One of the most important elements, outside of the parental languages, in a Family Language Plan is the choice of school. Of course, not every family has the ability to control this element of their language plan, but if you do have a choice, it’s important to choose wisely.
There are three elements to look at when choosing a school:
3. Personality (of your child, and the school)
Firstly, language. If you are a bilingual family, with one majority language and one minority language, it’s best to try and balance input by using school to bolster a minority language, if at all possible. If you are a monolingual family, introducing an outside language (i.e. Dutch, in the Netherlands), then school is the logical place to do it. Basically, if you have the possibility to use school choice to balance the languages in your child’s environment, and to help them achieve literacy goals in two or more languages, then this is a good thing to do.
However, there is also the aspect of culture to be taken into account. If you are living in a place where you are not “local” but you need or want your children to fit in, linguistically and culturally, a local-language school would be a better choice. I work with a lot of families who are here in the Netherlands indefinitely, and they struggle with the choice of international schooling versus Dutch schooling. Realistically, if you are going to be living somewhere for a long time, you do want your kids to be able to participate in local culture, and this is the best way to help this happen. Similarly, if a child has one Dutch parent, and one “other”, you need to carefully consider the linguistic benefits of international schooling with the cultural benefits of a local school.
Finally, when all the above seems unclear and unhelpful, you need to consider your child’s personality, and the schools that are available. I believe that finding a school that “fits” your child is more important than any linguistic or cultural agenda the parents may have (shocking, I know!). How your child feels at school, and how they fit in, and how they perform academically, all these factors will help influence the rest of their academic careers. Finding a school where they feel at home, and can truly learn to love learning will benefit them immensely, and putting your child in the “wrong” school can do a lot of damage. Dr. Leonard Sax makes a great point in his book “Boys Adrift”, that parents need to find a school that fits the child, rather than trying to make the child fit the school, and I think this should be the most important factor in school choice. It’s also important to remember that the “right” school may not be the same for all children in one family (unfortunately). Yes, language goals are important, but you can adjust your plan around school language, and find support and success from other avenues. Yes, cultural integration is important, but not at the expense of a child’s spirit.
So, if you are a family who is privileged enough to have a choice in how you educate your children, consider all these factors, and the close your eyes and jump!