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Native language learning is key to academic success

Head speaks about thriving extracurricular program

Native language learning is key to academic success

One of SCIS’s defining characteristics is our international community. Each morning, over 60 nationalities walk in through our doors, bringing with them a multitude of languages. For many of our students, English and Mandarin become their 3rd, 4th, or even 5th language. While certainly impressive, we have not lost sight of the most important language of all for these students: the child’s mother tongue. Language acquisition research provides convincing evidence that a second or additional language is learned best when there is solid command of the first language.

The native language serves as a building block for learning additional languages and is a strong predictor of overall academic success. However, as the case in most international schools, the predominate language of instruction at SCIS is English, leaving students who speak English as an additional language little time to develop their first language skills in an academic setting.

With this in mind, SCIS set out to provide opportunities for instruction in students’ first or “native” language. Establishing this goal helped create a thriving and dynamic system of language schools on our campuses. SCIS now offers native language instruction in Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, French, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian.

The majority of these language programs meet outside of school hours, while some are integrated into the school day. One such program is the Dutch School, proudly known as “de Oranje Draaks.” The school serves over 100 students and is offered as an integrated program during regular school hours.

SCIS’s language schools have become remarkably successful, providing immediate rewards for our students. Hundreds of students now receive native language instruction targeted in reading, writing, and oral language, which in turn supports their English development.

Academic benefits are seen in the classroom, where students participating in language schools develop their English language skills with confidence. The first language instruction program also relieves pressure from parents to serve as the sole language model for their children, while also providing a context for students and families to develop friendships and celebrate cultural traditions. We have found this initiative to be highly enriching for our SCIS school community, and attribute our successful language model to valuing a holistic education.