English immersion in early childhood

By on December 30, 2012
Raising a bilingual child is a goal of many parents in an international setting and research shows that students can gain additional cognitive, academic and employment benefits from speaking more than one language. Developing second language skills in early childhood through an immersion program is proven to be highly effective. In an immersion program, unlike traditional second language instruction, the target language is the language of instruction. This authentic communication allows students to learn a second language in a similar manner to the way that they have learned their first.

Language is a way for children to make sense of their experience, to learn from it and to make it comprehensible. In the beginning, children’s language growth comes from their direct experience and early language experience is necessary in order to eventually be able to use language symbols apart from actual situations. Language development is a gradual process and it reflects a child’s cognitive capacities. Language is purposeful – as children play and work they do so through language. Children expand their development of language by relating what they already know to what they encounter and language is a means of influencing thinking and behavior. For language to expand, children need multiple opportunities to interact – through verbal and written communication – to express their understanding of the world.

In such an immersion program, English is the teaching tool, surrounding or immersing the students in this language. The teachers will use a vast repertoire of instructional strategies to teach the grade level curricular content while teaching English language as well. With young children, teachers will use body language, visuals, manipulatives, facial expressions, and expressive intonation to communicate meaning. As the year progresses, children will naturally use more and more English. To draw students into using the target language, teachers will use songs, useful phrases, charts, and rhymes and will carefully structure the day with familiar routines.

It is also important to understand the need to preserve and strengthen the home/first language. Doing so supports the continuity of cognitive growth in general. As children are learning a second language, they are drawing on the background and experience they have available to them from their first language. The skills children develop in their first language form the foundation they must have to be academically successful in their second language. Research shows that it is important to support each child’s mother tongue as they are learning English as a second language at school.

Beginning in August 2013, the American School in Japan (ASIJ) will offer an English immersion class at its Early Learning Center (ELC). This new program is designed for Japanese-speaking 4-year-olds with the goal that students become proficient in English and develop increased cultural awareness while reaching a high level of academic achievement. Children will spend three years learning social and academic English with full support from specialized classroom teachers and an in-house speech and language pathologist. After two years at the ELC for Pre-K and Kindergarten, students will move to ASIJ’s main campus for first grade with continued support from English Language Learning (ELL) specialists. From second grade, students will matriculate to a regular class of English-speaking peers.

In developing ASIJ’s new program, the school worked with Dr. Virginia Rojas, an internationally renowned expert on ELL and language immersion who has worked with school in South America, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Rojas conducted workshops wiht ASIJ faculty on the methodology of ELL instruction and immersion education.

If you are interested in ASIJ’s new immersion program or admissions in general, please consider attending the Admissions Open House at the ELC on January 17. To reserve a space at an Open House, please e-mail Judy Beneventi at elc@asij.ac.jp

Applications for the immersion program and all other grade levels on both campuses are now open. Further information about the immersion program, general admissions process and links to the application forms are on the ASIJ website at www.asij.ac.jp

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