A friend recently told me that she was warned by a child development expert about the dangers of puting her English-speaking son in a Spanish-immersion program. According to this "expert" her son would be spending time learning another language and would not be learning about important concepts like, "friendship" or "sharing". I often hear comments like this about immersion programs from parents. "I want my children to speak another language but I also want them to speak English." "Expecting children to learn in another language is too much for them. Its hard enough for them to learn English." These comments, while frustrating, are understandable since they come from a misunderstanding of the way children develop language. However, to hear something like this coming from a trained, child-development expert is really baffling.
How hard is it understand that children in immersion programs are learning everything that children in English-only programs are learning. They are just doing it in a different language. A child in an immersion program at the preschool level will typically reach an age-appropriate fluency in the language of instruction within one year. Understanding the language takes just a couple of months. And while students in immersion programs might appear to be a bit behind their monolingual peers in English language development in the early years, national test scores continue to show them leveling off by third grade and far surpassing their monolingual peers by eighth grade. Evidently, being immersed in a language other than English does not affect their ability to reach above average English skills in speaking, reading comprehension, vocabulary or writing. And to top it all off, they also now speak two languages.
For more information on the effectiveness of immersion programs, please read: What Parents Want to Know about Foreign Language Immersion Programs