More schools are now using flash cards to practice language skills in elementary school classrooms as dual language immersions programs expand. 
Photo: WILLIAM WIDMER/NYT
Photo: WILLIAM WIDMER/NYT

Immersion in second language starting in kindergarten? A teacher says, ‘Magnifique.’

In Georgia and around the country, more schools offer half day instruction in another language

Educator Diane Davis works in a French-immersion elementary school in metro Atlanta. Starting in kindergarten, students receive core content instruction in French for half of their day.

In this guest column, Davis touts the benefits of such immersion programs.

comprehensive study published two years ago by the Rand Corporation placed the number of language immersion programs in U.S. schools at about 2000. Current estimates are closer to 3,000. The study found compelling causal evidence that dual language immersion programs improve students' reading skills in English while also building their skills in another language.

As the AJC recently reported, Gwinnett has expanded its language immersion programs; the district now has seven schools that focus on Spanish, one with a French concentration; and, new this year, the only Korean immersion program in the Southeast.

By Diane Davis

“Bonjour, classe. Comment allez-vous aujourd’hui?” Did you think that you were in a francophone country? Hélas, non. You are in the United States in a growing number of schools that realize the benefits of immersing students in a foreign language to learn subjects such as math and science in the target language. 

Many counties in Georgia now offer magnet schools in various languages in the elementary school. I teach in one of them. I just taught photosynthesis in French to elementary school children.

Why language immersion? 

We want our children to have as many skills as possible to help them to be successful in our global environment. Not only does foreign language mastery set a candidate apart, but also it allows for a better understanding of one’s native language, grammar, vocabulary, culture, and spelling.

For instance, in French, you put the adjective after the noun, whereas in English, you put the adjective before the noun. Imagine how the extra comparison and contrast helps to solidify the concept of adjectives and continue to imagine doing this with vocabulary in science and math. To be able to answer a question about how the green pigments in plants trap the sunlight wraps up many facts and skills into a package that is full of beneficial information for the immersion student and exercises the brain with rigor. 

As with any skill, the ability to navigate in a foreign language and culture gives confidence. For instance, can you imagine being one of the soldiers parachuting into France for the liberation during World War II and being able to understand the language of the ally? That could be helpful.

Bring it to present day, I know of a young woman who was able to work in the surfing capital of Europe because of her ability to speak French. This led to her receiving paid training as a medical assistant because the director of a facility was immensely impressed that she had worked in France. There are many other examples of how a foreign language gives one an advantage.

Immersion programs are a cost-effective program because the teachers work alongside other teachers in the school so there is little extra expense, only benefit.

There are some grants available for language immersion programs. I believe that all students should have access to language immersion curriculum. Now, only the students whose parents are able to get the students to the magnet schools can partake, so I am working on a virtual program that will make this available to all students. Parlons français ensemble.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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