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Volume 18, Number 6
November/December 2002

Canadian Second-Language Immersion

What It Does—and Doesn't—Suggest for American ESL Students


The fierce debate in the United States over bilingual education is seen as something of a curiosity north of the border, where bilingualism is an integral part of Canada's national identity. The so-called "Canadian model" of language learning, which immerses children in a second language for the first few years of their schooling, was first created by a group of English-speaking parents in Quebec and has since spread around the world. In the United States, there are about 240 such immersion programs in schools in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The model has also inspired English immersion programs in Japan, China, and a number of European countries. "By far, immersion is the best program model we've ever seen for children to gain proficiency in a language," says Nancy Rhodes, director of the Washington, DC-based Center for Applied Linguistics.

But Rhodes adds a caveat that is critical for considering the implications of these programs in the United States: the success of this kind of language instruction is contingent on factors that do not exist in many American classroom contexts. Put simply, Rhodes says, "It's a very complicated problem."

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Canadian Parents for French (CPF), 176 Gloucester St., Suite 310, Ottawa, ON K2POA6; 613-235-1481.

Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), 4646 40th St. NW, Washington, DC 20016-1859; 202-362-0700.

F. Genesee. "Second/Foreign Language Immersion and At-Risk English-Speaking Children." Foreign Language Annals 25, no. 3 (May 1992): 199-213.

F. Genesee. "What Do We Know about Bilingual Education for Majority Language Students?" In The Handbook of Bilingualism. T. Bahtia (ed.), London: Blackwell, in press.

W.E. Lambert and G.R. Tucker. The Bilingual Education of Children: The St. Lambert Experiment. Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers, 1972.

M.B. Wesche. "Early French Immersion: How Has the Original Canadian Model Stood the Test of Time?" In An Integrated View of Language Development. P. Burmeister, T. Piske, and A. Rohde (eds.), Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2002.