Published Date: 02/25/20
When researching the best preschool for your child, you may consider a language immersion program.
Language immersion preschool may be daunting to a parent who doesn’t speak the immersive language. You might feel that your child will fall behind in his or her vocabulary development in your native language or get confused speaking a different language at home and at school. We’ll explore language immersion preschools so you can determine if one might be a good fit for your family.
Language immersion preschool give children the ability to learn a language other than the primary local language. The degree of immersion will vary from school-to-school. Some are taught entirely in the non-native language and others strive for a balance, for example mornings in Spanish and afternoons in English.
There are significant benefits to a multilingual education and language immersion preschool can be the start of that. It’s notable that there are no disadvantages to speaking multiple languages.
Benefits of Language Immersion Preschool and Dual-Language Education
Professors emeritus at George Mason University in Virginia and wife and husband team, Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas have extensively studied the bilingual education.
They have collected more than 8 million records across six states and 37 districts. They found that students in dual language education programs perform better on tests, are happier in school, have fewer behavior problems, better attendance, and higher parental involvement in their education.
Bilingual children need to determine what language to speak in every setting. To do this, they rely on social cues. Antonella Sorace of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland told NPR that children as young as three have shown an advantage on tests of theory of mind and perspective-taking. Theory of mind is “the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to oneself, and to others, and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own.” While not things you necessarily associate with preschool, both are critical social and emotional skills.
Observation Skills & Executive Function
Using those social cues to determine what language to speak demonstrates the ability to pay attention in different situations. A child in language immersion preschool might greet their teacher with “Bonjour!” at drop off but then turn to their parent and say, “Goodbye.”
This is considered an executive function skill. Executive function is the ability to plan, pay attention, remember instructions and manage multiple tasks simultaneously and successfully.
Sorace says, "[Bilinguals] can pay focused attention without being distracted and also improve in the ability to switch from one task to another.”
In Portland, Ore., about 10 percent of public school students are entered into a lottery for a dual-language program. Languages offered are Japanese, Spanish and Mandarin along with English.
A four-year, randomized trial conducted by Jennifer Steele at American University found that by the end of middle school, students in the dual-language program outperformed students in the monolingual program in English-reading by a full year.
The effects were found in reading only, not math or science, and Steele says this indicates that dual-language students have “mentalinguistic awareness” – i.e. a better awareness of how language works.
Dementia and Brain Function Decline Prevention
A Canadian study of patients with Alzheimer’s found that the brains of the bilingual subjects had atrophy that was five to seven years more advanced than the monolingual subjects but the bilingual subjects performed on par with the monolingual subjects on cognitive tests and tests of daily functions. This indicates that speaking multiple languages can help ward off the decline of brain function.
Appreciation of Other Cultures & Cultural Competency
Children who are in language immersion preschools are languages other than their own are also exposed to diverse cultures. This helps make children culturally competent, which gives them “the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses being aware of one's own world view, developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences, and gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.”
“It is more than being respectful of the cultures represented in the service or even the community. It is much more than awareness of cultural differences, more than knowledge of the customs and values of those different to our own. Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures.” 
Questions About Language Immersion Preschool
Is language immersion preschool confusing to children?
No. As children learn multiple languages they may mix up words. Instead of asking you for water they may ask for agua. However, a study by Judith F. Kroll, a Pennsylvania State Distinguished Professor in psychology, linguistics, and women's studies shows that this temporary confusion may actually be beneficial. She says, consistent with other studies, that executive function improves and the brain gets stronger when choosing between two languages.
Does starting in preschool really matter?
Yes. Fundamentally, children are eager learners. As they’re still learning their native tongue they’re not self-conscious about making mistakes in any language and more willing to try out new skills without fear of embarrassment. Children are also better at copying new sounds and using appropriate pronunciation than adult learners.
What is the best second language for my child to learn?
Selecting a second language is an entirely personal choice. You might have different reasons for sending your child to a language immersion preschool than another parent. You may select a language for cultural reasons, practical reasons, or simply because you happen to like another language. All are valid. And, research confirms that bilingual children have an easier time learning a third language later in life than their monolingual counterparts, so rest assured that they can still learn well beyond preschool.
Language immersion preschool can provide wonderful and lasting benefits to your child. Search Paper Pinecone for the best language immersion preschools in your area. Look for a play-based program that focuses on social and emotional development and is a warm, loving environment.
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