Fly high with bilingual and international education Find the right school type for your child

With a wealth of top-quality bilingual and international schools in Switzerland, choosing the right one for your child can be confusing. Denise Nickerson, education expert and co-author of Education Guide Switzerland gives us eight top tips on how to prepare for the challenge.

Ask yourselves "What do we value?" And "How can our child learn these values?" If you're not sure what your education goals are for your child then why not start with the learning experiences that meant the most to you.

Then talk to your child: What they do in class, and on the playground? Ask them what they like about library visits or special classes that don't happen every day (art, music, sports). Get them to describe their teachers to you. When you hear about things they don't like, try to find out specifically what doesn't appeal to them. And If your child could run the school, what would he/she do differently?

Look at your children's current school situation. I ask myself four key questions in relation to my own children as well as in my work as an educator, guidance counselor, educational consultant and coach. Is my child becoming a lifelong learner (or learning how to learn things)? Does my child love to learn? Is my child happy at school? Is my child learning successfully?

Read around the subject with books like Going Local by Margaret Oertig, the book about the Swiss school system, or our Education Guide Switzerland, which gives an overview of international (public and private) choices.

Be objective when gathering information from other parents. We often have elevated educational standards but sometimes we lose sight of the excellence all around us, especially when we allow cultural expectations from our countries of origin to define what we think is "best." Keep an open mind.

Should I call in an expert? Maybe – Timing on getting outside support for educational issues is key. You don't have to be in a crisis situation with your child to check with an experienced educator for some guidance. In fact, sometimes just an hour provides both reassurance and positive steps to avoid a communication or development problem at school for your child. Gifted or talented students have so many choices, they need guidance to avoid overwhelm.

Be realistic. Abilities and limits make children unique and we should help build their confidence by encourage them to develop their skills to help cope with weaknesses. Bear this in mind if your child is bilingual but only average in math class or a talented athlete who doesn't "get" French.

Finally, put it all into perspective. Did the most successful people you know miss the opportunity of a lifetime because they didn't get along with their middle school English teacher? Now breathe... and enjoy the world-class education your child has here in Switzerland.



One of the benefits for children of living in Switzerland is the access to a bilingual or even multilingual environment. Jessica Beard, now a student at Lancaster University in the UK, studied at the the Lycée International de Ferney-Voltaire in Geneva and wrote (when she was just 16 years old) about her experience of Anglo-French bilingualism.

Strolling over to a cash register I notice a cashier and a customer standing face to face in silence, gesturing wildly at one another. Apparently their communication is impaired by the lack of a common language. This is my time to shine: as I am fluent in both languages, I help resolve the confusion easily with no great effort. I casually walk out of the shop with a smug feeling in the pit of my stomach. In most countries, the bilingual community is in a minority; although as you walk through the streets of most Swiss cities you will overhear a magnificently wide range of languages, each language adding to the rich buzz created by the crowd.

I am an English student in a French school on the border of Switzerland, and have many bilingual friends. We love to sit eating lunch together, where we will happily mix English and French, constructing our sentences with words from both languages – talking our own Franglais. However, midconversation my friends will then pass on to German or Turkish, leaving me clueless as to what they are saying. Being suddenly limited with my two languages, I feel rather inferior to them. As a bilingual individual in Switzerland I feel a little less special, as many people speak not only two but several languages. However, the benefits of being bi-or-multilingual can be experienced on many levels.

According to a recent scientific study, bilingualism has been proven to help stall certain diseases, with one in particular being Alzheimer's. * The study asserted that although bilingualism does not entirely protect a person from developing Alzheimer's, it does delay the symptoms by an average of five to six years.

It is also said that multilingualism enables a higher potential for multi-tasking. Indeed, research shows that people who speak more than one language have learned to process and pick out essential information on a greater scale than monolingual individuals.

They are also used to dealing with multiple cases simultaneously: when a bilingual person is speaking, the other language is present and active in their mind, ready for use if necessary. One girl, speaking fluent English, French and Russian, told me this ability has helped her acquire a global view of the world, because the many people you meet teach you so much.

As a multi-linguist, she said she often has at least one language in common with the people she meets. "Growing up with more than one language, but keeping a mother tongue from a different country allows you to hold on to the roots of your community while still feeling at home, whatever environment you find yourself in."

*Research conducted by Ellen Bialystok.



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Image: Above the Crowd © Eric Ward (a4gpa) on Flickr

Author: Denise Nickerson

Denise grew up in the USA in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also a naturalized French citizen who has lived in France for more than 15 years. She is a Fulbright scholar and she has a Masters Degree in Education. Her company, Allegory House was created in 2009. Denise's varied experiences as an interpreter for the Olympics, a cultural trainer for DANONE employees in NYC, a professor of American Civilization at l'Université de Paris IX Dauphine, a university admissions recruiter speaking in over 300 international schools in 30 different countries, an information management consultant for UNICEF's Education for Development department in Geneva, and as the representative in Switzerland for Parsons Paris School of Art + Design have led her to create, launch, and facilitate customized learning experiences for her clients. She has worked with individuals and families as well as designed programs for schools and universities. She is a motivational speaker. Her specialty is envisioning learning paths and providing guidance for international, multicultural, and expatriated people. She graduated from CGP Professional Personality Test training in June 2011 and is also a member of the Institut de la Vocation. She and her husband have two children.

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