Cerian Maraviglia, the Primary English Coordinator at Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle de Londres on how multicultural schools broaden linguistic skills and life opportunities

Multicultural teaching institutions undoubtedly give pupils an edge in a globalised world. At international schools, many nationalities and languages converge in classes, playgrounds and other shared spaces. This creates an interesting and open environment in which to grow up. But how do pupils benefit from this wealth to nurture both their native linguistic skills and build new ones?

International schools generally follow a national educational system and prepare pupils for corresponding exams with the relevant curricula. At the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle de Londres for example, the main curriculum is French, but most pupils follow a mixture of the French and English curricula, and all can choose which final exams to take between the French Baccalauréat and A levels. To achieve complete bilingual proficiency by the time pupils graduate, they either develop their English or French skills.

Regardless of their starting point, international pupils receive full support to acquire the language needed to follow lessons. Linguistic and literary aspects are thoroughly taught but, above all, language learning is focused on communication. This means acquiring knowledge in all school topics, understanding instructions, producing written work and participating in oral discussions in class.

Welcoming all levels

Non-native speakers are welcome to join and are encouraged to do so as early as possible – ideally from nursery – for quick integration. This is sometimes subject to testing. However, for them to succeed, the new language must be part of a family project. It should not be viewed as one of many ‘good-to-have’ skills, but as a ‘whole culture’ endeavour. This would include travel to that country, learning about its history and traditions and effectively making it part of the pupil’s life.

At the Lycée’s primary and early secondary levels, pupils who are less confident in French can benefit from small-group support classes led by tutors qualified to teach French as a school language, rather than as a native tongue. Focus is on making newcomers feel at ease using the language as a communications tool. Most importantly sessions highlight what pupils know already and emphasise the progress they regularly make.

Such small groups mean these classes are highly interactive and resources can be more playful – usually incorporating audio, video and digital resources rather than traditional learning media. The purpose is to build pupils’ self-confidence and independence so that they manage well in class without extra support after a few terms.

Lycee C D G Alexa Roche
Pupils with language skills of all levels are welcome and focus is on building language confidence. Photo: Alexa Roche

Reinforcing English skills

At the other end of the spectrum, pupils who are completely fluent in English should cultivate this asset and find the opportunity to further their skills or progress in a new language. This can be achieved through various learning paths such as the International Baccalaureate at certain schools.

At the French Lycée in London, for example, there is an International Section focusing on literature and history and a Plurilingual Section offering the French Baccalauréat with up to four languages. There is even a British Section which pupils can join from Year 10 to prepare for GCSEs and A levels. In a world where borders are becoming increasingly permeable, multilingualism should be a priority in educational choices – international schools provide exactly that.

Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle de Londres lyceefrancais.org.uk

Further reading: Foreign languages – the state of play