5 Reasons Why Your Child Should Attend a Language Immersion Preschool

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Chance Cook

I had no idea that children have a window of time where learning a new language is easy. I'd love…

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So, you have decided to give your child the gift of languages. Congratulations, your child will thank you for it! As promised in our previous post about raising multilingual children, in this article we are going to dive deeper into language immersion preschool programs and the reasons why they are a great idea!

Let’s start with a quick rundown on what language immersion preschool programs are, exactly, and how they differ from traditional language classes. A traditional class means that one class (the language itself, e.g. Spanish) is taught in the foreign language. The other classes in the child care or preschool program are taught in English. The result is that a relatively small percentage of the child’s day is spent speaking Spanish.

In a language immersion daycare or preschool, most (or all) classes are taught in the foreign language, resulting in a higher percentage of the day spent speaking it. There are different types of immersion programs, depending your goals as parents. All programs assume that one language (let’s say English) is being spoken at home and you, parents, would like another language (let’s say Spanish) to be learned at preschool. Maybe even a third language (let’s say Mandarin).

Complete immersion is probably the most popular choice and means that 100% of the classes are taught in Spanish. This type of program is one-way, i.e., the program is designed to bring about fluency in Spanish. It is assumed that your children will become fluent in English because it is spoken at home.

Partial immersion means that 50% of the classes are taught in Spanish. The program is therefore two-way and brings about fluency in both Spanish and English. “Triple play” programs are for the truly ambitious and are variations that involve a two-way complete immersion with Spanish and Mandarin at school and (supposedly) English at home. These types of programs are rare.

Now that we’ve covered the types of language immersion preschool programs, let’s cover five reasons why they are a good idea. You can probably put a price tag on the first one, but probably not on the last one!

1. Bang for your buck. Children have a window of a few years during which it is easy for them to learn languages. Extraordinarily easy in fact. The “cutoff” age is estimated to be about 10 years. An immersion daycare or preschool may be a little more expensive than an “English only” one, but the return on investment in their language education when they are less than 5 years old is hundreds of times higher than when they are 15, and probably thousands of times higher than when they are 20, especially if you consider the cost of college these days!

2. Language absorption. Children are little language sponges from about the age of 6 months until about the age of 10. The more you send their way, the more they absorb. If you want them to absorb more, it makes sense to send as much their way as soon as possible. The sheer volume of the foreign language being used in immersion programs is much higher than in a traditional language class, of course.

3. Methodology. In a language immersion daycare, teachers have more time and flexibility to approach teaching from a wider variety of angles. This style is a good fit for younger learners who are naturally inquisitive and are actually able to absorb the language from all angles.

4. Involvement. At the organizational level, language immersion preschools tend to act as a magnet for achievement-oriented parents who like to stay involved so you can meet others who share your educational values. On the personal level, especially for full immersion preschools, parents usually feel responsible for making sure their child knows how to communicate everything in English as well, e.g. “You know circulo means circle, right?!”

5. Compassion and culture. Placing your children in an environment where they need to try harder to understand and be understood is a very efficient way to teach compassion. It is also impossible to learn a foreign language without learning a lot about the foreign culture that goes along with it. Cultural awareness and compassion for others with different backgrounds have always been assets but arguably never more so than in the interconnected world of today. Priceless!

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  • I had no idea that children have a window of time where learning a new language is easy. I’d love for my son to know two languages. Hopefully, I can find a childcare center that will help with this.

  • Question: Is 1 year of language immersion day care (2-3 years old) worth the additional cost if we may not be able to do immersion or dual language for PreK and beyond?

    I’m a native Spanish speaker, former AP Spanish teacher, learned English when I was 4 and it’s now my primary language. My husband is monolingual but we want our daughter to be bilingual. I try to speak to her only in Spanish but code-mix b/w Spanish and English. My family speaks Spanish and she code-mixes as well.

    Our city offers free universal 3K (some are dual-language) and it’s hard for us to imagine continuing to pay for private.

    Any insight would be appreciated!

    • Hi there Alis, thank you for your question! It’s hard to say if it is “worth” it because that will depend on each family’s personal preferences and values. It’s also unclear what the additional cost would be… However, in general, YES, 1 year of language immersion is absolutely valuable, especially at 2-3 years old! At that age, children’s brain are in full development and absorb a lot of information. That applies to languages as well. So even if your baby won’t be able to continue in a language immersion daycare, it’s a great idea to do it, even it’s just 1 year.

      Also, if you’re a native Spanish speaker (and your family speaks Spanish), your baby will always be exposed to that language, so the foundations she builds at her Spanish immersion daycare will continue to be built upon. By the way, many language immersion daycares aren’t more expensive than English-only programs. It depends on many other factors, of course, but many facilities that are bilingual or language immersion, especially home-based programs, are often just as affordable as English-only programs! Here’s a link to find Spanish daycares 🙂 https://www.carelulu.com/daycare-preschool/spanish

  • I’m trying to help my son learn both English and Spanish as he grows up. A dual immersion preschool would be really helpful, that seems like a great way to ensure that he is exposed to both languages.

  • my 22 month old has been attending a spanish immersion daycare for almost a year now. We love the daycare and ouronly question is how can/should we be supporting this at home? Should we be reading more spanish books and learning materials or focus on english at home since she is 100% spanish at school?

    • Hi Grace! Thank you for your comment, and for the great question!! You’ll get various answers depending on whom you ask, but many experts recommend the “one-parent-one-language” method for raising bilingual children. Basically, stick to whatever language you know best (English I assume for you), to ensure that your child is learning proper English and that you can speak comfortably with your baby. If you’re fully bilingual yourself, you could alternate periods of English only, and foreign language only. In your case, if the child care program you attend is 100% Spanish, it sounds like your little one is getting plenty of exposure to Spanish, so it doesn’t seem to be an issue for you to focus on English at home 🙂 Here’s another resource for you to check out: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/faq-raising-bilingual-children Best of luck! 🙂

  • I have two Spanish Immersion child care centers in the northeast metro of the Twin Cities and it is truly an amazing and fulfilling experience to watch our little ones learn Spanish naturally! In our infant rooms our teachers are speaking Spanish to babies, singing them Spanish lullabies, and beginning to count and read stories in Spanish. There is a lot of research out there two on all of the brain, cognitive, and academic, benefits of being bilingual from an early age as well as the better overall social and economic outcomes of a high quality early childhood experience!

  • I like that you mention that it is much easier for a kid to pick up a second language, so it’s good to take advantage of that when they’re young. I wish that my parents had put me through an immersion program when I was younger because I think there are so many benefits to learning more than one language. It’s a lot harder once you get older. When I have kids, a program like this is something I’ll have to keep in mind.

  • It was mind blowing to learn that children are little language sponges from about the age of 6 months until about the age of 10. Our kids want to learn a different language so bad so we have been looking into this for months. We will be sure to talk to a teacher about the benefits!

  • I like your tip on how a bilingual preschool will allow kids to learn a language faster. I would imagine that because children can absorb things quicker it would be easier to learn another language. Maybe I should look into putting my son into a language immersion preschool.

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