via Relocate Global : In today’s global economy, more businesses are expanding overseas and looking for employees who speak foreign languages. A 2014 CBI and Pearson survey found that 65 per cent of companies had a requirement for skills of this kind.
Decline in language GCSEs
Since 2004, when the UK government decided to make languages optional at GCSE, there has been a slow but steady decline in the number of pupils taking both modern foreign and classical languages. In 2010, 43 per cent of pupils studied a foreign language at GCSE, compared with 76 per cent in 2000.
According to the British Council’s 2015/16 report on language trends, entries for A Level French have declined by about a third since 2002, and those for A Level German by nearly half. Although more pupils are taking A Levels in Spanish and other languages, these increases do not offset the shortfalls in French and German.
Increasing language study
In June 2015, the Department for Education announced its intention that, from 2020, all pupils would take the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) when they took their GCSEs. Nicky Morgan, then Secretary of State for Education, said that children should receive “an education that opens doors to their future” and have “a grasp on languages other than their own”.
However, until the EBacc becomes compulsory in 2020, there is concern that the language element is keeping down the number of students who are successfully achieving all five EBacc components. Research conducted by the National Association of Headteachers found that 77.7 per cent of pupils who entered four out of the five EBacc subjects were missing the language component in 2016 – up from 67.4 per cent in 2015.
The picture is somewhat brighter in Europe. Over recent years, some countries have lowered the starting age for compulsory language learning, with most pupils beginning when they are aged between six and nine. The German-speaking community in Belgium provides language training for children as young as three.
However, while more than three-quarters of primary-school students in the EU learn English, the number of EU students taking French and German is below 15 per cent.
Keeping options open
“Encouraging students to learn languages not only benefits them academically and cognitively, but also engages them with different ways of perceiving the world and its people,” explains Jane Fox, coordinator of Native Language Enrichment at ACS Egham International School. “Learning languages in an international-school setting is quite unique, with the diversity of the student body naturally encouraging cultural and linguistic exchange, as well as being, in itself, a resource for language learning and sharing.”
Between 50 and 100 nationalities are represented at each of ACS’s schools, so students are exposed to a range of languages and cultures.
The International School of London (ISL) Surrey is a coeducational IB World School for students aged from two to 18. It is part of the ISL Group, which also has schools in London and Qatar. Says head of languages Susan Stewart, “One of the purposes of education is to prepare a child for the future. For an international child, who may be moving from one assignment to another, keeping all their language options open is crucial.”
TASIS The American School in England is an independent coeducational school for day pupils aged from three to 18 and boarders aged from 14 to 18. According to Edward Spencer, head of English as an Additional Language, “Learning different languages opens doors to new horizons, as well as providing a competitive edge in the global jobs market. With advances in transport and modern communication technologies, the world is a smaller place in which the acquisition of foreign languages is now more crucial than ever.”
Says Tim Jones, deputy head of Sevenoaks School, in Kent, “We think that there are huge benefits to learning alongside students from other countries and cultures. Many of the world’s problems stem from xenophobia or miscommunication, and solutions tend to come from familiarity and shared ground. It is important to us that everyone can celebrate their cultural identity and their languages.”
Maintaining national identity
Several international schools in England give English as an Additional Language (EAL) students the chance to develop and extend their first language as part of their international education.
ISL offers a mother-tongue language and literacy programme that is part of the school curriculum and helps students to develop literacy and fluency in both English and their first language. According to the school, this helps them to learn more quickly, as the transfer of concepts and skills in two languages strengthens both.
“While it is important that relocating children find their feet in their new country, they must be given opportunities to express themselves and maintain a sense of their own national identity. Our Native Language Enrichment (NLE), English as an Additional Language and Language Skills classes support students’ own cultural roots whilst they are learning about others as part of their curriculum,” explains Mark London, head of marketing at ACS, which has three international schools in London and one in Qatar.
Says his colleague Jane Fox, “Unlike language acquisition classes, such as French or Spanish lessons, our NLE programme encourages interaction across languages and cultures. Sessions encourage all students to use their home languages to access learning, while exposing them to the cross-pollination of perspectives from different cultures and diverse ways of thinking and knowing.”
TASIS’s Edward Spencer says, “Our languages and cultural traditions are the cornerstone of who we are. We believe that celebrating world cultures and supporting mother-tongue development are fundamental to an international education.”
Support for relocating parents
“At ACS International Schools, we take every opportunity to celebrate our schools’ diversity and embrace our differences, organising a host of international themed events and activities throughout the year,” says Mark London.
“School activities can help families put down roots to thrive in the new location, with opportunities for parents, as well as children, to meet new people, make friends and get involved with activities they enjoyed in their home country.
“Our Parent Teacher Organisation multicultural teams, for example, organise international events throughout the year. Their main event is the annual international fair, which sees families of the same nationality create a stall with food, activities and music, giving our community a taste of their culture.”
ISL Surrey also offers regular workshops on raising bilingual children. These are aimed at parents interested in preserving the family’s home language in an English-speaking environment, and offer tips on how to cope with issues that can arise in multilingual families.
The workshops, which have been running for five years, encourage parents not to switch to English at home, as this can be detrimental to both languages.
Start language training early
In the TASIS England lower school, instruction in Spanish begins in kindergarten (age five) and continues through Grade 4 (age ten). The middle school offers French and Spanish at three levels – beginner, intermediate and advanced – to students in Grades 5–8 (ages ten to 14). Upper-school students may choose to study French, German, Latin, Mandarin or Spanish. IB Diploma students may also study literature in their mother tongue.
“Learners who acquire multiple languages from an early age are able to reach higher levels of cognitive development and develop stronger critical and creative minds than their monolingual peers. Multilingual learners are also more open to intercultural understanding, which is essential for living in our increasingly global society,” says Edward Spencer, of TASIS.
ISL attracts both expat and local children to its schools, as more and more British families acknowledge that the world is international and seek a broader education for their children. ISL provides language learning in French and Spanish for native English speakers from the age of three. Mandarin is also available in secondary school.
At ISL Surrey, teaching is in the form of role play, music and song. “Children develop an ear for languages at an early age,” says Susan Stewart, head of languages. “The earlier they start, the better the connections they start to make between sounds and words.”
“As part of a literature review that ACS International Schools commissioned last year,” explains Jane Fox, of ACS Cobham, “it is clear that developing early bilingualism in children has several cognitive benefits, including cultural insight and empathy, enrichment of one language by the other, an expansion of one’s accessible world, and enhanced employability.”
Promoting cultural awareness
Holmewood House, near Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, is a coeducational day and boarding school for boys and girls aged from three to 13. It has welcomed children from the USA, China, Russia, Brazil and Europe, and helps pupils to become aware of cultures outside their own – an essential quality for the globally widening future in which children live and work, says the school.
Holmewood House follows a broad curriculum in which languages feature strongly. Children are taught French from nursery, with Spanish, Latin, Greek and Mandarin being available from prep school.