Some weeks ago I was honoured to attend and participate in the first international congress on bilingual education. From this type of events one get two things: the first one is to meet old friends and make new ones. And the second is that you have time to reflect on your ideas, conceptions… and share them with many people working on the same area.
I’ll start commenting on the Congress by referring to the plenary session held by Fred Genesee. As you probably know, he is well known in the bilingual field by his studies focused on the Canadian reality. Since 1965 Canada, and more specifically Quebec, is involved in immersion education. Their L1 is English and their L2 is French. In the last years emergent programmes of immersion in different languages have arisen (languages such as Ukranian, Spanish or Japanese are taught in the US following immersion programmes).
Prof. Genesee explained the different models of immersion (early total, early partial, delayed, two-year late, double-immersion). These programmes differ from each other according to the percentage of time devoted to the teaching of content through the Second Language and the year of introduction of this immersion teaching.
Research on these types of immersion programmes have reached some interesting conclusions. I’ll mention just a few of them:
– Immmersion and non-immersion students have the same (or very similar) L1 development.
– Immmersion and non-immersion students have similar results in terms of academic achievement (Maths included!)
– Immersion and non-immersion students have different L2 development. Immersion students have as good comprehension skills as native speakers and, of course, higher than non-immersion. The only problem is with BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills), as imersion students show little development of them. They have good CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency), but poor BICS. For this, Prof. Genesee suggest creating opportunities for students to talk to native speakers to sovle this.
With regard to the production skills, they are not as good as the native speakers’ although there is a higher level of competence in comparison with non-immersion students.
After 40 years of research, Prof. Genesee indicates that immersion programmes are a valued-added education, as you get 2 for 1. Apart from that, this type of teaching/learning is much more fruitful. He indicates that CBI (Content-based Instruction, what I considered to be the USA CLIL) is good as far as the integration of language and the curriculum is explicit and systematic, and that students are exposed to L2 as much as possible.
About the early introduction of a second language, prof. Genesee thinks that early is not necessarily better. Delayed L2 immersion can also be efective, as older students are efficient learners and have well developed L1 literacy skills that facilitate acquisition of the L2 literacy.
About to whom immersion should be addressed, prof. Genesee thinks that all students can benefit from this type of teaching/learning. He thinks that the fact that teachers are addressing systematic, explicit and integrated language instruction, and that they work specially hard because they do not know if students “got” the content makes them insist and find new ways of teaching and learning.
Great food for though given by prof. Genesee. His context is a little bit different from the Spanish one, as the second language is here a foreign language (no matter whether it is English, French, German…). Apart from that, is it true that teaching through a FL is benefitting all students? What about a student with hearing impairment?