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Should My Child Go to an Immersion School?

As a parent, you look to provide the best of everything for your child, and education is no exception. With the countless benefits of bilingualism, it isn't surprising dual-language immersion schools are increasing in popularity. After all, parents want their children to experience every opportunity available to them, including expanded language skills and global awareness.

But how far should you go to achieve this? It can be difficult to decide whether your child should attend an immersion school or program, which is where students learn, communicate, and complete assignments in a second language. How do you know if an immersion school is the right choice for your child? And is it an affordable option? Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you're considering this educational pathway for your little one:

How do immersion programs work?

Unlike a traditional foreign language course, where students may learn a new language for only part of the school day and through partial use of their native language, students enrolled in an immersion school are quite literally immersed in their new language; a majority or all of their instruction will be in their chosen language. Your child won't just speak Spanish or French when building his or her new language skills—he or she will also learn about general education topics, like fractions and the Civil War, in a second language. Parents often choose immersive environments because continuous exposure to a new language, particularly before the age of 12, can help children quickly understand a new language, not unlike how they learned to speak English. Children may still achieve near-fluency through a foreign language class in a traditional school, but an immersion school can accelerate the process.

What are the pros and cons of a dual language immersion program?

Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that children who study a new language through an immersion program, rather than an hour a day or weekly, will not simply learn the ABCs or basic vocabulary—they could achieve near-fluency. Beyond this, an immersion program may improve your child's mental flexibility, pattern recognition, and problem-solving skills. Not to mention, that in an increasingly globalized world, your child will be acquiring skills as a youngster that will be valuable for life. Any educational edge can provide greater success.

This all sounds great, but if transitioning children to immersion programs were a cakewalk, everyone would be doing it. The most obvious obstacle is your—the parent's—language proficiency. If you help with homework or otherwise actively engage your child in learning, your role may change if you don't speak the language of the program your child is learning in. If you enroll your student in an immersion school, you may want to consider brushing up on language skills, too. Luckily, many educational—and fun!—resources are available, including books, language-learning software, and word games—even the occasional foreign soap opera.

Is my child prepared to learn a new language?

Parents of high achievers may not question their child's preparedness for an immersion program, but if your child struggles in certain subjects, you may be hesitant. Can my son keep pace when learning a new language? Will this new challenge cause my daughter to fall even further behind in basic math? These are natural questions to ask. However, students with lower academic ability often perform at the same level in their immersion programs as they would in their English-speaking programs. Therefore, immersion in a new language is not always an additional barrier to a struggling student's success.

Is my child interested in an immersion school?

Perhaps the most important factor in weighing your decision is whether your child wants to attend a foreign language immersion school. If your child is happy at his or her current school, a big change might be unwelcome and could result in behavioral problems or resistance to the curriculum. If your child is already in transition, it may be the perfect time to introduce a change of instruction. Involve your child in this decision by discussing whether he or she wants to learn a new language. Take a tour or explore a potential school to ease fears about changing schools. Of course, your will shouldn't always bend to your child's wishes, so if you believe such a program would be in your son or daughter's best interest, pursue the opportunity. However, presenting the opportunity as a choice can help bring your child on board a little easier.

Brenna Tonelli is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.