To date, educating young children to become bilingual speakers and thinkers has historically not been the norm throughout American education. Several myths continue to persist despite immersion education’s steady growth in popularity. Fortunately with new and increased research into the benefits of bilingual study, these myths are quickly being dispelled. Some of the most common misperceptions include the following:
In most countries around the world children grow up learning more than one language during early childhood. Research supports the brain’s ability to learn multiple languages simultaneously when both languages are supported. While it may take dual language learning children slightly longer to develop the same vocabulary in each language compared to monolingual children, bilingual children are able to catch up with the added benefit of attaining proficiency in a second language, as well as with the acquisition of additional cognitive skills gained during its learning. The challenges created when switching between languages are associated with increased cognitive control, added working memory, higher attention to relevant versus irrelevant task cues, mental or cognitive flexibility and improved language skills. The linguistic challenges required for young children to learn more than one language enhance the brain’s ability to learn additional languages.
Many parents fear that children in a dual language program will be at an academic disadvantage to students in an English only program when it comes to academic achievement and standardized testing. In fact, the opposite is true. Research shows learning a second language offers significant cognitive benefits including improved problem solving skills and increased mathematical ability, as well as enhanced metalinguistic skills (the ability to understand language structure).
Students in dual language immersion programs consistently outscore their monolingual counterparts across a broad spectrum of economic backgrounds. Foreign language students statistically score higher on standardized tests conducted in English. In its 1992 report, College Bound Seniors: The 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who averaged four or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied four or more years in any other subject area. In addition, the average mathematics score for individuals who had taken four or more years of foreign language study was identical to the average score of those who had studied four years of mathematics. These findings are consistent with College Board profiles for previous years.
While it is true that children are generally more adept than adults at learning a second language, a specific set of conditions need to be in place in order to take full advantage of this natural ability. Videos and television alone are not an effective medium to learn a second language. Parents, teachers or caretakers with an understanding of how to help children scaffold their learning are vital factors in foreign language acquisition. While children may be able to speak fluently after two to five years, it will take approximately five to seven years for children to develop academic language.
In most immersion programs, children come from families in which the parents do not speak the target language. If children continue for five to seven years in a well-structured immersion program, they become bilingual and bi-literate. Sometimes parents who do not speak the target language well are concerned that speaking incorrectly or with a non- standard accent will be detrimental. Parents who demonstrate a willingness and effort to try speaking are sending a valuable message to their child that the language learning is an effort worth undertaking.
To learn more about exciting new research in immersion education, visit: