Imagine entering a classroom and being greeted by a smiling teacher … in French. The teacher asks you to take out your homework, exchange with a partner, and discuss your answers — all without speaking a word of English.

Sounds scary, right? It’s not!

Morgan Park Academy’s world language teachers aim to spend at least 90% of class time interacting with students in their target language: French, Spanish, or Mandarin. Teaching in the target language can be challenging, but like a parent speaking to a toddler, our faculty is trained to speak to students at a level of language that they can understand.

We follow the rule of “L plus 1,” which means that we interact with students in the target language at a level that is just slightly above where they are. If the input is too difficult — too fast or too complicated — students get lost and frustrated. If input is too simple, they will get bored and plateau in their learning.

We strive to reach a level that is just right for them, adjusting our speech constantly to make sure they understand. We also use visual aids, movement, facial expressions, and comprehension checks to make sure that nothing is getting lost in translation.

There are three key reasons that MPA teachers create this immersion environment in the classroom:

Because It Works

Research indicates that the more students are exposed to appropriately leveled target-language input, the more proficient they will be. Talking about the target language in English will not help them reach their language goals.

Because It’s Fun

Speaking another language gives students a chance to be creative in class and take risks that they may not feel comfortable doing in English. It gives students an opportunity to be silly — e.g., pretending to be a television presenter or a soap opera character — while learning how to communicate in another language.

Because It Connects Us With the World

Though many, many people in the world speak English, the truth is that most people do not. We like to think of immersion-style instruction as a way to train students to communicate with the millions of non-English speakers in the world.

Immersion is not always easy, but without the challenge of a Spanish-, French- or Mandarin-only classroom, students will never be prepared to use the language in the real world.

By Lisa Camastro

Ms. Camastro teaches Spanish II, III, and IV in the Upper School and is our curriculum leader for World Languages. Read more in her Q&A.