is a method of teaching a second language (also called L2, or the target language).
Unlike a more traditional language course, where the target language is simply the subject material, language immersion uses the target language as a teaching tool, surrounding, or "immersing" students in the second language.
In-class activities, such as math, social studies, and history, and those outside of the class, such as meals or everyday tasks, are all conducted in the target language. Today's immersion programs are based on those founded in the 1960s in Canada when middle-income English-speaking parents 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.
Educators distinguish between language immersion programs and submersion.
In the former, the class is composed of students learning the L2 at the same level; while in the latter, one or two students are learning the foreign language, which is the first language (L1) for the rest of the class, thus they are "thrown into the ocean to learn how to swim" instead of gradually immersed in the new language.
A new form of language related syllabus delivery called Internationalised Curriculum has provided a different
angle to the issue by immersing the curricula from various countries into the local language curriculum and separating out the language learning aspects of the syllabus. Proponents of this methodology believe immersion study of in a language foreign to the country of instruction doesn't produce as effective results as separated language learning and may in fact, hinder educational effectiveness and learning in other subject areas.
A number of different immersion programs have evolved since those first ones in Canada. Immersion programs may be categorized according to age and extent of immersion.
- Early immersion: students begin the second language from the age of 5 or 6.
- Middle immersion: students begin the second language from the age of 9 or 10.
- Late immersion: students begin the second language between the ages of 11 - 14.
- In total immersion, almost one hundred percent of class time is spent in the foreign language. Subject matter taught in foreign language and language learning per se is incorporated as necessary throughout the curriculum. The goals are to become functionally proficient
in the foreign language, to master subject content taught in the foreign languages, and to acquire an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures. This type of program is usually sequential,cumulative, continuous, proficiency-oriented, and part of an integrated grade school sequence. Even in total immersion, the language of the curriculum may revert to the first language of the learners after several years.
- In partial immersion, about half of the class time is spent learning subject matter in the foreign language. The goals are to become functionally proficient in the second language (though to a lesser extent than through total immersion), to master subject content taught in the foreign languages, and to acquire an understanding of and
appreciation for other cultures.
- In two-way immersion, also called "dual-" or "bilingual immersion",
the student population consists of speakers of two or more different
languages. Ideally speaking, half of the class is made up of native
speakers of the major language in the area (i.e. English in the U.S.)
and the other half is of the target language (i.e. Spanish). Class time
is split in half and taught in the major and target languages. This way
students encourage and teach each other, and eventually all become
bilingual. The goals are similar to the above program. Different ratios
of the target language to the native language may occur.
- In content-based foreign languages in elementary schools
(FLES), about 15-50% of class time is spent in the foreign language and
time is spent learning per se as well as learning subject matter in the
foreign language. The goals of the program are to acquire proficiency
in listening, speaking, reading, and writing the foreign language, to
use subject content as a vehicle for acquiring foreign language skills,
and to acquire an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures.
- In FLES programs, five to fifteen percent of class time is
spent in the foreign language and time is spent learning language per
se. It takes a minimum of 75 minutes per week, at least every other
day. The goals of the program are to acquire proficiency in listening
and speaking (degree of proficiency varies with the program), to
acquire an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures, and to
acquire some proficiency in reading and writing (emphasis varies with
the program). T
- In FLEX (Foreign Language Experience) programs, frequent and
regular sessions over a short period of time or short and/or infrequent
sessions over an extended period of time are provided in the second
language. Class is usually almost always in the first language. Only
one to five percent of class time is spent sampling each of one or more
languages and/or learning about language. The goals of the program are
to develop an interest in foreign languages for future language study,
to learn basic words and phrases in one or more foreign languages, to
develop careful listening skills, to develop cultural awareness, and to
develop linguistic awareness. This type of program is usually
Baker has found that more than one thousand 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 found.
- Early immersion students lag behind their monolingual peers in literacy (reading, spelling, and punctuation) for the first few years only. However, after the first few years, the immersion students catch up with their peers.
- Immersion programs have no negative effects on spoken skills in the first language.
- Early immersion students acquire almost-native-like proficiency in
passive skills' (listening and reading) comprehension of the second
language by the age of 11.
- Early immersion students are more successful in listening and reading proficiency than partial and late immersion students.
- Immersion programs have no negative effects on the cognitive development of the students.
- Monolingual peers perform better in sciences and math at an early
age, however immersion students eventually catch up with, and in some
cases, outperform their monolingual peers.
English villages are language education institutions which aim to create a language immersion environment for students of English in their own country.
The concept is run as a commercial venture in Spain and Italy, and is quasi-governmental in Korea.