Director of Educational Design, Avenues: The World School

“We will graduate students who are … truly fluent in a second language….”

Avenues’ Mission Statement

At the many parent events held for prospective Avenues families, Chris Whittle highlights the critical difference between schools that offer “language appreciation” courses and schools that offer immersion programs leading to true fluency in a second language. Chris admits his own foreign language courses produced little more than menu comprehension, if that. Nods from many in the audience suggest that such an experience is all too common.

Avenues: The World School plans to educate students who are truly fluent in a second language.

What is the best way to do that? Or, as our immersion consultant has urged us to consider, how do we make sure we do it right?

Second-language instruction works best when taught in content areas where the language becomes real as a tool for discovery.

We do it with care: with in-depth research into best practices and research findings.

An Avenues team of curriculum specialists, working with an immersion expert, has spent the past several months studying the “how” of second-language fluency. Extensive research into bilingualism and second-language literacy, with a particular focus on proven results, was augmented by visits to several immersion schools, including schools in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

What did we learn?

  • A school must offer a second language in depth to be truly global in its approach.
  • Learning a language takes time. A child needs to be immersed in the second language 50 percent of the time—what is called “partial immersion”—in order to achieve true oral and written fluency.
  • The younger a child starts to learn a second language, the better. As children are learning English, starting with elementary words, they can acquire a second language at the same time.
  • Second-language instruction works best when taught in content areas where the language becomes real as a tool for discovery.
  • Learning a second language provides thinking advantages. Students studying two languages have an advantage in thinking and learning to read over those studying just one.
  • Immersion students attain at least the same level of proficiency in reading, speaking and listening in English as students in all-English programs. They equal or surpass their peers on standardized tests.
  • Those studying two languages move faster through the stages of cognitive development, demonstrate selective attention to information and have an advantage in cognitive processing.

In April, NPR broadcast an interesting piece on the advantages of bilingual education, “Being Bilingual May Boost Your Brain Power.”

When school opens in fall 2012, Avenues will offer the choice of Spanish or Mandarin as a half-day, or “partial,” immersion program for students from nursery (age three) through first grade. The immersion program will expand a grade each year until all students through the fourth grade are included. Students in the second grade and up in fall 2012 will be offered the beginning level of Spanish or Mandarin, while students with prior study in either language will also be accommodated.

In following school years, after completing the immersion program through fourth grade, students in grades five through eight will continue an in-depth study of Mandarin or Spanish. Immersion opportunities such as after-school study, summer immersion programs in New York and international travel and exchanges with international schools will further deepen the global and cultural approach to language study.

Starting in ninth grade, students interested in starting a third language will have the opportunity to do so.