Why keeping children in bilingual education after their primary years is highly recommended for their development
People say a child’s bilingualism journey should begin early…but is that the full picture?
Every school’s approach to a bilingual programme is different, but one thing remains the same, no matter the student.
What students really need, and what really makes a difference, is time. Researchers at the Crisfield Educational Consulting group (CEC) were able to confirm that age does not in fact have an enormous impact on the way students absorb another language. As it is, older students will grasp concepts quicker than their younger peers, a fact that means they are just as capable of achieving bilingual status despite their advanced years.
On the other hand, Eowyn Crisfield of CEC has said, “It takes 3-7 years in full-time schooling to develop full academic proficiency. If we put children into bilingual programmes where they are learning two languages, it will take longer.” Therefore, if bilingualism demands that they learn two languages and their international family life means they might have a third language, students may find that they need more time. Giving the time to work through these languages should reduce the weight of this task.
How can we make bilingualism most effective?
At Haut-Lac International Bilingual School, we teach strong, two-way bilingualism which promotes equal importance of both English and French, rather than the weak model which asks students to assimilate and ultimately become monolingual again. That said, the best way to do this is to ensure our students have time ahead of them to perfect their fluency.
To make this language-learning experience as comfortable as possible, it is best for students not to be pulled out of the bilingual system at the end of primary but to extend their exposure to bilingualism during adolescence. They will still be learning and refining their fluency well into their secondary education, therefore to take them away from a bilingual environment could undo their progress.
Why is it best to maintain a student’s bilingual environment until maturity?
In secondary, they will also improve their vocabulary to include a more specific lexicon, thanks to the greater depth in which subjects are explored. The longer students can work in two languages, swapping between both and using different approaches to learning, the more cognitive advantages they will gain. Therefore, it is extremely beneficial to students’ fluency levels to remain in a bilingual environment as long as possible.
By pushing too much language-based learning on young children too early, they risk losing all desire to master their languages, thus impeding their own progress. They also risk losing their fragile fluency if removed from a bilingual setting too soon only to then pursue a monolingual or lesser bilingual programme. Most beneficial would be to allow children the time to take their language-learning at a pace that will help and not hinder them, and to raise them until maturity in a bilingual environment that demands they use both languages spontaneously and interchangeably every day.
Written by Katie Harwood