Why Spanish Immersion?
The majority of the world’s population uses at least two languages on a regular basis.
Children in Europe, for example, are taught second — and even third — languages from the time they enter school at four or five. In other parts of the world, multiple languages are spoken at home and in the community as a matter of necessity.
In the United States, however, unless a child learns a second language at home, schools traditionally skip second language instruction until middle or high school. At this point, the effects of such instruction are limited and typically non-permanent.
The alternative to this customary model of foreign language instruction in the United States is language immersion, ideally from a young age. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, there are more than 1,000 language immersion schools in America today, and most of them offer Spanish as the immersion language of choice. These schools have proven outstandingly effective at helping students learn Spanish as a second language quickly and permanently.
Parents considering a Spanish immersion preschool or elementary school for their children can look forward to the following benefits.
1. Immersion has been proven most effective at teaching new languages.
In schools where only a fraction of study time is spent learning a new language (a few hours a week, for example), the effects have proven minimal, at best. That’s because students are not learning the new language in a practical way or with real-world scenarios.
Instead, traditional instruction of second languages has students learning chunks of unrelated vocabulary, obscure grammatical rules, and full conjugations of verbs. This isn’t how anyone learns their native language from birth.
If English is your native tongue, for instance, you naturally learn through immersion. Your parents and other family members speak English at home. You hear English on the television and radio. And when you go out into the world, English is the most common language you hear from people in stores, at restaurants, and on the street.
Spanish language immersion schools provide a similar environment and therefore result in the same proven effectiveness of learning and outcome.
2. Spanish language immersion doesn’t affect English language skills.
Contrary to popular belief, the addition of a second language will not negatively affect a child’s ability to fully develop and use their native English language skills. These skills are easily honed and reinforced by community and family.
Furthermore, because languages are essentially quarantined in the brain (separate from one another), there’s no chance that a child will be “replacing” Spanish for English. Instead, each child has more than enough “space” in their brain to fully acquire knowledge of a new language such as Spanish, and to continue using both English and Spanish efficiently and effectively.
3. Acquisition of a second language boosts cognitive abilities.
Students who learn Spanish through immersion benefit from the acquisition of the language itself, but they also benefit in other cognitive ways. That is, they acquire skills and techniques that other children who aren’t immersed in a new language simply do not learn in school.
As an example, when you learn a new language, you are forced to improve your skills at listening carefully to identify sounds. You also become adept at breaking apart words and analyzing them in novel ways. In effect, words in English often take on new meaning as well.
A monolingual (someone who speaks only one language) in English, for example, will see the word “bookcase” as a simple term that represents a piece of furniture. Most won’t think of the term beyond this definition. Someone who is bilingual, on the other hand, will likely look at the word “bookcase” and see that it is, in fact, two terms put together to provide new meaning: “book” + “case” = A case, or holder, for books.
In general, bilingualism has been shown to help students outperform monolinguists in a variety of tasks, from math and science, to history and the arts.
4. Bilingualism offers a lifetime of additional opportunities for work, relationships, and travel.
Learning a second language — and especially one so widely spoken as Spanish — offers anyone the ability to communicate with millions more people. As a result, bilinguals have a multitude of additional opportunities in the workplace and on a personal level.
If a young child can learn Spanish fluently as a second language, they will have a better chance of finding jobs as they get older. This will, in turn, improve the likelihood of them enjoying and finding meaning in their careers. Colleges and universities, likewise, want to see candidates who are bilingual. And finally, on a personal level, those who can speak Spanish have the ability of traveling to a multitude of Spanish-speaking countries with ease.
Many English-speaking Americans today wish they could have grown up knowing a second language such as Spanish. Unfortunately, acquiring a new language as an adult is considerably more difficult than learning as a child.
Spanish language immersion schools are the answer to this challenge. Children have brains that work much differently than those of adults because they are notably more “sponge-like.” These schools afford children the opportunity to harness the absorbency of their young minds and to learn Spanish fluently, and for life.