The Immersion Method of Teaching English as a Second Language There are various different methods

There are various different methods which are used to teach a second language. One such method is the immersion method of teaching , developed in Canada to provide Canada's majority group English- speaking students with opportunities to learn Canada's other official language, French. Students are taught a second language exclusively throught he medium of the second language.

The structured immersion approach, however, must not be confused with submersion (which is really a non-approach). Essentially, it is a ' sink or swim ' approach. For example, a non-English-speaking French child moves to England and is placed in a regular English- speaking classroom and is taught exclusively in English in the same way as the English-speaking children.

Bull (1965) drew a distinction between these two methodologies by characterising them as ' effective ' (immersion method) and ' ineffective ' (submersion). An effective immersion environment involves the teacher speaking the foreign language slowly and clearly and using easily comprehensible language. Hand gesticulation, appropriate modelling, visual aids such as pictures or photographs and ' acting out ' techniques are used. An ineffective total immersion approach (submersion occurs when the teacher speaks rapidly at natural speed as if the student were a native speaker. Thus the intended language ' goes over the heads ' of the students from the start, creating a distancing and ultimate loss of the student's attention and ability to comprehend. Lambert (1974) also drew a distinction between these two methodologies by characterising them as ' additive ' and ' subtractive '. That is, the additive case implies that a student suffers no loss of the first language and associated culture, whilst the subtractive case implies that an individual is expected to forget the first language and suffers a general loss of general academic performance.

Immersion has proven an effective successor to previous language teaching approaches of traditional grammar translation methods and the audiolingual methods of the 1960s and communicative methods of the 1970s. The central characteristic of immersion is the teaching of language content and culture in combination, without the use of the student's first language. Students are taught a language they initially don't understand throught he use of a variety of context clues provided by the teacher. Immersion language teachers provided ideally at least half a day (partial immersion) for students in the language they are targeted to learn and often students receive a full day (total immersion). Immersion programs do not ask the student to forget their first language and as teachers are usually themselves bilingual they tend to be more empathetic to the student's difficulties in learning a second language.

How does the immersion method compare with other methodologies ' ' Students who have passed four years of high school French have gone to Paris and been unable to talk to people on the street because they have not learned enough French through the traditional methods of foreign language teaching focusing on grammar translation from language one to language two ' (Reyhner, J). The audiolingual approach in the 1960s focused on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing and in the 1970s various communicative methods were introduced to better effect. However, in moving from an extreme emphasis in grammar to no emphasis on grammar, students were able to carry out conversations but their speech was full of grammatical errors.

To conclude, the immersion method seeks to ' speed up ' language acquisition by providing maximum exposure whilst an empathetic approach helps to build confidence which according to Sharpe (1992) is an important factor in successful modern language teaching, as well as being an important factor in the difference in the facility with which adults and children can learn a second language.


Reyhner, John (1998) : What's Immersion Education '

Reyhner, John : ' Immersion Education ', NABE News August 1, 1998, vol.21, No. 8

Bull, William E. (1965) : Methodologies in Foreign Language Teaching, a Brief Historical Overview

Baker : Bilingual Education and Bilingualism