Students in immersion programs have easier time learning English

There are various options a district and state can decide upon when dealing with foreign language speakers in the classroom. They can opt for bilingual education, which is where the school uses two languages, one of which is English, as mediums of instruction. They can also use Structured English Immersion (SEI) where English is spoken a majority of time, and either there is no second language, or if there is, it is spoken very little.

In 2000, Arizona passed a voter initiative requiring the use of SEI in their state. The abundance of research, however, yields no conclusive results. As of now, one cannot say that one is better than the other. Nevertheless, in Canada and in Louisiana the structured immersion model was used to teach French and was very successful, which is the main reason why I believe that immersion works best.

The basis of the Rosetta Stone brand is immersion, and many professors of linguistics tell their students that they must surround themselves in the language they are learning in order to learn it the best. Being forced to immerse yourself in another language requires you to struggle to express the ideas you are trying to convey in that language.

The main reason for the inconclusive results between the two methods might be because the SEI and bilingual models are often implemented incorrectly. The biggest hindrance to learning English is the simple fact that the student isn’t immersed in that language. Immigration in the past and immigration today are two very different things. The laws dictating that English be spoken have changed little, but socially there was a pressure to learn English in the past that isn’t felt today.

For example, Kelvi, a 19-year-old from Waller ISD, arrived to this country knowing very little English. He lived in a small town in Mexico when his family decided to move to the US.

When he arrived in Houston, he was tested and placed in bilingual classes to help him learn English. However, his family had moved to a pre-dominantly Caucasian neighborhood and the bilingual teachers there were anything but. Nevertheless, Kelvi said this fact helped him learn English faster.

He had to work a little harder to keep up with his class, and today he speaks English with a slight accent but is fluent nonetheless.

Limci, 17, on the other hand, arrived to the US from Guatemala in 2006; she’s in a Cy-Fair district high school now and is in their ESL program. She takes regular classes, and for one period she is placed in ESL.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t learned English as easily as Kelvi. Limci hasn’t been able to test out of ESL for the last 5 years. She tells me that her ESL class lasts one hour, her teacher is Hispanic, and he speaks to them in Spanish. Also, he lets them talk and do their homework for other classes.

Sometimes he passes out worksheets and makes them do some English drills, but that’s rare. Her English is marked by a very heavy accent, and she said that she is often lost in English conversations because she just doesn’t know the words.

Denisse, 16, is an American-born student who was raised in Mexico until she was 14. When her family moved back to the US, she was placed in an SEI program at her Cy-Fair ISD high school. She admitted to me that the class she was placed in for the first year in the US was filled with Spanish speakers, and she didn’t learn much. She really began absorbing English only when she was placed in regular classes. There, she says, she was forced to write, speak and think in English.

Kelvi and Denisse were, in reality, the recipients of an immersion model of teaching, and are now doing fine. Limci received a bilingual education and is still struggling.

True immersion clearly and obviously played the biggest role in the success of Kelvi and Denisse.

A bilingual education doesn’t truly work because students often fall back on their native languages.

Alejandro Caballero is a creative writing junior and may be reached at [email protected].

1 Comment

  • As someone who went through immersion, I wholeheartedly agree that immersion does work wonders. You have to work to be able to understand and learn, and that is the key. Great article!

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