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Evaluating the Effectiveness of Total Immersion in ESL Classrooms

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Effectiveness of Total Immersion in ESL Classrooms
Education is the mean of development and prosperity of any nation. However, for the developed countries that have culturally diversified immigrants, deliverance of education is an uphill task. In America, the immigrants can include Asians, Hispanics, and middle-eastern people who have significantly different languages and more importantly, cultural aspects of their society. In this regard, the teachers have to become aware of students’ first language thereby giving them complete learning experience. However, it should be noted that the education is a long-term process that is not merely dependent on native language. For that, two models of education in ESL classroom setting are introduced that includes ESL pull-out method and total immersion. It is also worthwhile to note that individual belonging to different age group tend to have different learning curves. This perspective can also serve to provide an outlook for determining the optimized age for total immersion program. Each of these two methods has their strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, for the areas of improvement in total immersion domain, some recommendations will also be suggested to enhance effectiveness of total immersion implementation in ESL classrooms. As per the scope of this paper, the effectiveness of total immersion model in ESL classrooms will be discussed in ample detail.
Immersion and Educational Outlooks
Total immersion education model focuses on teaching English to a group of ESL (English as a Second Language) students within a normal classroom; however, the assignments and other feedback tools are somewhat modified for helping students to foster their language capabilities and address language acquisition issues.

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The target language is also used in different aspects that include medium of instruction and curriculum content. Three generic levels are quite usually defined according to their age groups. Early immersion students have their second language studies beginning at 5-6 years of age. For middle immersion, the typical age is 9-10 years old and late immersion ranging between 11-14 years of age.
However, there are programs in which the students can initiate their studies at different ages as well as different educational levels. For that, there are three core types of immersion that are used in educational research literature. It includes:
Total Immersion
Partial Immersion
Two-Way Immersion
In the total immersion programs, almost 100% of the total school days are spent in the second language development, which implies that the students are taught their lessons in the second language. The initial program of total immersion was introduced in Canada, and it was then introduced within the United States. In almost every K-5 and k-6 elementary schools, 100 percent of the instruction is taught in English for the student’s part of immersion programs K and 1. Under this domain, children learn about reading at first. However, the level of immersion subsequently decreases with increasing grades.
Partial immersion focuses on varying emphasis. However, it is usually around half of the class is taught in target language. However, there are some partial immersion programs that have varying percentage of language taught in school. At first, the students learn to read in both the first and second languages. Depending on the feasibility of class, each class has a total of two teachers. The first one teachers the first language whereas the second one teacher English (or the second language).
Another popular immersion program in the United States is the two-way immersion program. It is also known as bilingual immersion and it deals with the language minority students along with language majority students with core aim of academic excellence and hence, achievement of bilingual proficiency for both of the groups. The French-Hebrew program that had initiated in Montreal, Canada is the first example of double immersion program (Brondum and Stenson 1).
Initial Acquisition Age and Second Language Students
Based on the popular belief that the children are the fastest learners makes them qualify for attaining second language at the initial and most effective English as second language acquirers. However, the research has shown a difference in opinion of finding the optimum age of initial acquisition of English as a second language for early-aged children. Also, it can be noted that another key issue includes proficiency and cognitive development in student’s respective first languages.
Different research has indicated that the first language acquisition among children is a slow and difficult process and it usually take them around 12 years to gain complete expertise in their first languages (de Villiers and de Villiers 38-45; Hakuta and McLaughlin 204). Right from the birth of a child up to the age of 5 years of age, the children understands and learns their first language at a much faster pace. It includes the development of different L1 vocabulary, phonology, semantics, grammar, and most importantly, pragmatics. However, these learning outlooks are not completely achieved by the age of 5. During the age of six to twelve years old, children face the challenge of understanding and learning complex outlooks of first language that encompass advanced level of writing and reading. In the very same time span, the children also start acquiring more specialized first language knowledge through speech arts elaboration, syntax and morphology, semantic development, vocabulary enhancement, and most importantly, development of various phonological aspects (Hakuta and McLaughlin 204). On schooling grounds, it is also vital to include specialized usage of language and complex vocabulary and language for studies of meta-linguistic analysis in classes of language arts. It would greatly enhance the outlook for students to grasp and become aware with the development of second language skills at the early level of schooling.
Apart from the first language role in redefining children mental and cultural outlooks, research for acquisition of second language has also showed that the L1 development significantly affects the L2 proficiency development. It has also been noted that the development of L1 level cognitive abilities during the acquisition of second language also improve higher levels of proficiency among children at early age. It also enhances the outlooks of children in achieving cognitive growth on academic scales at a much faster pace. This very term is referred to as subtractive bilingualism. Cummins (31) describes it as a lower level of threshold required within first language domain. Also, limited bilingualism is associated with the negative impacts of different cognitive abilities. While undergoing total immersion program, some students are faced with such a negative impacts of cognitive consequences associated with limited or subtractive bilingualism (Duncan & De Avila 104-137; Dulay & Burt, 1-24; Skutnabb-Kangas 251).
Hence, for the determination of optimal early age for second language acquisition, it is essential to consider the intervening variable of L1 cognitive development. Before attainment of puberty, the exposure to second language does not matter of second language learning; however, it is the cognitive development considering the acquisition of first language that can continue to the age of 12 years old. This is the age that makes the acquisition of first language almost complete. In this regard, Cummins (4-9) has also mentioned that the basic underlying interdependence of proficiency of one of the first language of children aids in the development of another language. In order to further explore this issue, it is also required to explore pre-school and schooling children age groups. Hakuta and McLaughlin (204) have examined the simultaneous inception and afterward, development of two different languages within children from their birth. These students are subjected to a process that is quite similar to L1 acquisition having initial amalgamation of the two dissimilar languages. The initial demarcation of the two languages within the 3-5 years of age would result in cognitive development. Nevertheless, cognitive development occurs in almost every language and it can be achieved by parents who want to raise their children as bilingual children. In the elementary schools, children are faced with development of both languages for enhanced cognitive development. The students that frequently achieve greater degree of development in their first language linguistic skills are the one who have developed multi-linguistic and linguistic abilities, cognitive flexibility, divergent critical thinking, concept formation, diversity, and most importantly creativity.
The language needed for schooling needs is one of the most debatable issues that lead to development of different second language educational frameworks. During the last few decades, the process of language acquisition has been oversimplified that has led to the belief that the children would learn the second language on their own. Hence, the type of language that is preferred for schooling needs should also have to include all domains of pragmatics, vocabulary, inflectional morphology, phonetics, phonology, syntax, and paralinguistic abilities. Nevertheless, mastering the four core skills of speaking, listening, writing and reading is essential in each specific subject domains that can include, science, social studies and mathematics.
When the student moves one grade up, the language complexity of English become more complex and difficult. However, English as a second language become a core part of every content based subject that encompasses demonstration of knowledge through written and oral forms of English language. As part of another research, it has been found that the cognitively demanding and context dependent school languages are quite difficult to master in the early school ages. However, by the end of fourth grade, almost all of the languages taught in school besides English as second language fall under this domain. It is also quite important to completely explore the basic acquisition and subsequent development of L2 skills (Cummins and Swain, 80-95).
The basic language (or survival language) skills are also essential part of school curriculum. The Basic English education focuses on development of pronunciation skills, which is a cognitive; however, undemanding task that is quite important for students. As part of the studies conducted by Long (196-221) stated that the students belonging to the age group of three to five years of exposure to the second language total immersion and acquisition program, a large majority of the students have found to retain their common foreign accent. However, children initiating their acquisition of second language before their puberty also retain no or somewhat little foreign ascent. The core reason behind the above finding to be because that the older language acquirers have quite a difficulty in achieving the native level proficiency because of cerebral plasticity lose at the time of puberty. Another similar study conducted by Long (251-285) also confirms that the very existence of maturation and its constraints limit the acquisition of second language. It is one of the rationales presented by the educators that focus on acquisition of second language before the puberty.
Oral communication is another core step of acquisition of basic communication skills in a second language. During the initial stages of development, adults and older children go through a morphological and syntactic development that is quite faster than younger children and pre-school students. Nevertheless, after the two to three years of education, children who have begun acquiring second language achieve higher level of proficiency before puberty as compared to individuals that start as adults or adolescents. Hence, in the larger context, children before their puberty, are the best acquirers of core basic L2 skills that are essential for interpersonal communication.
Cognitively demanding and Context-reduced School language
Besides the basic outlook of children achieving better expertise of second language before puberty, it is also essential to explore different studies under the same domain. Collier (513-514) mentioned that the students starting their second language acquisition between the ages of 8 and 12 years have enhanced L2 skills. It was because of the fact that these students maintain significant cognitive advantage as compared to younger children that are starting their language acquisition at the age of 4 and 7 years. In this regard, two common modes of measuring second language acquisition are quite commonly observed. The first one includes the AOA (Age on Arrival) studies that include the age at which the person have entered into the country and started learning the second language. Moreover, it also includes the age at which the exposure of immigrant to second language initiated along with the time at which the second language schooling has started as part of academic curriculum. Another core parameter is LOR (Length of Residence) that is defined as the number of years of months of L2 exposure, which can either be inside or outside of any formal classroom setting (Collier 509-514).
Benefits of Accepting Total Immersion Model
The United States is among the first few countries that have responded towards the needs of culturally different immigrant students and more specifically, children. It is also in accordance with the United States’ constitution of providing equal learning opportunities for all American citizens irrespective of any prejudice. This has led towards the development and questioning the traditional educational outlooks for the betterment of children.
Educational and Academic Benefits
Without a doubt, the issue of language barriers severely impedes with the educational outlooks for students. It has become quite essential for the students to become proficient in English for performing well in academics. However, replacing English with the primary language of students would jeopardize the very future and career prospects of students. As per a research conducted by Fortune and Tedick (22-45) it has been found that the students proficient in English and gone through total immersion program have been much more successful as compared to their non-immersion peers in different standardized mathematics and reading tests. It has also been found that the total immersion can also be applied to students belonging to different cultural, traditional and ethnic backgrounds together with diversified linguistic and cognitive abilities can also become an active part of total immersion program. Under this domain, all the test results and academic achievements are marked and awarded respectively in English regardless of their level of working proficiency in English. On the other hand, it has been found that the alphabet based languages that include Spanish, French, German and Hawaiian together with different character based languages that include Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese, English proficient students do not have significant difficulty in learning and understanding these languages.
As part of some of the initial studies, the very concept of one-way total immersion program was introduced for the targeted group of early ages of schooling education students. As per Swain and Lapkin (203-216), the model was applied to the students in grades 2 to 5 where they have not been previously taught The English language. The evidence has showed that the students have faced severe difficulty and lag in different spellings, capitalization, word knowledge, punctuation along with discrimination of different words and alphabets. However, as part of the study, it has been found that after completion of 1 to 2 years of English language education, the lag and trouble in abovementioned domains have started to reduce without any negative impacts on students’ academic and literary performances.
The very concept of immersion was first introduced in the North American region in order to provide with an opportunity for moving their students towards biliteracy and bilingual domains. Under this consideration, the immersion programs were introduced in educationally excelled areas that include Miami, Florida and St. Lambert in Canada. These were the areas where the educators and teachers have felt the need for language proficiency in more than one language (Erdos et al. 3-25).
Educators have directed their focus on providing English acquisition as the primary language based on different special programs. However, the question of early age and later age total immersion programs are quite commonly questioned. The LEP (Limited English Proficiency) students possess weaker skills in expressing their expression on academic terms that affect their grades and most importantly, their academic performance at large. However, the L2 proficiency level and the time constraints are required for achievement better academic success within the second language domain. In this specific area of exploration of complex relationship of psychological and sociological factors, Hakuta and Snow (???) have outlined some linguistic, sociological, psychological and cultural processes that can affect the evaluation research together with human development outlooks. It normally encompasses different models of educational programs along with teaching models that scrutinize their effectiveness. Also, the very foundation of that specific research includes the exploration of second language immersion domain. It includes attainment of level of competence for achievement of average American academic goals within a given time frame. The minority and native groups living in the United States take different standardized tests in domains of language arts, science, mathematics, reading, and social studies. In order to determine the core effectiveness, it is essential to completely explore different domains.
Literary and Language Development
As per research conducted by Cummins (1-10) and Freed et al. (275-301), children get a fair chance of developing literary awareness as part of awareness program along with development of complete and utmost understanding of learning and reading second language. Also, it also focuses on enhancing the development of understanding that encompasses basic relationship between the spoken language and their written words from their native language to the foreign one. Students belonging to various ages undergo rigorous immersion program having its instructions in second language. This development of understanding that allows students to create stronger bond with the language and literary outlooks. However, the adults do not have those much promising resources as mentioned in the previous sections.
Sociocultural and Economic Outlooks
The children at young ages are provided with an outlook of immersion school to go through the transition in a much better manner. Apart from that, the students are also exposed to significantly different cultures and traditions at quite an early age at regular intervals. Also, it is an exceptional opportunity for children to attain make new friends and connections with multicultural persons (Omnigloth n.d.). The individual having language competence also enjoys communicating with people belonging to different cultures, and linguistic backgrounds. Also, it becomes quite helpful in traveling towards other countries thereby allowing the people to experience different cultures and societies. It also enables a person to completely understand literature, foreign media, and most importantly, the visual arts. It allows them to interact and converse in a much better fashion.
Apart from the sociocultural development, it also opens doorways for immigrants and foreigners to avail different employment opportunities. Most of the industrial sector requires proficiency in The English language to deal with clients on domestic and international grounds. Within the United States, competence in two or more than two languages is becoming an added advantage for people, and it is also quite vital to national security and deliverance of different healthcare services (Erdos et al. 1-4).
Cognitive Learning and Enhanced Native Proficiency
The aspect of cognitive learning in early-aged children belonging to elementary and middle schools possesses enhanced outlooks for attaining native proficiency. By 12 years of age, children gain complete proficiency in their first language thereby allowing them to establish core relationship between written words and spoken language. Erdos et al. (3-25) have further explained that a positive relationship between proficiency in bilingualism and critical thinking skill for the individual who use both of their languages on frequent basis. Apart from that, it is also observed that the completely proficient bilingual outperforms different monolinguals in domains of pattern recognition, divergent thinking, and problem-solving activities. Bilingual students have the inherent capability of solving complex problems containing misleading and conflicting clues from the very early age. Also, their deciphering capability is comparatively higher as compared to monolinguals. The children can also attain selective attention together with inhibitory or execution control as well. Also, completely proficient bilingual are also found to have enhanced sensitivity to various non-verbal and verbal clues. They also found to give more attention towards the needs of listener. Also, the bilinguals possess better learning outlooks for more than two languages. As part of the study, it has also been found that the students going through a total language immersion program had better cognitive flexibility and enhanced non-verbal problem-solving skills.
Recommendations for Enhanced ESL Classroom Experience
A total immersion program for ESL students is surely not ideal, and it requires some refinement. Also, there are some students who face difficulty going through total immersion program. Based on these issues following are some recommendation that could help in improving total immersion effectiveness:
The first recommendation is the establishment of a key and systematic approach for finding the learners with special needs as part of the program. This issue should be addressed by educational administrators and educators. Every child is special; however, there are some children that need special attention and attention in classroom environment. Students suffering from Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) should be given proper teaching and targeted total immersion program to help them with their studies. It also includes equipping teachers and educators with trainings to identify and help these students. Besides that, teachers, parents, administrators, and specialists should have to make decisions based on the greater interest of children and their educational career.
Implementation of continual development model for teachers so that they could be effective to all group of students. Another recommendation encompasses development of teachers and educators for total immersion program. Keeping with the latest educational trends and learning tools together with different pedagogical strategies that are coherent to the need of every child in immersion classroom would serve the purpose. Among one the most common studies by Genesee (203) that states, “Intelligence is not the only nor the most important predictor of [second language] achievement. Students’ attitudes, motivation, and anxiety in the [second language] classroom, among other variables, have an impact.” Brain-compatible training helps the teacher to understand needs context, pattern seeking, and different experience to retain certain information. Also the training would serve to enhance students’ attitude and motivation would lead to greater academic achievements. The concept presented in compatible brain training does not completely align with traditional modes of teaching that do not take into account the reality of language barriers. Also, the teacher who have been taught traditional methodologies, find the very concept of brain-compatible teaching harder to adapt in ESL classrooms.
Educating and involving parents in the total immersion process. Parents are also an important part of a student’s life. Usually, they are the closest and spend much more time with their children to know about their problems and weaknesses in studies. Also, they can spot the learning disabilities along with other problems faced by the student at the earliest. It is essential for the parents to have a strong communication with their teachers as well as with their children. Apart from that, the parents can also communicate with their children in second language at home to take active part in total immersion program. By doing so, they would be able to connect with their children and get regular updates regarding child’s progress on immersion program as well. Parents can also coordinate with children to discuss child’s progress and participate in parent-teacher discussion and meetings every time. Apart from that parents can also do volunteering for coordinating students with special needs on individual as well as group basis. Nevertheless, the group of people would require some level of competence and training for working with special needs children. Parents can also learn about different learning styles in these training sessions in order to meet needs of individual students. Moreover, they can also work on a rotating schedule that can enable them to take care of their family and contribute towards the betterment of society. The knowledge gained by parents can also stem out towards enabling other parents to consider immersion program (Gaffney 5-8).
All in all, the immersion program can provide a better opportunity for the children all around the globe. Moreover, it can provide students with a better prospect of future and learning a second language. It is essential that the needs of students should also be taken into account. Students with special needs should have to be catered with a specialized total immersion program that can enable their best level of participation. Besides that, the acquisition of second language has optimized result before the children attain their puberty because of higher cognitive functionality of children in early ages. Also, the school children in the age group of 6-12 have the greatest tendency to learn a second language. Nevertheless, it does not imply that the student will leave his/her first language behind; rather, it can prove to be a foundation stone for students to attain better level of language expertise.
Among most of the advantages of using total immersion model includes better career and socioeconomic prospects for the student. The individuals who have attained proficiency in two or more than two languages have quite better chances of getting a sound employment opportunity. Also, learning a second language through immersion program can improve children’s communication and interpersonal skills. Children can also learn about different cultures and become an active part of society as well.

Works Cited
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Collier, Virginia P. “How long? A synthesis of research on academic achievement in a second language.” TESOL quarterly 23.3 (1989): 509-531.
Cummins, James. “The role of primary language development in promoting educational success for language minority students.” Schooling and language minority students: A theoretical framework (1981): 3-49.
Cummins, Jim, and Merrill Swain. “Linguistic interdependence: A central principle of bilingual education.” Bilingualism in education (1986): 80-95.
Cummins, Jim. “Immersion education for the millennium: What we have learned from 30 years of research on second language immersion.” Retrieved April 16 (2000): 2006: 1-10.
De Avila, Edward A., and Sharon E. Duncan. “The language minority child: A psychological, linguistic, and social analysis.” Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics (1980): 104-137.
De Villiers, Jill G., and Peter A. De Villiers. Language acquisition. Harvard University Press, 1978: 38-45.
Dulay, Heidi, and Marina Burt. “The relative proficiency of limited English proficient students.” NABE Journal 4.3 (1980): 1-24.
Erdos, Caroline, et al. “Individual differences in second language reading outcomes.” International Journal of Bilingualism (2010): 3-25.
Fortune, Tara Williams, and Diane J. Tedick, eds. Pathways to multilingualism: Evolving perspectives on immersion education. Vol. 66. Multilingual Matters, 2008: 22-45.
Freed, Barbara F., Norman Segalowitz, and Dan P. Dewey. “Context of learning and second language fluency in French: Comparing regular classroom, study abroad, and intensive domestic immersion programs.” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 26.02 (2004): 275-301.
Gaffney, Karine S. “Is Immersion Education Appropriate for All Students?.”ACIE Newsletter 2.2 (1999): 1-8.
Genesee, Fred H. “Second/Foreign Language Immersion and At‐Risk English‐Speaking Children.” Foreign Language Annals 25.3 (1992): 199-213.
Hakuta, Kenji, and Barry McLaughlin. “Second-Language Acquisition in Childhood: Vol. 1. Preschool Children, Child Psychology.” (1985): 204-204.
Long, Michael H. “Maturational constraints on language development.” Studies in second language acquisition 12.03 (1990): 251-285.
Long, Michael H. “Second language acquisition as a function of age: Research findings and methodological issues.” Progression and regression in language(1993): 196-221.
Omniglot,. ‘ESL Pull-Out Projects Vs. Total Immersion – Which Language Learning Method Is More Effective?’. N.p., 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove. Bilingualism or not: The education of minorities. Vol. 7. Multilingual Matters, 1981: 251.
Swain, Merrill, and Sharon Lapkin. “Additive bilingualism and French immersion education: The roles of language proficiency and literacy.” Bilingualism, multiculturalism, and second language learning: The McGill conference in honour of Wallace E. Lambert. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991: 203-216.

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