Immersion Program – A potential solution to solve the problem within Taiwan’s English educational system.
Immersion program is not a new concept. It has been around for thousands of years as a way for us to learn native language. Years of research have shown the power of immersion programs to aid students in attaining high levels of second language proficiency. No other type of instruction, short of living in a second-language environment, is as successful.
In the US, there are several language immersion programs (the most popular ones being Spanish and Chinese) and they have demonstrated their effectiveness in the realm of language learning.
I will talk about the Chinese Immersion classes in my son’s school as that is what I am familiar with and have seen the success of its implementation. My son’s school started a Chinese Immersion program three years ago, starting with Kindergarten and 1st grade students. In Kindergarten and first grade, teaching in the classroom is strictly in Chinese except for specials, such as music, art, and physical education, taught in English by other teachers. The Chinese teacher speaks only Mandarin. Children enrolling in the program have no prior exposure to the Chinese language, neither do their family members. In the beginning, student would tend to ask questions in English due to no prior experience in speaking Chinese. However, teachers will only respond in Chinese and communicate using a range of engaging strategies including pictures, songs, games, body language, expressions, pantomime, drama, etc. These immersion teachers are native speakers from either Taiwan or China (90% from China as exchange teachers through the exchange programs of the Chinese government) and have a Minnesota elementary teaching license. Having Chinese born teachers speaking strictly Mandarin allows the students to learn Chinese more accurately, to excel in Chinese faster and to speak Chinese without American accents. Children are excellent mimics and quick in picking up new languages.
Outside of school, parents communicate with their children in English. The English language is formally introduced in third grade in the Chinese Immersion classes. Students will eventually acquire the same English language skills as the students in English-only settings.
In the immersion classes, teachers incorporate culture into lessons, activities, classroom artifacts, and by bringing in classroom guests.
You will be surprised at how quickly children become comfortable and competent in speaking Chinese. In only a few weeks, they are able to speak Chinese fluently, have strong enough reading, writing and listening skills to master the core academic subjects in Chinese.
I see English Immersion programs as the potential solution to solve the existing problems within Taiwan’s English educational system. If Taiwan can adopt the English Immersion programs starting from Kindergarten or 1st grade, hiring only native speakers from the US (if American English is the focus) through exchange programs with the US state governments to teach English Immersion classes, Taiwan’s prevailing problems with incorrect English grammars, pronunciation or usage would eventually diminish. This may not be of much help to adolescent and adults as the benefit of Immersion classes work best for young children. However, we will see dramatic results from these young children as they grow up and eventually you will see a society speaking fluent and accurate English if that is your goal.