Pauline Prévot, Head of École Jeannine Manuel London, on the benefits of bilingualism

“Bilingualism: ability to speak two languages.”

At a time when it is estimated that more than half the world’s population speaks two languages, this definition from Britannica, is somewhat fuzzy and offers a limited view of a phenomenon that comes with a wealth of benefits. Bilingualism stretches far beyond merely speaking two languages. It is about being open to the world that surrounds us, about learning to value our differences with others while recognising and appreciating all that we have in common.

Our school was founded as a response to human conflict and the horrors of the Second World War. Since then, we have been educating generations of students who embrace our mission: to promote international understanding through the bilingual education of a multicultural community of students. For our founder Jeannine Manuel, “learning a foreign language is, by itself, important; it is also a means to better understand others, to be able to think like them—it provides access to the world.”

With this in mind, we define bilingualism as the ability to express oneself in French or in English, orally and in writing, with native ease and compelling effectiveness. This means that when they graduate, our students are able to stretch past cultural codes to understand not merely what people are saying, but what they truly mean. 

While it was long-assumed that language acquisition is a zero-sum game and that bilingualism is detrimental to the mastery of a primary language, we now know better. Incontrovertible research shows that being bilingual comes with a plethora of benefits: it increases brain plasticity and cognitive flexibility, improves problem-solving skills and heightens empathy (incidentally, most of these are ‘skills you will need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, according to the World Economic Forum).

Ambitious bilingual aims entail ambitious academic objectives, and a robust curriculum to support them. In addition to the mastery of core academic skills and bilingualism, our curriculum is designed with a focus on collaborative learning, developing autonomy, and nurturing curiosity, creativity and an appetite for culture. Equally paramount to the success of our pupils is their personal wellbeing, which we promote through a specific, school-wide curriculum. 

Our broad approach to a bilingual education means that our students leave us able to live, study, work and excel anywhere in the world. Thousands of alumni across the world bear witness to the value of our bilingual education. For our founder, Jeannine Manuel, the goal of education was to help shape ‘whole’ people, by which she meant, ‘individuals aware of their presence in this world, engaged in its history, and ready to play a part in world affairs.’ In today’s world, this vision of education is more important than ever. 

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