Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language and it is the official language in 53 countries. China, whose official language is Mandarin Chinese, currently has a population of over 1.3 billion people. Assuming all Chinese Nationals speak Mandarin Chinese, a person fluent in both English and Chinese has the ability to converse with over 1.6 billion people in at least 54 countries. Learning both English and Chinese is invaluable, but what is the most effective method for teaching them simultaneously? 3e International, Daystar Academy and the House of Knowledge International Kindergarten shared their methods for educating bilingual (and trilingual) children.
Creating the Right Environment
House of Knowledge International Kindergarten (HoK) teaches three languages: English, German and Chinese. Because young minds absorb information quickly, it is best to start bilingual learning at an early age. Children can start at HoK as young as 20 months in their nursery and continue their exposure to three languages until preschool (6 years old). Prospective students should speak one of the three languages taught.
At HoK, children can be in an English or German-focused class, where the Lead Teacher speaks either native English or German, and assistants speak the second or third language. Chinese is taught by a Chinese native speaker a few times a week for half-day students and every afternoon for full-day students. Within one classroom, young children may be found speaking two or up to three languages at a time, depending on who they are speaking to.
3e International offers dual immersion from preschool up to elementary, while Daystar Academy holds classes for children ages 3 to 12 (kindergarten through Grade 6). At both Daystar and 3e, students spend half of their day immersed in an English classroom with English-speaking teachers and the other half in a Chinese classroom with Chinese-speaking teachers. A range of subjects are covered in both languages.
At Daystar, students have a three-hour Montessori work period in English every day, as well as three hours of classes in Chinese. Director of Daystar Dawn Vermilya says, "It’s not just about teaching the language, it’s about teaching the culture. So it has to be two culturally unique environments as well – a framework for learning the language."
At HoK, Lead Teacher Sarah Fenwick-Ross from New Zealand finds that children pick up a second or even third language quite easily, recallinga 5-year-old girl who spoke no English, but told stories and asked questions in English by the end of the year. Teachers only speak their native language in the classroom, so children learn to speak only one of the three languages to their respective teachers.
At Hok, 3e and Daystar, all students appeared to speak freely in social settings. Catch these children in the playground and they might be speaking English or Chinese (or even German), depending on who they’re interacting with. Amy Loveday-Hu, Principal from 3e says, "We want them to be able to function and communicate in a social group. We don’t want them to stop talking. We just need to encourage them by giving them the [right]tools."
The result is that these bilingual children often accommodate others with a common language. Fenwick-Ross discovered that English was the preferred language for one particular group of students, two of whom were German and one of whom was Chinese. English became their common ground. Vermilya also found, "[If someone] has the weaker language, [students will]try and help that person, so there’s more commonality."
Covering Academics in Different Languages
Amidst the three languages, kindergarten students at HoK have teacher-planned projects that last anywhere from two weeks to a month. Past themes included the body, healthy eating and dinosaurs. Each project was explored simultaneously through all three languages, while covering the range of 12 different competencies, including motor skills, social skills and math.
Daystar and 3e both cover a range of academics in two languages, separating a student’s day with 50 percent immersion in English and 50 percent immersion in Chinese. However, the schools’ teaching styles vary greatly. At 3e, the style of education is not classified as either Chinese or Western; rather they call it the "3e approach." Students are not prepped for any Chinese National testing, but they qualify for entry into an international school. For math, 3e implements Everyday Mathematics, an approach developed at the University of Chicago.
Physical education and science aside, all academic subjects at Daystar are covered in both languages. Subjects in English are taught using Montessori methods of child-centered social groups. The same subjects are also taught in Chinese using the Chinese National curriculum, with a teacher-directed focus. Kristin Lack, Director of Marketing and Admissionsat Daystar, explains, "It really provides a good balance for the child – to be able to think from their creative side and ask questions and then still develop their more structured self." One of the most unique aspects of Daystar is that it is a registered Chinese National school. Their math is taught at a Chinese National standard (with Montessori math as a supplement), which means that upon graduating,Grade 6 students qualify for attendance at a local Chinese middle school, though many choose to continue their education at an international school.
How Parents Can Help
It’s important for parents to keep their native language at home. Parents should not speak a language they’re not versed in; however, they can still provide a comfortable bilingual (or trilingual) environment for their children. "Children being able to communicate with their grandparents is really important. This is the language of your culture," says Loveday-Hu.
Most families living in Beijing have an ayi or driver, who speaks fluent Chinese. Especially if an ayi is high-school educated, she may be a great asset to your child’s Chinese language environment at home. If parents want their children to speak a language they themselves do not speak, they can expose them to music or TV shows in that language.
Parents can also ask for extra language support from the school. At no additional cost to tuition, HoK has a language training program for parents, called the Mother-Child program. Speech therapist Martina Aigner keeps an eye on the speech development of children at HoK, visiting classes and providing helpful language exercises and games. Teachers may recommend private speech therapy sessions for a student in need, or parents may request one. Most health insurance providers can cover the cost of therapy.
In addition to grade-level Chinese class, Daystar offers an Intensive Chinese Program (ICP), with a curriculum focused on listening, speaking and developing functional Chinese. ICP is recommended for students who need extra assistance in Chinese language, but the school’s aim is to ensure children are able to stay within their grade-level class. For parentswho want to provide additional Chineselanguage assistance at home, Daystar can put students in contact with a tutor agency that matches students with college and graduate students. A tutor session can cost as little as RMB 50 an hour.
Despite the gains in learning more than one language, multilingual education comes with some downfalls. Learning more than one language can be difficult and can take a considerable amount of time, but it’s importantto remember that every child is different. Loveday-Hu explains, "[Children] need to feel confident before they’re able to express themselves. It’s important that we don’t value one person’s achievement over another person’s achievement."
Aigner’s advice to parents is to, "Be patient, your child may understand much more than he is able to speak." As for speech or language problems, she has discovered that children who speak two or three languages do not have any more developmental problems than children who speak only one. She also notes, "It is normal at the age of 3 or 4 for children [to mix up languages]. But if they keep doing it, they may need help."
Learning different languages, especially Chinese, can be a rewarding and worthwhile experience in itself. Daystar Vice-Director Lijun Liu says, "Giving children access to two leading languages, [plus]background and perspective that’s associated with Chinese language and culture, helps give them a deeper understanding of [Chinese] people."
Remember that a bilingual education is more than just fostering fluency in a language. Vermilya explains, "It’s more about culture and serving humanity. It’s not just about academics. [They] understand how to deal with different people and different cultural settings. [It’s about] bridging those gaps." It is apparent that children in bilingual schools are learning more than academics in a second language; they’re learning a second culture.
3e International 3e 国际学校
9-1 Jiangtai Xilu, Chaoyang District (6437 3344 ext 127) www.3eik.com
2 Shunbai Lu, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District (8430 2654, email@example.com) www.daystarchina.cn
House of Knowledge International Kindergarten
1) Victoria Gardens, Chaoyang Park Xilu, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District (6434 0088 English, Chinese; 139 1106 3696 English, German, firstname.lastname@example.org); 2) East Gate of Liyuan Compound, Maquanying Street, Chaoyang District (6434 0088, 139 1127 2029, email@example.com) www.house-of-knowledge.net 1) 朝阳区朝阳区朝阳公园西路维多利亚花园小区; 2) 朝阳区香江北路丽苑小区A11
Speech therapist Martina Aigner is available by appointment. She specializes in helping children who have difficulty in speech, language, oral motor skills and verbal communication. She is fluent in German, English and French, and speaks Chinese and Italian. (135 2150 0071, firstname.lastname@example.org)