ISTP offers daycare for faculty children in the week that teachers are back to work before school starts. I had planned to leave my daughter, who was in Nursery at ISTP last year, in her summer daycare until the day school started, but changed my mind because she was beyond excited by the idea of going back to school, even if it was daycare, and not actual school. The evening after her first day back on campus, she was a bit more quiet than usual at bedtime. When I finished her bedtime story, she turned to me and said, “Je t’aime, Maman,” and proceeded to speak to me in French for about 5 more minutes. It wasn’t all grammatically correct, nor in entirely full sentences, but she was getting her point across to me – in French! A bit later, I heard her still “reading” to herself, and as I was going to tell her to be quiet and go to sleep, I realized that she was speaking in French. Amazed, I let her continue and enjoyed listening to her from afar. Just being back on campus had reignited so much.
We don’t speak French at home. I am far, far from fluent. My daughter will surpass my level of French by the time she is in 2nd or 3rd grade. I did try to speak a bit with her over the summer, and we read some French books and listened to some French songs. I succumbed to screen time and she enjoyed a few French language apps on the iPad. But for the most part, it was a summer without any French.
To me, this is a great example of the success of bilingual immersion at a young age. Not only is there a love of school and learning, but a comfort and familiarity with a language that is not the mother tongue – enough that it can be used at bedtime. That Is not to say that it is an easy road – bilingual immersion education looks different from monolingual American schools, and that can raise some anxiety. But each year, I observe 8th graders in class, watch their high school application process, and listen to them speak at 8th grade graduation and I am highly impressed. It is an amazing journey.
Nursery-Kindergarten: Students learn a language by using it. In the Early years Program, teachers capitalize on students’ love of songs, rhymes, and fingerplays to help students jump into the immersion environment. Constant reinforcement and repetition in the second language help to guide early learners to a level of comfort with the language. Eventually, students will speak a few words, then sentences, then longer expressions. Some children speak right away and learn from making mistakes while others take a longer time to express themselves in the second language. Once ready, the students speak articulately with few mistakes.
1st and 2nd Grades: These years are seen in both languages as “learning to read” in the broadest sense of the expression. It is a time when students are building fundamental skills of learning across the languages such as computation, written communication, and reading. The students are still in a language-building process and all activities are designed to consolidate prior learning, develop language skills and expand vocabulary. Reading, writing, and other essential learning and thinking skills also give value to the second language.
3rd-5th Grades: After students have learned the fundamental building blocks, they then “read to learn” or, use the skills they have learned in order to learn content, concepts, and other problem solving skills. The second language continues to expand, but becomes a meaningful medium of communication. Most students have developed strong abilities in the second language and are able to delve deeper into the nuances of language and thinking.
6th-8th Grades: In Middle School, students are developmentally ready to deepen their critical and analytical thinking skills, and to tackle more abstract concepts. The bilingual ability of the students is solidified as they think and problem solve on a deeper level in both languages, and move between the two with an understanding of not only language, but the cultural influences behind it. By the end of 8th grade, students are bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. Most students will still be more proficient in their native language, but are expected to speak their second language without accent and possess an expanded vocabulary and understanding.
The very day after my daughter jumped right back into French, I got to see our new ISTP advertisements, one group of which say “We believe every mom should get to hear ‘Je t’aime, Maman’/ '媽媽，我愛您’ every day”. I felt like the ad had been created for me, and that we are truly living the bilingual journey and loving each twist and turn along the way. I cannot wait to see what is around the next bend, as I believe it is the best education I can offer my children.