Educators Report Immersion is Making our Children ill
by Beth Butler

No parent would deliberately place their child in a situation that was certain to make them ill.  Yet, in the fall of 2008, the Boston Globe reported via an article titled English period that many children entering a thirty day English only classroom were experiencing negative physical and mental symptoms.  Allow us to explore together the better way to help all children become bilingual.

No child, not yours, not mine, nor the child of someone we do not even know, should ever have to go off to school feeling anxious.  Yet as adults we realize it happens.  Perhaps it is the first day of the school year jitters or knowing that you will have to take a spelling test for which you are not prepared.  Nervousness over school does happen some days for some children.

Imagine being a six year old child again and feeling that type of anxiety every morning you are dropped off at school.  Your stomach is in knots.  You feel light headed.  Perhaps you even feel as if you will throw up.  That is exactly how many children in thousands of our classrooms across our country feel daily.

According to the article published on in September 2008 titled English period, young children entering our schools are often times being faced with mandatory English only classrooms as a way of handling the influx of English language learners.  What this means is that a child whose first language is not English is placed into a classroom where all he will hear for thirty days is English and none of his native language.

One principal from such a school stated, Following the law is just making it more difficult for those students in terms of time lost from the curriculum.  She went on to say, During the month of English only instruction, there are many more trips to the bathroom and the clinic with headaches, tummy aches, and crying children.  It is a sad fact that so many of our US schools are unprepared to meet the educational and emotional needs of children as speakers of other world languages. 

Why have many schools resorted to an immersion approach?  There is a continued school of thought that when you are serious about teaching a language, you use immersion which was stated by Jim Boulet, Jr. who is the executive director of English First, a Virginia based lobbying group that opposes bilingual education.  I would argue, as many language experts agree, that our schools are not staffed, nor will they ever be staffed in our lifetime or the lifetime of our children, with enough qualified bilingual teachers to implement successful immersion or dual immersion programs.

There has to be a better way!  As parents, we wish to raise global citizens prepared to travel through this global economy with pride and a strong foundation of several world languages.  We should not wait until the formal educational years of our lives to learn new languages.  We cannot leave it up to our public school system, our private schools or even our homeschooling curriculums to give our young children the gift of learning new world languages.

It is our responsibility to make the most of the first five years of life and provide an introduction to various languages in order to connect the neural pathways that will enable our children to be lifetime language learners.  What that means is that your child is capable of learning all of the thousands of world languages up until eleven months old!  After that tender young age of eleven months, the acquisition of languages begins to compartmentalize within the brain, and with each passing year, second, third and fourth language learning becomes increasingly difficult.

We all can attest to that!  However; it is never too late according to a wonderful book titled The Bilingual Edge by Dr. Kendall King and Dr. Alison Mackey.  These two linguistic professors make it very clear in their book that the early years are easier for language learning and for gaining native or near native pronunciation in the new target language.

As a parent or as a teacher, I encourage you to find bilingual materials that make it fun, easy and practical to weave the new language learning into your daily routine.  We all know the CDs that sing to us only in the new language just do not feel right in our monolingual world.  That is why a bilingual song, one where the new language is sung right alongside your native language, is often times much easier to use on your daily car rides and gives both you and your child a paralleled method of learning which is called the bilingual approach.

It is reassuring that our new administration is speaking of a strong focus on early childhood education.  I feel that President Obama and Mr. Duncan will help reshape the future of our educational system here in the United States.  In the meantime, as parents and teachers we must stay aware of the harms of immersion techniques for the very young child.  The sleeplessness, the anxiety, and the physical ill feelings these children in Boston reported experiencing are real symptoms resulting from immersion techniques.

Remember reading from experts that it is just as easy for a baby and toddler to learn two words for one item as it is for that same child to learn only one word?  One of the teachers from that Boston school where children are learning only the English word for each item said it perfectly, It does not make any sense.  The kid is not learning anything.  Meaning the child should hear her native language for the item in addition to English.

Professor of education Maria de Lourdes B. Serpa sums it up beautifully by informing us, To speak English, in my opinion, is not enough.  Students need to go to school and be educated.  To be educated, they need to understand their teacher.  We are the first teacher our children have.  Give them a positive experience as you introduce new languages to them.  Bilingual beats immersion one child at a time.

Bilingual mom, educator and keynote speaker Beth Butler is the founder of the BOCA BETH Program for young children where they make it fun and easy to introduce Spanish to young children. Sample the music and movies for free at Call toll free to order today at 877.825.2622