Rewriting the rules of language learning

Growing up internationally often provides children with the opportunity to learn a new language but how do you ensure that the child continues to develop their mother tongue?

A young male student at the British School in the Netherlands

The British School in The Netherlands

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 Jihann Pedersen and Claire McGuire from The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) explain how the school’s unique approach to language learning is helping students to embrace the old and the new.Growing up internationally is an exceptional experience that influences every child’s identity in a unique way. It is a challenge but also an enormous learning opportunity, and the multicultural mind-set that can be gained by learning how others communicate is something that enriches a pupil’s time at school as well as their view of themselves and the world.

What is translanguaging?

One important way that the BSN incorporates this goal in day-to-day teaching and learning is through translanguaging. This is a model of language learning which allows the student to grow their school language skills while at the same time accessing, developing and making connections with their mother tongue or home language.It is a mind-set that goes beyond the language classroom, integrating language learning with all school subjects and encouraging students to access their multilingual abilities to express themselves throughout their school day. With over 60 per cent of students speaking a language other than English at home, and over 35 language groups represented, this is key to ensuring that all students at the BSN have the best possible learning experience.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsIn a more traditional model of language learning, a student may be discouraged from speaking their home language while at school, and pulled out of their regular class time to take remedial English classes if they are deemed unable to participate at the desired level. As students may be able to express themselves more clearly in their home language rather than in simplified English, translanguaging allows them to share their ideas and participate more confidently in class. Students can decide for themselves in which language they want to think and plan.
Learn more about international education in our interview with Kieran Earley, CEO and Principal of the British School in The Netherlands, who talks about what makes his school stand out, the state of the world post-Brexit, and what is important to look for in international education.

English and native languages hand-in-hand

For example, Year 6 pupils with a language in common are given opportunities to plan investigations in their home language, thus increasing their technical vocabulary, before presenting their investigation to the class in English. Pride in one’s cultural identity and confidence in one’s knowledge and ability to participate in the curriculum has room to grow.Another excellent example can be found in one of the BSN Foundation Two classrooms, when translanguaging was put into action while reading the popular storybook The Little Red Hen.Initially the story was read in English as part of a lesson that highlighted the repetitive nature of the text and helped students recognise rhythm and emphasis in storytelling. Over the following weeks, many parents were invited into the classroom to read the book in their home languages.As students were already familiar with the story, they were still able to follow along while their classmates had the opportunity to recognise rhythm and emphasis in their home language as well as in English. Students were proud to hear their home languages represented in class and excited to share something so integral to their cultural identity with their classmates.

Developing cultural awareness

On describing the programme, one parent said, "[My daughter] had the freedom to work in English or Spanish – or both. It was so good for her self-esteem. She felt like she had choices, not limitations on her languages. Translanguaging has given a depth to [her] language that I did not expect."The benefits of translanguaging are not lost on native English speakers. Even the students who speak English as their home language are active language learners. They are encouraged to use their Dutch alongside English on a day-to-day basis.Making sure the multicultural aspect of the BSN is integrated into every class nurtures a heightened cultural awareness and respect for differences between all members of the BSN international community, and makes sure each student knows that their unique identities, families and backgrounds are valued.Translanguaging is an important tool for expanding rather than restricting multilingualism and cultural identity, while still delivering excellent English as an Additional Language (EAL) education.For more information, follow the BSN English as an Additional Language team on Twitter here: @BSN_EAL
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