Learning in one’s mother tongue promotes a deep conceptual understanding of a subject say Mapelo Tlowane, Abram Mashatole, Sibongile Bopape, Mafeye Morapedi

Todays post looks at four students view of bilingualism on completion of their multilingual degree. Some real food for thought here for all educators. Just tracking their learning helps us understand more what younger children go through when trying to learn another language.

http://mg.co.za/article/2012-10-19-multilingual-degree-opens-up-new-world

These students admit themselves that they were unsure what course to take and it feels as though they choose this more as a default that an active choice but at the end you see they have got so much from it including a clear understanding of their learing and their academic learning side by side.

Many people see the promotion of multilingualism as representing a choice between an African language and English, but the BA contemporary English and multilingual studies degree demonstrates that students need to have a strong foundation for academics in their own language on which competence in an additional language can be confidently built. In other words, both one’s own language and the language of global communication have to be promoted to implement bi- or multilingualism effectively.

In our first year at university we struggled to make sense of lectures in English and the scholarly academic texts. It was difficult to write our own ideas in English and in most cases we would simply cut and paste excerpts from texts for our assignments.

How honest and lets face it what many monolinguists do when being assessed in their own language, but also when used properly a tool to help build on sentence structure, context, word and sentence level syntax and correct sentence structuring with respect to punctuation and formation.

As they progress you can see their minds developing also as they realise the benefits of their mother tongue in relation to their new language learning.

The freedom of our own language
But in the lectures in Sepedi we did not struggle because it was the language that we used every day. We could focus on the meaning and the content and with the freedom to use our own language we gained a deeper understanding of new ideas and concepts of multilingualism.

Then as they progress they eventually meet the current thinking, of all who promote the benefits of bilingualism, multilingualism and the retention of a learners mother tongue, that there is a discourse between the practical application and language learning in schools and the policies made.

We began to understand why such a huge gap existed between our much celebrated language policies and their implementation. But, much more empoweringly, we learned how we, as fluent and committed bilingual people, could play a role in bridging this gap.

We have given presentations at conferences, spoken to young school-leavers and are conducting research into the problems of rural and township schools. We have interviewed advocates of mother tongue-based bilingual education (such as Kathleen Heugh, Nancy Hornberger and the late Neville Alexander) and have come to understand the de-vastating economic effect of English-only or English-mainly education, especially on impoverished communities.

They then discuss that when learnt unconscious transference goes on and thinking about it when I read Welsh signs I just read the Welsh and instantly know what it means there is no back and for translation in my head.

We are finding that competencies learned in one language can be readily and almost unconsciously transferred to another language, provided these competencies are related to higher-order thinking, such as hypothesising, predicting, analysing and synthesising.

They discuss Vygotsky and his view of learning and can ably show their biliteral skills are well-developed and are now making them useful for their working life.

The ideas of Lev Vygotsky, especially the value he attached to mediation and the view that learning (instruction) leads development, permeate all our modules. In one of them, “language and cognition”, we specifically focused on his ideas and conducted research into private speech and fantasy play in our own communities.

We rejoice over the newly acquired biliteracy competencies the degree developed in us. Our external examiners commented on the fact that we write with engagement in both our languages and show deep conceptual understanding. We move across our two worlds with ease and confidence and have experienced our university education as transformative, empowering and very fulfilling.

All four of us have chosen to be researchers in bilingual education. One of us is a tutor in the BA contemporary English and multilingual studies programme and three of us are pursuing master’s degrees in a project the National Research Foundation has funded.

More than that, we feel specially advantaged to have had a unique education that makes us eligible for careers as bilingual teachers, translators, interpreters, liaison officers, researchers, writers, bilingual journalists, communication officers and language specialists.

Good luck to them and I look forward to seeing more of their learning as they follow their bilingual/multilingual journey.

Welsh and English become official languages of Assembly as AMs pass historic Bill

Welsh will become officially bilingual with Welsh and English being equal.

Eileen Beasley would have been very pleased I think.

3 October 2012

The National Assembly for Wales has passed the Official Languages (Wales) Bill into law.

In recognising Welsh and English as the official languages once it receives Royal Assent, the Bill will place a statutory duty on the National Assembly for Wales and the Assembly Commission to treat both languages on the basis of equality.

“This is an historic day in the history of devolution and of Wales,” said the Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler AM.

“Both Welsh and English will now be considered official languages in Assembly proceedings. The Bill places a statutory duty to put them both on an equal footing in the delivery of the services the Commission provides to the Assembly and the public.

“We are committed to delivering exemplar bilingual services. This Bill outlines the principles that will underpin the Commission’s approach to deliver even better bilingual services. Our commitment to the Welsh language can no longer be questioned.

The Commissioner with responsibility for the Welsh Language and the passage of the Bill, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM said:

“The Bill sets an example for organisations working across Wales within both the public and private sectors about how to approach bilingualism.

“As the Member in charge of the Bill, and on behalf of the Commission, I would like to thank Assembly Members and the public for working together with us on its development. We have listened, and are confident that this legislation makes our responsibilities and our commitment clear for all to see.”

The Bill places a duty on the Assembly Commission to draw up a Welsh Language Scheme to ensure the equal status of both languages.

The scheme:

  1. ·states clearly that Welsh and English are the official languages of the Assembly and should be treated equally;
  2. ·outlines the practical arrangements to enable the Assembly to operate bilingually;
  3. ·guarantees the right of anyone who takes part in Assembly proceedings (witnesses and officials as well as Members) to do so in either of the Assembly’s official languages;
  4. ·outlines how the Assembly will provide bilingual services to the public;
  5. ·outlines how the Assembly’s corporate arrangements enable and support its ambitions to deliver bilingual services; and
  6. ·explains the Assembly’s procedure for dealing with complaints of non-compliance with the scheme, whether made by Members or by the public.

“Our Scheme will demonstrate an innovative and pragmatic approach to the development of bilingual services and build on the high quality exemplar services we currently provide,” Mr Glyn Thomas added.

Bilingual poetry – Tamil/English

Writing poetry is difficult but bilingualising it is another all together. With this in mind it is no wonder that the writer almost started negatively as the poetry of the original is so well-known. The news item starts of by saying that:

Reading a bi-lingual edition of a work-in-translation is akin to living on the border between two friendly nations. You can hop from source text to translated text, making up your mind along the way about several things at once.

Translated by Usha Rajagopalan, this special bilingual edition of the Tamil poet Subramania Bharati’s poems carries that lovely promise.

It is such a shame that the emphasis was not more on that now everyone can have some experience of the original poets words, or that people who have spoken Tamil previously but now speak more English, can get access to the text now rather than the emphasis on the poetry not having the same feel when literally translated. it is such a  shame because from what I read I got some song and drama…so maybe it’s in the mind of the reader and whether you come to it with a positive or negative place.

The writer does relent a little later and says that:

In a small subset of her translations, however, Usha really lets go and thereby almost gets Bharati’s voice. “To the Sun” is one such example:

O Sun! What have you done to darkness?

Driven it away? Killed it? Swallowed it?

Have you smothered it with your embrace,

Hidden it with your light ray hands?

Other translations which do reasonably well are “To the Wind” and “Clarity of mind”. “Kannamma, My Beloved” very nearly works, marred only by the “alas! alas!” of the closing lines.

I for one are happy that these poems have been opened up for me, as I love poetry and I am sure many others will as well.  Lets face it how often do story tellers complain that things have been taken out of context by their peers or it’s not true to the original when all involved speak the same language so I say Bravo and well Done.

http://www.thehindu.com/arts/books/no-song-here/article3968309.ece

There is also another more positive story which can be found below.

http://www.thehindu.com/arts/books/dwelling-on-silence/article3968311.ece

English and Mandarin Bilingual school

Interesting video showing students from two language backgrounds learn together while instruction is systematically delivered in two languages. At Ardmore, students enrolled are from English and Mandarin speaking backgrounds.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=MgzNAH5uoWA&feature=endscreen

Unless a child understands what’s going on in the classroom, they won’t engage, they won’t attend, and they won’t learn anything.

Interesting news from Australia via Crikeys blog. it discusses the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry into language learning in indigenous communities, which of course is really interesting to me.

No English means no future.

We at Fully (sic) completely agree with this opinion: without access to the standard national language, an individual, or more accurately, an entire community of people, will have no prospects beyond the cultural and linguistic borders of their community. The question is how best to ensure that these children learn English. As the report clearly states time and time again, bilingual education, i.e., teaching children for the first few years of primary school in their first language before gradually transitioning into the target language, in this case English, is the proven most effective way to do this.

To see the original http://blogs.crikey.com.au/fullysic/2012/09/18/first-language-education-is-a-matter-of-common-sense/

This is quite a popular story here is another link to a news story  a Report by India Education bureau; Melbourne: A group of indigenous
language researchers from the University of Melbourne is calling on the Federal
Government to implement a proposal to introduce bilingual teaching programs in
some schoolshttp://www.indiaeducationdiary.in/showEE.asp?newsid=15601 “Without a bilingual program, children are being taught in a language they are
not familiar with. This means they often don’t understand what is going on, and
then don’t engage,” she said. This is all too familiar in too many classrooms.

or read further…

As Greg Dickson reported, the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry into language learning in indigenous communities, titled Our Land Our Languages, was tabled in parliament yesterday. Education was of course, a central theme of the inquiry and is a significant part of the resulting report.

Of the eight terms of reference of the inquiry, three relate to education. They are:

  • The potential benefits of including Indigenous languages in early education
  • Measures to improve education outcomes in those Indigenous communities where English is a second Language
  • The educational and vocational benefits of ensuring English language competency amongst Indigenous communities

The areas that the committee covered included attendance rates in remote schools, the lack of trained indigenous teachers and the inadequate training of non-indigenous teachers given the context, the lack of language testing to establish just what language a child speaks when entering the school system, NAPLAN and its inherent problems for non-English speaking students, and perhaps most importantly, how best to achieve competency in Standard Australian English (SAE). Bilingual education, as you might expect, features heavily in the submissions, the hearings and the report.

Bilingual education is clearly a hotly debated topic and the proponents and opponents are quite categorically divided. Proponents claiming that bilingual education is beneficial to both first language and target language, while opponents claim that teaching children using their first language is deleterious to the acquisition of the target language and that the best way to ensure that all children learn English is to immerse them in English-language classrooms. One commentator, who shall remain nameless, exemplified this position quite concisely yesterday, even before the report was released:

Two problems with [introducing bilingual education], both likely to cripple the future of the children.

First, finding teachers able to teach in indigenous languages will be fearsomely difficult, and likely to lead to language proficiency trumping any real aptitude to teach.

Second, Aboriginal students out bush must learn to speak English fluently if they are to escape their welfare ghettos and find work elsewhere. No other skill is as important to their future. Language immersion at school is critical to that.

The committee found heavily in favour of the proponents of bilingual education as the substantial evidence submitted clearly shows that rather than being deleterious, the use of the child’s first language in early childhood education had widespread benefits. Attendance rates increase when the child’s first language is used in class, children engage in the class for more sustained periods when they can understand what is being said by the teachers, and above all, competence in both languages is increased:

Incorporating Indigenous languages into the education system leads to an improvement in both Standard Australian English and Indigenous languages and can have many cultural, health and wellbeing advantages. (Section 4.158)

The commentator quoted above mentions language immersion at school as the best way to ensure that children learn English. However this is not entirely accurate. Immersion is known to be the best method for learning a language, but immersion requires to leaner to be completely surrounded by speakers of the target language, hence ‘immersion’. One monolingual English teacher in a classroom with thirty or more children speaking a different language is not immersion – not for the children anyway; it would actually be more accurate to describe it as immersion for the teacher. Bilingual, or two-way education, is the tried and tested effective means of teaching children in communities where English is not commonly heard, and ensuring that they learn the standard language.

Recommendation 14 therefore calls for the provision of adequately resourced bilingual education programs in areas where the child’s first language is an indigenous language, whether that language is a traditional language such as Warlpiri or Murrinh Patha, or a contact language such as Kriol, Gurindji Kriol or Light Warlpiri.

A corollary issue is of course the lack of indigenous teachers, and the almost complete lack of adequate training for all teachers in dealing with English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D). This fact is often cited by the opponents of bilingual education – see above – as a key factor against its provision.

The committee agreed that bilingual education would likely fail unless this shortfall was addressed, and so recommends the development of a national framework of flexible and accessible training for Indigenous people to gain limited authority qualifications to teach, and incentives for them to do so (recommendations 16 and 17) and also, that English as an additional language/dialect becomes a compulsory component for all teaching degrees, as well as retrospectively as professional development for all teachers currently working in indigenous communities (recommendations 21 and 22).

Language testing is another crucial area that usually receives little attention. It won’t matter how well-provisioned an education system is, if the school doesn’t know what language a child speaks upon entering the education system, they will not succeed. Often, children who speak a contact language such as Kriol, are often mistaken by teachers and schools as speaking a poor form of English. The committee recommends mandatory first language assessment for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children entering the school system (recommendation 13). For most communities, I would add, most children would speak a similar language/dialect, with only a few minority cases of individuals whose family have moved, for instance.

Another significant section of the Our Land, Our Language report deals with NAPLAN. Of course, national standardised tests in Australia are conducted in English. This is obviously problematic in contexts where the children who undergo the tests do not speak or understand this language, and the test therefore becomes primarily a test in English literacy. This means that the knowledge and skills the students do have, albeit in languages other than English, are invisible to the tests. The result is that otherwise intelligent children are painted as linguistically deficient, and we see statistics such as the following (for the benefit of the reader I have inserted crucial caveats to aid the correct interpretation of the figures in square brackets):

Across Australia in 2004, 83% of Aboriginal students and 93% of students overall achieved the [English] literacy benchmark for year 3.

But in the Northern Territory, only 20% of Aboriginal students achieved the benchmark [for Standard Australian English]. Less than 30% of children tested for [English] literacy in Years 3, 5 and 7 were able to read or write [English] properly leaving them with [English] numeracy and [English] literacy skills of five-year old [Standard Australian English speakers] when they leave school.

NAPLAN testing for these children is not only pointless, but as the committee found it can also be damaging to these students and can lead to disengagement in education:

In addition to being misleading, in painting a negative portrait of learners, assessments that fail to take account of these issues impact negatively on learners’ sense of worth and ongoing engagement with formal education.

ACTA, submission 72, p. 17.

There is however, a strikingly simple way that will go some way towards fixing this. It is something that experts in the field have been saying for some years, and now it’s also the view of the parliamentary committee: the provision of alternative NAPLAN testing for students learning English as an Additional Language or Dialect (recommendation 15). In concert with a supported and well-resourced bilingual education system in the children’s first language, this would mean more accurate representation of the children’s educational development, without it being clouded by difficulties of translation.

Opponents of teaching children in their first language, at least for the first few years of primary school, often argue that:

No English means no future.

We at Fully (sic) completely agree with this opinion: without access to the standard national language, an individual, or more accurately, an entire community of people, will have no prospects beyond the cultural and linguistic borders of their community. The question is how best to ensure that these children learn English. As the report clearly states time and time again, bilingual education, i.e., teaching children for the first few years of primary school in their first language before gradually transitioning into the target language, in this case English, is the proven most effective way to do this.

It isn’t rocket science; it’s just common sense. Unless a child understands what’s going on in the classroom, they won’t engage, they won’t attend, and they won’t learn anything.

As of this morning, The Australian is reporting that both major parties have expressed their acceptance of the report’s findings and support for the recommendations, at least in principle. We ) welcome this, but urge the various governments to immediately enact these 30 recommendations, and allow the system time to function properly, and we as a nation will eventually begin to reap the multifarious benefits of an education system that is accessible to all, and does not discriminate against entire communities whose first language is not English.

Geddes Elementary: Dual Language Early On Reaps Benefits Later

I thought I had posted this last week but the letter gremlins seem to have taken it away into space.

“It’s important for me, because my children are from here. I’m from Mexico, and I want them to know their origins,” said Ana Lepe, speaking in Spanish. The 40-year-old mother of three has sent all of her children to Geddes because she also believes being bilingual will help them get better jobs in the future.

I liked this story because this school is obviously one where bilingualism is really treasured and supported by all within the community. Once again the question of jobs when the children reach school-leaving age are a focus, but sadly this is often forgotten by the policy makers.

What is useful for teachers is If you go through the links there is also a video showing how some of this is achieved.

“There’s a lot of research now that shows that dual-immersion programs/bilingual programs are teaching kids to read better,” she added.

One reason the dual-language program works at Geddes is because it’s one part of a strong academic structure, school officials say. Castro is obsessed with data: Teachers give assessments every two weeks in math and reading to see how their students are progressing and where they might need help.

As bi-literacy starts to become popular and general literacy is a focus in both USA and UK schools there are some lessons that can be definitely learnt from this school. Especially those wishing to become strong free bilingual schools.

The initial news story is interesting but if you go into the school website there are some amazing facts about their achievements.

http://www.educationnation.com/casestudies/geddes/index.html

10 % OF PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS ARE ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS.

The Challenge: For English Language Learners, mastering the language is even more difficult if they struggle with their first language.
The Solution: At Geddes Elementary School in Baldwin Park, Calif., young students in the dual-language program are taught in Spanish 90% of the day until third grade. This approach has led to significant achievement gains, with 60% of third-graders scoring proficient or above in English language arts in 2011.

RESULTS: TEST SCORES

Geddes Elementary School’s API score (California’s system for rating schools based on reading and math test scores) rose from 678 to 838 over four years, exceeding the state target of 800. Proficiency on English language arts tests doubled to 62 percent, and the percentage of the school’s students who are proficient in math rose by half, to 74 percent.

RESULTS: ATTENDANCE & DISCIPLINE

In the 2005-06 school year, 391 students (out of 901) had unexcused absences or were tardy at least three times at Geddes. The truancy rate was 43 percent. In 2010-11, by contrast, 192 students (out of 703) had unexcused absences or were frequently tardy. The truancy rate fell to 27 percent.

RESULTS: PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

Parental participation went from only a handful of parents regularly visiting the school to between 40 and 50 attending monthly meetings with the principal.

The original news story can be found here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48897100/ns/today-education_nation/

The school information can be found here:

http://www.educationnation.com/casestudies/geddes/index.html

 

International company moves to area with more bilingual speakers.- USA

Many people argue that there is no point in keeping the learners first langauge alive as “they are in our country so they should use our language”.  There has not really been a  good reply, but this story shows how keeping the language alive allows companies to grow and become successful, and also regionally it can keep jobs in a certain area. Thinking of the amount of money it costs councils etc to attract companies the last thing they want to do is lose them.

It all stems from Chiquita Brands moving it headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte as they have more bilingual speakers. Cincinnati are fighting back by creating a database of Bilingual speakers.

http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/29baffe64a8542b086fa94c0ac314855/OH–Cincinnati-Hispanics

CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati business group has launched a searchable database of the region’s multilingual students and professionals.

The Cincinnati USA Hispanic Chamber said it will spend the next few months building the database. Chamber president Alfonso Cornejo told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the goal is to connect those with language skills with companies and organizations who work with diverse domestic markets or operate internationally.         It’s meant as a development tool, and also to showcase the Cincinnati region’s resources. It’s expected to be available for searching by next February. He hopes to have 5,000 people registered within three years.

The database is being developed in partnership with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. The chamber’s corporate partner members, universities and churches will have unlimited access, while others will have limited access, Cornejo said.

The project was triggered partly as a response to the decision by Chiquita Brands International last year to move its headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte, N.C., which has more bilingual people. The banana company cited that as among the reasons it made its move.

Some 5 percent of Cincinnati residents speak a language other than English. While the database can’t increase Cincinnati’s bilingual rate, it will help businesses like Chiquita locate those with language abilities.

“We were very frustrated that we lost Chiquita brands,” Cornejo said. “In the opinion of (Chiquita chief executive officer Fernando Aguirre), there was not enough bilingual talent in Cincinnati compared to Charlotte. Up to a point, he’s right. But we intend to overcome that.”

Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com

Bilingual School application for Spalding 2014 – UK

Another bilingual school for the UK hopefully, perhaps they can get support from the Brighton one.

http://www.thisislincolnshire.co.uk/Bilingual-Free-School-Spalding/story-16973951-detail/story.html

The Phoenix Federation today announced that they are submitting an application to the Department for Education to open a Primary Bilingual Free School in September 2014.  This follows a successful application to the DfE to open a primary school in Boston in September 2013.

Denzil Shepheard, Chair of the Steering Group and also Phoenix Chair of Governors said:  “We know that there is a shortage of primary school places in the Spalding area.  However, we don’t want to open just another primary school, we will use the freedoms afforded by the Free School Movement to innovate.

“Parents will be able to choose a bilingual education for their children, Spanish and English, and in doing so give their children this gift to carry into their future lives, especially employment opportunities.”

The aim is that children starting at the school in the infants will be speaking Spanish fluently by the time they leave at age 11.  The Phoenix Federation have researched this type of education in-depth and found that the results are astounding.

Carol Clare, Principal of the federation commented:   “Speaking more than one language really helps with acquisition of knowledge generally, with research indicating that bilingual children out perform their non-bilingual peers in many other areas of the curriculum.”

Bilingual families

A wonderful story about bilingual families.

“They now speak the language fluently, have an understanding of Chinese culture and feel at home living in Beijing rather than seeing themselves as visitors. Laura can write her Chinese name, recognizes many Chinese characters, and can write simple characters.

….That kind of educational program is not for every family. Some expatriates would dearly love their children to learn Mandarin but realistically, have to stick with schools that offer the language of their native country, and a curriculum that is broadly similar to that at home.

…Australian Mathew Alderson has two children in local schools, Nik, 7, and 4-year-old Natalia, and after two years of immersion, can see the pluses and minuses of this kind of approach. There might not be much in the way of touchy-feely teaching methods, but the trade-off is kids who are fluent in Mandarin and whizzes at math.

…So far, Dean is happy with the results. Lachlan, 9, reads and writes fluently in Mandarin and is also fluent in English, while Oliver, 6, can write stories that utilize several hundred characters. The brothers speak English at home with their father and – of course – watch English-language television from Australia, the US and the UK

…Although trips to Australia are infrequent, Dean tries to ensure the boys know all about that country’s culture, history and sport. He has even taught them the words to Waltzing Matilda, Two Little Boys and other classic Australian songs, and explained the rules of cricket.

Read the rest at http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-09/07/content_15742232.htm

Schools set the right tone to help young language learners

Few parents like to be corrected, or contradicted, by their children. But there are exceptions to that general rule: Expatriate parents living in China tend to swell with pride when their Mandarin-speaking children point out that mum and dad are totally mispronouncing words, or hopelessly mangling grammar.

Children born in Beijing, or who arrive in the capital at a very young age, have every chance of attaining fluency in Mandarin. It is not uncommon to see blond-haired children chatting away colloquially, having naturally mastered the tricky tones that adult learners find so fiendishly difficult.

For babies and toddlers, chances are they will spend much of the day with their ayi (domestic helpers), individuals who rarely have any language skills apart from their native Mandarin. Some parents ensure that their kids are bilingual by sending them to schools where classes are given in English and Mandarin.

Australian Laura Faulkner, 6, and her brother William, 4, have attended several such schools, allowing them to switch with ease between English and Mandarin. Their Beijing-born sister Tessa, who is 18 months old, can also understand both languages.

When the Faulkner family moved to Beijing four years ago, hotelier father Michael and teacher mother Michelle viewed it as a great opportunity for their children to grow up speaking, reading and writing Mandarin, skills that are almost certain to be major assets on their resumes in the 21st century.

“We thought it essential that they were able to communicate with other children, in the park or in the playground, and we looked for a bilingual kindergarten,” says Melbourne-born Michelle, who is also studying the language.

“They now speak the language fluently, have an understanding of Chinese culture and feel at home living in Beijing rather than seeing themselves as visitors. Laura can write her Chinese name, recognizes many Chinese characters, and can write simple characters.

Although the Faulkners’ spell in the city will be finite – Michael is manager of the new Swire hotel, East – they are convinced a bilingual education for their children will be beneficial both now and in future.

“The bilingual system is very impressive here,” says Michelle. “The facilities and varied lessons that our kids get here are excellent. They have specialist teachers in art, physical education and music, which supplement the bilingual program.”

That kind of educational program is not for every family. Some expatriates would dearly love their children to learn Mandarin but realistically, have to stick with schools that offer the language of their native country, and a curriculum that is broadly similar to that at home.

International schools in Beijing do make an effort to include Mandarin lessons in the curriculum, scheduling up to five hours of classes weekly, but it is not really enough for the students to reach any real level of fluency, especially if they have limited opportunity to speak the language at home.

Bilingual schooling offers a halfway house where, in theory, youngsters become proficient in both languages. Critics argue that there is a danger of their overall education being diluted by participating in such a hybrid system.

There is a third, more radical, option open to expatriates that pretty much guarantees that their kids will become fluent in Mandarin. Some local public schools have international divisions that accept foreign passport holders, although there is no attempt to modify the local rote-learning system.

Australian Mathew Alderson has two children in local schools, Nik, 7, and 4-year-old Natalia, and after two years of immersion, can see the pluses and minuses of this kind of approach. There might not be much in the way of touchy-feely teaching methods, but the trade-off is kids who are fluent in Mandarin and whizzes at math.

“While we remain committed to the attainment by our children of a high level of Mandarin fluency and literature, after several years of exposure to the Chinese system we are now starting to better understand the price that must be paid for this,” says Sydney-born Alderson.

“It is necessary to compromise on the standard of the children’s English and to accept educational practices which value rote learning over creativity, comprehension and problem solving. Our son is in the first year of school and in order for him to cope with the workload, he now needs a tutor for two hours, three times a week.”

The Alderson children, who speak Russian at home with their Ukrainian mom Sasha, will most likely go to an international school at some future date, which means the annual fees will quadruple. The cost of a year’s schooling at international establishments such as the Western Academy of Beijing, Harrow or Dulwich, nudges the $30,000 mark, almost four times the cost at local public schools that accept foreign students.

One significant factor for parents who ultimately aim to have their children attend university in their native country is that schools such as No 55 Middle School offer the International Baccalaureate system, which is recognized by institutions of higher education in Australia, Europe and the United States.

Whichever system they choose – bilingual education, local school or personal tutor – no parent is likely to regret insisting that their child learns Mandarin. It is certain to be an asset in the 21st century, as China continues to grow, and links with other countries become closer.

Australian Rob Dean – a fluent Mandarin speaker – is determined that his two boys will grow up bilingual.

Both attend Fangcaodi Elementary in the heart of Beijing, a public school that has an international wing, where children of all nationalities receive all their lessons in Mandarin. Dean and his wife Ruan Yixuan reasoned that would be the best way to ensure the boys have total command of Mandarin from an early age – although they may well attend an international school at a later stage.

“I studied Mandarin and have lived in China for 18 years, so I know just how hard it is,” says Dean. “My wife and I discussed their education and we agreed on letting them do their primary education in Mandarin with an eye toward getting a firm grip on the language that will remain with them for life. Obviously learning Mandarin is much easier when your brain is young and free of beer!

“We are a bilingual family. My wife is from Beijing and the kids will always be half-Chinese. Thinking about their future, and the world they will likely be trying to make a life in, having a Chinese heritage, but no language abilities seemed like a cruel trick to play on them.”

For all that, Dean recognizes the drawbacks of the system, in particular the lack of emphasis on creative thinking and the limited sporting opportunities. The school takes the traditional view that children are there to learn as much as possible in a disciplined environment, not to be mollycoddled.

So far, Dean is happy with the results. Lachlan, 9, reads and writes fluently in Mandarin and is also fluent in English, while Oliver, 6, can write stories that utilize several hundred characters. The brothers speak English at home with their father and – of course – watch English-language television from Australia, the US and the UK.

The family is likely to be in Beijing for some years to come given that Dean runs a successful employment communications agency that helps companies attract, and keep, talented staff.

Although trips to Australia are infrequent, Dean tries to ensure the boys know all about that country’s culture, history and sport. He has even taught them the words to Waltzing Matilda, Two Little Boys and other classic Australian songs, and explained the rules of cricket.

Two colleges in Wales celebrate Bilingualism

Two colleges in Wales celebrate Bilingualism.

http://www.coleg-powys.ac.uk/2012/09/celebrating-bilingualism-in-wales/

Coleg Powys staff and students wore red as part of two special days to celebrate Welsh language and culture.

On Friday 7th September in Brecon and Monday 10th September in Newtown, the College held its Diwrnodau Dathlu Cymru (Celebrating Wales Days) to raise awareness of the opportunities and career benefits of bilingual skills in Wales.

Both college sites were decorated with Welsh flags and bunting and a variety of Welsh music was played in communal areas. The students heard from a number of motivational speakers, who shared their experiences of using Welsh and bilingual skills to further their own careers.

In Brecon the inspirational guest speakers were:

  • Robin Gwyn, the College’s recently appointed Director of Bilingualism.
  • Afryl Davies, joint founder/owner of Cardiff-based communications and media production company, Goriad Cyf. http://www.goriad.com/
  • Sian Roberts, broadcaster, voiceover artist and Welsh food & hospitality consultant. http://coginio.com/
  • Geraint Williams, Managing Director of Llanelli based legal consultancy, Lexium. http://www.lexium.co.uk/

In Newtown the students learned valuable lessons from:

Menter MaldwynColeg Powys would like to thank all the speakers and Menter Maldwyn (http://www.mentermaldwyn.org) for their help in organising the Newtown day.

As well as the celebrations and speakers, students also spent time doing their own research on the Welsh language and culture and undertook some assessments on their own linguistic abilities.

Robin Gwyn, Director of Bilingualism, said:

“Over recent years, Welsh-medium education has increased at all levels across Wales from primary school level upwards. There has, however, been a significant number of Welsh-medium educated young people who choose to stop studying through the medium of Welsh when they reach a new key stage of learning.  One of the stages where this drop off occurs is in the transition from secondary school to further education (FE) college.

“As a result, Coleg Powys is committed to expanding the opportunities available to FE students in mid Wales by helping the Welsh Government provide ‘cradle to grave’ progression in Welsh medium education to increase the supply and demand for bilingual workers and services in the public, private and third sectors.

“It’s an integral part of our overall aim to achieve excellence in all we do in terms of helping young people and lifelong learners in Powys to fulfil their potential through innovative learning.”