Moving from traditional Chinese education into a bilingual educational environment offers many opportunities for pupils. Not only will their language in both Chinese and English develop rapidly, but the cognitive benefits to bilingualism are well-known, researched and proven. For example, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) argues that bilingualism helps children become better at;
- Learning new words
- Learning reading skills
- Being able to use information in new ways
- Putting words into categories, like “food” or “toys”
- Coming up with solutions to problems
- Listening to others
- Connecting with others
Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, argues that “bilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime” (Kamenetz, 2016). Indeed, studies into bilingualism suggest that “bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks” (Bhattacharjee, 2018). We agree that the benefits of bilingualism are numerous and substantial, which is why the team at Wellington College China have worked hard on developing a research-based bilingual curriculum.
However, of course transitioning from a monolingual education system into a bilingual one will present a range of challenges for children. Our team understand this and have put in place a range of actions to assist children to work their way through this transition period. Below, the Head of Primary at Wellington College Bilingual Hangzhou, Jonathan Mills, discusses the continuing challenges children will face in the transition period and what parents can do now to help their children transition more easily.
– What are the challenges children would face as they transition from a local Chinese school to a bilingual environment?
Children transitioning from a local Chinese school would certainly experience a very different style of teaching and method of working. Probably the first thing the children would face is a classroom with substantially fewer children and one in which discussion and exchange of ideas is encouraged, particularly though working in small groups to research topics and discover answers to questions.
My last school was an IB candidate school that followed a similar enquiry based approach to learning. There I saw children entering from local Chinese schools and struggling with the relative amount of freedom they had and the number of decisions they were called upon to make. I often saw new pupils behaving in what some might consider to be a disruptive manner as they were used to a very strict regime where they were required to follow lists of rules and where a teacher would discipline them when they did something they considered to be wrong.
We expect our pupils to develop a very clear sense of what is right and what is wrong and to self-regulate; to do the right thing because they know it is right, not just because they’ve been told to. To consider the impact of their actions on others and to work positively and collaboratively to achieve the tasks set. Just as our teachers guide pupils to discover the answers to their questions, teachers are role models and guide their pupils to good behaviour.
It is also important to realise that some children also find being asked for their opinion very difficult – something that they are not used to. Again, this is an area, which we need to focus on in order to give those pupils the confidence and means in order to able to do this effectively and naturally.
Children coming to a bilingual school from a local Chinese school will have an advantage if they can speak some English. That said, our bilingual model is designed to help pupils at all stages – both to make speedy progress in English and to understand the area being studied. Whilst there is Chinese support in almost all lessons led by a native English speaker – we need our pupils to focus on trying to use English as much as possible – the discussion elements of our lessons are particularly useful at improving both understanding of concept and acquiring better English language. So, we will ask parents to encourage their children to use as much English as possible. It will be challenge for many to have a go, rather than wait to be 100% certain.
– How will Wellington help children to transition into the bilingual educational model?
We anticipate a wide range of levels of English language proficiency in our pupils and we have the strategies and staff in place to deal with these – we have a team of specialist English Support Teachers who will be both advising staff and intervening with particular pupils to give specialist 1:1 support and small group sessions to speed the acquisition of English language (or indeed to further stretch very proficient students).
We have a wide range of English language text and work books which will allow our staff to support individual pupils in a very personalised way. In addition the collaborative nature of the research our pupils will undertake encourages development of English language skills for pupils at all levels of proficiency.
– What can parents do between now and August 30th to prepare children for Wellington?
I would encourage parents to encourage children to share their thoughts and opinions – and to explain why they have them. Also to focus on the skills of children listening to their peers as well as building their empathetic skills.
With regards to English – anything they can do to encourage further acquisition or development of their child’s English language skills will be valuable.
It would be good for the children to read and watch the news with parents and do things that build on a range of areas like cooking whilst following a recipe. Parents need to make sure that their children know that the most important thing at Wellington College is to try their best whatever the challenge is and that the children know about the Wellington values and identities – and how they look in everyday life in school.
Asha.org. (2018). The Advantages of Being Bilingual. [online] Available at: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/The-Advantages-of-Being-Bilingual/ [Accessed 3 May 2018].
Bhattacharjee, Y. (2018). The Benefits of Bilingualism. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html [Accessed 3 May 2018].
Kamenetz, A. (2016). 6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education. [online] NPR.org. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/11/29/497943749/6-potential-brain-benefits-of-bilingual-education [Accessed 3 May 2018].