Bilingual education in school:
The best time to learn a language is between birth and 8 years old. From 2-3 years old, a child naturally knows the language to which he is exposed and expresses himself in that tongue. However, most languages are introduced much later in schools.
In a bilingual program, language is not considered an academic subject, it is integrated into the curriculum. The language is not the object taught it is the instrument used to teach the curriculum. We are no longer teaching a language we are teaching something through the language. As the linguist Madeleine Lowenthal says being bilingual means speaking two languages without having learnt them. In a bilingual educational setting children are learning the language without realising.
So how does it work?
There are different methods of education employed to teach “bilingually”.
There is the transitional bilingual education method. Students are taught some subjects in their native language from kindergarten to year 3 and from year 4 to year 6 these subjects are taught in a second language. This method implies no geographical movement for the whole schooling of your child.
Another method is the dual language bilingual education where both languages are used within the classroom. Half of the students in the classroom are native English speakers and the other half of the students are native speakers of another language (i.e. French). Together, they will learn each other’s culture and language.
The third method of bilingual education is immersion. This is the one person one language approach. There would be one teacher teaching the native language and another teaching the second language. This method could be organised on alternate days, or perhaps one morning in the native language and one afternoon in the second language. Teachers speak in their respective language but allow children to speak in whichever language they chose.
All these methods have proven to be effective. The key is to balance both languages equally.
Such programs require a solid tri-partite partnership –– strong commitment from the schools’ leadership, very qualified and dedicated teachers, and ceaseless involvement from the parents at all levels.
At the end of their education, children can interact fluently in two languages, not necessarily with the same proficiency but children will be able to read, speak and write in both languages with ease.