Home > Video Highlight > Video highlight: A discussion about language learning and the second language learning of children at international schools

Video highlight: A discussion about language learning and the second language learning of children at international schools

Language and Learning

The video addresses the following questions:

• How many languages can a child learn at once?
• Is there a ‘window’ of opportunity, or can they learn multiple languages at any time?
• And what are the cognitive benefits of learning more than one language?
• We speak with research psychologists and a language teacher about how kids acquire second, third or fourth languages and how it helps.

International schools should be at the forefront of providing the most opportune environment for 2nd and 3rd language learning in children.

Many international schools have very diverse student populations.  Using the school profile search on International School Community, there are 607 international schools out of the 1088 listed on our website that have mostly international student populations.  That usually means that students are coming to school already knowing 2+ languages, with English being a 3rd or a 4th language for them.

It is challenging to come up though with the perfect second language acquisition environment in international schools.  There are many factors that come into play.  One of them being scheduling, which can be quite restrictive at some schools.  Another factor is what is required of the host country in terms of what the international school has to teach related to the host country language.  For example at Copenhagen International School, the primary school offers Danish to the whole school, starting in first grade.  The program is very limited though, with all students having only 3 periods of Danish a week.  In this model (a kind of FLEX – Foreign Language Experience model) Non-Danish speakers in the school are not exposed enough to the host country language to really become proficient in the target language of that class (especially with the academic language of Danish).

Now look at American School of Barcelona.  They are teaching three languages in the primary school: English as the main language, Spanish as the 2nd and Catalan as the 3rd.  How would you begin to design a trilingual model of instruction in that school with a diverse student population?

Many international schools now are integrating mother tongue support programs as well during the school day and also during after-school hours.  Which mother tongue support program model is the most effective?

It all gets confusing for many international schools.  Many of them have been teaching in their model of instruction (for language learning) for a while now; finding it hard to change it.  Many international school parents sometimes don’t even want their children learning the language of the host country, especially in countries where the locals speak a language that is basically non-existent in other parts of the world.  Parents must realize though that it is not just the language their children will be learning, it is the understanding of the culture too; which is very important when the student and the family are being immersed in a culture, living sometimes more than three years in one country.

As teachers though we are the experts.  We should think about what languages do we want to have our students learn at school and how best to go about teaching them.  Do we want students to become bilingual or trilingual in the language we instruct or just merely proficient in the language?  When we know the answers to those questions, then we need to figure out the best model and environment for the students to achieve those goals.

The video discusses many of the myths surrounding language learning.  I learned awhile back that there is nothing stopping an adult from becoming highly proficient in a second language (like most people think), it is just that their accent will mostly likely not be native-like.  Whereas kids can learn a second language at a young age giving them a better opportunity to acquire a more native-like accent.  There are many more myths about language learning, and I suppose we are debunking them all the time with more and more people becoming aware of how best students (and adults) learn second languages.

Visit www.internationalschoolcommunity.com and contact a member today and get firsthand information from them about the language learning model at his/her current school.  Interesting question to ponder: Does a school’s language learning model effect your decision-making when job hunting?

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