Benefits of a Bilingual Education

What is immersion?

We all have acquired our native language through immersion. Infants simultaneously learn their own language, develop new skills and gain an understanding of the world around them. This process lasts multiple years. Parents support this process by:

  1. Talking to the child over the span of hours, days, and years.
  2. Multiple repetitions.
  3. Short sentences.
  4. Slow speech.
  5. Facial expressions and gestures.
  6. A positive relationship with the child.
  7. Trust that the child will succeed.
  8. Patience

In language immersion lessons, the student also learns new topics in a new language. Many of the critical success factors mentioned above are important in this context as well. One key difference, however, is the available time.

Language learning takes time

The limiting factor in learning new languages is the time available – and not the brain capacity. The time necessary to learn a new language is often underestimated.

  • Monolingual children hear their native language for 17 500 hours during the first six years of their lives.
  • The child practices speaking for about 2200 hours (including the first attempts).
  • In a bilingual school, about 3000 hours of lessons are taught in the foreign language.
  • The goal is to efficiently build up a specific vocabulary.
  • A large number of studies show that language immersion is superior to conventional second or foreign language teaching methods (e.g. Thomas & Collier, 1997, 2001).

Age-related learning styles

Younger children learn synthetically within a specific context.

Younger children need to be able to connect words with concrete objects and actions: “I am peeling a banana for you”.

This is why learning methods based on accompanying activities are optimal for this age group.

Children from the age of 10 (+/– 2) learn analytically.

Children 10 years (+/– 2) and older are able to comprehend abstract concepts and can therefore learn faster and more efficiently.

BUT:

The time available for lessons and practice is limited.

The talent for languages and the motivation are other limiting factors.

The peer group is important for teenagers and quite often, children lack the courage to make mistakes in front of others when speaking a new language.

What can teachers do to support and promote language acquisition?

Provide structure:

  • Clearly articulated language in a deliberate tone of voice.
  • Rituals: the same sequences during lessons are preferred. The structure of the lesson is announced beforehand.
  • The learning goals are clearly stated orally and in writing.
  • Knowledge preservation at the end of the lesson (“question of the day”).
  • Latin as a bridge that connects different languages.

Deliberate, intentional use of language

  • New words of the day (written and orally) in all subjects.
  • Comparative grammar: intentionally focusing on the OTHER language (talking about language):
    • “Which words are capitalized in English and how can we remember them?”
    • “How do the past tenses differ in English and German? What is the same, what is different?)

Age-appropriate expectations for bilingual children

  • No grades for 2 years.
  • No exams required to transition to upper school.
  • Patience when code-switching occurs (3-5 switches per lesson are ok).
  • Orally: correct repetition instead of correction.
  • Written: The spelling is corrected but the mistakes are not considered part of the grade in a specific subject.
  • Allowing sufficient time for the decision between IB and Matura (time to become competent in German).

Positive relationships and trust

  • Believe in the success
  • Mistakes are part of the learning process
  • Supportive learning environment
  • Motivating, varied activities
  • Additional support:
    – Class Core Time
    – DaZ / EaL
    – teachers are always available during the day, including during lunchtime.
    – Support after the school day has ended.

How parents can support language acquisition

  • Speak to your child in your native language, no matter which one it is (ideal: regular exchanges with 5 different care givers, relatives or other relevant people in this language).
  • No compulsory English or German conversations at home.
  • Let your child speak for herself (Don’t say: “You are sad now, right?” or “Are you telling me that… …”, instead: “What are you trying to say?” and then wait for a LONG time until the child speaks. Don’t correct or finish the sentence but wait for the second sentence).
  • Create a varied learning environment that is conducive to learning. Visit exhibitions, go to concerts, sports games and discuss politics and business at the dinner table. Develop ideas to solve relevant business or societal problems. Find good arguments on both sides, list the pros and cons.
  • Positive attitude toward all languages. (NOT: “I wasn’t good at French either.” but: “I am so happy that you speak better French than I do.”).
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