Creating a Language Immersion Environment in the Classroom

Heidi Phelps, Rosetta Stone, Language LearningAccording to a 2011 survey by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), there are close to 500 schools in 38 US states that offer total, partial or two-way immersion programs in 22 different languages.

Language immersion is a method of teaching in which the learners’ target language is the vehicle for general classroom instruction; students spend at least 50 percent of their time learning subjects such as math, science, and social studies in their target language. Immersion has proven to be an effective way to develop fluency and skills. Students in these programs often outperform students in traditional foreign language classes and develop a better understanding of their first language through their study of a second. Additionally, a bilingual, bicultural education can increase students’ cultural awareness and help them navigate more gracefully between their native and foreign cultures in social, academic and professional settings.

So as a world language teacher who is not a part of a formal language immersion program, how can you still deliver these benefits to your students? There are numerous ways to positively impact your students by doing immersion work before, after and during your class sessions. And I’m excited to say that Rosetta Stone can help.

Here are some ideas:

Flip Your Classroom

When I was a teacher, I wanted to maximize the amount of time that my students were using to speak and interact with each other in the target language (in my case, in French). My strategy was to use a flipped classroom model, where students would study the new vocabulary the night before as homework, get a quick review of the new material and grammatical concepts at the beginning of class the next day, and then immediately use that new vocabulary in interactive dialogues, skits, games and class discussions. Rosetta Stone works phenomenally with this flipped classroom model; students complete core lessons and focused activities as homework or in after-school programs the day before class. The Rosetta Stone teacher’s guides and supplementary materials are especially helpful for creating engaging lesson plans and activities in this way.

Speak Only the Target Language in Class

When I taught beginner and intermediate French classes, I would start our first day of class by going around to each individual student and guiding them through a mini-conversation en français. It went something like this:

Me: Bonjour!

Student: [Looks around nervously] Bon…jour?

Me: Je m’appelle [Point to self, then to name written on board]
Madame Phelps. Comment VOUS [points to student] appelez VOUS? [points again to student]

[Repeat the above sentence and gestures until the student catches on.]

Student: Je….m’appelle…Brian (?) [Face looks puzzled but almost convinced that he’s got it right.]

Me: Enchantée, Brian! [Gesture to student to repeat what I said.]

Student: [Pauses.] Enchanté! [Face looks rather relieved that this conversation seems basically over.]

Through this exercise, each student was able to have a full conversation, albeit a simple one, during the first five minutes of their first French class. It also established our classroom from Day One as a No English Zone, where they learn solely through French immersion.

Rosetta Stone can be a valuable complement to this type of classroom immersion work. Because the program is self-paced and individualized, students get extra practice speaking, listening, reading and writing in the target language, along with actionable feedback on how to improve their own pronunciation, comparing it to that of a native speaker. Students may be nervous about immersion at first, but with this much practice both inside and outside the classroom, the act of expressing themselves in their target language will become increasingly comfortable and familiar.

Incorporate Stories, Music and Games in the Target Language

Learning a new language doesn’t have to be all about work! Students can greatly benefit from reading stories, playing games, listening to music, news or sports in the target language. I’m a huge fan of French 1960s music, so I would often incorporate songs into my lesson plans. (For what it’s worth, “Les Cornichons” by Nino Ferrer is excellent for students to listen to and pick out any food vocabulary that they recognize, along with days of the week.) The games and stories in Rosetta Stone Foundations Silver and Gold are also great for creating a diverse learning environment, while the cultural lessons in Rosetta Stone Advantage are helpful for initiating class conversations on culturally relevant topics like cooking, history, entertainment and the economy.

There are so many ways to get students excited to learn. Have fun with it!

To conclude, here’s a great quote by Nelson Mandela that says “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” As a language teacher, my last piece of advice for you is to remind yourself that you’re not only equipping your students with a concrete skill from which they will benefit both cognitively and professionally, but you’re promoting a sense of empathy and curiosity for people, cultures and ideas outside of their immediate communities. You’re encouraging them to go out into the world and make an effort to better understand it. Know that what you’re doing is making a difference.

For more ideas on bringing Rosetta Stone content into the classroom, check out our Education Seminars for Classroom Implementation.

About the author:

Heidi Phelps-Dedebas is an Education Client Manager based in Washington, D.C. Heidi is a former French teacher; she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in French and her Master of Arts degree in French literature with a focus on poets and novelists of the 19th century. Outside of her work with K-12 teachers throughout the country, Heidi loves to travel around the globe. She’s currently using Rosetta Stone to learn Turkish for her upcoming trip to Istanbul so she can effectively communicate with her new in-laws.

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