Bilingual processing strategies in the social context of an undergraduate immersion program

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While university-level language immersion programs have been in existence for some years, research on the bilingual processing strategies of students participating in such programs is scant. This chapter reports on two aspects of a four-course college-level immersion program: (1) the participants&#8217; use of both their native and the immersion language to process meaning on academic tasks, and (2) the influence of the social ecology of the immersion context on their language use. The measures used for obtaining data included a questionnaire addressing program perceptions and background, pre/post multi-modality tests and self-assessments, and a retrospective self-observation instrument to provide data on bilingual mental processing by 24 Spanish, French, and German immersion students and by 17 non-immersion students directly after classroom tasks (e.g.,, process writing, listening to a lecture, watching a video, or discussing an article). A third of the immersion students also volunteered to provide verbal report data outside of class for listening, reading, writing, and speaking on a central topic. <br /> In sum, immersion students reported less mental translation and more cognitive processing directly through the immersion language than did their non-immersion counterparts present in those same classrooms. Second, the language modality (i.e., listening, reading, speaking, or writing) significantly effected the type and extent of mental processing in the immersion language. Third, immersion students emphasized the unique social context of immersion as supporting and extending target language use, both within and beyond the classroom. They acknowledged that the greater extent of direct target language cognitive processing was attributable to both the linguistic and social dimensions of the immersion context. While focusing on immersion programs at the university level, the study&#8217;s quantitative and qualitative findings provided pedagogical implications for all college-level foreign language education, whether involving standard, intensive, or immersion curricula.


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