Bilingualism at Panyaden
by Neil Amas, School Director
To be truly bilingual is to be fluent in two languages, comfortable switching between the two and a competent reader and writer in both. At Panyaden School our goal is that by the time a student reaches the end of Prathom 6, he or she will be able to move easily and naturally between English and Thai, whether in conversation, when reading a book or writing a story. To achieve this we have pulled together research, the experiences of bilingual teachers and students and visited successful bilingual schools in Europe to find the best possible model of learning for our school.
While it is recognised that there is no universally accepted ‘recipe’ for successful bilingual leaning, our approach is informed by our assessment of what works and what doesn’t. The key aspects of our approach, therefore, are as follows.
50/50 Thai and English
All subjects apart from Thai and English will be taught in both languages, 50% in Thai and 50% in English. Each class will therefore have one Thai teacher and native English speaking teacher, each of whom will stick to his or her native language. Activities may be led in either Thai or English, with the second teacher assisting students who may be unfamiliar with the language of instruction. Minimal translation will take place in the classroom, students being encouraged to learn naturally and work out new words for themselves.
Speak first, write later
It is important that children are able to build confidence in speaking skills at an early age. We know that many pre-school children of mixed parentage pick up both languages naturally if they are exposed equally to both and each parent keeps to their own language. For this reason our nursery and kindergarten will focus primarily on speaking and listening language skills with basic reading and writing introduced in the later stages. Students, however, who have pre-existing literacy skills or particular eagerness to learn will be encouraged to further these as our teaching will accommodate mixed competencies.
Staggered literacy learning
The best way for a student to learn how to read and write in both languages is to introduce literacy in their ‘mother tongue’ first then, when a strong foundation exists in their first language, introduce literacy in their second language. Therefore, formal instruction in first language literacy will begin in Prathom 1 and second language literacy at the beginning of Prathom 3. By the end of Prathom 4 we expect students to be competent readers and writers in both languages, reaching fluency by the end of Prathom 6.
School children not only learn from their teachers but also from each other. We will positively encourage ‘peer mixing’ so that students who are weaker in one language will have the opportunity to learn from those who are stronger. This is an important aspect of language learning because children spend so much time with each other, whether in the classroom or in the playground.
It is usually the case that we achieve more by working in a team. This is particularly true of a bilingual school. At Panyaden our Thai and foreign teachers not only teach together, but plan all their lessons together, equally sharing responsibility for creating and facilitating activities for their students. It is also important that we lead by example. If we expect our students to be bilingual, we as teachers should also work towards that goal. All Panyaden teachers are working each week on improving their own second language skills.
Bilingual and bi-cultural
When we learn a language we also learn a culture. At Panyaden we see our school as not only a bilingual experience but also a bi-cultural one. In fact it is multi-cultural as our students and teachers come from a range of countries, including Thailand, the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Belgium and Hungary. I have found from visiting bilingual schools abroad that for children to appreciate and want to learn a second language they must also respect and value the culture of that country. We therefore place great importance in how we as a school acknowledge and value equally Thai and Western histories, customs and cultures.
Our aim is that at Panyaden our students will not only enjoy a truly bilingual experience but also a truly bi-cultural one. I strongly believe that if all of us share this vision – teachers, students and parents – we will achieve it.