Oaktree Primary School in Al Qusais, Dubai thinks it has an answer. It has developed a series of integrated (and free) language programmes, currently in French, Spanish and Russian for native-speaking children. The courses are aimed at students who although might speak the language conversationally, need to maintain and develop their reading and writing skills too.
"We currently run three language courses for native speakers," school principal Craig Dyche-Nichols explains,. "The children enrolled get three to four lessons per week during curriculum time. These lessons are not after school and have no additional costs” he adds.
“French is delivered by one of our own teachers, and in these lessons the children follow the French National Curriculum. Resources and book come directly from France.”
The French programme has been running for over a year now. The response from parents and students proved so positive that Oaktree went on to introduce Spanish and Russian courses this academic year. These lessons are delivered by an external company that works closely with the school, Lingotots.
Dyche-Nichols says the programme was inspired by the requests from French, Spanish and Russian parents, looking for places at the school.
“We believe as an international school we need to cater for our children who don’t speak English as a first language… We thought, let’s give them an opportunity to not only study at an English Curriculum school, but to also give them the opportunity to maintain their native language.”
Parent and Russian speaker at Oaktree, Peter Eropkin says he chose British curriculum Oaktree because he wanted his girls to speak English, and develop their Russian.
“I believe it’s important for our children to maintain their Russian speaking, reading and writing skills,” he says.
“The majority of our family only speaks Russian… the girls’ grandmas and grandpas need to communicate with their grandchildren… and if we ever have to move back, the children will need to go into school in Russia."
He says while the family does speak Russian at home, there is little opportunity for the girls to practice their reading and writing.
Another parent, UK resident Sue Wall and her Catalan/Colombian husband Joan, have two boys at Oaktree.
"Our children were both born and raised in Dubai so have not had exposure to Spanish outside of the UAE other than school holidays."
"At home I speak exclusively English and my husband speaks a combination of Spanish and English— although he is increasingly trying to focus more on Spanish," she says.
"We initially choose Oaktree due to it being a smaller community school, with smaller class sizes and we were also inspired by the founding principal Mr. Chris McDermott... this is an additional incentive for us to continue schooling within Oaktree."
Although the Spanish programme has only been running for a few months, Wall says, “we are already seeing the benefits."
“They’re singing songs in Spanish – which they are happy to show off,. They are eager to speak to my husband in Spanish, whereas before they would just reply in English, and they are enjoying practicing some of their ‘new words’.
"Having Spanish as a subject and taught within such a fun structure, will boost what is already in their subconscious, and facilitate their learning."
Dyche-Nichols says the school currently has around 20 students in the French programme, seven in the Russian and three in Spanish. More language programmes will be introduced shortly, although he won't say which ones just yet.