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Language Immersion

Comprehension | Some benefits | Frequently Asked Questions

The model for foreign language immersion programs in the United States originated in Canada during the 1960s with French immersion programs. Students are "immersed" in a second language, by receiving academic instruction in the target language, rather than studying the language itself. Acquisition of the language is a natural outcome of hearing and using the language while gaining academic skills in the content curriculum areas.

In full immersion programs, teachers present the regular curriculum nearly 100% in the immersion language in the early years. Usually in second and/or third grades, English language arts are gradually introduced. English instruction increases incrementally as students progress through the grades.

Teachers use a variety of teaching strategies to make the second language comprehensible and engaging to students at the early levels, such as:

  • body language
  • intonation
  • visuals
  • manipulatives
  • songs
  • chants and rhymes
  • simple, familiar stories
  • predictable routines

Some benefits: Students in immersion programs generally:

  • achieve high levels of second language proficiency
  • gain communicative skills and cultural understanding
  • achieve as well or better than non-immersion peers on standardized assessments


Frequently Asked Questions

How proficient will my child become in the second language?
Students in immersion programs become fluent and confident in the second language after only 2 to 3 years in the immersion program. Listening and reading skills are similar to those of native speakers of the same age. However, students’ speaking and writing skills fall short of those of native speakers. Immersion students’ second language lacks the grammatical accuracy, the variety and complexity one would find in native speakers of the language. Achieving high levels of oral and written proficiency in a second language is a long-term process.

How long would it take to achieve native-like proficiency?
Near-native proficiency in the second language in every skill area is unlikely. Nevertheless, immersion students will have a strong base for further language development, including acquisition of subsequent languages.

Many factors influence language acquisition, including the personality and motivation of the student, expectations of teachers, parental support, program leadership, and support at both the school and district level. All of these factors contribute to student success.

How can I support my child’s in immersion if I don’t speak the second language?

It is important for parents to provide experiences that help develop the student's English language skills as well as reinforce cognitive and academic skills. Reading to the student daily and engaging in activities that apply what is being taught in the classroom are invaluable.

May I volunteer at school?
Parent participation at school is encouraged and appreciated. Care should be taken that parent involvement in the classroom not inhibit the child's use of the language. There are many other areas in which to make meaningful contributions to the school outside of the classroom.