“By having another language, you have an alternative vision of the world,” –
Panos Athanasopoulos, Professor in Bilingual Cognition.
The benefits of being bilingual go beyond the ability to communicate in another language. Bilingualism gives children a broader perspective of the world, opens their mind. Learning another language means learning another way to think about things, understanding that how you live is not the only way. Bilingualism builds tolerance.
The many cognitive benefits are also undeniable. Research shows that children proficient in other languages have improved memory and mental flexibility, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration and creativity, ability to multitask, and better listening skills. In other words, learning another language doesn’t only help you thrive as an individual but it also exponentially and undoubtedly enhances future career opportunities.
This is why our mission is not only to provide a strong academic foundation to our students, but also to help them build their bilingual identity and fuel their desire to learn. This is all the more critical that many of our families come from plurilingual and multicultural backgrounds. We need to facilitate ALL of our students’ transition to other school systems, francophone or English-speaking.
Now, how does it work?
An immersion preschool program to enable true bilingualism
Our preschool program is a full immersion program in French. As the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) explains, “in traditional second language instruction, the target language is the subject of instruction. Immersion programs use the target language – in this case French – for instruction and as a means of communication. This authentic communication allows students to learn a second language in a similar manner to the way that they have learned their first,” therefore enables true bilingualism.
However, our preschool students do have English classes twice a week for 30 or 45 minutes depending on their age. It is critical that students – especially the ones who do not speak English at home – get the language skills and cultural exposure they need to transfer as seamlessly as possible to the American school system if they choose to. The earlier they start, the more effective it is.
And as our teachers of English always say, children learn best when they enjoy what they are doing. This is why our students learn English through fun games, music, art, movement, books and creative projects.
Eileen, one of our English teachers in Cambridge, believes in the power of games. From Bingo or Big line/Little line for the oldest, to sensory play and manipulatives for the youngest, she never ends a lesson without a book, a song or a dance …did I mention books?
Sonia, our English teacher in Watertown, gives rhythm to the year by planning her lessons around seasons, holidays and events such as Halloween, holidays, Black History Month, Women’s day, spring, elections etc. She usually starts with circle time, followed by a special poem, handplay, craft, an outside game, a worksheet or a story related to the theme they are working on, and “kids seem to love it!”
“My favorite thing about working in a bilingual school and teaching English is listening to the children over the course of the year speaking in both languages. I love seeing how accomplished they feel at this moment,” adds Eileen.
A bilingual education in elementary school to broaden perspectives and opportunities
In elementary school, our objective – from a language perspective – is to enable our students to master their reading, writing, and oral skills in French, while developing similar skills in English. This is when we start offering a more bilingual education. Some classes like mathematics, visual arts or general knowledge are taught in both languages. The number of hours of English and classes taught in English gradually increases from 20% the first year (5h), to 30% in 2nd and 3rd grades (7h), to 40% in 4th and 5th grades (9h).
Rosalind, the English teacher for elementary school students, works very collaboratively with the French teachers. Together, they align their curriculum to cover the same themes and units at the same time. Rosalind usually reinforces what has been thought in French in English, and teaches students about the different ways of doing things (measurements, divisions, vocabulary, spelling etc.).
Teachers also work together on projects. For Black History Month, for instance, Rosalind and Florence, our first-grade teacher, jointly taught students about historical figures and today’s inspirational leaders that made or are making a difference, in both English and French. “The students really enjoyed that project,” remembers Rosalind.
Les après-midis linguistiques – In addition, every afternoon, students have the opportunity to work with a teacher on their specific language needs (English or French).
Introduction to Spanish to fuel interest and desire to learn
As Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world.” – so why stop here? Our elementary school students now also learn Spanish for one hour every week.
Our goal: expose students to the language and the richness of Spanish-speaking cultures, start developing their reading and writing skills, give them the confidence to express themselves, and the desire to learn more. In other words, spark their interest for the future.
Through games, stories, songs, and working sheets, our students learn vocabulary and how to make simple sentences. The older ones also learn grammar and how to write in Spanish.
Ana, our Spanish teacher, takes it to heart to keep them engaged and interested: “ They already juggle between two languages, I want to make sure that they enjoy learning Spanish.” How? Creativity and inclusion. “One day, when we were virtual, I made them run in circles around the screen to present their work, they were really into it,” explains Ana. Students also often come up with ideas, and things they want to learn about. She makes sure to include them in her classes as much as possible. “The best way to get them excited is to teach them about things they are interested in. And I love to see their faces, how proud they are when they know the answer to a question, or when they say a full sentence. It is very rewarding.”
For parents too. “It’s wonderful to see the kids express themselves in both languages. I hear them switch from French to English with the other students”, says Sébastien Lamiaux – father of Olivia (2st grade) and Nicolas (4nd grade), “it’s so natural to them. It’s beautiful to see.”
To learn more about our programs, visit our website.
Article written by Aurore Joshi.