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Embracing Languages: Multilingualism in the Early Years

Dr. Lorna Caputo and Grainne McFadden-Rohan

Valuing the current and developing the new

At ISZL we recognize and value the many languages our children bring to school each day. Even our youngest students in the Early Years come to us having experienced different languages in a variety of ways. The linguistic profiles of our students are often unique. Sometimes our students have knowledge or experience of the main language of instruction at ISZL, which is English, and sometimes also German and Swiss German, which is the language spoken in the local community, but often our students have little or no experience of either. Nurturing each child’s linguistically diverse profile is at the heart of what we do. We believe that by valuing and harnessing the children’s previous language experiences while at the same time exposing them to new languages supports them on their journey of becoming global citizens ready to explore the world around them.

Multilingual Early Years in Switzerland 

Living in multilingual Switzerland in the heart of Europe means we navigate several language landscapes. The Early Years at ISZL, like Switzerland, is a linguistically-rich environment. The ability to learn several languages at such a young age has many advantages. Learning languages while young is believed to build the communicative and cultural components of language learning that are invaluable when navigating international contexts. At ISZL, we believe that by providing all our children with the experience of learning German in the Early Years, we are enabling them to build on their existing languages so they can feel confident and comfortable when they journey through their local German-speaking worlds. We do this in a holistic and progressive way taking full advantage of the natural curiosity and play our children have at this age.

German language at Early Years

Learning About Language Together

At ISZL we are fortunate to have international language experts who are available to the children, families and educators. Often we support families with their language questions as their children grow academically, socially, and linguistically with us. We believe that talking to families in an open and honest way about how they can support their children with language learning is critical if we are to support each child reaches his or her full multilingual potential. We encourage parents to partner with us to become active agents in their children’s language development and, in this way, consider and plan their ‘family language goals’. We recognize that changing schools, learning new languages, and supporting the development of home or previously learned languages can be emotional, time-consuming, and sometimes a cause of tension within families. We are here to help parents of Early Years children every step of the way with their children’s linguistic journey. 

Supporting Language Learning

So, apart from joining our Early Years multilingual family here at ISZL, here are some ways you can support your child’s language development:

  • Plan different activities in different languages, such as watching TV, films or Youtube, listening to the radio, or reading books together.
  • One parent decides to consistently speak his or her first language (mother tongue) to the child, often referred to as the ‘One Person One Language (OPOL)’ strategy. While many families experience success with this approach, for some families, it is difficult to maintain.
  • Create language days, afternoons, evenings, weekends, when everyone agrees to speak the same language together. The language day strategy only really works if family members are fluent in the language.
  • Arrange play dates and invite children who share the same languages. 
  • Get involved in celebrations and traditions that involve using a language. Often this provides authentic opportunities for children to learn more about the connection between language and culture.
  • Check out your local library and gemeinde events schedule for events in German for young children.

If you are interested to learn more about multilingualism and linguistic diversity at ISZL, please read here.

  • Early Years
  • Language
  • Library
  • Multilingualism

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