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Is a language immersion school right for your child?

Exploring the potential fit of a language immersion school for several different types of kids


In finding the right school, you’ll need to look at both the school and your child. Here, we look at the fit of several different child types in language immersion schools. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether a language immersion school is right or wrong for any kind of child, but to highlight some vital child-specific factors you should consider when making your decision.

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids step-by-step advice guide and questions to ask private schools. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account


How several different types of kids fit in language immersion schools

On this page:

Extroverted

If you’re considering a language immersion school for your extroverted child, make sure it offers a wide range of social opportunities, including the ability to interact with kids outside of class. Since most of your child’s learning won’t be in their mother tongue, they may find it challenging at times to negotiate the complexities of social interaction in the classroom. This makes it especially important to ensure the school offers extensive extracurriculars—such as volunteering, sports teams, and arts programs—which will help your child satisfy their need to interact and make friends.

To access our report on the fit of extroverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Introverted

If you’re considering a language immersion school for your introverted child, make sure it offers plenty of social opportunities, including the ability to interact with different peer groups outside of class. Since most of your child’s learning won’t be in their mother tongue, they may find it challenging at times to negotiate the complexities of social interaction in the classroom. This makes it especially important to ensure the school offers extensive extracurriculars—such as student council, volunteering, and team sports—which can enable your child to connect with peers, make new friends outside of class, overcome their shyness, and develop critical social skills.

To access our report on the fit of introverted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Mentally focused

The demanding curriculum of language immersion schools, which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, is a nice fit for many focused kids, especially those who enjoy the challenge of high-level learning and who are language-oriented. Many focused kids also value the opportunity to work in a structured learning environment with other motivated and studious kids, who may share a passion for learning.

That said, “Mentally focused children who are curious and unconventional learners may prefer more scope for independent learning than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s academic development.”

Finally, since learning in a second language makes it difficult to negotiate social interaction in class, make sure your child has plenty of time to interact with their peers outside of class—something all kids need.

To access our report on the fit of mentally focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Distractible

If you’re considering a language immersion school for your distractible child, ensure they offer plenty of individualized learning and one-on-one support. Since these schools require students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, they can sometimes be taxing for kids who are distractible. This is especially true if they struggle with languages in particular or academics in general.

That said, if your child enjoys learning languages and is academically-oriented, a language immersion program can help bolster their ability to focus and sustain their concentration. Talk to school directors, education consultants, and others in the know to help gauge whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of distractible kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Very physically active

If you’re considering a language immersion school for your active, energetic child, make sure to look into the amount of unstructured social time provided. The challenging curriculum of these schools—which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language—makes it especially important for your child to have time throughout the school day to get outside, stretch their legs, and let loose. Make sure you also find out what activities are offered after school, such as sports and dance, which can provide physical outlets for your active child.

To access our report on the fit of very physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less physically active

The demanding curriculum of language immersion schools, which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, is a nice fit for many less-active kids who enjoy the challenge of high-level learning. They’ll be able to focus on their studies in a structured learning environment with studious and motivated peers, who may share a passion for learning.

Since learning in a second language makes it difficult to negotiate social interaction in class, make sure your child has ample time to interact outside of class, which all kids need. Also, if they're looking to get more physically active, look into how much unstructured social time and what kinds of after-school activities a school offers (e.g., individual and team sports).

To access our report on the fit of less physically active kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Intensively academically-focused

The demanding curriculum of language immersion schools, which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, provides the right kind of challenge for many academically-focused kids, especially those who enjoy languages and may have a talent for them. Many of these kids also value the opportunity to work in a structured learning environment with motivated and studious peers, who may share a passion for academics in general and languages in particular.

That said, “Academically-focused children who are curious and unconventional learners may prefer more scope for independent learning than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s academic development.”

Finally, since learning in a second language makes it difficult to negotiate social interaction in class, ensure your child has plenty of time to interact with other kids outside of class—something every child needs.

To access our report on the fit of intensively academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Less academically-focused

If you’re considering a language immersion school for your less academically-focused child, ensure it offers plenty of individualized learning and one-on-one support. Since they require students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, these schools can sometimes be burdensome for kids who are less interested in academics. This is especially true if they struggle with language learning.

That said, if your child enjoys and excels at language learning, a language immersion school can help improve their academic focus and inspire a love of learning. Talk to school directors, education consultants, and others in the know to help gauge whether your child is likely to be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of less academically-focused kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Arts-oriented

“Many arts-oriented children are curious and unconventional learners, and prefer more scope for creativity than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their artistic interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s creative and artistic development.”

That said, arts-oriented students who enjoy and are good at the language arts often welcome the cognitive challenge and stimulation of learning in a different language, as this allows them to exercise their “language muscles.” If they’re hard workers who enjoy academics, a language immersion school can be an especially good fit.

To access our report on the fit of arts-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


STEM-oriented

Some students may find it challenging to learn STEM subjects in a second language, as immersion schools usually require. Using an unfamiliar language can interfere with their comprehension and progress in STEM studies, which can be frustrating.

Another concern: “Consider curious and independent learners,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and author of Beyond Intelligence. “They often prefer more scope for exploring their interest in STEM than language immersion schools sometimes allow. For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them sufficient time to pursue their passions both in school and out. The added challenge of second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s intellectual and creative development.”

To access our report on the fit of stem-oriented kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Gifted

Gifted students often welcome the extra challenge provided by language immersion schools, where they’ll learn all or most of their subjects in a second language. However, these schools aren’t an ideal fit for all gifted learners. “Consider, for example, a child whose strengths are her reasoning skills and conceptual mastery and who thrives on high-level discourse,” say Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster, gifted education experts and authors of Being Smart about Gifted Education. “In a French immersion program, it will take years before her knowledge of the French language is sufficiently developed to keep pace with her ideas and concept formation… This can make her school experience frustrating and boring, rather than stimulating and challenging, especially for the first few years of this kind of program.”

Or, “Consider curious and independent learners,” says Matthews. “They often prefer more scope for exploring their own interests than language immersion schools sometimes allow. For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them enough time to pursue their passions both in school and out. The added challenge of second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s intellectual and creative development.”

To access our report on the fit of gifted kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Special needs (general)

Some special needs, such as learning disabilities involving language, can make it extremely difficult to learn all or some of one’s subjects in a second language, which can impede the acquisition of literacy skills. “For example, a child with dyslexia in a French immersion program would struggle to read in both English and French without adequate intervention,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. Unfortunately, few language immersion schools have on-site specialists to support kids with language-based and other kinds of learning disabilities that can interfere with the literacy skills needed to thrive in this program.

That said, students with special needs who enjoy and are good at the language arts often welcome the cognitive challenge and stimulation of learning in a different language, as this allows them to exercise their “language muscles.” If they’re hard workers who enjoy academics (and they don’t have a language-based learning disability), a language immersion school can be a nice fit.

To access our report on the fit of special needs (general) kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Learning disabilities

Some learning disabilities (LDs), such as those involving language, can make it extremely challenging to learn all or some of one’s subjects in a second language, as immersion programs require. “For example, a child with dyslexia in a French immersion program would struggle to read in both English and French without adequate intervention,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “It’s thus important for parents to be aware of early signs of phonological decoding issues—or processing or reasoning issues, for that matter—since most language immersion schools do not offer intervention or support in these areas, and unfortunately this can lead to literacy difficulties in both languages.”

That said, students with LDs who are language-oriented often enjoy the stimulation of learning in a different language, as this allows them to exercise their “language muscles.” If they work hard and enjoy academics (and they don’t have a language-based LD), a language immersion school can be a nice fit.

To access our report on the fit of learning disabilities kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Social/emotional issues

Some social issues can make it extremely difficult to stay on track in a language immersion program. For example, a child with severe anxiety may struggle to stay focused enough to keep pace with his or her peers in a French immersion program. If the school doesn't offer intervention or support for this disorder, which many immersion schools won’t, this can lead to ongoing academic (e.g., literacy) problems, and potentially compound the emotional issue.

That said, kids with social issues who enjoy and are good at the language arts often enjoy the cognitive challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re hard workers who are strong academically (and they don’t have a severe social or emotional disorder), a language immersion school can be a nice fit.

To access our report on the fit of social/emotional issues kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Conventional learner

Most language immersion schools cater to conventional learners, offering plenty of structure, teacher-led instruction, and clear criteria for assessment. They also enable your child to work with peers who are often motivated and studious–an environment conventional learners can thrive in. 

That said, for conventional learners who are less academically-focused, a language immersion program—which requires students to learn all or most subjects in a second language—can be taxing. This is especially true if languages aren’t a strength for your child.

To access our report on the fit of conventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Unconventional learner

“Many unconventional learners prefer more scope for independent learning than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their own interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s academic development.”

That said, unconventional learners who enjoy and are good at languages often welcome the extra challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re hard workers who enjoy academics, a language immersion school can sometimes be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of unconventional learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Independent learner

“Independent learners prefer more scope for working on their own than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s academic development.”

That said, independent learners who enjoy and are good at the language arts often welcome the challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re hard workers who enjoy academics, a language immersion school can sometimes be a good fit. “It can also sometimes lead to interesting and gratifying learning experiences where kids get to use and practice an acquired language in different contexts,” says Foster.

To access our report on the fit of independent learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Collaborative learner

The demanding curriculum of language immersion schools, which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, can sometimes be restrictive for collaborative learners. Some of these schools don’t provide enough time for the types of group learning activities collaborative learners crave. Also, learning and speaking in a foreign tongue can make it difficult for your child to communicate and interact with their classmates, which can be frustrating.

That said, collaborative learners who enjoy and are good at the language arts often welcome the challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re hard workers and enjoy conversing, networking, and practicing the language they’re studying with others, then a language immersion school can be a good fit.

To access our report on the fit of collaborative learner kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Anxious

Anxiety can make it challenging to stay on track in a language immersion program. For instance, a child with severe generalized anxiety may lack the emotional resources and focus to keep pace with their peers in an immersion program. If a school doesn't offer intervention or support for this disorder, which most immersion schools won’t, this can lead to ongoing academic (e.g., literacy) problems and potentially exacerbate your child’s anxiety.

That said, kids with less severe anxiety who enjoy and are good at languages often welcome the cognitive challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re hard workers who are strong academically, a language immersion school can be a nice fit.

To access our report on the fit of anxious kids in several different school types, read our guide.


ADHD

Students with ADHD sometimes find it challenging to stay on track in a language immersion program. For example, students with severe inattention issues may struggle to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language. If a school doesn't offer targeted intervention or support for this issue, which most immersion schools won’t, this can lead to ongoing academic (e.g., literacy) problems, and potentially exacerbate some of your child’s challenges.

That said, kids with milder ADHD who enjoy and are good at the language arts often enjoy the cognitive challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re hard workers who are strong academically, a language immersion school can be a nice fit.

To access our report on the fit of adhd kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Autistic

Autism can sometimes make it difficult to learn all or most of one’s subjects in a second language, as language immersion programs require. For instance, autistic children with poor executive functioning skills may struggle to keep up with their peers in this setting. If a school doesn't offer targeted intervention or support for this issue, which most immersion schools won’t, this can lead to ongoing academic (e.g., literacy) problems and potentially compound some of your child’s challenges.

That said, kids with mild autism who enjoy and are good at the language arts may welcome the cognitive challenge of learning in a different language. If they’re strong academically and have strong enough executive functioning skills, a language immersion school can be a nice fit.

To access our report on the fit of autistic kids in several different school types, read our guide.


Dyslexic

Dyslexia can make it extremely challenging to learn all or most of one’s subjects in a second language, as language immersion programs require. For instance, “A child with dyslexia in a French immersion program would struggle to read in both English and French without adequate intervention,” says Una Malcolm, director of Bright Light Learners. “It’s thus important for parents to recognize early signs of phonological decoding issues—or processing or reasoning issues, for that matter—since most language immersion schools do not offer intervention or support in these areas, and unfortunately this can lead to literacy difficulties in both languages.”

If you’re considering a language immersion school for a child with dyslexia, make sure it offers the intensive support your child requires. For instance, since your child will likely need to work closely with a reading intervention specialist on their phonic decoding, ensure one is on staff.

To access our report on the fit of dyslexic kids in several different school types, read our guide.

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