[lg policy] book review: Immersion Education: Practices, Policies, Possibilities

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 6 15:31:54 UTC 2012

Immersion Education: Practices, Policies, Possibilities
SERIES TITLE: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2011

Liss Kerstin Sylvén, University of Gothenburg, Sweden


‘Immersion Education’ is an edited volume dedicated to the memory of Wallace E.
Lambert “for envisioning the promise of immersion education, and for his
pioneering work in exposing its possibilities” (p. x). The volume is divided
into four main sections, each consisting of three articles. The first section
looks at “Practices in Immersion Program Design”; in the second, “Program
Outcomes and Implications for Practice” are explored; the third focuses on
“Language Use and Assessment Practices in Immersion Programs”; and the final
section looks into “Policy Practice in Immersion Education”.

In the foreword, Merrill Swain starts by summarizing the work of Wallace E.
Lambert and continues by painting the scene of immersion education today with a
broad brush. Looking forward, he concludes that the “articulation of programs is
a significant challenge that will involve the cooperation and collaboration of
policy makers, school and university administrators, teachers and parents” (p.
xix). All chapters in the book illustrate this challenge in one way or another.

In the introductory chapter, “The Future of Immersion Education: An Invitation
to ‘Dwell in Possibility’”, the three editors of the book, Diane Tedick, Donna
Christian and Tara Williams Fortune give an overview of the book, intertwined
with various challenges facing immersion education in different parts
of the world.

Section One starts with a chapter by Siv Björklund and Karita Mård-Miettinen
called “Integrating Multiple Languages in Immersion: Swedish Immersion in
Finland”. This is a well-chosen topic to start off the book, as the language
situation in Finland is similar to that in Canada, the country of origin of
immersion. Both countries have two official languages, in the case of Finland,
Finnish and Swedish. This very illuminating chapter on various educational
aspects of immersion in Finland focuses on the multilingual orientation found in
many Finnish schools and goes into great detail regarding learning outcomes.

William H. Wilson and Kauanoe Kamanä give “Insights from Indigenous Language
Immersion in Hawai’i” in Chapter 3. Indigenous language immersion is an area
which has received increased attention from researchers in recent years, and for
those not very familiar with this type of immersion, this chapter gives insights
into this vital area. The threat of English to Hawaiian is highlighted and these
immersion programs strive, among other things, to reduce this threat, and,
unlike other immersion programs, seek to revernacularize the immersion language.
In other words, the goal is for Hawaiian to become students’ primary language,
while still maintaining the dominant language, English, as an
auxiliary language.

In the final chapter of Section One, Chapter 4 “Two-Way Immersion Charter
Schools: An Analysis of Program Characteristics and Student Body Compositions”,
Gary Zehrbach describes the US charter school movement, and in particular,
two-way immersion charter schools (TWICS). There are a total of 45 such programs
around the US, according to the author, and all of them are Spanish/English
programs. As is the case with many other types of immersion teaching, there is
no universal model of TWI, but rather locally organized varieties. Most TWICS,
however, seem to use the 50:50 model, using each language during half the school
day. This chapter reports positive findings from TWICS and sees a promising
future for them, not only for Latinos, but also for students of other ethnic
backgrounds. The chapter ends with impressive results from such schools, where
African-Americans and other students of color attending TWICS have shown great

The second section of the book concerns program outcomes and implications for
practice and contains three articles: the first is from a two-way immersion
(TWI) program in Chinese in the US; the second deals with TWI at secondary US
schools; and the third discusses tertiary French immersion in Canada. In her
chapter “Student Outcomes in Chinese Two-Way Immersion Programs: Language
Proficiency, Academic Achievement and Student Attitudes”, Kathryn Lindholm-Leary
looks at outcomes among students in grades 4-7 attending the increasingly
popular Chinese TWI programs in the US. Her findings indicate great progress in
both languages, along with an enhanced interest for Chinese culture. Regarding
content proficiency, these students perform at or above grade level. Thus, there
is clear consistency in results between Chinese TWI programs and, for instance,
similar programs in Spanish and English. Furthermore, it seems that regardless
of socioeconomic background, students fare well in these programs.

Ester De Jong and Carol Bearse focus on Spanish TWI at the high school level in
the US in Chapter 6, “The Same Outcomes for All? High-School Students Reflect on
Their Two-Way Immersion Program Experiences”. TWI programs normally start from
kindergarten and continue up through elementary school. However, as the authors
point out, due to various reasons, such as a complex school organization, lack
of qualified teachers, lack of motivation, etc., the number of TWI programs at
the secondary level is limited. In their chapter, the authors ask if these TWI
students (native Spanish and native English speakers) in high school view
themselves as bilingual and why they consider it important to continue in a TWI
program. They also look into the ways in which these programs support desired
outcomes. Their conclusions are that while these students do consider themselves
bilingual and bicultural, it is a difficult task for schools to keep up with the
goal of maintaining status equalization and learning opportunities for both
groups of students in both languages.

The final chapter in the section on program outcomes concerns French immersion
at the tertiary level and is called “French Immersion Studies at the University
of Ottawa: Programme Evaluation and Pedagogical Challenges”. Sandra Burger,
Alysse Weinberg, Carla Hall, Parvin Movassat and Amelia Kreitzer Hope report on
the French Immersion Studies academic stream at the bilingual University of
Ottawa. Even though the conclusion of this chapter is that the program is
successful - in offering it, the university attracts high-achieving students -
the authors also point out several challenges facing the administration of such
a program. The first challenge is the collaboration between content and language
professors. At lower levels, content and language are both covered
simultaneously, but at the university level the two are separated. This in turn
leads to the second area of concern, assessment. Language professors cannot take
content into account when making their assessment, while content teachers must
overlook language (if that is at all possible). In spite of these and other
challenges, the authors highlight this program as a model example.

The third section of the book concerns Language Use and Assessment Practices in
Immersion Programs. Pádraig Ó Duibhir starts off this section with a chapter on
Irish immersion entitled “‘I Thought That We Had Good Irish’: Irish Immersion
Students’ Insights into Their Target Language Use”. Ó Duibhir’s study intends to
fill a gap in the literature on Irish immersion and investigates students’
opinions on their language use, whether or not they are aware of errors in their
speech, and why they use non-target-like forms even though they have been taught
the correct form. Two features in particular stand out as not having been
mastered by the grade 6 students taking part in this study: the use of copula
and verbal noun clauses. The author concludes by pointing out the importance of
focus on form in the immersion classroom and the limitations of relying solely
on mere exposure to the language through content. Otherwise, she argues, these
incorrect forms risk becoming automatized in the students’ long-term memory,
which thereby will lead to difficulty in adjusting at a later stage.

In Chapter 9, “Talking in the Fifth-Grade Classroom: Language Use in an Early,
total Spanish Immersion Program”, Maggie Broner and Diane Tedick analyze the
discourse of three early, total one-way Spanish immersion students in fifth
grade. The focus is on what factors determine the use of the students’ L1 and
L2, respectively, during Spanish instructional time, using audiotaped classroom
activities, field notes and interviews. Broner and Tedick found that these
students used the L2, Spanish, in all interactions with the teacher, but that
task type and language-related content tasks also triggered L2 use. All in all,
it was likely that ‘on-task’ interaction entailed L2 usage, while students in an
‘off-task’ interaction, which often was some sort of social interaction,
preferred their L1.

Lizette Peter, Gloria Sly and Tracy Hirata-Edds contribute with a chapter on
“Using Language Assessment to Inform Instruction in Indigenous Language
Immersion”, where they focus on the Cherokee Nation immersion school. More
specifically, the chapter presents how the development and administration of
language assessment has become one of the school’s most prominent features. The
original vision of the immersion school was to ensure the survival of the
Cherokee language, and, starting with a preschool program in 2004, the idea was
to add one new class at the next grade level until the program extended from
preschool to sixth grade. A 10-year plan was established and crucial factors
identified. Among them was assessment. The chapter describes three types of
assessment: the Cherokee Preschool Immersion Language Assessment (C-PILA),
developed for very young children; the Cherokee Kindergarten Immersion Language
Assessment (C-KILA), developed to tap into progress during the first years in
school; and the Cherokee Language Immersion Literacy Assessment (C-LILA), also
for the first school years. Analyses of results from these assessments indicate
the need to focus on form along with the use of the language to teach content.
The uniqueness of the Cherokee language necessitates the development of specific
language learning goals, which are often quite different from other languages.
Along with such goals, assessment criteria are also of concern. The chapter ends
on a positive note, with the fact that although this is work in progress, it
seems very promising.

The final section of the book is devoted to “Policy and Practice in Immersion
Education”. In his chapter on “Context and Constraints: Immersion in Hong Kong
and Mainland China”, Philip Hoare explains how different approaches to immersion
have emerged from two diverse educational contexts, namely those of Hong Kong
and Xi’an. Hoare maintains that neither of these program’s implementations are
satisfactory. The main reason for this seems to be inadequate teacher training.
This, in turn, according to Hoare, is a result of the pressure schools feel to
deliver academically successful students. Schools are judged on their
success-rate, and so are the schools’ teachers. Thus, teachers’ first priority
is to focus on content. In spite of these constraints on the implementation of
immersion, Hoare seems optimistic about the future of immersion in Asia, not
least because of the great demand for proficient English speakers that most
probably will continue for yet some time.

Lisa Dorner takes an interesting approach in her chapter on “US Immigrants and
Two-Way Immersion Policies: The Mismatch between District Design and Family
Experiences”. Here, a very important group of stakeholders is at the center of
attention, namely, the minority language families whose engagement is critical
to the success of the two-way immersion programs. Families arriving to the US
are well aware of the critical need for their children to learn English, and at
the same time, they are anxious for the children to maintain their L1. Dorner
followed six immigrant families during a period of 18 months and analyzed how
they made sense of the municipality’s TWI policies. She concludes that it is
vital to engage newcomers at an early stage in discussions about TWI and to be
flexible in adapting information about the program to the habits and needs of
the target group.

“Struggling Learners and the Language Immersion Classroom” are the focus of Tara
Williams Fortune’s chapter, where she poses the question “Is the immersion
program intended for a specific type of student?” (p. 251). It is not uncommon
that “struggling students”, for various reasons, to opt for programs that do not
include immersion. There is little research on the effects of immersion programs
on this group of students, but existing studies, together with Fortune’s own
findings, are of the opinion that just as in any school environment, there will
be students in immersion settings that struggle due to language and/or learning
disabilities, with the great difference being that those in immersion programs
will perform below grade level in all languages involved in the program, not
just one. The point Fortune wishes to make is that immersion education should
cater to all types of students.

Fred Genesee concludes the book with his chapter “Reflecting on Possibilities
for Immersion”, where he discusses four areas he considers to be in need of
immediate attention: advocacy, the role of parents, assessment and
accessibility. Regarding advocacy, Genesee argues in favor of forming groups
consisting of representatives of the stakeholders involved, who at the levels of
individual schools, districts and states, monitor policy implementation and
promote development of immersion programs. The role of parents is seen as
critical, and as such, ways of best achieving the active engagement of parents
needs to be further investigated. The third point brought up by Genesee,
assessment, is important in immersion programs from several points of view.
First, summative assessment is needed for the evaluation of new forms of
immersion programs as well as for the promotion of programs among stakeholders.
Second, formative assessment is, of course, beneficial for the individual
student, but also for the teacher, because it allows him/her to monitor and
modify instruction. Finally, Genesee touches upon the importance of
accessibility and sees immersion as an educational arena for all groups of
students, whether they are at-risk or not.


“Immersion Education -- Practices, Policies, Possibilities” is a resource full
of interesting material for anybody interested in L2 acquisition. The book
offers so many insights into various ways of implementing immersion, some of
which have received little attention elsewhere. I found the chapters on
indigenous language immersion especially interesting (Chapters 3 “Insights from
Indigenous Language Immersion in Hawai’i” and 10 “Using Language Assessment to
Inform Instruction in Indigenous Language Immersion”), as they indeed illustrate
some of the possibilities inherent in immersion. We are given examples of how
immersion can help endangered languages survive while, at the same time, the
indigenous culture is incorporated into the school context. I was particularly
inspired by the description in Peter, Sly and Hirata-Edds of how the Cherokee
concept “idigoliyahe nidaduhnahui” (meaning ‘let us take a look at what we are
doing’) has been adopted in the Cherokee Language Immersion program, leading to
the development of appropriate evaluation and assessment tools (p. 193). That
concept could serve well in many educational contexts.

A book can only comprise so many chapters, in this case, 12, plus the
introduction and the conclusion. I cannot fail but note, however, that nine of
these chapters concern the North American continent, out of which eight
originate in the US. While all of these chapters are highly interesting and
worth reading, the book would definitely have benefitted from including examples
of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), which is the European model
of immersion teaching (Coyle, 2008; Dalton-Puffer, 2007; Lasagabaster & Ruiz de
Zarobe, 2010; Marsh, 2001; Ruiz de Zarobe, 2010), as well as immersion models on
the African continent (e.g., Tucker, 1998). This would have added more relevance
to the topic, especially in light of the editors’ comment in the
acknowledgements: “Since we began our work on this edited volume, the demand for
immersion education has grown, and new immersion programs have been launched
around the world” (p. ix).

While most chapters report on progress being made by immersion students in
various contexts, I was somewhat surprised at the approach of Ó Duibhir’s
contribution, where error analysis is at the center of attention. While I indeed
do appreciate the fact that there seems, in virtually all immersion contexts, to
be a need for more language-specific activities (among them, focus on form), it
is questionable whether this is best achieved by focusing on students’
linguistic shortcomings. In an earlier chapter in this volume, de Jong and
Bearse highlight the fact that a teacher’s “explicit disapproval of the
students’ nonstandard Spanish language use and group work undermined the
students’ motivation and opportunity to use Spanish” (p. 106).

In a book such as the present one, the use of acronyms is inevitable. Therefore
it is important that these are carefully explained the first time they appear.
This is also the case in this volume, even though some cause confusion. For
instance, in Lindholm-Leary’s chapter, the acronyms NCS and ENS are introduced
on p. 83, respectively, as ‘native Chinese speaking’ and ‘native English
speaking’. The reader is left wondering why the N for ‘native’ comes first in
one and second in the other. Moreover, later on in the chapter, another acronym
is introduced, CNS, meaning ‘Chinese native speakers’. Whether or not these are
the same individuals encompassed by the acronym NCS is not clarified. Overall,
the use of acronyms in this volume at times seems excessive, and a list of
abbreviations at the outset of the book would have facilitated reading
each chapter.

Despite these minor remarks, this is a highly recommended book for anyone
interested in the immersion approach to language learning. It opens up new
perspectives, and indeed “dwells in possibility” for the future implementation
of immersion programs in various shapes.


Coyle, D. (2008). CLIL - A pedagogical approach from the European Perspective.
In N. Van Dusen-Scholl & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and
Education (pp. 97-111): Springer Science+Business Media LLc.

Dalton-Puffer, C. (2007). Discourse in content and language integrated learning
(CLIL) classrooms. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Lasagabaster, D., & Ruiz de Zarobe, Y. (Eds.). (2010). CLIL in Spain:
Implementation, Results and Teacher Training. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge
Scholars Publishing.

Marsh, D. (2001). The CLIL Compendium. Retrieved from http://
www.clilcompendium.com/ index.html

Ruiz de Zarobe, Y. (2010). Written production and CLIL. An empirical study. In
C. Dalton-Puffer, T. Nikula & U. Smit (Eds.), Language Use and Language Learning
in CLIL Classrooms (Vol. 7). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Tucker, G. R. (1998). A Global Perspective on Multilingualism and Multilingual
Education. In J. Cenoz & F. Genesee (Eds.), Beyong Bilingualism: multilingualism
and multilingual education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


Liss Kerstin Sylvén is an assistant professor of English at the
University of Gothenburg. Her main research interests include second
language acquisition, young language learners and content and language
integrated learning (CLIL). She currently leads a 4-year research
project, funded by the Swedish Research Council, focusing on the
effects of CLIL on upper secondary students' development of academic
language skills.


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