Book Review: The Language Immersion Life-A Book for Parents

Ever wish your child came with an instruction manual? I mean, I remember back to those first nights home from the hospital with my oldest, thinking, “Who decided I was ready for this?  Where are the professionals?” Since those early days over 7 years ago, there have continued to be many of these moments in parenthood, including enrolling our son in a Spanish immersion school, where I was left wondering what in the world am I doing? Where are the darn directions? That’s where the book, The Language Immersion Life: A Guide for Families by Millie Park Mellgren, comes in handy.

The Language Immersion Life really could also be titled A Love Letter to the Language Immersion Life.  Mellgren’s knowledge and appreciation for immersion education is apparent throughout the book.  Mellgren has a background as an educator, principal, researcher and an immersion parent, so she is clearly an expert in the field.  Throughout the text she presents well thought out and researched rational on the benefits of immersion education. Yet she maintains a balanced approach and doesn’t sugar coat the process, balancing useful suggestions with honest takes on expected difficulties.  Though Mellgren’s experience with immersion education is primarily with Spanish, she states, “The concepts are applicable to all language immersion programs as they produce common issues and successes” (Mellgren xiii). Whether you are not only a parent but a scholar or you are a parent without a post secondary degree, this book is an easy read, accessible for all readers alike. 

The Language Immersion Life walks parents through every step of the language immersion process. From researching and selecting an immersion program to what to expect in the secondary grades, Mellgren breaks it down, making this book applicable for all immersion families.  When I began this book, I immediately thought, man, I wish I read this book when we decided to enroll our oldest in a Spanish immersion program. A constant question for many first time parents is how to prepare their child for immersion kindergarten.  Mellgren so wisely says, “As far as your child knows, school is always taught in another language” (64). Meaning, English or not, all kids are figuring out how to “do” school at first so you may not notice much of a difference when compared to traditional kindergarten.  She discusses the importance of keeping a positive attitude in the early grades, as years of research indicate the correlation between parent attitudes and a child’s success in language learning (73).

As a parent of a second grader, I thoroughly enjoyed chapter 4, which focused on the ups and downs of language learning during grades 1-5. Though I will admit it caused me a wide eyed pause when Mellgren stated, “…these years form the academic base for everything that follows in life and therefore are really, really important” (82). No pressure, no pressure at all.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, prior to mom life, I was a teacher and part of a research cohort that brought immersion education to the school district in which I taught. So while none of what was discussed in this chapter came as a surprise, reading it as a parent in the thick of it provides a very different perspective. She discusses the importance in trusting the process, knowing that around 1st and 2nd grades, it will seem like your child is lacking behind their English only peers but that as parents, we can’t freak out.  Mellgren reminds us that 40 years of research “consistently found that language immersion students gain English skills on a par with students in English-only programs, and most often have test scores that surpass their monolingual peers” (85). As a mom, I can’t argue with that.

Not only do I currently have a 2nd grader, but also twins who will be in kindergarten next year.  Both of my twins have some physical and learning needs requiring special education. Upon mentioning to others that they too will be going to our Spanish immersion school next year, I have been met with a few raised eyebrows.  I will admit as a mom this has caused some self doubt at times. That is why I found Mellgren’s chapter on the struggling learner in an immersion setting to be particularly helpful. In chapter 5 of The Language Immersion Life, it says, “Academic difficulties are rarely caused by the language being learning but by processing skills, learning delays, or any disabilities or challenges that would be present in an English-only school as well” (105).  I found it a helpful reminder that teachers in an immersion school have the same if not more strategies to compared to general education teachers, due to the fact that all students need that extra help figuring it all out in the early days. Mellgren believes that early education 2nd language learning even sort of levels the playing field between those with special needs and those without, seeing as they are all assimilating to new input at the same time (110).  Yet she does point out while all students will appear to thrive at first, those special needs will present themselves at some point and will need to be addressed (110). But with the support of not only the general education classroom teacher but a special ed team, students with special needs are just as capable in a second language setting as they would be in a monolingual classroom.

In the end, I highly encourage all parents to pick up a copy of The Language Immersion Life: A Guide for Families. Regardless of where you are at in the process, author Millie Park Mellgren presents an array of information to help all families involved in immersion education. You can purchase this book through here. Happy reading!

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