Q & A

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2007, 12:00am

My daughter is in a Primary Three class at an English-speaking international school. She only speaks English and children in the playground often speak in different languages so she is unable to join in. I was under the impression all children were expected to speak English. Is this correct?

Teacher Julie McGuire replies:

In the past most English-speaking international schools were very strict in carrying out their 'English only' policy. However, in recent years due to changes in the intake of children and an increasing understanding of the place of a strong first language in successful learning, rules have been changed and use of other languages is often encouraged.

The percentage of children in international schools who speak two or more languages and whose first language is not English now tends to be much higher. Speaking in a second language all day can be exhausting, especially for younger children, and playtime is a welcome opportunity for them to relax and speak in their first language.

After discussion with your daughter about the level of her exclusion it may be worth talking to your daughter's teacher or principal. Some schools state that using different languages in the playground or indeed the classroom should not be to the exclusion of others. The key is for schools to monitor that the children understand and abide by this otherwise it can cause negative feelings in children, such as your daughter, who feel left out and leads to pockets of friendship groups based on language.

Teachers have recognised the importance of building a strong grounding in a first language in order to strengthen English skills. Children can take up to seven years to acquire academic language skills in English, so using a first language in the classroom can be advantageous to students, such as peer support in discussing a difficult concept with another class member in the same language. Social English skills develop much more quickly so as your daughter gets older she may find that her peers speak English in the playground more frequently.