Many states have begun implementing programs in their schools/districts that are called “Dual Language” or “Immersion” programs. These terms reference different types or programs, but both have tremendous potential when joining forces with AFS.
Both of these program models are teaching kids math, science, reading and more through another language with immersion-style instruction (just like when our students go abroad and have to attend a local school in the local language). These are not like typical world language programs where students have a language class 30-50 minutes a day various times per week. These programs usually begin in either kindergarten or first grade. For programs that are new or less than 12 years old, the school may still be adding a grade level to the program each year as this is not the type of program you can simply start in a random grade level because of the cumulative nature of language learning.
- A dual language program is one where the students are comprised of both native speakers of the language of the program and native speakers of English.
- An immersion program is one where the majority (or all) of the students in the program are NOT speakers of program language.
Both programs vary in style and implementation, but usually at least 50% of a student’s school day is spent learning information in the language of the program.
There are many advantages of building relationships with schools and districts with dual language and immersion programs.
From the Hosting Perspective
Many of the parents of students in these programs do not speak the language that the kids are learning. Therefore, when kids have questions about their homework or want to speak to someone in the new language, parents are desperately seeking ways to keep their kids engaged with a language that they don’t speak. Hosting an AFS student that is either from a country that speaks the language the child is learning or has studied that language is a tremendous benefit for the family in general. Additionally, the culture of the exchange student is rarely the same as that of the host sibling’s language teacher, so there can be quite a bit of informal learning about culture that cannot be found in a textbook or classroom.
Additionally, in immersion programs specifically, there are not always many native speakers of the language. Therefore, when the school community steps up to host students from the target culture, both groups feel comforted. The students have a native-speaking student with whom they can chat and the exchange student has a welcoming audience that knows the basics about their language and culture. The teachers in these programs typically enjoy having exchange students give guest presentations, be part of the language club, help with conversation circles or even join/assist a language class so they can model what is being learned.
Finally, these schools may be more forgiving of a student with a lower English proficiency score because there are students throughout the building who can be tremendous “study buddies” with the exchange student.
From the Study Abroad Perspective
Because these students have been learning the language as a tremendous portion of their school day since they were five years old, they are usually quite ready to embark on a flagship/core program to study abroad with a homestay experience. It’s one of the only challenges left for these students because their language skills are so strong, that they want a chance to use the language with individuals outside of their school and in situations that are beyond a classroom setting. Many times, the parents of these students are more supportive of study abroad because they don’t worry that their child will not have sufficient language skills to find their way back home after getting lost or to communicate a piece of critical information to someone.
Like many high school students, if these students find themselves with very busy schedules or strong ties to their school that they don’t want to abandon during the academic year, many of the AFS summer programs incorporate a homestay.
From the Returnee/Alumni/Volunteer Engagement Perspective
Many times the teachers of these classes are the only speakers of the language with whom these students interact. Teachers are usually keen to have volunteers support their classroom with a Zoom story time, a quick cultural presentation or even a brief Q&A session with the class for the students to practice their interpersonal speaking skills. In non-pandemic times, teachers would welcome an in-person presentation, serving as an event judge or a variety of other activities where the students get to interact with language speakers beyond their teacher.
To determine if your state has dual language or immersion programs, consider Googling it or looking at the state’s department of education website. You can also determine what languages are the primary languages of the dual language programs to pair up your recruitment and engagement efforts with available students. Some states with dual language programs are Arizona, Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Virginia among others.