questions immersion parents should be asking, part 3

April 14, 2016

Welcome back to our series on how to be a great immersion parent. We’re continuing to explore questions that immersion parents should be asking as they consider immersion education and evaluate programs for their child. It’s our passion at add.a.lingua to see quality immersion programs grow, and to help families experience all the benefits and adventure of language acquisition in immersion education.

Thus far we’ve covered two critical questions:

  1. What immersion model do you follow (and how many instructional minutes are allocated to second language instruction)?
  2. How do immersion and traditional programs interact?

In this installment, we’re going to look at another important aspect of program success: language proficiency expectations. While both student and teacher language proficiency can fluctuate over time (depending on life experiences), it is possible to set some clear expectations for both. Two questions parents should be asking related to language proficiency are:

  1. What should I expect regarding a teacher’s proficiency in the language of instruction?
  2. What can I expect regarding my child’s proficiency in the second language

Teacher proficiency

It makes sense to begin our conversation about proficiency with the teacher. High quality immersion teaching begins with high levels of teacher language proficiency.  The add.a.lingua expectation for teacher oral proficiency is Advanced-High to Superior according to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Research demonstrates a strong correlation between the language proficiency of the teacher and the language proficiency of the students for whom they are responsible. This research encourages all of our schools to seek out the most highly qualified native or native-like speakers of the immersion language to serve within their program.

Student proficiency

In well-articulated immersion programs, students are generally able to achieve a rating of intermediate high to advanced low on the ACTFL proficiency scale.  This means that students are capable of speaking and producing in their second language in a way that allows them to negotiate post-primary content meaningfully. It does not, however, indicate that they have achieved mastery of that language. To give you some frame of reference as to what production sounds like at the intermediate high level, listen to this native Spanish speaker acquiring English.

If we expect student language proficiency at least as high as the examples provided, immersion programs should have a plan to help students get there.

Students who choose to continue in well-articulated immersion programs in middle and high school (programs offering at leastthree intentionally designed courses in the target language) focus on moving their proficiency from Intermediate High into the Advanced High range. Gains of this nature require the integration of content with a systematic exposure to communicative functions and accompanying language structures within varied sociocultural settings.

With these program pieces in place, immersion students may achieve proficiency in the Advanced High range. See an example of this advanced-high speaker discussing current issues in English (their second language).

It’s easy to see how important well articulated programs and highly proficient teachers are to the language acquisition process. If we expect student language proficiency at least as high as the examples provided above, immersion programs should have a plan to help students get there.

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