Mary is ISSA’s Head of Academics and resident expert on language acquisition for children. She shares what it’s like for students in our programs to learn a new language through complete immersion.
When we first opened our preschool at the International School of San Antonio, the class start dates were staggered. The French class had its first day a week before the Chinese class did. This meant that I had a week to observe our talented French teacher, Alexia. It was a delight to see Alexia in action, and I could see that the students were adjusting to the schedule and the French immersion environment. Over the course of that week, I noticed something curious: I was learning French just like our students! I put my trash in la poubelle. I was drinking eau from my bouteille. And quite frankly, I wanted to faire dou dou during la sieste, too.
The experience could not have been more different from the last time I tried to learn some French. It has been over 20 years since I set foot inside a classroom to try and learn the language. Like most people who took a French class in which a teacher assigned a textbook and asked everyone to conjugate –er verbs for 45 minutes, I don’t remember a lot from the experience. But there I was, sitting on the floor next to our smiling students, listening to maîtresse Alexia patiently introduce “head, shoulders, knees and toes” to our students. Her words were clear as a bell in my head and I understood exactly what was going on from 8:00am to 3:30pm.
“Well duh,” a gentle reader might say. “You developed the curriculum and spent four years trying to remember if it is le dentifrice or la dentifrice with Madame Textbook. Of course you knew what was going on!” That is fair to say, but ultimately we know from research that I was picking up French because I was hearing it 5.5 hours per day non-stop. Furthermore, since Alexia was speaking slowly and using a lot of context, the French was comprehensible to me. This is how we learn a language, by hearing language that we can understand. There are no exceptions to this (McGraw-Hill, you can stop calling me about language learning curriculum).
We call this language that we hear and understand comprehensible input. It is why language immersion preschool programs work. Students get many hours of this input five days a week. Not only does it work for preschoolers, it works for people old enough to be their teachers, too ☺.
Interested to see Comprehensible Input in action? Schedule a complimentary one-on-one session for your child with me and see what it’s like in person!