The rationale for the choice of the model
The rationale for the establishment of the partial immersion program at an elementary school in Saudi Arabia is based upon the benefits of this model for the students’ cognitive abilities and proficiency in general and political and educational advantages of this model of bilingual education within a broader educational context.
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After the disapproval of Separate Underlying Proficiency (SUP) model of bilingualism developed by Cummins in 1984, it was replaced with the Common Underlying Proficiency (CUP) model (Baker & Sienkewicz, 2002, p. 73).
The underlying assumption of the SUP model that the acquisition of the second language is possible at the expense of the first, and the proportion of the student’s proficiency in the primary language decreases proportionally, has been recognized as erroneous.
Thus, the visual illustration of the bilingual education representing the two balloons in the head of a student was incorrect. The CUP model assumes that the human brain has enough space for not only two but even more languages.
The latter model illustrates the process of bilingual education in the form of an image of two separate icebergs with only their peaks which can be seen on the surface and a common area in which they are fused defined as central processing system.
The main conclusion from this assumption is that regardless of the language used, the student’s thoughts are generated within this unified system and bilingual programs are valuable for enhancing the students’ cognitive skills.
The peculiarity of the cognitive processes in the elementary school students is an important aspect which should be taken into account for rationalizing the establishment of the immersion program at a prep school.
There is evidence that before puberty students can learn the second language as successfully as their native language because they use the same part of the brain for acquiring the materials from both languages (Baker, 2001, p. 9).
The lateralization, which is defined as the process within which each side of the brain develops its specific functions continues until puberty.
It explains the benefits of enrolling young learners into the immersion programs which would allow enhancing their chances for receiving a comprehensible input due to the relative simplicity of the curricula at this stage in general and developing a native-like accent in the target language.
Along with the benefits of fostering the development of students’ cognitive skills, the establishment of the immersion program at an elementary school in Saudi Arabia can have specific cultural and political advantages.
On the one hand, taking into account the cultural context of the country is essential to teaching and interpreting language material, which is a powerful social instrument. In that regard, the studies of the Islamic values and Arabic culture are the compulsory elements of the educational program.
On the other hand, taking into account the tension in international relations after the events of September 9/11, the establishment of a bilingual program could have positive political implications for the school.
The immersion program can help achieve the proclaimed goal of combining Islamic and modern culture in nurturing the growing population.
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English as the language of international communication plays a significant role in establishing positive international relations and enhancing the students’ literacy can become a contribution to making the country’s perspectives in the international arena more optimistic.
The establishment of the immersion program could be helpful for not only educating the specialists knowledgeable in English as the language of international communications and reducing the tension in Saudi Arabian relations with other countries intensified after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The events on September 11, 2001, fueled the criticism of Saudi involvement into the terrorist financing affairs and the country’s relative laxity in combating the terrorist groups on its territory (Blanchard & Prados, 2007, CRS1).
Numerous allegations regarding the ties between the Saudi officials and ordinary citizens on the one hand and the terrorist organization Al Qaeda with its leader the exiled Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, have been made in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
The accusations of Saudi involvement in terrorist financing were partially based on the extreme religious views in the country and the tradition of zakat as the charitable contributions from every citizen counting for about 5% of the individual’s income which are frequently anonymous and not adequately reported but are regarded as the religious obligation for Muslims at the same time.
In that regard, fostering the teaching of the English language by establishing the immersion program in the elementary school can be considered as the sign of updating the educational programs, balancing the traditional cultural values, the universal humanistic values and the international culture heritage in the school curricula as the strategy intended to improve the Saudi international relations.
Thus, the improved chances for better development of the students’ language competency and cognitive skills in general and positive cultural and political implications of establishing the partial immersion program in the elementary school can be regarded as the significant benefits and rationale for introducing the bilingual programs into the Saudi Arabian curricula (Garcia, 2009, p. 104).
Analysis of the program’s contribution to the children’s language acquisition
Along with the advantages is compliant of the bilingual education for the students’ cognitive development, the immersion program with the major principles of language acquisition in elementary school and can become a valuable contribution to the students’ language competency.
Currently, the immersion programs are internationally recognized by educators and politicians as advantageous for not only students’ acquisition of the target language, but also enhancing their knowledge of the first language.
There is evidence that in comparison to traditional education models, the immersion language programs provide additional opportunities for developing multilingual competence and gaining higher levels of communicative proficiency (Lindholm-Leary, 2001, p. 1).
Acknowledging the cultural foundations of the language, it can be stated that immersion programs can not only enhance students’ linguistic competence but also increase their cultural sensitivity. The early introduction of foreign languages gains expanded support from educators, business, and political leaders.
The present-day language teaching techniques are characterized with the shift towards the proficiency-oriented instruction focused on the learners’ practical skills instead of their theoretical knowledge of the language rules (Ryan & Cooper, 2010, p. 135).
The shift of priorities in the language teaching models and the growing popularity of the immersion programs can be attributed to the advent of the concept of additive bilingualism.
According to the theories of additive bilingualism, the introduction of the second language instruction not only does not hinder the further development of the native language competence but, on the contrary, complements it through comparing and contrasting materials in the two languages and enriching the cultural experience.
It is significant to emphasize the importance of creating the additive bilingual environment in the classroom enrolled into the immersion program instead of a subtractive program in which the introduction of the second language is conducted at the cost of the native language, replacing it (Baker, 2001, p. 307).
The submersion approach can have some negative implications for the students’ performance and even their self-esteem.
It explains the choice of the model of partial immersion model for Saudi Arabian elementary school, which would allow creating an additive bilingual environment favorable for enhancing the students’ language competence and communicative proficiency.
The favorable classroom environment is significant for the students’ academic and personal development and can be created in the immersion programs due to the relative language homogeneity among the students.
The early introduction of the second language and first immersion implies that all children are the beginners who lack the second language proficiency.
In other words, there would not be any significant disparity between the students’ status regarding their second language proficiency which might be possible if some children were more proficient than others (Baker, 2001, p. 306).
Another significant aspect to be considered in the early introduction of the immersion program is balancing the objectives of promoting the students’ second language proficiency and ensuring their overall achievement throughout the academic curriculum.
Taking into account the importance of the elementary stage for the students’ academic performance in the future, the goal of developing children’s bilingual proficiency requires appropriate immersion teachers’ training for them to be able to balance the two sides of the immersion program without sacrificing any of the educational objectives.
Along with the difficulties of creating an additive bilingual classroom environment and balancing the education objectives of enhancing the language competence and the academic performance, early immersion model predetermines students’ improved cognitive skills and better performance in the two languages.
Based on the CUP model discussed above, according to which the competencies in two languages do not develop at the expense of one another, but instead go side by side and overlap in the area of the central processing system used for solving general problems and generating thoughts before expressing them in any of the languages.
In terms of the central processing system, as it is outlined in the CUP model, the concepts which were learned in one language can be easily transferred to another language.
The primary assumption of this model is that the two languages interrelate strongly during the immersion period and allow enhancing the overall students’ lingual proficiency and communicative skills (Baker & Sienkewicz, 2002, p. 73).
In other words, the early introduction of the second language not only does not deter the development of the first language skills but rather complements and fosters them. There is evidence that education program can be performed in one or more languages without any significant effects upon the level of students’ skills.
However, it should be noted that the language used in the classroom needs to be well-developed so that to comply with the demands of the curriculum assignments. Otherwise, operating an insufficiently developed second language in the school can harm the student’s academic performance.
In that regard, the early immersion program is advantageous due to the relative simplicity of the curriculum materials which would allow students to develop their linguistic proficiency at its fullest without reducing their academic achievements.
Even though the significant idea of the CUP model concerning the integrated source of thought in bilinguals used for both languages is questioned by the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claiming that different languages provide different views of the world, it does not diminish the benefits of the immersion model for the students’ linguistic proficiency in both languages.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that different languages can influence the individual’s way of thinking through their varied structures, concepts, and discourse (Baker, 2001, p. 170).
However, even assuming that different languages allow viewing the concepts under different angles, it can be stated that the acquisition of the second language would only extend the students’ views and enhance their understanding of specific issues.
Thus, the translation of meanings across the languages of the program would foster the development of the students’ cognitive skills.
Reasons for the content areas to be taught
The main issues which need to be taken into account in developing an early partial immersion program for a Saudi Arabian elementary school include the traditional values of Muslim culture, the standards of academic performance for elementary students and the demands of developing the second language proficiency at the level sufficient for complete comprehension of the academic instructions provided in the target language.
It is recommended to consider the rule of 5 Cs, including the aspects of culture, communication, connections, comparisons, and communities for developing a comprehensive language immersion program (Garcia & Baker, 2007, p. 13).
Thus, the modern principles of bilingual education need to be adapted to the needs of a specific community and compliant with the laws of Indigenous country.
The innovative approach to teaching languages in the era of enhanced international communication needs to be connected to the traditional values of the local culture. Serious consideration should be given to the role of religious beliefs in the Saudi Arabian community and culture.
Though frequently even criticized because of its extreme religious views, the Saudi Arabian culture would be incomplete if deprived of theological subject area which is essential to the studies of the social sciences and the students’ socialization.
On the other hand, in the context of the current modernization course and the goal of balancing the indigenous culture with modern international perspectives and the objective of improving the global relationships, the religious elements should not be overemphasized in the program, but rather balanced with the rest of the educational course.
A complex consideration of the principles of the 5Cs framework can be defined as the most appropriate approach to selecting the subject areas which need to be included into the curriculum of the elementary students and the choice of the language of instruction for each specific discipline in the partial immersion project which would allow achieving the goals of enhancing the levels of the students’ linguistic proficiency without reducing their academic achievements or neglecting their cultural or spiritual needs.
Focusing on the aspects of the culture and community from the 5 Cs framework, the subject areas of Islam studies and cultural values need to be incorporated into the curriculum of the elementary school.
Taking into account the role of the religious studies in the Saudi Arabian community, it should be noted that theological studies need to become an essential element of the school curricula.
Whereas the partial immersion program implies using the two languages, and the Arabian language is critical to transferring the main concepts of Muslim culture to children.
In that regard, the instruction in a native language is preferable for such subject areas as theology and native culture containing some specific concepts which cannot be translated into the second language due to the lack of free equivalents in a foreign culture.
The choice of the subjects to be taught in a foreign language can be rationalized by the need of shifting the emphasis from theoretical materials towards the actual use of these materials in practice.
Taking into account the principle of the CUP model which is put into the basis of the partial immersion program and according to which the common processing mechanism is used by the students for generating thoughts before expressing them in any of the two languages, it would be reasonable to provide the instructions for the subjects which require significant thinking operations in a second language.
For instance, such subjects as mathematics, art, and the basics of social sciences can be taught in English without any significant decrease in their academic performance.
Because these subjects require enhanced thinking processes which are prioritized over operation of the language materials, it can be stated that the use of a foreign language for a partial immersion program would allow shifting the focus towards the involved content instead of concentrating on the observation of the language rules.
Thus, providing students with opportunities for expressing their thoughts in a foreign language not for the sake of training the language skills but for the purpose of solving concrete academic problems might be helpful for enhancing their linguistic proficiency.
As compared to the observation of the artificial use of the language materials in the imitated learning situations in traditional language models, providing the instructions for math, art and other subject areas requiring enhanced thinking activities and based upon more or less universal terminology independent from the coloring of the local culture would allow improve the students’ language proficiency without reducing their academic achievements.
Along with the 5Cs framework and the consideration of the cultural demands of the Saudi Arabian community, another significant issue which should be taken into account when developing an effective bilingual program is the peculiarities of the development of the cognitive skills and perception of the academic materials in students at a given time.
This approach would allow taking the advantages of the natural development of students instead of suppressing the natural processes in them. Thus, there is evidence that the early immersion programs can have positive effects on the students’ listening abilities and the skills of oral production (Lyster, 2007, p. 12).
For this reason, the listening and speaking exercises deserve serious consideration in most subject areas, regardless of the chosen language of instruction for them.
Without concentrating children’s attention upon the general rules for operating the language materials of the second language, the early immersion programs allow developing language fluency in learners through training their listening, comprehension and speaking skills while solving particular academic problems (Khan and Aziz, 2011, p. 107).
Taking into account the importance of the listening exercises in the early immersion programs, it should be noted that the teachers working according to this model need to be not only enthusiastic about creating the bilingual environment, but also have profound language skills in both English and Arabian, close or equal to the levels of native speakers.
The educators’ attitudes and prior training play an essential role in the development of the students’ linguistic and communicative proficiency (Lee, Luykx, Buxton, & Shaver, 2007, p. 1270).
Due to the fact that the introduction of an early immersion model into the curriculum of a Saudi Arabian elementary school presupposes significant shifts in the educators’ traditional views of the school curriculum and approaches to teaching foreign languages, sufficient training would be required for changing not only the elements of the curriculum and the language of instruction in specific subject areas, but also the teachers’ perception of the academic outcomes and the educational objectives.
Moreover, at the initial stages of the introduction of a new program of bilingual education, teachers will have to pay special attention to the levels of the students’ second language comprehension which has to be sufficient so that not to deter the children’s academic progress.
On the other hand, the academic assignments need to be challenging so that students could concentrate on generating the solutions for the specific educational programs before expressing them in any of the program languages.
Regardless of the criticism of the early immersion programs for the lack of the language creativity (Donato & Tucker, 2010, p. 88), this model can be beneficial for developing the students’ fluency in the second language, enhancing their competence in the first language and even improving their cognitive skills on the condition that the framework of the 5CS is put into the basis of the school curriculum, and the objective of enhancing the students’ linguistic proficiency is balanced with the demands of the academic materials and cultural needs of a specific community.
Regarding the development of a complex curriculum for the introduction of an early partial immersion model in the Saudi Arabian elementary school, the instruction in a native Arabian language is preferable for such study areas as religion and culture, whereas the second English language would be appropriate for the education in mathematics and art.
Summary of the most critical points
The rationale for the establishment of the early partial immersion program at an elementary school in Saudi Arabia is focused upon the benefits of this model for the development of the students’ language competence, language skills and the positive political implications within broader educational and social contexts.
After Cummins’ SUP model of bilingualism has been disapproved, it has been replaced with an innovative CUP model.
Rejecting Cummins’ assumption that the acquisition of the second language is performed at the expense of the first language proficiency, the CUP model claims that the addition of the second language is beneficial for the child’s cognitive development in general.
According to the CUP model, the integrated mechanism of generating thoughts is used by students for solving the academic problems before expressing the achieved solutions in any of the program languages.
Regardless of the recent tendency to reject the primary assumption of the CUP model concerning the integrated mechanism used for the thinking processes by claiming that varied languages with their specific syntactic constructions and concepts lacking absolute equivalents in other languages, the assumption that the bilingual classroom environment is beneficial for enhancing the levels of the students’ linguistic proficiency.
Even if the constructions and concepts of a specific language affect the students’ perspectives upon the discussed concepts and perception of the academic materials, the acquisition of the second language will help extend the students’ views on concrete academic problems and enhancing their understanding of specific issues.
Regarding the positive political implications of creating the bilingual environment in an elementary Saudi Arabian school, it can be stated that with the current situation in the international area, the introduction of the early immersion programs and enhancing the levels of the students’ proficiency in the English language as a language of global communications is significant for establishing positive relations with other countries.
Taking into account that the religious extremism and cultural peculiarities of Saudi Arabian community predetermined the international criticism of the country, its officials and citizens for their involvement into the terrorism financing affairs, the measures need to be imposed for updating the national culture and educational programs.
Balancing the social coloring of the school curricula with the needs of the new community and the tension in the international relations with the other countries in the aftermath of the events of the September 11, the basic concepts of the Saudi Arabian Muslim culture need to be preserved in the school curriculum.
It is essential to create a positive bilingual environment and prevent suppression of the local culture so that to foster the students’ comprehensive development.
In that regard, the partial immersion model can contribute to the students’ comprehensive development complying not only with their academic needs but also satisfying their social and spiritual demands which are significant for the process of their socialization.
The framework of 5Cs is the most appropriate approach to balancing the various educational demands in developing a practical language teaching program, including the community, connections, culture, comparisons, and communication.
The main burden of evaluating and controlling the levels of the students’ linguistic proficiency in both Arabian and English languages is put upon the educators.
For this reason, special attention should be paid to the teachers’ immersion training and attitudes towards the establishment of the innovative model at the Saudi Arabian elementary school.
With the recent shift towards the language teaching models based upon operation of the language materials instead of focusing on theoretical issues, the establishment of the early immersion program in the elementary Saudi Arabian school would allow the school going with the times even though would require additional efforts of the educators and administrators for balancing the different objectives of the curriculum and controlling the effectiveness of its establishment for preventing the possible hazards of the reverse effects.
The choice of a new immersion strategy is also significant because it would allow taking the advantages of the relatively homogeneous linguistic environment in the class and the relative simplicity of the curriculum.
Though there was no evidence of decreasing the students’ academic performance due to the second language instructions in the 50% of the study areas, the measures need to be imposed for controlling the levels of the students’ academic performance and second language comprehension which need to be sufficient for solving challenging academic problems.
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