Or in this case, in the classroom. Yesterday, I spend the morning at my children’s school, helping with the “Defi-Anglais”, or the “English Challenge”. Every year, they pick a subject, and have a cross-grade team competition, and this year it was English. Needless to say, I went along to help out. Over the morning, we saw 20 groups of 7-8 children, aged 8-11. That’s a lot of kids… What was really interesting to me was seeing their language backgrounds, and comparing them with their levels in English.
One of the things that I talk about in parent seminars is the research support for the positive influences of bilingualism on other language learning. There is a body of evidence that suggests that people who are bilingual from an early age are better learners of other languages later on, both in proficiency and in phonetics (accent). This is one of the arguments I offer to parents who are reluctant to have their children learn Dutch because it is a “useless” language (see my earlier blog/rant on that topic…).
Although I did not approach yesterday’s Defi as a scientific experiment (maybe I should have!), I did pay attention to how the kids stacked up in terms of language(s). At this school, there are three levels of English offered: 1, 2 & 3, with 3 being the top level. It was quite striking to me how many of the bilingual children were also in Group 3 in English (as their third language). The bilingual population at this school is mostly French/Dutch bilingual, but there are also speakers of Greek, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Portuguese and many African languages. Being very unscientific about it, I’d hasard a guess that more three quarters of the bilingual children were in Groups 2 or 3 in English, and about the same amount of the monolingual French speakers were in Groups 1 or 2.
Of course, there are many, many other variables (languages used in the home, outside the home, language of extracurricular activities, travel etc.), but it is still food for thought…