Language Immersion Schools

Updated on July 04, 2010
J.H. asks from Los Angeles, CA
16 answers

We are considering enrolling our daughter in a French immersion school for kindergarten, but I am concerned that it will be too difficult for her to learn a new language and actually learn anything else. My daughter is very excited about kindergarten but I am worried that it may too frustrating for her and I want her to enjoy school not dread it. Has anyone had experience with this type of school and if so what did you think of it?

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answers from Houston on

I lived in Mexico for several years and all the kids I knew spoke English because they went to "American" school, even though their parents were only Spanish speakers. What the schools did was teach some subjects totally in English. Others were in Spanish. I know first hand that this model works well and they all started in these types of schools as kindergartners. So I would find out their approach. Maybe they will do something similar and have part of the day French and part English. I knew some children in Mexico whose mom's first language was Hungarian. They kids spoke Spanish all day bc they lived in Mexico and actually thought the Hungarian they spoke with their mom was a special way to talk their mommy, they had no idea it was another language. So I totally think she will do great with it. I was actually on the phone today with a friend from Mexico and my son was super excited when I got off the phone and wanted to know all about the words I was saying. So I think she will do well:)

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answers from Los Angeles on

I believe that studies have shown that we are actually more receptive to learning another language and it is much easier when we are very young, like under 7 or 8. I've never understood why the schools wait til high school!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi J., congratulations for knowing that a second language is a step in the right direction. Let me assure you, attending a french immersion school is NOT like "learning" a second language.

First, most of the day is in french. The children are surrounded by it, not "taught it". There is no show them a picture of a desk and saying "c'est un pupitre" The teacher will say to the class "assez-vous aux pupitres" and she will motion them to sit down. The will understand immediately. It is just how their brain works. Have you ever been in a situation where everyone around you spoke another language and you seemed to understand what is going on? That is what will happen here....EVERY DAY! It is soooooo cool!

I have taught french immersion for years. It really is immersion. Kids are not left to "figure it out" they are immersed in a natural way. It really is amazing to watch the beginning of the school year vs the end and see the growth as a learner.

Please note that your daughter will not "know things" like you will expect. She may often confuse french words with English. Do no expect to point to an object and her know what it is in both languages. Immersion does not work that way. We teach the children to THINK in both languages, but not necessarily translate. The brain wants the info and as she gets old she will be able to translate more, but not for the first few years.

I will tell you what happens to the brain in an immersion setting.
Different brain centers are activated.
Learning becomes more natural.
Memory is sharpened to "balance" the two languages
Learning a language opens the mind to new thoughts, new ways of seeing things and of course better vocabulary and grammar structure.

Things to notice but not be worried about:
Some parents get concerned that their child "doesn't read so well in English". That is normal and will balance out by about the 6th grade.
Some kids seem to be "unsure of the usage of either language", again that balances out by about the 3rd grade.

Both of my daughters are in french immersion and have been since the beginning. My daughters are going into the 6th and 8th grades this year. They are brilliant in two languages. Immersing them in a second language is the best education BAR NONE!

J. you right, learning a language is hard. I did it that way. I spent 4 years "trying to learn french". It was horrbile, there were a lot of tears. Then I moved to Quebec and voila! The language came alive.

I honour you and what you are doing for your child.

I am here to answer any questions you may have.

Family Success Coach

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I'll play devil's advocate here. We know a family who did a spanish immersion elementary and the boy fell behind significantly. They stuck to it for 2 or 3 years, then called it quits and now he is still behind and struggles. I'm not saying this would happen to your daughter, but give it careful consideration. Think of the schools in southern California that are filled with primarily spanish-speaking children, doing English immersion. They are the poorest performing schools. Food for thought.

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answers from San Diego on

I just enrolled my daughter in French immersion school and am attending the orientation tonight. I am hoping that this is a great gift that I am giving her! I am trying to prepare her for not readily understanding the teacher and making it seem silly and like a game that she and her new friends are going to have to figure out what the teacher is saying. Too bad you are not in San Diego!!! We know no one at this new school! Good luck and let us know how it goes!

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answers from Chicago on

One of my closest school friends went to a Spanish immersion school for K-6. She really thrived in that environment in all subjects across the board. She is fully fluent in Spanish and holds multiple degrees and has pretty much succeeded in any academic endeavour she has persued. I can't say that EVERYONE that I met from that particular school fared quite so well, but they were all above average.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My friend's kids were both in French immersion school and did VERY well! The brain is primed to learn language, a second and third language even, before age 12 so this is a good time to learn it. As long as she has enforcement with either parent (my friend's husband can speak French), she'll do well with the language.


answers from San Diego on

We plan on enrolling our son in a French Immersion school as well. We will start him in pre-school, however when we spoke with the principal we also brought up this concern because no one in the family speaks French.
The principal said that many parents at the school don't speak French and children up to 5 years old can learn (absorb) up to 5 languages at a time!!! Can you imagine? That would be so great. The reviews from other parents have been amazing!

Also, children who learn more than 1 language early on tend to be 'exercising' their brain in a different way and they tend to learn in a more logical way, thus giving them a leg up in school in the long run. A true immersion school (i.e., not English as a 2nd language school) will be a wonderful gift to give your child.

Do they teach based on the French Curriculum? They have a bit of a different thought process than our schools which is to teach the children the subjects at the level they are (in cycles) rather than pushing them through and letting them fall behind (ex. they teach the love of reading rather than the requirement of being able to read by the time they graduate kindergarten). I don't blame our teachers for this, it's just the system they have to work with.

Ultimately, the sooner you do it, the easier it will be for her. I think she will do great and it will be such a leg up for her in the long run. When making a decision like this, I ask myself how much I would have liked to have that opportunity. We also have Rosetta Stone at home and plan on learning along with our son (I took 2 years of French, so I know the very basics). Perhaps buy some French videos/tapes to start learning with your child ahead of the start of school so she understands what's ahead for her and make it fun that she's learning with her parents.

Best of luck and I think it's a great idea!



answers from San Francisco on

Hi J.,

I'm not sure about immersion schools. You should check first with the school and teachers if you feel confident with their philosophy.
But, if it seems a good fit, I say go for it. Children are sponges. They absorb the world around them and the only limit is in how much they are exposed to.
I am French. My husband is Spanish. Our nanny is American and speaks only English. We each speak only our native language to our children (plus some sign language for our 15 month daughter). My son now speaks fluently 3 languages and my daughter understands them (as much as a 15 month can, of course)
As for learning anything else, my son counts to 30 in 2 languages and to 15 in Spanish, he has known his colors and shapes for months. He knows his ABCs, recognize letters (in each language), can even draw most of the capital ones. In French, he can read syllables (1 consonant + 1 vowel). In English, he recognizes some endings (cat, hat, rat, pet, vet, jet..)
He calls main snakes by their specific names (piton, cobra, boa constrictor, anaconda), as well as insects, dinosaurs, firefighter's equipments and truck parts, etc.
He runs fast, jumps long and high, stands in one feet, rides his tricycle and scooter...
I don't know what other children do at 3. I don't think my son is more clever than average. Children just learn faster things they have interest in (in my son's case bugs, reptiles and firefighters) But, I'm convinced that speaking 3 languages (+ 150 ASL signs) did not delay him.



answers from Cincinnati on

Wow, how cool! I wish that we had something like that around here! Assuming that most of the children do not already speak French, I think your daughter will be on the same level as everyone else, and the school should have experience getting the message across in a foreign language.



answers from Provo on

My daughter is going to be in a Chinese Immersion 1st grade next year. I'm sure it would work out fine starting in Kindergarten - it's a little comforting for me starting with first grade because she's already reading English quite well. I called half a dozen or so parents who had done the program last year because I didn't want to get excited about something 'cool'...and have it be more of a frustration for my daughter and not really benefit her. All the comments were great...the parents I spoke to loved the program and said that although they were expecting more tears/frustration in the beginning...there was none. I don't know how they do it there, here they do half the day in English, and half the day in Chinese (English only spoken in an emergency.) Also, all the parents involved had to sign a form committing to reading (in english, obviously) with their child 20-30 minutes a day. I have been really impressed with the program thus far. She'll attend a day camp at the end of summer to kick it all off...and hopefully she'll be in the program the full 6 years (1st - 6th grade). =) I do have a brother that speaks fluent Chinese...but have been told that that is not necessary for them to do well in the program. Regarding the child mentioned who fell behind after being in a Spanish immersion program - I have not heard much positive about the Spanish immersion programs here :/. Not sure why? But anyway, I think regardless of whether it's an immersion program or not - parental involvement and commitment is vital to a child's education. Best luck to you!



answers from San Diego on

Hello, I think if you are starting her in kindergarten, then she might do well. However, if you wait, it will be hard for her to get the corricullum. I did English as a Second Language with elementary school children. What I noticed was that while they are not speaking the language (English) they are losing a lot of the education. However, the kindergarten chldren learned much faster then were able to catch up. In a language immersion school, all of the children are learning the corricullum together in English as well as the other language (at first). Later the instruction will be in the other language. When I had my second language students, I encouraged them as well as their parents to speak their first language at home and for them to use English at school. That way they become fluent in both languages and are truly bilingual.
Good luck with your precious little girl.
K. K.



answers from Los Angeles on

A kindergartener will have no problem learning a new language and picking up everything else. They are sponges at this age. It's a great opportunity. In Santa Monica they not only have Spanish immersion they have Japanese immersion and a neighbor of a girlfriend of mine's daughert started in K and love it.



answers from Honolulu on

Are you or your Husband fluent in French or native speakers? Is it already a part of your lives or culture, at home?
Because that will only supplement and help, overall.

Next, kids brains are very flexible... they are capable of learning other languages, easier than adults. It also creates more/new synapses in the brain, compared to single language kids. Which is only beneficial.

If your girl is excited, then good.
They will teach in age appropriate ways. They are a school. I assume you researched that school and met with them and know their teaching methods and expectations and curriculum?

My household, is bi-lingual, and some other languages. French, and English is what my kids are fluent in... speaking and hearing... and my older daughter (who is 7), is learning to read and write in French now.
My Husband, though, is a native speaker. I speak English. Grandma can speak Japanese, and my daughter also learns Japanese and Hawaiian and some Mandarin in school. My son is only 3... and he is fluent in French and learns Spanish from Dora. They are both linguistically flexible and fluent kids. Learning quickly.
Their brains, are not as "stiff" as mine, for languages.

KNOW what the immersion school, expects of your child, and you/Hubby at home. Because, they also often 'require' that you not only learn the language, but live it too.... and learn the culture of course. Of course, it cannot be cultural monogamy... that would not be fair, because excluding other cultures/languages are not realistic, in a mixed culture city, like L.A.

Anyway, just some thoughts, and what a French teacher once told me about what SHE expects... of her students. I felt, to be honest, that she was just too rigid and culturally rigid. My home is multi-cultural... it cannot "be" just one single language or living habits.

all the best,



answers from San Diego on

What a great idea! Language immersion schools are massively successful because it IS so easy for children at that age to learn new languages. She may struggle a bit & some students may be better than her, but no more than any other subject might. And, the opposite applies: she may be better at it than anyone else!

I just went to a conference where a French teacher from a language immersion school did a session on literature circles. She had her 3rd graders, who had never before learned in English, reading 3rd grade level books (in English), responding orally & in written form in impressive ways far beyond what the typical 3rd grader can do. It just opens their brains up to so many more higher-level thinking functions. She will do well & you are doing her a great service by even considering it!



answers from San Diego on

A second language is a great gift to give your child. She will adapt and pick it up quickly. My daughter is learning 4 different languages which 2 of them she started in K.

Congrats on a good decision.


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