My family and I have just moved to Hong Kong from a non-English-speaking country. As a result, my two teenage children have to attend an international school where they are not learning anything in their native language. How can I help to support them to be fluent in both languages, even though my own English is not especially strong? Teacher Jake Burnett replies: This is a very important issue many parents here have to deal with, and your intentions to keep your children bilingual as far as possible are certainly to be applauded. A large percentage of the students who attend international schools will also not necessarily have English as their first language, even though in many cases it will be the main language of instruction within the school. Indeed, in my own school it is not uncommon to hear Japanese, Finnish, Cantonese, Korean, Italian and many other languages as well as English itself in a whole range of different accents and pronunciations. In those schools where there is a direct influence from the home nation, or there is a large enough number of parents and students, there may be separate language streaming, but you have made it clear that you are not in this situation. The most important issue here is ensuring that no one language becomes dominant as this can inadvertently become learned behaviour and the other language may suffer as a result. It is also vital for you and your children to be aware that there is a great deal of research on language acquisition which concludes that if a child is an active learner and user of their native (or a first) language, then this will help them significantly to learn and use others with confidence. What can sometimes happen in situations like this is that total fluency in a first language might be lost entirely, especially if it is not being used much; meanwhile fluency in English is never quite assured - although students are able to operate in it to a reasonable degree within a certain setting like school. This can have quite far-reaching and detrimental consequences. In most of the international schools it is also very likely that speaking in languages other than English will be encouraged for the very reasons stated above. This doesn't mean that English in its own right will not also be encouraged as the language of inclusion and instruction. In your case, with your children both enrolled in the school, then their actual progress and development with English is probably best left to the school itself. There will certainly be opportunities for them to be supported in their English either as discrete teaching time or within lessons, and schools are well used to providing this sort of help within their own curriculum frameworks. If they are not receiving any direct support in this way, it might be worth speaking with your children directly about their progress in English or sending a quick message to the school inquiring about the sort of help they might receive. There is no need at all for you to feel insecure about your confidence in using English, either with your own children or in communicating with the school. If you are worried, ask at the school to see if there are any other parents of your nationality who might be able to help you out or advise you and your children. At home it is vital for you to keep encouraging your children to use their native language, especially as you and they might well end up returning to your original country. This can be done through ordering books and magazines, subscribing to television channels or listening to internet radio and discussion programmes, as well as having regular communication with friends and family back home through e-mails, chat rooms and direct conversations on the telephone or by using webcams. It might also be worth having set family time when you assign a language for a particular time, such as during a family meal, so that your children get used to using more than just one language. It is also worth mentioning that the government has strong aspirations for future generations educated here, reinforcing the point that being skilled in more than one language in the modern world is becoming more and more of a prerequisite for employment. The idea of being in an educational setting where our students can realistically be biliterate and trilingual is indeed an exciting one, no matter the languages, although this phrase has been coined by the Education Bureau as a means of encouraging proficiency in Chinese and English.