Bilingual Education Expanding minds and horizons

Issue: 3 / 2014
Languages are often referred to as the key to a culture, which raises the question of how international schools can cater for the needs of an increasingly mobile, multinational and interconnected society without depriving their students of the opportunity to develop into autonomous individuals with a strong sense of their origins and local environment.

There is no denying the fact that English has become the lingua franca of the twenty-first century, and many independent schools in Switzerland thus focus on providing their international clientele with a holistic education in English.

At SIS Swiss International School, we also take on the responsibility of preparing the children and adolescents entrusted to our care for the tasks and responsibilities awaiting them in a globalised world. However, we firmly believe that a progressive, global outlook need not come at the cost of the local language and culture.

When relocating to a new country, families are faced with a great number of challenges and changes, one of the most significant being the absence of a familiar language in everyday life. It seems natural, therefore, that parents should try and make the transition as smooth as possible for their children by placing them in a school or day care where they are surrounded by children who speak the same language or, at least, share a similar background. Initially, this may indeed be the easiest solution. In the long run, however, it means missing out on a great opportunity: by placing their children in a school which offers bilingual classroom instruction in both German and English and where the student population consists of children from both local and internationally mobile families, parents enable them to build a local network as well as to acquire a new language in a natural, lively, yet structured environment.

Source: ISA results 2011 - 2016

Since they are immersed daily in both German and English, children not only learn to express themselves naturally and confidently in both languages, but they also gain thorough access to the local life and culture around them and, as a consequence, to a whole new world.

At SIS Swiss International School, we can look back on fifteen years of experience in offering such an environment to our local and international students. "International education – local insight" is not just a slogan, but it is what we practice at each of our nine locations across Switzerland.

The coming together of an equal number of children with local and international backgrounds provides a platform for our students to encounter other languages, cultures and people with openness and respect, and thus helps them to develop into committed, honest and independent adults. They can choose themselves whether they want to finish high school with an International Baccalaureate (IB) or the Swiss Matura and, consequently, whether they want to follow in their parents' footsteps and venture to foreign countries or continue their studies in Switzerland.

Bilingual education is a gift and its benefits on both a personal and a professional level are scientifically proven and cannot be overestimated. When you are moving to a different country, you leave a lot of things behind, but by giving your children access to a bilingual education, you enable them to grow new roots without cutting off the old ones. After all, who said you had to give up one world to discover the next?

Author: Dr. Ursula Gehbauer Tichler

Dr. Ursula Gehbauer Tichler is the CEO of SIS Swiss International School in Switzerland. SIS operates 16 bilingual, private day schools in Switzerland, Germany and Brazil with more than 3,400 students attending classes from kindergarten through to college.

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