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Dual immersion schools may give your kid a leg up later in life

The ability to communicate in one or more languages has many advantages. Knowledge of Latin might help a high school student raise her score on the ACT or SAT, while knowledge of Mandarin Chinese might help a recent college graduate enter the field of international business. Of course, many students begin to master a language well before high school and college, and one of the best ways to do so is to enroll in a dual immersion school.

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Dual immersion schools, while growing in popularity, are still relatively foreign to some parents. If you are beginning to consider this option, here are three things parents should know about dual immersion schools:

1. The name of the program matters

In this context, the term “dual immersion” refers to an academic program that includes English-dominant students and students who are dominant in a language other than English. For instance, if you enrolled your child in a Spanish dual immersion school, some of her peers would speak English as their first language, while others would speak Spanish as their first language. Every student would likely benefit from eventual bilingualism in English and Spanish, as well as cross-cultural exchange. This is true in dual language immersion programs, two-way bilingual programs and two-way immersion programs. The same may not be true of foreign language immersion, which may only be one-way in nature (in other words, without students who speak Spanish as their first language). When in doubt, ask for clarification before you commit to a prospective school.

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2. The structure of dual immersion may vary from school to school

In general, dual immersion schools attempt to evenly divide instruction between English and the second language — a distinct departure from the typical school tradition of a 45- or 50-minute foreign language period several days per week, but how they divide it is unique to each program. Some schools may consistently teach certain subjects in certain languages: history and science in English, and language arts and math in French, for example. Other programs may vary the language of instruction by day (French on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and English on Tuesday and Thursday, for instance) or time of day (French in the mornings and English in the afternoons, for example). Classroom composition — specifically the strengths and weaknesses of the students in the class — grade and teacher preference can all influence this aspect of dual immersion education.

3. The dual immersion model is not easy nor is it restricted to honors-level students

As you might imagine, learning a subject like history, math or science in your second language can be a true challenge. Especially when they first begin, dual immersion students may require additional homework and study time, as well as additional parent support. However, it is important to note that dual immersion instruction is not only for advanced or honors students. Children of all ages and abilities can benefit from learning in two or more languages, both academically and socio-emotionally. Registration requirements and program rigor vary from school to school, so like any aspect of education, a bit of research can help you find the ideal dual immersion program for your student.

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