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The Immersion Method of Teaching English as a Second Language

The Immersion Method of Teaching English as a Second Language and The ARC Metropolitan School ways of incorporating the method in their classrooms

Lili Hamboussi, English Teacher

There are various different methods which are used to teach a second language. One such method is the immersion method of teaching, by which students are taught a second language exclusively through the medium of the second language.The central characteristic of immersion is the teaching of language content and culture in combination, without the use of the student’s first language, and even though we cannot speak of full immersion program, at the ARC Metropolitan School, primary school students are fully immersed for a total of 9 hours of English per week with the help, skills and teaching expertise of native English speaking teachers. 

An effective immersion environment involves the teacher speaking the foreign language slowly and clearly and using easily comprehensible language. Hand gesticulation, appropriate modelling, visual aids such as pictures or photographs and ‘ acting out ‘ techniques are used. For students to learn a new language in meaningful contexts, teachers must use every instructional strategy available to them, including the use of actual objects (realia), pictures, videos, and gestures to express meaning. This will allow students to develop comprehension without direct explanation. Through online videos and scenarios, students realize very quickly that language and culture go hand-in-hand. Another, very important, technique is that teachers should consistently weave together familiar language with new words and information, so that students continually develop their language proficiency. In this way, language acquisition in an immersion program closely mimics the natural learning curve for a first language, in which a child is constantly prompted to assimilate new language and meaning from unfamiliar words and expressions. Immersion also includes more elements of discovery- and inquiry-based learning than do other kinds of instructional practices. Students must constantly and consistently decipher inferences and context clues.

Language-immersion instruction consists of language and content lessons, including functional usage of the language, academic language, authentic language, and socioculturally correct language. Unlike a standard foreign-language classroom, the immersion setting provides more opportunities to teach students colloquial versus academic language. Immersion techniques also introduce a language’s cultural and social contexts in a meaningful and memorable way. It is particularly important that immersion teachers connect classwork with real-life experiences. For example, students should learn when to say, „what’s up” and when to say, „it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”  Every theme/lesson thought in the classroom should have a direct impact and effect on the student, real life and his environment. By applying a broad range of communication styles, teachers instill the expectation that students will use the language in real-life situations as well as in their studies.

 

Other immersion teaching techniques that I incorporate, successfully, into my classroom are:

 

  • The ability to ask open-ended questions. Effective teachers, no matter the subject or setting, steer clear of questions that elicit only „yes or no” answers. Instead, they challenge students’ thinking, nudging their higher-order cognitive skills and giving ample time to articulate each response. In immersion classrooms, it is especially important that teachers encourage students to give longer and more varied replies. For instance, they can ask students to expand upon or support their answers with examples or evidence. Following up in this way helps students practice a wide range of expressions and to keep incorporating fresh words and patterns into their productive repertoire.

 

  • The ability to regularly assess students’ comprehension and skills development. Teachers need to monitor students’ understanding through questioning techniques and formative assessments. They should also be consistently pushing students to use new words and expressions, more complex language structures, and more culturally appropriate language in their interactions and responses. Teachers should encourage students to use more specific vocabulary, as opposed to generic expressions, as they continue to develop their skills.

 

  • The ability to think strategically about the various types of student interactions and to vary them, promoting a dynamic learning environment. Teachers can mix the following types of interactions: teacher-students, student-student, whole group, and small groups. In small-group and project-based settings, teachers need to carefully evaluate the makeup of the various groups. Each student should work with various people in the class, but there should also be opportunities for long-term and ongoing student interactions.

 

Essentially, language achievement in immersion education, when compared to subject teaching, can be attributed to three fundamental variables of successful second language acquisition namely:

  • the extent of time
  • the intensity of use
  • the quality of exposure to the second language.

Successful immersion programmes have been characterized by instruction that incorporates the following key concepts:

  • children learn other languages best when their native language is not used for instruction
  • successful second language learning emphasizes comprehension rather than speaking at beginning stages and uses the insights of second language research in the development of all aspects of the program
  • Learning occurs in a meaningful communicative context and use is made of subject-content instruction, games, songs and rhymes, experiences with arts, crafts, and sports
  • considerable planning goes into the use of visuals, realia, and hands-on activities
  • language learning activities are interdisciplinary
  • opportunities for movement and physical activity are incorporated
  • learning activities are geared to the child’s cognitive level, interest level, and motor skills
  • learning activities are organized according to a communicative syllabus with focus on linguistic forms rather than according to a grammatical syllabus
  • learning activities establish the language as a real means of communication in authentic situations
  • programmes make provision for the reading and writing of familiar material as appropriate to the age of the pupils, even in early stages
  • learning is evaluated frequently and regularly.

 

Still with so many different methods and approaches to teaching English as a second language, or any other language for that matter, I will like to close here with a quote by William E. Bull: „The superior teacher has regularly gotten superior results regardless of the method.”

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