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.
Learning a foreign language: the earlier the better?
When moving abroad with your family, as a parent you are likely to experience moments of envy when you notice the ease and speed with which your children pick up words and complex structures in the local language, while you still struggle to order a drink in a restaurant.
However, while young children may acquire language faster than adults, research has shown that an early starting age of foreign language instruction in school is not necessarily the key determinant and certainly not the only factor influencing language competence.
Recent studies suggest that other factors such as quality and intensity of instruction or native-speaker input might be more important than the question of when the language learning began.
The immersion method: the more opportunities to learn, the better
At SIS Swiss International School, teaching follows the immersion method with half of the lessons being taught by a native speaker of English, the other half by a native speaker of German. Since all interaction takes place in the official school languages, children acquire both German and English in a natural way.
According to Simone Pfenninger, Assistant Professor of Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics at the University of Salzburg, studies have shown intensive exposure to the foreign language and high-quality input by native speakers as provided by SIS to be more beneficial to students than an early starting age.
Other research suggests that immersion in a foreign language may also have advantageous effects on the development of other cognitive skills, self-confidence and learner autonomy.
Since they are immersed daily in both German and English, children at SIS Swiss International School 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.
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?