Being thrown in at deep end pays educational dividends
Everybody was shouting out “yuanchang jiuqiu” (home run), as a year 9 student passed the fourth base line on the Bohunt school playground during a physical education lesson involving a game of rounders, a version of baseball played in British schools.
This PE lesson was jointly run by a Bohunt school physical education instructor and a Chinese language teacher, allowing students to play the sport and learning Mandarin at the same time.
This innovative pedagogy, known as immersion language teaching, was introduced by Bohunt School in 2010. As the first secondary school in Britain to introduce this approach, its students were invited to teach the Prime Minister, David Cameron, some Mandarin before he visited China a few years ago.
“The immersion program is content-and-language integrated learning where students will learn other subjects in a different language,” said Strowger, head teacher at Bohunt School.
Immersion teaching means a group of students in Key Stage 3, normally known as Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9, are taught a third of their curriculum in the target language, which can be French, Spanish or Mandarin.
As in each core subject, there is a lot of content to get through, so the immersion technique lends itself more to practical subjects with less heavy content, such as art, physical education, personal, social and religious subjects, as well as information and communications technology, said Philip Avery, director of learning and strategy for Bohunt Trust, which runs the school.
Those in the immersion group have a more positive attitude to learning than those outside it, Avery said.
“That gap opens up during their first year and it stays all the way through their time with us. There is something about how they perceive themselves as learners, how they perceive learning and how they perceive school that is more positive because they have been in an immersion group.”
Tania Horak, a language lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, said immersion teaching is an interesting concept and she believes it has many advantages, among them that “the main concept behind this approach is that language is being used for reallife goals of actual communication, which is often missing from other types of language classrooms”.
Horak’s viewpoint was vividly illustrated when one of the Bohunt students realized half way through delivering a technology workshop that her audience was primarily French-speaking and thus, because of her increased confidence through Bohunt’s French immersion program, switched languages and presented the rest of the workshop in French.
“She had never learnt the word for ‘test tube’, but she was so used to not knowing the words and being able to get round it in other ways, so in that way we are able to prepare our students far better for a lifetime of learning and for learning a language,” Avery said.
Juan Cole, head of Chinese at Bohunt School, said the immersion program creates an authentic environment for students to learn the language.
The program, especially the inclusion of Mandarin, has received widespread acclaim through the British Council and HSBC’s National Mandarin Chinese Speaking Competition, in which students from Bohunt reached the national final three years in a row.
This year, Lila Marshman, 13, a Mandarin immersion program student at Bohunt, impressed the judges with her language skills and won the first prize of the beginner level section of the contest.
The main concept behind this approach is that language is being used for real-life goals of actual communication.” language lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire