Everything You Want to Know About Language Immersion

The most natural way to learn a language is to absorb it during daily experience as a component of general exploration of the world. Montessori lends itself beautifully to this kind of absorption!

The Guidepost Team

Since learning happens by experience using the self-correcting, hands-on Montessori materials in our classrooms, there’s no reliance on language for children to learn. The child does not feel anxious or out of place; they naturally navigate the classroom at their own lead even while language fluency is building. This is equally true of children who are still learning English fluency in an English classroom!

Further, Montessori presentations are already designed to isolate and highlight vocabulary in a deliberate manner to take advantage of the child’s “Absorbent Mind.”

Below, we answer all your questions on Language Immersion programming with Guidepost Montessori. Program offerings vary by location and include Spanish Immersion as well as Mandarin Immersion.

How does language acquisition happen in your Montessori environment?

Children under the age of six have tremendously powerful, absorbent minds. They pick up language effortlessly and joyfully by being immersed in it. This is how children acquire their native language. So, throughout the day we immerse our children in their target language with carefully chosen songs, stories, poems, and ongoing conversation with their teachers and peers. Equally important are the hundreds of concrete Montessori learning materials that are presented by the teacher with the accompanying vocabulary in the target language. These materials help make language acquisition a tangible and meaningful part of the child’s daily experience.

We speak only English at home. Is that okay?

Yes! Our immersion program does not require any prior knowledge of Spanish or Mandarin. Our program is designed for children who have at least one English-speaking parent or caregiver at home. If the primary language spoken at home is Spanish or Mandarin, we recommend you enroll your child in our English Montessori program.

How will my child communicate with her friends and teachers if she can’t speak the target language at first? 

We always use a gentle, respectful approach when communicating with our students. Because our learning materials are concrete — like our Golden Beads for counting or Puzzle Maps in geography — students can use them even before they gain proficiency in the immersion language. If a child expresses a need in English — “I am hungry for a snack!” — the Guide will ensure that need is met by showing the child where the snack table is and modeling the relevant vocabulary. We never force children to speak in the immersion language. We know that with continual exposure, engaging lessons, and a community of peers, children will express themselves in the target language joyfully when they are ready.

Will both the Lead and Assistant Guide speak in Spanish?

In our Nido program, babies will be exposed to both the native and target language to ensure they receive an early foundation of sounds in both. Starting in Toddler and continuing through Children’s House, Lead and Assistant Guides will speak the target language only. The exception to this is when Kindergarteners receive their English literacy lessons.

Will my child learn to read and write in Spanish/Mandarin? What about in English?

Our program follows a sequence of lessons for children to gain literacy in both. We target the immersion language first. Then, typically in a child’s kindergarten year, we continue with more advanced literacy skills in the target language but also begin the sequence in English.

Is it true that, by the end of Kindergarten, my child’s English reading and writing skills might lag because he has been in an immersion program?

That might be the case in the short term. Learning two languages can take longer than learning just one. By the end of kindergarten, a child in our English-only Montessori program might have built more advanced skills than a child in an immersion program. However, children in our immersion programs can be expected to fulfill the Common Core Kindergarten standards in both English and Spanish. Many studies have shown that this “lag” in bilingual children closes by age eight, but they never outgrow the lifelong benefits of bilingualism.

Why is the Kindergarten year so important in your immersion program?

It is in the kindergarten year that children not only solidify their Spanish/Mandarin literacy, but are also introduced to the differences in English writing and reading. The kindergarten year is significant in all of our Montessori programs, as this is the time children draw upon their years of using concrete materials to arrive at abstract understanding and expression. You will see the investment in your children’s education blossom into fruition in this kindergarten year!

Do you integrate any cultural knowledge or activities other than language acquisition?

Yes! We explore culture and countries through geographical study, songs, stories, food, traditions, and other celebrations.

What ages are eligible for Spanish/Mandarin Immersion?

We admit children from infancy through approximately four years of age into our immersion programs. Older children might be admitted on a case-by-case basis if they are entering with strong Spanish/Mandarin skills.

How will I be able to communicate with my child’s teacher if I don’t speak the target language?

Our immersion guides are also proficient in English. Teacher communication with parents, whether written or oral, will always be in English.

How can I support my child’s language development at home?

While your child is immersed in Spanish/Mandarin at school, parents should expect to support their child’s English language development at home. A rich oral environment is essential to strong vocabulary development. So, talk, sing, and read to your children. Take them on outings in nature, to museums, plays, fairs, community events where they will be exposed to enriching vocabulary.

For older children developing their reading skills, have them read to you from age-appropriate English books and encourage them to write in English. Fun activities at home can include labeling objects around the house, helping to create a grocery list, writing thank-you cards for birthday presents, or keeping a vacation journal.

What can I do to help my child retain his bilingual skills if he moves on to an English-only elementary school?

Many communities offer extracurricular programs that children can take after school or on weekends. There are also many online options that provide continued practice via audio lessons, games, activity sheets, etc.

Meet the Author

The Guidepost Team

The Guidepost Team is a group of writers and educators dedicated to helping demystify all things Montessori.

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