4 ways to address parental concerns about English language skills for immersion students

September 27, 2018

“But when will my child learn English? How will she learn English if she spends all day in Spanish? Should I be teaching my son to read in English at home?”

These questions come up all the time as we work alongside our partner schools to explain the ins and outs of addalingua immersion education. To address these questions, we’re thrilled to be able to share with you a guest post from Rebecca Gomez, Spanish immersion point person at Pella Christian Grade School.

Rebecca offers 4 great ideas for helping ease parental concerns about their child’s English literacy development–even as they are acquiring literacy in Spanish. Plus, you’ll love Rebecca’s personal story about what her immersion student was able to accomplish (in English!) even before formal English instruction began. Read on, and let us know what questions you have and what suggestions you have for addressing these types of questions in the comments.

(And don’t miss Rebecca’s post about what it’s really like to launch and grow an add.a.lingua immersion program.) Enjoy!

One of the most common questions that I as point person hear from prospective immersion parents is, “How will my child learn the English skills (s)he needs if they spend all day learning in Spanish?”

I usually have four main points that I touch on as I reassure parents the English skills of students in Pella Christian’s early, total one-way Spanish Immersion program are, in fact, excellent.

1. First, I explain to them the transfer of knowledge theory.

Simply put, this is the idea that if a person learns a concept in one language, it will transfer to another language.  For example, if a child learns what the idea of gravity is in Spanish, that child doesn’t have to relearn the concept of gravity in English…that knowledge transfers between languages. (For more information: check out Jim Cummins’ linguistic interdependence theory 1978.

2. Second, I mention that research shows that studying in an immersion setting is not detrimental to a students’ first language abilities.

“…research is consistent in showing that [immersion] students generally achieve as well as, or better than, their peers in mainstream programs;…demonstrating levels of L1 [first language] proficiency and academic achievement that are at least as high as their peers in mainstream programs,” Lindholm-Leary & Genesee, 2014, p. 175).  I back up this research by pointing out that we have done a comparison between standardized test score of Pella Christian’s Spanish and English track students and there are no significant differences between the standardized test scores of either track.

3. Third, I discuss with parents that English is introduced to our students starting in third grade.

All of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students receive one content area of instruction in English and this subject taught in English not only includes the content of that subject but also includes differentiated English Spelling instruction, as well as, instruction in English grammar and mechanics embedded into the content area instruction so that it is more meaningful to students.

4. Finally, I mention the fact that because immersion students must become experts at discovering and describing their second language, their first language skills actually often become stronger.

They are used to noticing grammar and word patterns within Spanish and this practice often transfers to their first language once instruction in that language is introduced. Knowing how languages work (because of how they are taught in Spanish) makes their English language skills stronger!

I’m now excited to be able to add a personal anecdote to my talking points: this past school year one of Pella Christian’s 2nd grade immersion students won Iowa’s statewide writing contest in 2nd grade for writing a short story in English!

So how does a child like Kyara win a writing contest in English when she has never had instruction in English?!  Simply put…immersion education works! Quality immersion programs reach their goal of educating students who are truly bilingual and biliterate like Kyara.  And that’s just one of the reasons why I’m proud to be an immersion administrator and Kyara’s mother!Kyara has been in our immersion program since preschool and since she had just finished second grade, she had never received content instruction in English.  Kyara is also a student who speaks mostly Spanish at home because her parents, one of whom is a native-Spanish speaker, have made a conscience decision to speak Spanish at home as a family.


Kyara with Iowa’s other K-5th grade writing contest readers; there were two winners at each grade level, one for poetry and one for short stories (not all winners were able to attend).

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