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Parents, arriving in Singapore, whose first language is not English, may not be aware that it is possible for their children to join an international school with English as their medium of instruction. Ms Fiona (F) and Ms Janienne (J), Lead Teachers for English as a Second Language (ESL) at ISS International School, explain how even children with limited exposure to English can become proficient in the language.
What is the advantage of schooling in English instead of another language?
J: It would make the student a more proficient English language speaker, which is crucial to being a global citizen in the 21st century. English is the world language of business, scientific research and banking and probably the most commonly spoken language in the world. It does come down to personal choice, but I believe that if we are to set up our children for success, it is important that they develop English language proficiency to their fullest potential.
Can a child whose first language is not English join an international school that teaches in English?
F: The majority of international schools in Singapore use English as the medium of instruction, and each may adopt its own approach when enrolling students whose native language is not English. At ISS International School, we have a very established ‘English as a Second Language’ (ESL) programme that provides a sheltered and supportive environment for these children to develop their English language skills.
Many students have come to us with limited English language skills but have succeeded in picking up the language and excelling in their classes and leadership roles. One of the biggest indicators of success for us is the sheer number of former ‘ESL’ students who go on to study at English-speaking universities in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. In fact, our top scoring International Baccalaureate student in 2016 was once in our ESL programme!
Will these foreign students be held back from joining the main school curriculum while picking up English?
J: No, they will join the mainstream classes from the start and be supported with supplementary English language classes until they have acquired some proficiency and independence in the language. Our approach is highly customised to individual student’s needs. Even after they stop attending the supplementary classes, they will still be supported within the mainstream classes until they are fully proficient and confident to be on their own. Some of the subject content may be modified or delivered in a way to help them learn. We believe they will pick up the English language skills best when they are engaged in learning and interacting with their classmates in their mainstream classes.
How long does it take to be proficient?
J: All children can learn English. However, every child will learn at his or her own unique speed. In general, they could take one to two years to master the language skills needed for conversation and about five to seven years to be as good as any native English language speaker in reading and writing.
F: As it’s true that all children are different, a bespoke approach to teaching is important. What’s unique at ISS International School is that class sizes are small. In effect, teachers know their students very well and can cater their lessons to students’ needs more effectively. The ESL department is always discussing student achievement and reviewing every student’s language learning journey to better support him or her at every stage.
What if my child is unable to pick up the English language?
J: From my experience, every child is able to pick up the English language with the right guidance and support. In some cases, giving the children shortened reading texts with many pictures can help them learn. Some children learn from memorising new words, while others need more encounters with the words and frequent revision through games and other multi-sensory techniques. Even dyslexic children are capable of learning a foreign language if they are given a multi-sensory and positive learning experience, combined with individualised support.
F: A safe learning environment is key to success. All children bring their own sets of knowledge, cultural beliefs, previous learning experiences, strengths and skills to any situation. All of these form a foundation to build upon. We focus on what they can do and build on from there. No child is unteachable in a supportive, encouraging and nurturing environment.
What else can my child do to learn English more quickly?
F: Your child should read as widely as possible. This means reading for pleasure. It doesn’t have to be a novel; it could be a magazine, graphic novel or blog website. Watching English movies is also great for improving listening skills. Your child might even want to read the book version of the movie to get the full experience. Then take every opportunity to practise English, and live and breathe in English!
J: In addition, playing, socialising and doing activities with English-speaking friends will help them develop his or her communication skills quickly. If you want to fast-track the learning, your child could also immerse himself or herself in special language camps or programmes, such as joining the Spring and Summer Schools at ISS International School, which focuses more on English language acquisition.
For Summer School, you may also contact the same number listed in the paragraph above or email email@example.com.