Global Citizens in the Making: The Role of Learning Languages
The last two years have certainly proven that the landscape of work can very rapidly shift in ways that none of us, save a sci-fi author here and there, would have anticipated. Fortunately, conversations regarding the relevance of current student learning to their future needs have been a hot topic for the past couple decades already. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning surveyed students, educators, parents and business leaders across a wide range of industries to ascertain the skills and knowledge that would best prepare students for careers in the future. One of the most essential interdisciplinary themes that emerged was a need for ‘global awareness.’
In the educational community and the working world alike, we often speak of the importance of global citizenship, but how does one go about teaching it? What practical and soft skills can Chatsworth students learn to build their global awareness and enhance their participation in the global community?
The International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years, Middle Years, and Diploma Programmes address global citizenship in varied ways, but one core component of all its programmes is the study of at least two languages. Learning additional languages has the obvious benefit of facilitating functional communication with members of other language communities, enlarging one’s circle of potential employment opportunities.
However, learning languages extends far beyond a study of vocabulary and grammar. It also introduces students to different cultural ways of thinking and expands their perspectives beyond what seems ‘natural’ to them in their own cultures. This, in turn, supports the development of open-mindedness, which has been found to be a key indicator of success in intercultural environments.
A widely used tool to understand which people are most likely to succeed in situations requiring communicative and intercultural competence is the Multicultural Personality Questionnaire, which identifies five main traits as important factors: cultural empathy, flexibility, social initiative, emotional stability, and open-mindedness. In a 2019 study of 651 multilingual speakers, research partners at the University of London and University of Luxembourg found that open-mindedness was the trait that was most strongly associated with multilinguals.
Language Acquisition at Chatsworth International School
Chatsworth students are first exposed to learning languages in the Early Years, where they get to try out both Mandarin and French. As a PYP school, the transdisciplinary nature of the curriculum lends itself to an exploration of cultural values and perspectives as each language teacher relates the curriculum to the overall Unit of Inquiry. By Year 3, when students enter Junior Years, they choose between Mandarin and French to start concentrating on building greater linguistic and cultural fluency in one of those languages.
This concentration is focused further in the Middle Years Programme as students enter secondary school, where students are placed into one of six phases depending on their proficiency levels. The cultural nature of language acquisition is evident in the inquiry-based, conceptual units in the MYP, with global contexts providing a framework to learn about cultural perspectives alongside the more functional elements of language learning. For instance, Chatsworth students can develop intercultural awareness of etiquette, family structures, work environments, and free time pursuits of societies where French, Mandarin, and English are spoken within the ‘Identities and Relationships’ context. Meanwhile, other global contexts like ‘Fairness and Development’ or ‘Globalization and Sustainability’ help students understand how other societies’ historical, geographical, and political particulars influence how they experience and react to common global issues like migration or human rights abuses.
At the Diploma Programme level, Chatsworth students build on these foundations to take their language skills to high levels of proficiency in the Language B course, or they have the opportunity to develop skills in a brand new language with the DP Ab initio course. In both, however, the emphasis on intercultural awareness remains strong, with students examining how societies where those languages are spoken deal with a wide range of issues, from views on marriage to gender equality to the effects of innovation on entertainment. In the process, students not only discover the variation that exists between and within language communities but also reflect on what binds people together in their common humanity.
Mother Tongue Programme
The global pandemic of the last two years has taught all of us to value all the more our connections with family and friends. For many international families in Singapore, especially those new to the island, one major concern in maintaining these strong connections is how to continue their children’s mother tongue language development while attending an English-medium school. In the fluid and mobile world of employment and global relocation, some may also worry whether enrolling their children in an English-medium school will make it impossible for them to slot back into school in their home country when they have to repatriate.
Chatsworth’s unique Mother Tongue Programme can allay these worries by offering students the opportunity to continue literacy development in their mother tongue, instead of taking another acquisition language in secondary school. In the MYP, students will be taught by Mother Tongue tutors in the Language & Literature course, coordinated by the Mother Tongue Coordinator. Students whose native language is Japanese have the additional convenience of having a Japanese teacher on staff to teach them the Language and Literature course in Japanese. Students enrolled in the Mother Tongue course may even be eligible to receive the prestigious bilingual MYP Certificate, demonstrating their high levels of proficiency in both English and their mother tongue through their various courses at Chatsworth.
Similarly, at the Diploma level, Chatsworth students can continue developing and demonstrating their bilingual abilities by enrolling in the School-Supported Self-Taught Literature course. Supported by native-speaking language tutors and the Mother Tongue coordinator, students on this course will find themselves on track to obtain a bilingual IB Diploma at the end of their Chatsworth studies.
Most importantly, students who keep a strong mother tongue will be able to keep secure ties to their relatives, friends, and language communities. For those students still developing their English language proficiency, it is also important to understand that strong mother tongue proficiency helps students learn English faster, too!
English as an Additional Language (EAL) Programme
Given the benefits that additional languages bring, many expatriate parents wish to take advantage of the opportunity to immerse their children in an English-medium international school environment. This is, however, often also accompanied by a series of niggling worries:
- How will my child cope with his/her classes in English?
- Will my child be able to make friends using English?
- How will the school support my child in learning English?
Chatsworth has specialist EAL teachers in both the primary and secondary schools to support the language development of non-native speakers. In primary school, EAL teachers have special pull-out classes for EAL students to work on the development of oral communication (speaking and listening) and literacy skills (reading and writing). These teachers also coordinate with the students’ homeroom teachers to provide differentiated support for lessons taught within the mainstream classroom.
In Chatsworth’s Middle Years Programme, EAL students are supported in their English language journey in three ways. First, they will have a regularly taught class of English Language Acquisition, which is the same type of inquiry-based, concept-driven language course that students learning French or Mandarin take. Second, they receive additional EAL Support classes. The timetabled EAL Support lessons help enrich students’ vocabulary and grammar, in addition to giving them additional opportunities to practice their speaking, listening, reading and writing. Finally, students have the opportunity to attend EAL Subject Support Sessions to get language-related assistance with their work in the other MYP subjects. At the Diploma Programme level, students with upper intermediate English proficiency can enroll in the English B programme to continue the development of their skills to an advanced level.
Finally, it should ease the minds of these parents to know that Chatsworth is a school that not only teaches diverse perspectives through its language classes; it also lives and breathes diverse perspectives naturally through its wide array of students and staff. With approximately 50 student nationalities and 20 staff nationalities, it is actually quite likely that your child will find someone who speaks the same mother tongue! Moreover, with such a diverse community and small class sizes, it is even more likely that other young global citizens will exercise the open-mindedness they have developed to interact and befriend your child, irrespective of language or background.
1Partnership for 21st Century Learning. “Framework for 21st Century Learning Definitions.” P21 Framework Definitions, Battelle for Kids, 2019, http://static.battelleforkids.org/documents/p21/P21_Framework_DefinitionsBFK.pdf.
2Hofhuis, Joep, et al. “Validation of the Multicultural Personality Questionnaire Short Form (MPQ-SF) for Use in the Context of International Education.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 28 Dec. 2020, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0244425.
3Dewaele, J-M and Botes, E. (2019) Does multilingualism shape personality? An exploratory investigation. International Journal of Bilingualism DOI: 10.1177/1367006919888581