Multilingualism in International Education

“Multilingualism is the natural potential available to every normal human being rather than an unusual exception; monolingual speakers are but the consequence of environmental factors which have failed to provide the opportunity to learn another language.” This powerful assertion by Michal B. Paradowsk, a specialist in applied linguistics raises the question why so many of us have not fully realised our potential to grasp several languages, says Karin Purcell, Development Director, Marymount International School London.

“Multilingualism is the natural potential available to every normal human being rather than an unusual exception; monolingual speakers are but the consequence of environmental factors which have failed to provide the opportunity to learn another language.” This powerful assertion by Michal B. Paradowsk, a specialist in applied linguistics raises the question why so many of us have not fully realised our potential to grasp several languages, says Karin Purcell, Development Director, Marymount International School London.Foreign languages give economic and cultural value to a population, allowing competitiveness in business as well as access to a wealth of literature, music and theatre. So why do so many of us for whom English is a first language, struggle to grasp a second? Is it simply that we only rarely find ourselves in situations where we cannot communicate in English? Can an imperialistic arrogance of the British be to blame? Or are errors in the way second languages are taught at fault?A study by the European Commission showed that 30 per cent of people in the UK were able to have a conversation in a second language, compared to 91 per cent in the Netherlands, 88 per cent in Denmark and 62 per cent in Germany.In light of these statistics, it is unsurprising to learn that the number of students taking GSCE or A-Level languages in the UK has been in worrying decline. In 2001, about 347,000 pupils sat GCSE French (the first taught second language in the UK), a number that fell by nearly half to fewer than 178,000 in 2010. The standard and efficacy of the language tuition raises further questions especially in the light of a British Chambers of Commerce survey of more than 8,000 businesses, which found that 96 per cent had no foreign language ability at all.So how can this continuous cycle of mono-lingualism be broken? Clearly, standards of teaching foreign languages must rise to the challenge of multilingualism. IB (International Baccalaureate) World Schools recognise that language is integral to “the education of the whole person”, promoting personal and intellectual growth through exploration of cultural identity (aided by the study of at least two languages). The fact that the study of at least two languages is compulsory throughout the Middle Years Program (MYP) and International Baccalaureate (IB), safeguards against the worrying mono-linguistic tendencies observed in Britain.  The MYP and IB further two key insights. Firstly, the necessity for a second language and secondly, the importance of having a strong foundation in one’s own language. Thus the programme offers multiple standards of language tuition. Pupils can further their abilities in the most suited ways. Language A courses at IB (sub-divided into A1 and A2) emphasise the study and analysis of literature and allow pupils to engage with a language as a first languages. Language B, which is offered on both a ‘higher’ and ‘standard’ level, enables students to grasp a second language. Crucially, many students achieve enough fluency in two languages to qualify for the bi-lingual IB; an outstanding achievement since this requires the study of literature in both languages. At the same time the programme recognizes that there are some beginners with little or no experience in a second language; for them the IB ab initio courses develop basic linguistic skills and cultural awareness.With this range of languages and streams available, the MYP and IB curriculum is truly able to rise to the challenge of giving every pupil the opportunity to realise his or her “natural potential” to be multilingual, and to compete and flourish on a global level.  Visit Marymount International School here

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