Intuitive Learning

You learned your first native language by an immersion approach. Your parents and family members simply spoke to you every day. There was no need for translation because there was simply no language to translate. Children learn a language intuitively simply by being immersed in it. The quantity and frequency of words a child is exposed to has a direct influence on how fast that child will learn a language both on a receptive and expressive level.

Starting Early is Better
Time and Newsweek both ran feature articles on the “window of opportunity” to learn a new language which is between birth and age 10. Three full days per week is typically the minimum (or five half days) for most immersion schools. Your child’s attendance also depends upon his or her knack for language, motivation, outgoing nature, your schedule and other factors.

Advantages of Immersion Approach
In addition to reaping the social and economic advantages of bilingualism, immersion learners benefit cognitively, exhibiting greater nonverbal problem-solving abilities and more flexible thinking (see reviews in Met, 1998). It has been suggested that the very processes learners need to use to make sense of the teacher’s meaning make them pay closer attention and think harder. These processes, in turn, appear to have a positive effect on cognitive development. However, a high level of second language proficiency is needed in order to experience the positive cognitive benefits that come with bilingualism (Cummins, 1981).

Becoming bilingual opens the door to communication with more people in more places, and many parents want to provide their children with skills to interact competently in an increasingly interdependent world community.

Learning a Second Language: Impact on English Language and Literacy Development
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).

Engaged, Fun Communication
Teachers speak in the target language 90-100% of the time. 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.

What to Expect from a Language Immersion Program
Expect minor mix-ups. It’s natural for a child to confuse the word order or use words from both languages in the same sentence. He’ll quickly learn to separate the languages.

Don’t underestimate his/her progress. Even though many people think learning two languages causes speech delays, that is not the case. Your little one might say fewer English words than other kids her age, but if you add in the words she knows in her second language, her total number of words will probably be more than that of her peers.