BISP’s principal mission is to deliver an effective bilingual education program. What is bilingualism? A standard dictionary definition of a bilingual person is someone who is able to effortlessly express themselves and think in two distinct languages with a level of accuracy that is identical across the two languages.
This is the final stage in language acquisition which is the step beyond “speaking a language fluently”. Even if it might seem overly ambitious, all children are capable of mastering two languages and becoming bilingual as long as the conditions are right.
Why is language mastery so important?
Development of a child’s intellect:
Bilingualism is an invaluable advantage in a child’s personal development, and eventually, professional development. A bilingual intellect allows for cognitive flexibility and an increased capacity for reflection. Having developed the capacity to speak two languages and the agility it requires, a bilingual child is able to learn and assimilate new complex concepts more easily. The bilingual child will find it easier to adapt to new cultures and integrate new ways of thinking and will be able to leave their comfort zone much more easily.
A professional advantage:
Bilingualism is a rare and sought after professional trait, especially a bilingualism that matches the dictionary definition above. When you offer your child a bilingual education, you are opening the door to prestigious professional opportunities.
Learn other languages:
Bilingual children find it easier to learn additional languages. The bilingual child already has two sets of phonetic sounds and grammatical structures at their disposal and can use this knowledge to pick up on and apply the subtleties of a new language.
At the human level:
Bilingualism promotes a flexibility of intellect which facilitates communication with others and makes it possible to further appreciate cultural differences.
How Can You Support Your Child in Becoming Bilingual?
It is evident that the French educational system produces few, if any, bilingual students in the strictest sense of the term. Each year the group Education First measures the level of English language proficiency among hundreds of thousands of adults from over 70 different countries (non English-speaking). In 2015 France came in 37th place, just in front of Turkey, Ecuador, and Chile.
French received an EPI (calculated score of English language proficiency) of 51.84/100 as compared to 70.94 for Sweden and 70.58 for the Netherlands who performed the best in the study. France ranks among the last when it comes to European Union countries. Education First’s Director, Nenad Djokic, laments this situation and explains that it stems from a fear of according too much importance to another language and seeing the French language perish.
Djokic finds this fear absurd and cites Sweden as an example, saying, “I do not think that a Swede is any less Swedish because they are bilingual, nor that English has become more dominant than Swedish.” Djokic goes on to compare France’s situation to that of another “Latin” country, Spain, which has overtaken France since placing greater emphasis on English in its educational system.
If you are not ready to wait for the French educational system to evolve, there are other means of offering your child a bilingual education.
- Family: the natural route for becoming bilingual is to grow up with parents who speak and transmit two languages to the child. But not every child has this opportunity.
- Regular and consistent learning opportunities which complement language courses. The disadvantage of this route is the resulting work burden necessary for becoming bilingual that is in addition to regular class time. Furthermore, results are far from guaranteed as it is very difficult to assimilate a language to the point of being truly bilingual, which is to say being able to recognize and use grammatical and phonetic subtleties, in a few hours per week.
- Lastly, there is the option of total linguistic immersion in a bilingual institution. This will afford your child the opportunity to face the difficulties and understand the subtleties of the two languages on a daily basis with teachers who master the respective languages and who have been trained to teach them. Immersion in a bilingual environment not only allows access to perfect mastery of the language, but also to another culture through the proposed activities and relationships forged among students from diverse backgrounds.
Why Choose the Bilingual International School of Paris?
To offer your child a truly bilingual education and benefit from the advantages mentioned above, it is essential that you choose a reputable establishment with a well-defined educational program. Each year BISP welcomes children from all over the world, including France, and supports them as they begin to master both French and English while addressing both their academic and social development.
BISP proposes a fully immersive program where a child spends the first half of the day learning in one language and the second half of the day learning in the other. In this way, neither language is deemed or seen as “secondary”. Our methods have proven to be effective and our students become perfectly bilingual over time regardless of their language level at arrival.
Class learning and activities are designed to be dynamic and stimulating and support the personal development of all our students: developing self-confidence, creativity, and open-mindedness. Students study other cultures while forming close bonds with their teachers and other students from different cultural backgrounds. In this way they benefit fully from a bilingual educational experience, not just the learning of a second language.
BISP also offers further opportunities for learning with its Wednesday Club program and vacation camps. These activities are designed for students who want to improve their English or who are just starting out. Regardless of their level, our programs are designed to support learners in enriching their vocabulary, oral fluency, and their knowledge of Anglo-Saxon culture through fun and creative activities. These learning opportunities are open to everyone, not just students who attend BISP during the week. All students are welcome to come and try out this immersive experience.
One of our school’s principal objectives, other than the personal development of our students, is to best prepare them for the challenges of the future. This is why we take a modern approach in our teaching and incorporate technology in certain activities. Children are taught how to use technology in a way that is meaningful and safe.
Choosing a bilingual education is only one part of the equation; you then have to choose the right school to meet your expectations. When you choose BISP, you can be sure that your child will benefit fully from a bilingual education. At the same time, your child will thrive in an environment that will support their social and intellectual development, preparing them for the needs of the future.
Is a bilingual school really a good choice for my child?
Is language mixing a risk for the bilingual child?
It is important to keep in mind that the majority of children who learn a language pass through a trial and error phase. The degree and extent of this phase will depend upon the child’s learning style as well as the people around them. Speech therapists make a distinction between “analytic” learning and learning that is “expressive” in nature. Analytic learners are more focused on the contents of what is communicated and this will push them to use a maximum of words and they will be interested in language structure and its grammatical rules. They will attach importance to language and its form and therefore have a tendency to only use it once they are sure to be able to use it correctly without making mistakes. Consequently, they will rarely mix words across languages.
Expressive learners are more interested in the people with whom they are communicating and they want to interact with them. Therefore they begin to use new sentence structures and complex expressions earlier on and consequently they are experimenting more and making more mistakes. Little by little, however, they realize that there are communication failures if one is not careful to use the correct word from the correct language.
The majority of the time, when language mixing does occur, it is not because the child is unable to learn multiple languages. Rather, it is caused by how the child’s multilingualism is managed by their parents or the other people in their life.
These language mixing problems occur when adults do not speak clearly with the child, for instance when an adult says one sentence in one language, the next sentence in another, or even when they use both languages in a sole sentence. This confuses the indicators which would normally allow the child to differentiate between the two languages. The child no longer knows when, nor with whom, they should use which language, especially when the child is very young. The child is unable to differentiate between the two languages and know which language should be used to speak in specific contexts.
It should also be kept in mind that oftentimes the act of using a word from another language is not random. Oftentimes, the chosen word better expresses what the person is trying to convey than its counterpart in the second language. This is why certain words or phrases from the other language may make their way into speech among people who speak the same language: it allows for better communication of an idea. Language mixing might also facilitate communication in the sense that it gets the attention of the other participants in the conversation.
There might be some confusion at the beginning, but when a child has sufficient and well-guided support in their learning, mistakes and hesitations quickly disappear. Teachers at BISP are experienced with common pitfalls children experience as they learn the new language and adapt their teaching to meet the child’s needs and areas of interest and bilingualism develops rapidly. We teach students how to correctly structure their speech and to use both languages without mixing them.
Might my child be at risk of refusing to speak one of the two languages or forgetting one?
The path to bilingualism is not the same for all children. Certain children experience difficulties in speaking one of the languages or stop using their maternal language, and sometimes voluntarily. Some parents become worried when their children stop using their maternal language after having made efforts to support learning of the secondary language. In instances such as these it is important to remember that children will not make the effort to learn a language if they do not see the use for it. The cultural and personal benefits of learning a second language may not be immediately obvious to them, the only value that they may see is that the language allows them to communicate with someone with whom they would normally be unable to communicate with. If they do not feel the need to speak the language, they will not learn it. If, for example, you speak to your child in English and they are able to respond to you in French, they will not feel the need to respond to you in English. If, for example, your goal is for your child to be able to hold a conversation with his or her English-speaking family, randomly speaking to your child in English in a haphazard way is not the solution. Trying to make up for lost time by engaging your child in English conversation over short periods of time is not the way either. The solution would be for your child to spend more time with this family, for example, as the environment would necessitate that they express themselves in the language. With young children, associating a language with specific people is an effective way to avoid conflicts between the primary and secondary languages. Young children have a limited capacity for understanding abstract concepts such as “speaking English” versus “speaking French”; this is why associating the languages with their respective teachers instead of “English class” or “French class” allows them to assimilate the languages quickly and easily.
This is why children at BISP spend half of their time fully immersed in English with native English-speaking teachers and the rest of their time with our native French-speaking teachers. This approach allows for a balanced delivery that is structured and effective in both languages.
Doesn’t my child risk falling behind vis-à-vis their monolingual peers by learning two languages at the same time?
It is time to leave this myth behind us. Children learn to speak in the same way and at the same rhythm whether they are learning to speak in French, English, Spanish, Russian, etc. This capacity to learn a language develops irrespective of the number of languages to which a child is exposed simultaneously. Any potential problems stem from the way in which the people in contact with the child speak to him or her. As we stated earlier, the golden rule to respect is: one person or place should be associated with each language. The bilingual child definitely does not need twice as much time to learn to speak.
What is the ideal age to learn a second language ?
It cannot be denied that there is an ideal time period for the learning of a language. Prior to around 5 to 7 years of age children not only learn a language but the entire language system. Learning the full language system is seldom possible after this period of time. Children can no longer learn language systems, but only languages as their ability to flawlessly reproduce the language’s sounds begin to diminish. During the language acquisition phase, there is a period that is particularly sensitive for language development. Studies show that there is a decline in ability to effectively reproduce phonemic sounds after age 7. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to become bilingual after this age. Older children can still catch up and learn the subtleties of a language and acquire authentic pronunciation if they learn at a serious rhythm and in a quality environment.
The Benefits of Bilinguilism
Fluency in both English and French.
Increased capacity for abstract and non-verbal reasoning.
Increased capacity for the construction of concepts.
Stronger creative thinking skills.
Increased communicative sensibility.
Increased capacity for problem solving.
Increased spatial perception.
Ease with mathematics.