Growing up in small town Minnesota in the late 80s, my life itself was pretty small. I remember when our class got a new student, something that didn’t happen often, and he was all the way from Maryland. So exotic! Everyone wanted to be friends with him because he had come from so far. That world has changed so much. I’m raising my kids in that same “small town” but there’s really nothing small about it anymore. Regardless of population, our kids’ worlds are a million times bigger than ours ever were at that age. They literally hold the world in their hands, er rather pockets via their ever important phones and tablets. That’s taking them a whole lot further than Maryland, that’s for sure.
I never really gave any thought to how my kids saw the world until recently. While eating at a local Mexican restaurant, my son looked up at a large photo on the wall and said, “Oh that’s cool. It’s a picture of a famous church in Spain.” I asked how he knew that and he said one of the language ambassadors at school had shown them pictures from a recent trip to the area. That got me thinking. As a student at a language immersion school, my child is surrounded by different cultures and ideas every day. When we chose to send our child to an immersion school, we expected language but have gotten so much more.
Many immersion programs employ native speakers from all over the world. These teachers bring a variety of perspectives beyond just the language. Sharing their experiences in different countries, helping perfect more native accents, bringing kids on virtual field trips with authentic artifacts and first hand pictures from around the world, these are just a few of the cultural benefits these teachers bring to the classroom.
These experiences are often not limited to the culture of the target language. My son’s school features full immersion in both Spanish or Chinese. Not only is my son learning Spanish through all of his academic content areas, but he also learns Chinese through his specialist rotation. Recently we attended a whole school celebration for Chinese New Year. Here the entire school community sang Chinese songs, made crafts and ate Chinese food. The highlight of the evening was the authentic dragon dance performed by Chinese teachers and language ambassadors. While this particular event might be specific to our school, I believe that a diverse experience of different cultures is a highlight in many immersion settings.
Beyond the elementary years, many immersion schools continue into the secondary setting. During these years, students are often given the opportunity to study overseas, allowing them to apply their language skills at the global level. If your school doesn’t offer such a program, consider looking into approved exchange programs through the U.S. government department of state. Here there is an extensive list of programs that offer exchange programs both for traveling as a students or hosting a student. https://bit.ly/39OfpM4 While as a mom I can’t imagine sending my baby overseas at this point, it is awesome to know that when done with school, my kid will have not only the language but skills to apply their knowledge throughout the entire world.
When we think big picture, by choosing a language immersion school we are giving our kids so much more than language. In an increasingly small world, our kids will be able to compete at the global level. With an open mind and a multilingual tongue, these kids will be ready to conquer the world. And as a parent, that feels pretty darn cool.