How to choose a bilingual school?
Questions to ask:
What is the model design? i.e. how does the language distribution occur across the program and what is the rational behind it?
There are two major types of Bilingual Education models, the 50:50 and the 90:10. Whatever the model there needs to be a rationale behind it, that is to say, clear reasons for the school to have chosen that specific model. The 50-50 model is often more effective when the student population is alo made up by 50% of native speakers of one language and 50% of the other.
What scientific research is the program based on?
For any bilingual model to be valid, it needs to be backed up by scientific research. There is vast research data on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, which needs to support any bilingual program and the bilingual development of students. You can ask the school to show you evidence of the research their model is based on.
What qualifications and training do the teachers have, other than just being native speakers?
Teachers as well as school administrators need to be knowledgeable in Bilingual Education. They need to have a solid understanding of second language acquisition theories and research findings. This equips them to design and deliver an appropriate programme which supports the language development of students. For example: do teachers know the principles or Content and Language Integrated Learning? Does the program support additive bilingualism?
What is the school’s philosophy, teaching and learning approach?
It is important for parents to look at the philosophy of the school and its learning and teaching principles: that every child can become bilingual; and that by using appropriate strategies, we can ensure that students learn the academic curriculum while learning an additional language.
What are the school’s learning goals and objectives?
Bilingual Education goals and objectives could be:
Does the school have one curriculum which is delivered in both languages?
Teaching and learning needs to be based on one only and shared curriculum which teachers of both languages are familiar with. Choosing a national curriculum is not always the best option since this might create challenges for the teachers who have not been trained or may not be familiar with this type of curriculum. Choosing two different curricula, one for one language and one for the other, can compromise the effective implementation of a bilingual program.
Do teachers plan and assess student progress together and share same objectives?
One of the Bilingual Education criteria for success is that teachers share the same objectives and are given collaborative time to meet and plan together.
What advice does the school give to parents when parents ask “what language should I speak to my child?”
Beware of the school or teachers who may advise you to give up your mother tongue when you communicate with your child. They are asking you to give up part of your identity and this may have detrimental effects later on in life! It is a myth that speaking to your child in his second language puts him at an advantage.
How does the school value students home languages?
If the school believes in additive bilingualism and multilingualism, the home languages of all students should be valued, viewed as a resource and therefore incorporated in everyday teaching and learning practices.
What are the school’s responses to the question “How long will my child take to become bilingual?”
If the school and the teachers are knowledgeable about second language acquisition theories they should tell you that developing everyday social communication requires 1 to 2 years while the more abstract academic language that we need to learn about science, mathematics, history, etc. requires a minimum of 5 to 7 years of attendance in a fully bilingual program. There are however so many other factors that contribute to the bilingual development of individual students. It is difficult therefore to set general time lines and expectations for all students.