ISZL and First Languages

ISZL and First Languages
Chloe Hummel

Dr. Lorna Caputo-Greenall examines the way ISZL supports and celebrates its students' multilingual backgrounds


We Are All ISZL

Wir sind alle ISZL

Nous sommes tous ISZL

Siamo tutti ISZL



People are moving around the world more than ever before, and this movement is influencing the cultural and linguistic landscapes we encounter. Switzerland is one of the most globalised countries in the world because of its strong connections with international companies and global organisations, its geographical location in the centre of Europe, and its own rich cultural diversity. As communities around the world become more aware of the many benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism, schools are designing language programmes so all students can reach their linguistic potentials.

A Multilingual Community

One of ISZL’s core principles is that every person is both valued and valuable. ISZL is an inclusive school, which means that difference is celebrated, and this includes the different languages of its students. Every day, ISZL students, staff and families navigate two quite different language environments: the ISZL global village, a rich tapestry of over sixty cultures and languages, and Switzerland’s own multilingual space, a small but dynamic setting where four national languages and over twenty dialects co-exist. ISZL celebrates its diversity in several ways. We not only provide students with different foreign language learning courses (German, French and Spanish), but we also enable students to study their first languages (also referred to as ‘mother tongue’ or ‘heritage’ languages), and support students whose first language is not English to access the curriculum. In addition, ISZL has many books in different languages in its libraries, and we always encourage students to use all their languages.



Supporting English as an Additional Language (EAL) Learners

Many students at ISZL do not have English as their first language or home language. On average, 20% of students receive English language support from specialist EAL teachers. Many of us have learned English as a foreign language at school, but learning English to be able to understand subject content and concepts in maths, science and literature is very different. Sometimes people expect that, with support, students new to English will be fluent in a few months, but the reality is that it can take several years to develop the academic English fluency required to access the curriculum with ease, even with dedicated support. At ISZL, every EAL student is unique, and we understand that there are many factors that influence the English language-learning process in international school environments, including previous school experiences, personality and motivation.



An International School Leader in Supporting First Language Learning

In 2016, ISZL launched an official school-wide First Language Programme, an initiative dedicated to supporting students in the development of their first languages as part of their ISZL education, which can also enable students to obtain the prestigious IB Bilingual Diploma. For many ISZL students, studying their home and heritage languages allows them to reconnect with languages and cultures that are important to them, and to keep valuable academic and economic opportunities open in the future. Since 2016, the programme has grown considerably, and is now regarded in the international education community as a world leader in personalised first language courses. Currently, ISZL students are studying a variety of languages, including Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish, but many other languages are possible to study within the IB curriculum. Moreover, ISZL students are now awarded more IB Bilingual Diplomas than the world average.

Understanding German in Switzerland

Switzerland is a small country with incredible linguistic diversity. In just a couple of hours you can go from speaking German to French, to Italian to Romansch. In addition, about a quarter of Switzerland is considered to be of international origin, so it is very normal also to hear Albanian, English, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, and many other languages as you move around. As ISZL’s campuses are located in the German-speaking region of Switzerland,  some may believe that a person only needs to learn German to communicate and integrate with the local Swiss. The reality is much more complicated because although ‘German’ is an official language, there are actually three types of German in use in central Switzerland: High German, Swiss High German (High German with Swiss vocabulary and pronunciation) and Swiss German (spoken dialects which vary considerably from one area to another). In some countries, spoken dialects are seen as unimportant or of low status, but in Switzerland it is the reverse: Swiss German dialects are used by everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, age or level of education. As a result, learning and using ‘German’ in Switzerland can be a very different experience compared to learning and using a standard language in another country, such as French in France. As such, learning German for integration purposes can take longer and require more time and effort. At ISZL, we understand it is important to promote positive attitudes towards learning the various forms of German, and to use German when we can when out and about.


The Language Learning Partnership

We are all language learners at ISZL. We understand that learning a language does not follow a straight line: there are ups and downs. We are fortunate to have educators who are experts in language learning and who are available to children, families and educators. As children progress academically and socially at ISZL, we are there at each stage to support families with their language questions. We recognise that changing schools, learning new languages, and supporting the development of home or previously-learned languages can be challenging as well as rewarding, which is why we work together to support every child’s language journey.

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