Bilingual Education or English Immersion? Which are the best ESL Teaching Method?

Bilingual Education or English Immersion? Which are the best ESL Teaching Method?
Which are the best ESL Teaching Method?

Hello folks! Today we have a very interesting topic for English teachers. Actually, today I’m gonna share my opinion about a debate surrounding the teaching sector, the debate’s regarding the benefits of teaching English for English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

I’m not that experienced teacher mainly when it comes to ESL students. But after reading Brittany Berhman’s article, from eCollegeFinders, it got me thinking about it and it made me analyze what are the best ways of teaching ESL students. Some experienced teachers always say that bilingual education is the best option when compared to English immersion. Others, on the other hand, say English immersion is better because the student will have a better experience with the language and its culture.

But to answer these questions properly, other questions must be answered, such as, what exactly are the advantages and disadvantages between them? Which of them bring more benefits to the student? Which of them are best to teach and learn?

Today I’m gonna try to answer those questions by analyzing Brittany’s own research on the topic and I also will try to expose my own ideas regarding the best way of teaching ESL students. But one more time I have to say that I’m not that experienced teacher when it comes to ESL teaching, but as an English tutor for more than three years, I think I have some ideas and opinions about it and I’d like to share them with you in this post.

Before we discuss which ESL method is better, first let’s take a look at the differences between Bilingual Education and English Immersion. With this introduction, I hope to clarify some misguided thoughts and help you understand better each method.

Bilingual Education

The best way I could describe a bilingual education is with an example. So let’s imagine a Brazilian person that is studying English right here in Brazil. This student takes more of his classes in English, in this way he can improve his English skills (writing, speaking, listening, etc). So he learns simple things, at least things he can understand with the English knowledge he has.

But the rest of the core subjects, like math, science, history, and all other related subjects, this student learn them with his mother tongue (in our case, Portuguese). In other words, he doesn’t use the English language to learn the important subjects, mainly because of the lack of the needed skills to understand it.

It reminds me of a school we have here in Recife called Escola Americana do Recife (American School of Recife), where students have classes in English and in other classes (mainly regarding core subjects) they use Portuguese instead. So this example shows how and why the use of Bilingual Education would be interesting and also necessary. Later on in this post, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of this education method. But before moving into that, first let’s get into the other method: English Immersion.

English Immersion

We saw above that with the Bilingual Education method, we have core subjects taught totally in the mother tongue and simple stuff, taught in English.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) this is not what happens in the English Immersion. In this method, students are put in classes along with other native speakers, all learning the core subjects altogether.

According to Britanny in her article, it is important that students have to had studied at least one year or more the English language before moving to an English immersion program.

She also uses a cool and true example of English Immersion, saying that in this method students are “thrown into the water to learn to swim” instead of being given guided English exposure before getting into it. In my opinion, sometimes her example kind of makes sense and sometimes not, but I’m gonna let to share it right below.

As right now we can understand each method, let’s see the pros and cons of each one and analyze which one is better for ESL students.

Pros and Cons of the Bilingual Education

As we’ve seen above, both methods are well used here in Brazil and they are also used around the world. But in this section, I want to share and analyze Brittany Bilingual Education method pros and cons and also comment on that.


  • It is important to ensure that ESL students learn fundamentals core subjects in their mother tongue so that they don’t fall behind native speakers at the same time while learning English;
  • Allow students to embrace their native culture white learning to integrate into the school;
  • Provide students with a better chance of mastering dual literacy in addition to bilingualism.


  • According to Brittany, the Bilingual Education method is the least popular in the US, just a few states require bilingual education. The rest, outlawed it all together;
  • Also according to Brittany, bilingual education promotes antisocial relationships between native speakers and ESL students. I think this is normal as communication is a key factor in relationships, so when students can’t communicate, this ends up in social segregation as Brittany puts it;
  • Also, another cons that Brittany points out is about the cost that bilingual education requires, making it even more costly to ESL students.

Pros and Cons of the English Immersion


  • Allow ESL students to learn English more quickly because as the method name says it is an immersion. He/she will be totally immersed in the language and its usage;
  • Observing students will learn faster from their teachers looking at their speaking styles and body language during core subjects lessons;
  • Brittany says that children learn more efficiently when exposed to other English speaking students, rather than only English speaking authorities.


  • Students may not understand other native speakers in classes, making him hard to socialize;
  • Students who don’t understand the English language may have problems with the subjects exams and exercises in classes;
  • Brittany says that English submersion poses the risk of a student “sinking” rather than “learning to swim”.

As we could notice from each method, both have their pros and their cons. I personally think that, with some preparation, the English Immersion method is what brings the best and fast results for ESL students. To be totally immersed in the language forces us to think and communicate in the target language (in this case English). So with time and with some “sinking”, I believe the student starts to get used to it and start “to swim better and better”.

But as I told you at the beginning of this post, I’m not that experienced when it comes to ESL teaching, so I open the comments area so that you can expose your ideas. Which of both methods are the best to ESL students? If you are a student, which of them would you prefer?

I also would like to thank Brittany for taking her time to create the brochure How to Educate ESL Students. I based this post on her findings and only exposed my ideas about it. If you want to get to know her a bit more, check her profile below.

Brittany Behrman is a staff writer for the eCollegeFinder blog. In June 2012, the blog ran a series on ESL and held an industry-first competition, co-branded by Language Magazine, to determine the Top ESL Blogs, as voted by its readers. The eCollegeFinder blog’s parent site, eCollegeFinder is an education portal that specializes in matching students with online colleges that offer 1,000s of different degree paths, including certificate programs for those wishing to Teach English Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

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