Another school year is starting or about to start for many children around the world! The back to school period is usually met with some excitement. Even those who wished their school breaks had lasted a few weeks longer are, at the very least, wondering who their new teachers will be or if they will see any familiar faces in their new classrooms.
Their parents, worn out from the mad dash for school supplies, backpacks and uniforms, are anxiously hoping that this new school year will be met with academic success. A subset of those families will have an opportunity to attend a bilingual school yet understanding which one is the right fit for your family’s needs is not always straight forward.
There are three main types of bilingual school models –
- Two way immersion is a dual language schooling format where students typically receive 50% of their instruction in one language and 50% in a second language. In a perfect world, the classroom itself would have a balanced number of native speakers of the two languages. This allows the students to model their language skills at different times through the day, week and school year. In many cases, it is difficult to achieve the desired language mix but some schools are still able to create a balanced environment for their students. Some schools carry on this model through Grade 12 while others transition to other formats much earlier in the academic experience.
- The submersion model is a type of instruction in which learners attend a regular monolingual school and receive dual language support services so they can transition to the community language. This model is mostly applied to students who are not yet fluent in the community language. Depending on the amount of resources and staff the school has, the student can receive services in the classroom along with their peers or be pulled out to work with staff individually or in small groups.
- The transition model is an approach where students receive instruction primarily in their home language. The majority of schools implementing this model will exit the program after approximately three years while others allow for a “late exit” and maintain this type of instruction into 5th and 6th grade. The latter approach is less prevalent. Many schools implementing this approach will cite that once students acquire enough social skills in the community language to function, they exit the program.
Despite the opportunities that a bilingual school can provide for your child, there are few questions that you will likely want to consider when evaluating your choices.
- Is the value of learning a second language appreciated in the school? You will be surprised what you may find when truly digging into this question. Schools with a staff that are supportive to language learning, multiculturalism and language diversity can provide a powerful experience for your child.
- How much time on task is spent on language learning? The majority of the effective language programs around the world dedicate 200 or more hours of instruction on a given language per year. While any language exposure may seem advantageous, you want to make sure that the time that your child has in the classroom is maximized and at least 200 hours seems to be about the right amount of instructional time.
- Is the language ONLY taught in the language program or is it also used in other subjects? Some of the most successful language programs integrate exposure to the language throughout all academic subjects and even extracurricular activities. Some schools will even strive to incorporate the language environment beyond the academic staff and include the administrative personnel. This allows the child to see the language used in various settings.
- What are the qualifications of the teachers? When evaluating a language school, you will want to see beyond just the instructional qualifications of the educators. Language schools give you the added benefit of providing your child with exposure in a target language. Therefore, the quality of that exposure needs to be taken into account. Are the instructors native speakers? If not, do they have a high level of proficiency in the language?
- If your target language is not offered at a school nearby, are there other language schools in the community? You may not be lucky enough to find a school with an instructional curriculum that matches one or more of the languages you are working with at home. However, if you find the opportunity to attend a school that adheres to the good principles listed above but happens to promote a different language, you may not want to completely disregard it as an option. At the very least, you will know that your child will attend a school environment where language diversity is appreciated and celebrated!
Many of us striving to raise world citizens, would jump at the opportunity of having our little ones attend a bilingual school. Yet the reality is that in many cases they are not an option in our local district or they are simply too cost prohibitive. But not all is lost!
Even traditional schools can value language diversity and provide a supportive environment for your child. Your child’s teacher will be your greatest partner in this effort. Here are some tips to help build a partnership with your child’s educator and ultimately incorporate language into your child’s classroom:
- Keep an open line of communication so that you are aware of what is happening in the classroom and your teacher knows what you are working on at home with your child.
- Donate books, puzzles, games, classroom labels in your target languages that your child and his peers can use throughout the school day.
- Volunteer in your child’s classroom and/or school so that your child can see you using your family’s target language in another setting.
- Collaborate with your child’s teacher to identify academic material you can use at home in your target language that complements the school curriculum.
At the very least, you can always take matters into your own hands. If you can get enough community members involved, establishing a Saturday heritage program, for example, bilingual story time at your local library or even a monthly group play date can provide your child with additional language exposure they may not have otherwise.
Regardless of what path you choose, the additional exposure that your child will receive in an academic environment will most certainly be worth the effort!
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- Bilingual School Models: What to consider before jumping in! - August 31, 2015