Updated: May 11
As globalisation is becoming more prevalent in society, having the ability to speak multiple languages is a valuable skill to teach our children. Finding the best way to achieve this can be challenging. In this blog, Mulberry House International Kindergarten shares some great tips.
Apart from the first language, sometimes parents choose to help children acquire their second and third languages through language classes. There is a better way though. To learn one or more languages through an immersion experience means using those languages in day-to-day life, during classes not as subjects but as a target medium of instruction. These languages are being used as an instructional medium during math time, science time, exploration time, daily clean up, and the whole day as a living language. This way the student develops an actual understanding of the whole language.
We can’t forget about their other language. One of the most well-researched approaches to acquire multiple living languages is through dual-language programs. Using English and Mandarin as an example, a dual language program would integrate learning English and learning Mandarin for all daily life instruction and academic content instruction. Through dual language programs, children become bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate. They not only maintain a key native language but also become very proficient in another. Through more targeted approaches, ie giving more exposure to a weaker language, they will gradually become a balanced bilingual individual (having the same amount of understanding in both languages and culture)
Some parents may ask "what’s the difference between an immersion and a pure language programme?"
An immersion programme is to learn by being with native (and non-native) speakers and absorbing the language that surrounds them, without any translation. It focuses on how to use a new language to learn rather than just practicing the language. The target language becomes the medium of instruction for learning areas and academic content, hence language acquisition and content studies occur at the same time. Through an immersion program, a child learns holistically from a cognitive aspect, gains cultural and contextual understanding, social benefits, acquires problem-solving and critical thinking skills in the target language; not limited to the technicalities of a language such as vocabulary, pronunciations, grammars, etc.
This is in contrast to any language class, where language is studied by focusing on technicalities such as sentence structure and grammar, focusing on repetition before becoming fluent in listening and speaking. Most often language schools use translation to achieve faster results by translating to/from another primary language such as English.
Parents also ask "why is immersion the best way to learn a new language?"
Jessica Ye Trainor says the simple answer is because language can’t be learned alone without context. It is as if swimming can’t be learnt by practising on land without going into the water. By living life in the immersion language, learners embrace it just as they learn their first language.
The leading brain researcher at the Public Library of Science (PLOS Org) published a study that found those who had learned a new language with the immersion method had brain waves similar to native speakers of a language. Those who trained with the traditional language class also became more native-like in their brain processing, but only the immersion group showed full native-like processing of grammar.
How does dual language and dual immersion work in school?
At Mulberry House International Kindergarten, English and Mandarin language and culture are fully integrated throughout every aspect of a child’s early years learning experience. Throughout day-to-day life, children effortlessly absorb and experience both English and Mandarin as “Living Languages”. In a classroom, there are two qualified teachers at all times. One leads in English and one leads in Mandarin. They each lead a group in their classroom, leading various learning engagements, and then swap, so children get 50% time with each teacher throughout the day. To help further, children’s language exposure also happens in the playground and at home. If a child is lacking a particular language input at hom<div style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; padding: 12px; border-radius: 4px;"> <p>Navigating the challenges of bilingualism? Tune into this enlightening podcast that explores struggles and solutions for bilingualism.</p> <p style="text-align: center; margin-top: 20px;"><span style="background-color: #eb5946; padding: 8px 12px; border-radius: 4px;"><a href="https://topschools.podbean.com/e/bilingualism-struggles-and-solutions/" style="color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none;">Listen Now</a></span></p> </div>e, we recommend children supplement the target language in other ways. We have seen children under six years old catch up in a weaker target language during just 2-3 months through daily immersion.
How do we learn in an immersion school?
Children will be completely surrounded by the language they are learning. Full immersion means that the child sees and hears only the target language, such as Mandarin, and the child is interacting with people only in this target language. By repeating daily routines and learning about the world in Mandarin, learners have the opportunity to hear the same words and phrases repeated in the context of natural communication, and fluency comes naturally.
The best practice is to group children together with mixed language abilities so that no single group of children feels they are in the minority or majority of less fluent children who may have tendencies to communicate in their first language.
As children are learning about the world, the fluent ones will take away advanced vocabulary and knowledge, such as how friction works. The less fluent ones will learn more basic vocabulary but still be able to learn about the world around them.
What if the child doesn’t understand?
Some parents may have concerns that their child may not understand and feel left out. Actually, it is very normal for children to take a little time to get used to any new environment at the beginning. They may not understand everything at first, but as they become engaged in the class and motivated by their new friends, they will gradually pick up the tone, facial expressions, body language of teachers and other children.
As they acquire more vocabulary together with newfound knowledge, they will gain more confidence to speak. Observation has shown that students in language immersion programs develop "big dreams" for their future, increased confidence, self-efficacy, perseverance, and cognitive flexibility.
Given the opportunity, immersion is the best way to learn a language like Mandarin. Compared to language lessons, children learn in the right environment where they have the ability to naturally inquire about the world using different languages.
If this pedagogy and learning environment interests you, we strongly urge you to join Top Schools and Mulberry house for a fantastic webinar focusing on how to bring up bilingual children. Click below to learn more.