As we come to the end of the school year I’ve been reflecting on how much the school impacts successful bilingual development. Most schools are not “bilingual” schools, or “immersion” schools, or indeed any kind of language-based school model. Many schools believe that their only job is to ensure that all their pupils master the language of the school, which therefore absolves them from any need to support multilingualism or the development of their pupils’ “other” languages. This, despite the fact that research clearly demonstrates that the pathway to success in a new language at school is best achieved through supporting the first/home language. Continue reading
I’ve mentioned before that my three children changed schools this year. They went from the French system to the European system. In a nutshell, the European Schools system exists to support the children of EU employees, who need to maintain a high level of skill in their home-country language throughout foreign postings. The schools prioritize “L1” or “mother tongue” support, either by offering a language section (if numbers are high enough) or daily “Mother Tongue” classes (minimum of five pupils). It’s a system heavily dominated by languages, with most pupils coming out with a reasonable level of fluency in 3-4 languages.
Our school is new, and has only three language sections (English, Dutch, Spanish) and Mother Tongue provisions in several other languages. Yesterday we had the pleasure of assisting at the “Holiday Concert”, and what an experience it was! All of the primary school children participated (nursery had their own show). Each section did performances in their own language, which led to a delightful blend of English, Dutch and Spanish songs and plays and poems. However, the school went above and beyond by having all the children also participate in languages not their own. Dutch kids sang in English and English kids sang in Dutch and Spanish. Spanish kids performed in Dutch and English and Spanish. Children wished us a Merry Christmas in many languages, and the grande finale was a multilingual “Jingle Bells” with children singing in German, Italian, French and English.
It was truly a representation of an inclusive system celebrating all languages, and all the different cultures represented. Each child has a chance to shine in at least one of their languages, and to use the other languages they are also learning. It was truly a linguist’s dream, and I can’t wait to see the show grow and change to include new languages as the school grows.