Brief Overview of the History of Dual Language Immersion Program

Language Immersion programs began as a pilot program in St. Lambert, Canada more than 30 years ago. Parents realized that their English-speaking children had to graduate with more than rudimentary French to succeed in a province that was becoming increasingly bilingual. By 1982, more than 75,000 English-speaking Canadian children were participating in immersion programs. Today immersion education is the rule rather than the exception in many parts of Canada.

Inspired by Canadian results, UCLA linguist Dr. Russell Campbell brought a Spanish-English version of the program to Culver City in 1972. Since the seventies, similar programs have been implemented in school districts across the United States. French, German, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Chinese and Cantonese are target languages in immersion classrooms across the nation.

Evaluation studies of Spanish immersion programs in the United States, and French and other language immersion programs in Canada (Campbell, 1984; Genesse, 1985; Swain, 1984, Collier and Thomas, 1997) show that immersion education can be highly effective for both majority and ethnic/racial minority students. Students participating in Dual Language Immersion Programs usually demonstrate high levels of proficiency in the second language in addition to high academic achievement without any loss to the development of their English skills. Children who learn in two languages develop a “common Underlying Proficiency” which is transferable between language. Knowledge learned through one language paves the way for knowledge acquisition in the second language. Students who learn content in one language are able to demonstrate content knowledge in the second language once they acquire the language skills to express that knowledge (Cummins, 1987).