s why they come to Children’s Academy. We will also have families that have one or two native Spanish speakers who want to keep their heritage language alive and have their children raised bilingual.
We don’t “teach” Spanish, we teach in Spanish. Language is not the content of instruction, but the vehicle for it. We use a comprehensive, research-based curriculum that features exploration, discovery and hands on projects as a way of learning in Spanish. Spanish is everything we do! Our books are in Spanish, we do circle time in Spanish, we sing, act, play all while speaking in Spanish.
Many parents are initially fearful that immersion may have a negative impact on their child’s English language development. But research consistently finds that the immersion experience actually enhances English language development (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan 2000). In full immersion programs, children develop initial literacy in the immersion language. Many cognitive processes that underlie the ability to read, such as understanding the relationship between the spoken language and the written word, transfer from one language to another (Cloud, Genesee, Hamayan 2000).
Additionally, children get English from their peers, in their environment, from the media, at home, and in every other aspect of their lives. They are constantly exposed to it, and living in an English-speaking environment is enough for the children to be bilingual in both languages.
All of our teachers are fully fluent in both languages. Because we want the language that is spoken at our schools to be effortless and fluid, we seek native speaking teachers or teachers who learned the language abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. This makes the immersion experience real and organic.
We believe good nutrition is critical to children’s development, and we believe healthy eating habits established early pave the way for lifelong health. Children’s Academy creates fresh, healthy, natural foods for breakfast, snacks and lunch in our state of the art cafeteria.
If a child does not understand something, the teacher uses body language, visuals, exaggerated facial expressions, and expressive intonation to communicate their meaning. Additionally, teachers will use songs, key phrases, books and games to engage and draw the child into the language. In preschool, it is common for students to speak English with their peers and when responding to their teacher – especially if they are not familiar with the language. As the year progresses, students naturally use more of the immersion language with peers and teachers.
Many people may believe this because young bilingual children do mix their languages. However, this is normal and to be expected, not something to worry about. ALL, and I mean ALL ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of bilingual children mix their two languages (or three or four) at times. This does not mean that they are confused. Quite the opposite, the process of sifting two languages has been shown to do wonders to the executive area of the brain (the “Prefrontal Cortex,” which controls some of the most sophisticated human forms of expression). As they grow up, bilingual children become increasingly more adept at controlling the two languages and using one or the other (or both) on demand.
People may believe this because young bilingual children have less vocabulary than monolinguals in either of the two languages. However, when the vocabulary of the two languages is put together, bilingual children know the same amount of words, on average, as monolinguals. Of course, bilingual children keep adding vocabulary in both languages as time goes on. Let’s take a look at the following scenario. A young bilingual child may know the colors “red, azul, yellow, amarillo, morado, green, verde” and a monolingual child may know “green, blue, red, purple, orange.” Both children can identify five colors, and the bilingual child actually knows the name of two of those colors in the two languages.
However, if tested with the typical battery test created for English speakers, the bilingual child will seem to know only three colors, as opposed to the monolingual who knows five. These tests do not measure the language wealth of bilingual children correctly. Please also be aware that many tests advertised as “bilingual” do not do a good job of measuring bilingual children either [This was an important topic of discussion at a recent conference at Princeton University.
Click here to download the presentations on www.futureofchildren.org]. So bilingual kids are not slower than monolinguals. In fact, studies have shown that children who have developed an advanced proficiency in two languages and cultures do not struggle more academically than monolingual children. Moreover, children who have developed strong proficiency in two languages many times end up surpassing monolinguals in math and even in English – and on top of that they speak two languages!
There are many ways to support your budding bilingual! You don’t need to speak Spanish to be able to support them. They will gladly tell you and teach you what they learn. We also offer many opportunities in parent communication so that you feel like you are part of their everyday lives. At Children’s Academy, we want our parents to be involved in any way they can, and our teachers and directors make sure that parents are getting all the information and opportunities they need to be part of our community.
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