emphaSIS Switzerland 2021

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A Bilingual Immersive Approach Janet Meister, Chief Quality Officer, SIS Group

Giving our students a bilingual immersive experience is a key component of the SIS Swiss International School Educational Concept and underpins everything we do. Students are invited to dive headfirst into the foreign language and engage in an interactive and natural way. So why is this approach so successful and what does it look like in reality?

Four conditions for successful second language learning have been identified by experts: 1. An early start 2. Continuous and intensive exposure to the second language 3. Frequent use of the second language in diverse and motivating contexts 4. Authentic and enriched input provided by teachers with at least almost native-like skills in the second language

SIS has encompassed these four conditions by providing an immersion experience from kindergarten through to secondary that gives equal value to German and English. Weekly timetables are created whereby students spend 50 % of the time in German and 50 % of the time in English. Opportunities also exist for children to take part in after school activities or supervision, further immersing them in language. As a result, children learn to express themselves naturally and confidently in both languages. Teachers are all native speakers of their language and use a variety of methods to engage students who are learning the second language. They take into consideration such things as keeping their classroom routines predictable, extensive use of body language and visual aids, explicit teacher modelling and constant checking for comprehension. Key to success is our “One person, one language” approach. This means teachers stay in their native language at all times when dealing with students. Although lessons are taught separately, partner teachers collaborate when planning and discussing students’ progress and achievement. They know that many competences and knowledge are transferable between languages which they can then build on. Teachers use authentic contexts whenever possible and reach students through many diverse and engaging experiences.


emphaSIS  I  Spring 2021

When children are immersed in another language, progress follows a similar pattern. In the first one or two weeks they simply get used to the language. After about six weeks they can understand enough to follow daily routines. After about three months they start speaking more frequently and after one year most children will be speaking in full simple sentences. Two of the most frequently asked questions by parents about second language learning are: • Will my child’s native language regress when they start learning a new language? • Should I start speaking the second language at home to help my child learn? The answer is no to both. Bilingual programmes have shown to have no detrimental effect on the child’s native language: Instead, they have been found to enhance learning in both languages and to also have positive effects on cognitive abilities such as concentration, divergent thinking and creativity. Students learn a second language best when their native language also develops in an age appropriate way, so parents are always encouraged to speak their native language at home. 

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