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Being bilingual holds obvious benefits in terms of opening opportunities and developing communication skills, but learning a foreign language from a young age also helps to promote cognitive and socio-emotional development. The advantages of bilingualism do not stop there, as being bilingual has also been linked to an increase in metalinguistic awareness: the understanding of how a language works and its components (Bourgogne, 2013). This can make it easier to learn multiple languages after and helps children to gain a richer understanding of their mother tongue.
1. How does bilingualism work at école M?
The key to successfully learning a second language comes from consistency and high-quality, age-appropriate teaching. At l’école M, the choice has been made to give children constant exposure to both languages, with the presence of a francophone and anglophone teacher in the class throughout the day. This gives both languages equal importance and allows them to co-exist and develop in tandem. Thus, English is not taught as a subject but is used daily in the teaching of academic subjects, practical activities and most importantly, in the everyday life of the class (such as snacktime, lunch and going to the park). These meaningful experiences help the children to develop a wide and rich vocabulary in the second language through repetition and in a real-life context. There are also opportunities for the children to have an English immersion style experience, where they will be alone with an anglophone teacher or in a classroom with both anglophone teachers present. These English-led sessions encourage the children to express themselves in English and gain confidence as well as new vocabulary and knowledge of grammar.
Everyday, a wide-range of activities are offered to the children, which are both educational and fun. Often, the same activity (e.g. an obstacle course in gymnastics or a game) will be presented in both languages at different times. This can help consolidate the child’s understanding of the activities and develop new vocabulary in the second language. Children, like adults, require learning to be enjoyable, engaging and multi-sensory in order for it to be successful. This is certainly true of language acquisition (Baker, 2007). Songs, stories and games are some of the most powerful tools we can use when teaching English as an additional language and this is the approach we use everyday at école M.
2. Will my child become bilingual?
A first step in becoming bilingual is to have oral comprehension. If children have had no prior exposure to English in their home environment, initially it may take a while for them to begin to speak in this new language. The most important thing is that they develop, in a meaningful and fun context, an understanding of English in familiar situations. Once they become more at ease they will begin to learn new vocabulary (e.g. colours, animals and classroom objects) through taught activities and other vocabulary from the inclusion of English in their everyday life (e.g. school routines, mealtimes, nap-times). They may begin to repeat and autonomously use learnt phrases (e.g. “Good morning” or “Yes, please”) or short sentences (“Help me, please” or “May I have a drink?”). Once their knowledge and understanding of English becomes more fluent, they can then begin to explore constructing their own sentences in order to express themselves.
3. What can I do to support my child?
Many parents worry that they cannot support their child in learning an additional language if they do not understand it themselves; however, this is not strictly necessary. It is important to motivate and encourage your child to learn a new language by showing them it is valuable. It can be helpful to provide them with exposure to English outside of the school setting, or you can even learn with them! Remember, in order to learn children need to have a desire to develop this new language and playful, fun activities are the perfect opportunity for this.
Written by Naomi Savory, teacher at école M
Bourgogne, A. 2013 Be Bilingual: Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families
Baker, C. 2007 A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism