Would you like your child to be bilingual?

20 March 2019

Should my child go to an English or French school? How can I ensure he or she has the best of both worlds? These are questions every parent is likely to have grappled with at some point.

Victoria Anderson, Head of Primary at the International Institute de Lancy (IIL), a private school in Geneva known for its innovative approach, explains why bilingualism will give your child more options and how this can be achieved.

This article was originally published in Things to do in Geneva by Chené Koscielny


What is bilingualism? 

Bilingualism can be defined as age-appropriate competence across core subjects i.e. early maths, phonics and reading.

Providing your child with options

“Our young people have to embrace a future in which we have no idea of the challenges they’ll have to face. Their future careers are, for the most part, unknown to us. This is the big challenge of education today” says Mrs Anderson.

By giving your child a chance to become bilingual, you are effectively giving him or her more choices in future because researchers across the globe have found that bilingual children have increased mental flexibility and adapt better to change, she adds. That is one of the reasons why bilingual learning is so important, and the earlier your child starts, the better.

Teaching bilingualism

There are different models of teaching bilingualism and you need to find an approach that will work for your child.

IIL has incorporated best practice from around the world to create the START programme (for children aged 3-5), a bilingual environment that offers parents a choice between 3 different paths for a child entering school for the first time.

The aim is to offer a much more comprehensive choice which will leave parents with more options when the child gets to the end of primary.

1st path – so British

The first path follows the UK’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), where core subjects are taught in English, whilst specialist subjects are delivered in French, thus aiming for bilingualism through immersion.

2nd path – très French

The second path is the Maternelle.

This path follows the rigours of the French Education national curriculum combined with a nurturing teaching environment.

The children’s surroundings, daily schedules and bilingual activities encourage them to interact with their peers in the EYFS. Children are taught English from an early age and language learning is an important part of the day.

A new path with the best of two worlds

As from 2017 IIL has introduced a third path – the bilingual class, which currently accommodates children from more than 19 nationalities.

This innovative course combines the English National Curriculum and the Education Nationale Programme.

“Our vision is to extract their strengths to deliver a bespoke IIL curriculum which respects the essence of both,” says Ms Anderson.

Two teachers using their mother tongue as the lingua franca, teach in these classes.

When it comes to reading, children will be exposed to phonics in both languages from the start and although they are first introduced to reading books in English, the experience already shows that children in this class are keen and ready to start reading French earlier.

“We are not adopting a rigid structure. We will review the process as we go along, term-by-term and year-by-year. It is a truly bespoke course, which allows us to challenge an individual child,” says Ms Anderson.

At the end of the START programme, the parent, in consultation with the teachers, will decide whether the child continues his or her primary career following the EYFS or Maternelle.

What has been the feedback so far? 

Parents have been amazed at the language acquisition rate of the children in the bilingual classes, says Mrs Anderson.

For more information about START and bilingualism in learning, contact Victoria Anderson:

Direct: 0041 22 7942620