Six schools including Canadian International School and EtonHouse International School (Broadrick) go beyond the daily hour of Mandarin to offer a truly bilingual or dual language education that immerses students in two languages. To achieve this there’s an English teacher and a Chinese speaking teacher in the classroom, and most subjects are taught in both languages.
Bilingual programmes in Singapore typically start in kindergarten or Grade 1/Year 1 and run until the end of primary school and the end goal is simple – to speak, read and write fluently in two languages.
Read our round-up of international schools in Singapore offering bilingual programmes at kindergarten and primary in Mandarin, German, Danish, Spanish and French. Click here.
International schools offering a bilingual education include Canadian International School (Lakeside and Tanjong Katong campuses), EtonHouse International School (Broadrick), Hillside World Academy, Stamford American International School, Singapore American School (SAS), and Dulwich College (Singapore).
CIS’ Lakeside and Tanjong Katong campuses and EtonHouse’s Broadrick campus offer a bilingual pathway from nursery through to primary. At both schools the bilingual Chinese-English programme is aligned with the IB’s Primary Years Programme, and there are two qualified teachers (one native Mandarin speaker and one native English speaker) in each classroom. CIS also offers a French-English bilingual programme for Grades 1 and 2.
But what are the benefits of a bilingual education? Huali Xiong, K-12 principal for Chinese Language and Culture at Canadian International School, and Jolene Lee, international brand and marketing manager for EtonHouse, talk about the advantages of an early bilingual education, what to expect, and how to support your child.
EtonHouse: By placing your child in a bilingual programme, it exposes to the child to a natural environment where both English and Chinese is used interchangeably between the teachers and the students, as well as amongst peers, as opposed to being a setting where Chinese is learned in solitude, in a single setting.
CIS: Typically, students enrolled in bilingual programmes are fully immersed in learning Chinese for longer periods of time than daily lessons after school or a tutor. The more exposure children receive to learning Chinese, the more fluent and confident they become in using the language.
EtonHouse: By exposing a child to a second language, it develops the brain more densely, boosting the child’s brain power. Research has also shown that bilingualism allows children to learn to develop different approaches to problem solving.
CIS: The advantages include the following:
Social, linguistic and cognitive benefits: Bilingualism gives young children huge social, linguistic and cognitive advantages over their peers. These include being more skilled at correcting errors in language meaning and grammar, reading at a higher level, thinking more creatively, understanding the concept of numbers earlier, superior visual problem-solving skills, being more tolerant towards people and cultures, and coping with change better.
No first language interference: Young children don’t have the same foundation of grammar and vocabulary as a teenager, and therefore are unlikely to search for a comparable word or structure in their mother tongue. This encourages them to learn the meaning of a word in its own context rather than translating the word from their first language to their second in their head.
Less constraints: Unlike teenagers and adults, young children are often very willing and eager to try out new words and phrases as they don’t have any concerns about getting things wrong and making embarrassing mistakes. They also have the opportunity to learn at their own pace without any external pressures or deadlines.
Better pronunciation: Children who learn a language when they are young have a much better chance of speaking with a native accent. Young learners are more skilled at mimicking and identifying subtle differences between sounds.
Self-motivation and enjoyment: Young learners don’t have to deal with any self-motivation difficulties. When learning through fun and engaging activities like singing songs and playing games, they typically just want to jump in and participate and don’t even realise they are learning!
Read more: What is a Bilingual Education?
EtonHouse: At EtonHouse International Schools, there is an English teacher and a Chinese teacher who follows the students in class throughout the day for the bilingual programme. At any one point in time, there is a teacher who teaches in English or Chinese.
CIS: Our programme starts in junior kindergarten and ends in grade 6. It includes two qualified teachers per class (one native Chinese speaker and one native English speaker). Instruction is inquiry based and fully aligned to the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP). Classes are in Chinese one day and English the next, giving children equal exposure to both languages. All subjects including maths, are taught in both languages.
EtonHouse: No, it does not affect a child’s English skills and development. Instead, it allows the child to be more holistic and develop better cognitive skills.
CIS: Research shows that in the first two years, children’s English skills and development may weaken slightly but over time they will catch up and even score better on standardised tests than their monolingual peers, particularly in the categories of maths, reading and vocabulary
EtonHouse: At EtonHouse International School Broadrick, students need to have a level of Chinese before joining the bilingual programme. However, at EtonHouse International School Sentosa and EtonHouse International School Thomson, students are not required to have any Chinese before joining the bilingual programme.
CIS: From Grade 2 onwards, children must be able to communicate in Chinese on familiar topics using a variety of words and phrases. Before Grade 2, there are no language requirements.
EtonHouse: A student develops a lexicon of vocabulary such that the child is able to make out simple day-to-day conversations, understand simple grammar and sentence structures.
CIS: After just one year in the programme, students with no prior knowledge of Chinese can accurately understand and follow their teacher’s instructions. Many are also capable of conversing with their Chinese teacher and asking questions.
EtonHouse: The families can encourage bilingual learning at home by getting the child to converse in both the English and Chinese language at home. If the families are not able to understand the language, they can attempt to learn alongside the child, by asking the child different vocabulary.
CIS: The best support parents can offer is by supporting their children with their own mother tongue language skills, rather than their ‘new’ language. Asking children to teach you what they learnt at school is also a great way of helping them with their learning.