The number of international schools in Singapore offering a bilingual education for students aged two to 11 years has grown rapidly in the past five years.
The time spent learning through each language varies from school to school. Some offer immersion programmes in which children are solely exposed to one language for a session or day; others may have two teachers speaking different languages in one classroom and students interact with both of them throughout a school day. Also, there is a choice of the UK, IB and IPC curricula, and a hugely varying cost with tuition fees ranging from $19,000 to over $51,000.
Read on to find out which international schools can give your child the best possible head-start to becoming a global citizen and a bilingual learner.
Canadian International School was the Winner of the WhichSchoolAdvisor (Singapore) Best Schools Award 2022 for Best Bilingual Programme.
As one of the first international schools in Singapore to offer a bilingual programme, CIS has both the experience and reputation for being a dual-language school. It offers a bilingual Chinese-English programme from Pre-Kindergarten through to Grade 6, and teaching is aligned to the IB’s Primary Years Programme. CIS also offers a French-English programme for Grades 1-5.
CIS uses the immersion approach. There are two qualified teachers per class; one native English speaker and one native Chinese speaker. The Mandarin and English teachers collaborate to deliver the Units of Inquiry within the PYP framework.
Students attend classes in English one day and in Chinese the next, so they get full immersion in a language throughout the school day. Around 30% of students in each bilingual class are Chinese, which gives English-speaking students the opportunity to learn from their peers as well as the teachers.
CIS’ two campus libraries are well-stocked with more than 8,000 Chinese fiction books to support the school’s focus on learning about Chinese culture.
Good for: When students progress into secondary school, the CIS curriculum maintains a focus on Chinese in the IB Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme. It has a specific pathway for its Chinese-English bilingual students from Grades 7-12, including bilingual maths.
Not for: With annual fees of $34,900-41,550 per year, the cost of the bilingual immersion programme at CIS is higher than the mainstream programme and among the highest in Singapore.
Read our full review of CIS (Lakeside) here.
GESS has a bilingual programme that offers instruction in English and either German, Dutch or Danish. This will appeal to any families planning to return to Germany, the Netherlands or Denmark, or enrol in a university there. German, Dutch and Danish lessons are integrated into the school day throughout the primary years, and students have the choice of studying the German curriculum or the IB’s Primary Years Programme.
GESS offers four differentiated levels of German instruction, from absolute beginner through to fluent; the Danish and Dutch programmes are for mother tongue speakers only. The school also offers a German-English bilingual track in kindergarten, where “each child receives instruction in two languages at varying points of the day”.
As well as offering the IB programme in English, GESS teaches a German stream that follows the German school curriculum (based on the curriculum of the German Federal State of Thüringen) from primary through to secondary school, and offers all German school leaving certificates. It’s ideal for German expats who plan to return to their home country for schooling or further education.
Good for: GESS can be seen to really value children's nationalities and home languages with its choice of mother tongue and foreign language programmes from pre-school onwards. . The general feedback from parents is that GESS’s strengths are its very international, European and close-knit community.
Not for: Families looking for a Mandarin bilingual programme, or those who prefer a UK or US curriculum as it is IB (or German curriculum) all the way.
Read our full review of GESS here.
Although the International French School (IFS) has a predominantly French student body, it is well-equipped to deliver a bilingual education to students of all nationalities; 40% of students are international in fact.
Non-native French-speaking students (up to 11 years old) get the opportunity to learn French and study the French curriculum through a full immersion experience that is unmatched by any other school in Singapore.
From kindergarten through to high school, non-French speaking students are enrolled in the Classic Stream where the curriculum is taught in both French and English with a strong emphasis on French language acquisition. Throughout the school day, individual subjects are taught in both languages by two teachers (one French, one English) in the classroom. These students get up to eight hours of lesson time in English and English is taught as a second language; the number of hours taught in English decreases from nine per week in kindergarten to 6.5 in elementary and seven in college.
The school has a strong support programme in place to help non-French speaking students get up to speed.
Students as young as five years can attend an immersive French language support programme designed to gradually integrate non-French speakers into the curriculum at elementary or middle school. Even as late as Grades 6 and 7, there is a French gateway programme which consists of a small class of non-French speaking students led by a qualified dedicated bilingual teacher. There is also a Buddy system where students are paired with their French-speaking peers.
Good for: While there are other international schools offering French-English bilingual streams (Canadian International School and the Swiss School of Singapore), IFS is the only school to teach the French curriculum – from Maternelle through to the Diplome National du Brevet at middle school and the Baccalauréat diploma at high school – in both English and French.
Not for: The school offers continuing support to non-French speakers; however, from Grade 8, when this becomes more challenging, students must meet certain pre-requisites in French.
Read a full review of International French School (IFS) here.
Bilingual education has always been a key focus and strength of EtonHouse, and it has been teaching cohorts of fluent bilingual speakers, including many non-native Mandarin speakers, since 2001 – making it one of the most well-established bilingual programmes in Singapore.
Students can opt for half-day Mandarin immersion classes from Kindergarten 1 to accelerate their proficiency in the language. The fees for the bilingual immersion and the mainstream programmes – $29,310- $30,608 – are the same and are mid-range compared to other schools in Singapore.
The English-Chinese bilingual programme here is a well-established programme that exposes students to a natural environment where both English and Chinese is used interchangeably between the teachers and the students, as well as amongst peers. Rather than Chinese being learnt in solitude, in a single setting, it is delivered through an immersive learning experience that follows a 50:50 model from Years 2 to 6.
Good for: Broadrick is now one of several schools offering a bilingual programme, but it definitely remains one of the smallest. Compared to much larger schools such as SAS and CIS, Broadrick is delivering its bilingual programme within a small community of 400 students where the close community feel can be felt in every corridor.
Not for: Broadrick is a standalone primary school, so parents need to look elsewhere for a secondary education. Students can study Mandarin in the IGCSE and IB Diploma at EtonHouse International School Orchard, but is the school doing enough to continue the use of Chinese when students transition to secondary school?
Read our full review of EtonHouse (Broadrick) here.
Unlike many other bilingual programmes in Singapore, SAS offers its students the option to work toward building fluency in Chinese while closely following an American curriculum. The school launched its Chinese immersion programme in 2017 in Kindergarten and has rolled out new classes every year through to 2022.
It's a well-established programme that teaches Chinese through an immersive learning experience that starts with 75% of the curriculum being taught in Chinese (maths, social studies, science and language arts), and 25% in English (English language arts, art, music and PE). In Grades 2 and 3 this moves towards a 60/40 model in Chinese-English, then a 50/50 model by Grades 4 and 5.
There are dedicated classrooms for both English and Chinese where only one language can be spoken, and there is one qualified teacher per class, plus one native Chinese speaking teaching assistant.
The school supports bilingual students beyond the elementary school; there are higher level language courses as electives in the middle school and then courses including Advanced Placement Chinese Language and Culture.
Good for: Designed for native English speakers, SAS' bilingual programme focuses strongly on Chinese in the first year. Costing $42,216-$51,846 per year, the fees for the bilingual immersion programme and the mainstream programme are the same.
Not for: With priority admission given to US citizens and its high tuition fees, SAS does not offer the most widely accessible bilingual programme in Singapore.
Read our full review of Singapore American School (SAS) here.