For bilingual or multilingual children, there’s also an added benefit of being able to communicate across a more diverse population and even, perhaps, increased access to jobs later in life. While many schools today focus on developing global citizens, some are also able to provide immersive language education that directly contributes to this goal.
“Being taught to speak multiple languages at a young age also sets the base for learning other languages later in life,” says Tobias Grygier, the vice-principal of Alexander von Humboldt (AvH), a German International School located in Montreal. “This is something that’s appealing to many of the families at our school.”
Families who send their kids to Alexander von Humboldt are looking for immersive language education for a variety of reasons. “The majority of our families are not German speakers,” says Grygier. “But we do have many multilingual families who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, or Spanish, at home.”
And, at AvH, language education doesn’t stop with German. “English and French are also prominent throughout the student's entire academic career,” says Grygier. As such, students who graduate from the school speak at least three languages, more if they have another native language spoken at home.
“These families are often looking for a more international experience for their children,” says Grygier. “Many of them will end up leaving Canada to study abroad in post-secondary school.”
So how do the students learn a new language when it’s not spoken at home? “Students who come to us in the early years acquire their language skills in preschool and kindergarten through play-based learning,” Grygier explains. “Often kids come to school not speaking a word of German. While they begin speaking English in class, in those very early years, our teachers will work German words and phrases into their interactions, while they’re playing house, for example, or building with blocks.”
To support language acquisition, the Grade 1 teacher joins the Kindergarten students once a day for more formal German education, introducing letters and numbers, among other things.
The idea is to start slow, and make the learning process organic and intuitive. Studies show that the younger a child is, the faster they will learn new languages. For students who join the school between Grades 1 and 5, with no German language skills, there’s a special immersion program they must qualify for. “This is an accelerated language program for strong candidates,” says Grygier. These students are in separate courses for some of their subjects and join their peers for others like music, physical education, and English. “These mixed group immersion classes focus specifically on German until the students are fluent and ready to join our other courses.”
“The biggest question parents ask us is: How will you support our children while they learn all three languages?” explains Grygier. His response: AvH has many supports in place to ensure student success, including having the same homeroom teacher for two years in elementary school, supervised homework hours, and elective opportunities for language immersion.
The educational structure at AvH is designed to ensure that students become proficient in various areas. “Beyond language, science is a strong pillar of our curriculum,” says Grygier. “We believe our students must have a scientific attitude to tackle the challenges of the world around them.”
“Our students are also very mature and learn early on how to work together and interact with children from a variety of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds,” he continues. “They’re very diplomatic, have an interest in diversity and culture in general, and all of this contributes to the open mindset that we value very much here.”
So, while language education is a priority and developing multilingual kids is the outcome, AvH students graduate with a well-rounded education that benefits them long after their school days are over.