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Global Education

Ten Frequently Asked Questions About Language Immersion Programs

At Participate Learning, we believe in the power to unite our world through global education. Our program offerings give students access to an education that prepares them for college, career, and life in a globally connected world. At the heart of this are our language immersion programs, in both Spanish and Mandarin.

While there are a few varieties of language immersion curriculums, our programs focus on teaching a second, target language to students for either 50 percent or 90 percent of their school day. Read on for answers to ten frequently asked questions about our language immersion programs.


1. What are the benefits of language immersion programs for students?

Beyond achieving high proficiency in biliteracy and bilingual skills, research shows immersion students outperform native English-speaking classmates on standardized tests and have enhanced cognitive skills. Students also gain interpersonal skills, including increased cultural sensitivity, and are prepared for a global society and marketplace.

Being able to communicate and excel academically in two languages also gives students greater self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. Watch this video to hear firsthand about the experiences of students who finished our language immersion program.

2. What is the difference between a 90:10 and a 50:50 model?

The first number in the ratio for both models indicates the percentage of time in the classroom that is spent teaching in the target language of Spanish or Mandarin. The second number refers to the percentage of time spent teaching in English. For 50:50 models, the ratio of the target language to English remains consistent throughout the entire program.

In 90:10 models, the instructional time for the target language decreases each year until there is a 75:25 ratio by the end of the K-5 program. 90:10 models are also sometimes called full immersion programs, while 50:50 programs can be known as dual language immersion programs.

3. Why is there more than one model?

Both models have been found to develop biliteracy and bilingual skills in students. Typically, the 90:10 model is recommended for populations of primarily English-speaking students because those students have significant exposure to English outside of school.

The 50:50 model is typically recommended for student populations with higher numbers of students who speak the target language, Spanish or Mandarin, at home. This allows all students in the classroom to spend half of their time further developing their first language while spending the other half acquiring a second language.

4. Why is it OK to immerse English speakers in a language, but not Spanish and Mandarin speakers?

This is actually a common misconception about immersion education! Immersion education can be a great opportunity for students who speak any language. In areas of the United States where English is the primary language spoken outside of school, students can spend more time in Spanish or Mandarin in the classroom without worrying about the development of English language skills.

In communities where other languages are spoken at home, the 50:50 model is a great option because both students who speak English at home and students who speak Spanish or Mandarin at home are actually “immersed” in the other language, which has the added benefit of allowing students in each language group to be the “experts” 50 percent of the time.

Regardless of the language of immersion, immersion programs should not be viewed as replacing English with another language but, rather, as a way to provide students with the opportunity to acquire skills in a second language.

5. How is a language immersion program integrated with other programs at a school site?

To foster school unification, the school that is hosting a language immersion program should develop a shared vision for all students that values the diversity in their student body, particularly in languages and culture.

All programs at the school share the same standards-based curriculum so students in regular tracks and students in language immersion tracks are seen as one entity rather than separate from each other. Participate Learning recommends using a schoolwide global leaders program in tandem with a language immersion program to prevent “school within a school” divisions.

6. How can instructional integrity be maintained in a language immersion program?

All Participate Learning language immersion educators teach the same standards as their English-only teaching peers, and students are required to complete the same mandated state testing (which is in English). All Participate Learning programs, regardless of language, have access to progress-monitoring assessments that can be used to ensure students are mastering the same content as other students in their school.

Additionally, all of our language immersion ambassador teachers receive support through dedicated program managers and are provided instructional guidance from community facilitators and peer reviewers. They have access to online communities of practice, which connect them to all ambassador teachers, as well as the integrated online platform that includes global resources, curricula, and lesson plans. Language immersion ambassador teachers are also observed periodically in their classrooms and are given mentoring and coaching from dual language experts to ensure high-quality instruction.

7. How can students learn when they are instructed for up to 90 percent of the day in a language they don’t understand?

Our language immersion ambassador teachers are trained in methods that support student language acquisition, including visual aids, handouts, body movements, and facial expressions, to convey meaning and context. Ambassador teachers also utilize strategies such as modeling, scaffolding, and checks for understanding to build student skills and confidence in the target language.

8. Do students follow the state curriculum standards in language immersion programs?

Yes, both our Spanish and Mandarin programs are mapped to state-approved academic content and standards. Students in language immersion programs are tested on the same material as students in traditional programs across North Carolina and Virginia. The target language is not a subject; it is the language in which instruction is delivered.

9. What makes Participate Learning’s language immersion programs special?

Our language immersion ambassador teachers are among the most highly qualified and experienced educators in the world. They are native speakers of Spanish or Mandarin, which allows students to be taught in an authentic language environment. Additionally, students have the benefit of gaining exposure to other cultures by developing relationships with their ambassador teachers and learning about their countries of origin.

10. Where can I get more information about these programs?

For more information about Participate Learning’s language immersion programs, visit our language immersion program webpage or contact us directly to speak with an expert who will be happy to answer any specific questions. You can also download this infographic to learn more about the benefits of a bilingual brain in English, Spanish, or Mandarin.

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