The most recent scientific research has shown that bilingual development in children entails much more than just the knowledge of two languages. There are the well-known benefits, such as access to two cultures, a greater tolerance of other cultures and the undoubtedly future benefits in the job market. In addition to these there is another lesser known benefit, although perhaps even more important, that is the manner in which bilingualism affects a person’s way of thinking and acting in different situations.
The human brain is perfectly able to ‘manage’ two or more languages simultaneously from birth and has the highest receptivity to languages in the first years of life; in fact children can learn any language or a variety of languages without effort, just as they learn to walk. Child bilingualism is therefore different from learning a second language in adulthood. It is a spontaneous process that takes place if a child has enough exposure to the languages and sufficient motivation to use them. The ability to use and experience two languages from childhood is continually shown to have positive effects in both linguistic and non-linguistic areas.
One of these effects is a more natural understanding of language structures. Many bilingual children learn to read before monolinguals do. Additionally, the intuitive knowledge of language structures aids children in learning a third or fourth language.
Little England is the only bilingual school in the Brescia area that offers study of the English language combined with the official education and evaluation programmes of Britain- Early Years Foundation Stage/ British National Curriculum, thus infusing linguistic knowledge with cultural knowledge that is essential for achieving true bilingualism. Our mother tongue English teachers in the Nursery, Preschool and KS1 are trained for teaching according to the Early Years Foundation Stage 0-6 and in the Reggio Approach. The Primary teachers are all qualified for teaching the British National Curriculum.
OPOL – “One person, one language” is the principle we follow which allows the children to associate one language with one adult, and therefore the two languages are learned simultaneously without confusion. The system we have created seeks to maintain a balance between the two languages, in terms of time spent on individual activities. We alternate structured activities in both English and Italian and the children are given the opportunity to develop their vocabulary in both languages.
The process of language learning starts in the Nursery by exposing the children to the English language through a framework of games, images, actions and words centered around themes suitable for children and the things they love. Unlike adolescents and adults, young children are more receptive to the learning of phonetics and are therefore able to acquire a native sounding accent.
The vocabulary taught is deliberately limited in the beginning. The teachers speak slowly using phrases related to everyday life with the aim of providing comprehensible instructions. Linguistic errors are a normal and important part of the learning process and not seen as a failure. Initially, priority is given to understanding the language, then to the ability to express oneself and finally to linguistic correctness.
The English curriculum in our school is guided by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) which was created by the European Council. The level of English aimed to be achieved by the end of each school year are as follows:
|School||Year group||Class/age of child||Level of English|
|Nursery||Nursery year 1
Nursery year 2
|Green Apples 9 months – 2 years
Yellow Apples 2 – 3 years
Chestnuts 3 years old
Mulberries 4 years old
Maples 5 years old
Key Stage 1
Year 1- 6 years old
|Key Stage 2||Year 2- 7 years old||A1|
|Year 3- 8 years old|
|Year 4- 9 years old|
|Year 5- 10 years old||A2|
Key Stage 3
Bilingualism is achieved through:
- an enhanced curricular teaching of the English language
- the use of English in all situations and school activities
- the use of relevant English educational materials
- the linguistic model taught by the mother tongue teacher
The advantages of exposure to the English language in a relevant context for the preschool, Primary and Middle School children are:
- an increased ability to express themselves
- competence in constructing coherent sentences
- more precision in the use of the language
- proficiency in communicating with others in English
- an international way of thinking; acceptance of the values and cultures of other countries
- the development of a unique way of thinking; with a mind that is creative, open and capable of great flexibility exercised by continuous switching between Italian and English.
So it is not just about communicating effectively and independently in English, but over time learning to express oneself more fully and proficiently in Italian as well.
Italian language teaching is overseen by our Italian teachers, who work in collaboration with our English teachers to share educational methods and strategies.