Bilingual immersion programs are becoming increasingly popular in many countries. Their effects are crucial in the learning of other languages other than the native ones. It is especially efficient when introduced to learners at an early age for instance preschool. This way, it becomes easy to grow up with solid oral skills before being introduced to reading and writing. My study is based on how the two-way bilingual program works in California where preschoolers are engaged in a mandarin Chinese immersion program. The program gives the children an opportunity to learn both the Chinese and the English languages. It is not restricted to Chinese and English speaking students but also to those speaking other minority languages but who are schooling in the United States.
Historically, the first language immersion programs were conducted in Canada. In America, they began in the 1960s after the country experienced an influx of refugees from Cuba. Private schools were established to cater for Cuban refugees and soon, English-speaking students were enrolling for lessons on the Cuban language. However, its history in California dates back to the 1980s with public schools being established in areas such as San Francisco and Oakland to cater for the program. Statistically, the state of California has the highest number of programs than any other single state (Gershberg et al, 2004). Its programs offer more than five languages with Chinese being one of them.
The immersion program is introduced during the preschool stage for many reasons. Before they start to put down in paper the languages they have learnt, preschoolers are mainly occupied by playful learning activities, a factor that makes the learning a new language simpler. The immersion programs prepare them for future practice of the acquired languages (Potowski, 2007). Studies have also indicated that early immersion programs are essential for brain development. By being introduced to two different languages at the same time and with high levels of instruction, children become absorbed in trying to differentiate the varying aspects of the languages. Their brains are therefore performing many tasks, though not without challenges. The brain development of such children is higher or significantly faster than that of monolingual children in preschool.
Various people have moved to challenge this notion that early exposure to a new language is better than later. According to them, the early stages of a person’s life are very sensitive. Moreover, overburdening a child with numerous tasks is precarious to their development. Such people cite that there is no evidence suggesting poor second language learning abilities with advancement in age (Liu, 2009). This is not to mean that learning it an early age is disastrous either. Scientifically, brain development is nurtured, which is why emphasis on learning second languages is placed at an early age. Older children may have difficulty mastering a new language due to having passed the stage where they are most agile in language development. The same learning instructions given to children cannot be given to older persons for instance those given in the form of playful songs or children’s activities. It is important to note that children involved in early immersion programs have more proficiency in learning other languages in the future.
In a study by Senesac, (2002), an assertion of the effects of age on acquisition of new language was made. Based in production of sentences and consonant and vowel formation, Senesac confirms that late learners have an accent that influences their production of sentences. In addition, the formations of consonant and vowel sounds, which form part of prosody, are developed in the early stages of first language acquisition. The importance of prosody in language has been backed by several research findings. All these point to the fact that efforts to learn two languages at the same time and an early age pay off more than at a later stage. It is possible to learn a new language later in life but without the same level of proficiency seen among learners at an early stage (Medina, 2003).
The role the teacher plays in the early immersion language program is crucial to actually mastering the language. Most times instructors with a high level of mastery of both the native and the acquired languages are used. The teacher’s voice in immersion programs is essential because through it instructions are passed. In preschool immersion programs, the teacher’s voice is rarely heard. This is because their focus is on other materials and tools that help these young students to learn language skills. Such tools include gestures, visual displays among other interactive forums (Tedick et al, 2011). These interactive sessions are significant in promoting cultural integration among the participating cultures. In this case, there is interaction between the American and Chinese cultures. These form part of the instructional strategies that teachers use (Jacobson, 2004).
The above findings by Jacobson (2004) were in part revealed in an interview with an instructor at one of the schools offering immersion language programs. The interview was insightful in providing relevant information on the success of this program. Its effectiveness according to the teacher has contributed immensely to its growing popularity among students and parents eager to place their children in such programs. It offers a platform for acquisition of foreign languages in an efficient manner together with a host of other benefits that it presents such as cultural diversity.
My case study involved a non-experimental devise approach. It used the qualitative research method whose data was then gathered for interviews. It analyzed the benefits of preschool immersion programs for the Chinese language and conduction of the program.
Those that participated in my interview included a school principal and three teachers. The principal is monolingual, but the teachers are bilingual, fluent in both Chinese and English (Senesac, 2002). Prior to the interview, I had drafted a questionnaire that would guide me to acquire the intended information. Most of my questions were based on the achievements of the school, its reception among the population, the constraints if any that they faced and the pros and cons of introducing the immersion program to the learner at an early age. Using the questionnaire was the best approach toward obtaining comprehensive and internal information on the first hand experience that the teachers underwent during the teaching process. Through the questionnaire, I was also able to judge the sentiments and non-verbal expressions that the teachers had concerning different topics as we discussed them (Garci?a & Baetens, 2009).
I got my interviewees through a friend working at the Presidio preschool. A native of Taiwan she is a bilingual teacher at the school, having worked there for five years. I contacted her to relay my interest in studying a bilingual setting in early education after which she recommended her school. A call to the school’s principal earned me permission to interview two bilingual teachers, both Asian. The choice of the two interviewees was based on the experience and skill that they had both amassed. Being teachers for a long time and having graduated from approved institutions, they made the best subjects for the study, as they would offer valuable insight into the dilemma surrounding the instruction of bilingual students within the schools
Qualitative data collection methods play a significant role in assessment by offering valuable information to that helps in understanding the processes behind observed outcome. The research applied an in-depth interview as one of the main strategies to discovering the problems that teachers faced in teaching children two languages effectively. For the interview to be valid, the respondent had to be contacted earlier and briefed about the intentions beforehand. The structure and content of the questions of the interview also had to be constructed keeping in mind that all the factors concerning bilingual studies and teaching had to be included (Strickland et al, 2010). The selection of the respondent also required the deliberation of the whole research team before two highly trained and experienced instructors.
My research will also employ the use of document reviews. The main documents that the team reviewed was educational records form the national archives that contained all the performance by teachers. The records showed the trend of performance within institutions having bilingual programs. This method was heavily limited by the expensive and labor-intensive demands that could not be met by the research team.
The researchers I appointed adopted an exploratory approach in the analysis of the research data. The research used the Bonferroni Correction method to adjust the level of significance (Huitema, 2011). The choice of the exploratory approach was because of the fact that the research needed to find ideas that would provide answers to the challenges in teaching. It was not necessary to formulate a clear hypothesis. Instead, the main issues that plagued the education sector in as far as the teaching of two languages to children was concerned were collected. They were then grouped in a simple and easy-to-grasp form.
Huitema, B. E. (2011). The analysis of covariance and alternatives: Statistical methods for experiments, quasi-experiments, and single-case studies. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. Retrieved from http://ebooks.narotama.ac.id/files/The%20Analysis%20of%20Covariance%20and%20Alternatives%20(2nd%20Edition)/Index%20-%20The%20Analysis%20of%20Covariance%20and%20Alternatives%20(2nd%20Edition).pdf
Strickland, M. J., Keat, J. B., & Marinak, B. A. (January 01, 2010). Connecting Worlds: Using Photo Narrations to Connect Immigrant Children, Preschool Teachers, and Immigrant Families. School Community Journal, 20, 1, 81-102. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/EJ891833.pdf
Garci?a, O., & Baetens, B. H. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Pub. Retrieved from http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/2249773/bilingual_education_in_the_21st_century_a_global.pdf
Liu, P. (December 07, 2009). Integrating Thinking, Art and Language in Teaching Young Children. International Education, 39, 1, 6-29. Retrieved from http://peoplelearn.homestead.com/MEdHOME2/RESEARCHPscyhology/Thinking_Children.pdf
Jacobson, L. (2004). Preschoolers Study Foreign Tongues. Education Week, 23, 28.) Retrieved from www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2004/03/24/28language.h23.html
Medina, L. M. (2003). Bilingual education. San Diego Calif.: Greenhaven Press. Retrieved from http://isbndb.com/d/publisher/greenhaven_press.html?start_item=521
Gershberg, A. I., Danenberg, A., & Sa?nchez, P. (2004). Beyond “bilingual” education: New immigrants and public school policies in California. Washington, D.C: Urban Institute Press. Retrieved from www.urban.org/uipress/url.cfm?ID=211042
Potowski, K. (2007). Language and identity in a dual immersion school. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd. Retrieved from http://leighcherry.wikispaces.com/file/view/Lang+identity,+dual+immersion+-+Potowski.pdf
Senesac, B. V. K. (2002). Two-Way Bilingual Immersion: A Portrait of Quality Schooling. Bilingual Research Journal, 26, 1, 85-101. Retrieved from www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=EJ647791
Tedick, D. J., Christian, D., & Fortune, T. W. (2011). Immersion education: Practices, policies, possibilities. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. Retrieved from http://lled.educ.ubc.ca/crclle/documents/CRCLLE_2012_Symposium/Ryuko_Kubota_CRCLLE.pdf