Overview – Primary/Elementary School
Our primary school program, just like our kindergarten program, emphasizes immersion principles as extensively as possible, especially in grades 1 to 6. Because English language – and to some extent, culture – are incorporated into nearly all activities, classes and topics, children continue to learn a good deal of their English incidentally, in the same way they acquire their native language. In this regard, the teachers’ presence outside of lesson times – before first period begins, during breaks, and during meal times – is vitally important and is an often over-looked added value of the program, particularly in grades 1 to 4.
Another distinctive element of our program at all levels is our use of the one-person/one-language model of co-teaching, sometimes called the family model. The approach is straightforward: the Hungarian co-teacher speaks only Hungarian and theBilingual.hu teacher – a native speaker of English or on occasion a balanced bilingual – speaks only English. Moreover, our teachers do not evince any understanding of Hungarian, even passively. This allows us to maximize the language immersion and language learning opportunities of the students in our program.
Of course, entry into primary school introduces a great deal more structure into all children’s lives; so beginning in first grade, and especially from third grade on, students broaden the ways in which they acquire their English. Focused and sustained study of lexical items begins in first grade, reading and writing in English begins at the end of first grade but begins in earnest at the start of second grade (so as not to interfere with the children’s acquisition of knowledge and skills in Hungarian), and English grammatical structures are introduced in increasingly explicit ways from third grade onwards.
Yet the methodology we use – what gets the job done – remains, in its essence, the same throughout the entirety of our program. We employ the techniques and insights of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) combined with the logic and strategies of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) to develop young people who can speak, read and write English with a great deal of confidence, young people who are years ahead of their peers, young people who are able to go abroad to study, travel, and eventually work – all without missing a heartbeat.
How do we measure our success?
How do we know the job has been done? How well are the students doing? Are they learning enough? These are the key follow-up questions for anyone participating in or considering joining our program.
Bilingual.hu uses University of Cambridge English Language Assessment tools in order to externally benchmark the performance of its students. Cambridge English Language Assessment is the premier provider of English language exams for speakers of other languages globally, with meticulously well-prepared exams and preparation material for learners of all ages (from as young as seven or eight years old up through adulthood). There is no better way to measure the success of a bilingual education program than through these assessment tools.
We begin testing our students at the end of second grade with a three-year series of Young Learners Exams that are especially designed for children in this age group. Then starting in fifth grade we begin the For Schools series (once again comprised of exams specifically tailored to the relevant age group), finishing with the FCE For Schools B2 level language exam at the end of eighth grade.
Preparation is carried out on a continuous and integral basis as the school year progresses, which is to say that language development takes place in all subjects and in all lessons as part and parcel of the Bilingual.hu program. Still, English language and literature lessons and afternoon tutorials provide more intensive language learning opportunities. In addition, one lesson out of the weekly five English language lessons is devoted to the use of Cambridge exam preparation material and to running mock exams to prepare the students for the format of these standardized assessments.
Finally, in late spring, our teachers run a final mock exam – under strict testing conditions – to ascertain how well each grade of children is doing. Concomitantly, one-on-one or paired speaking exams are conducted in April and May in English language lessons and tutorials.
More information on this topic can be found in the following document:
How Do We Use Language Exams as a Comparison Tool? Description_Language_Exam_201403_EN
Lower School (Grades 1 to 4)
The Bilingual.hu program features all subjects in the lower school (except Religion & Ethics and, of course, Hungarian Language and Literature). Co-teaching is the rule of the day in all subject classes, where we adhere to our one-person, one-language rule, offering ample opportunity to the children for code-switching through frequent shifts in focus from teacher to teacher, all with an even distribution of time in each language.
The situation is different in English classes, where our code of practice requires that both teachers – the native speaker of English and the Hungarian English teacher – speak English throughout English language lessons.
Tutorials are another key feature of our program. These are mandatory 30-minute afternoon sessions held once a week in the lower school with groups of 4 to 8 children. In contrast to the split groups for English lessons, tutorial groupings are often based on language level. In general, these small group sessions provide the perfect opportunity for reading development as well as further communicative practice and test review.
To the greatest extent possible we adhere to the Hungarian tradition of assigning one teacher to one class, and keeping that teacher and those children together for the entire four-year lower school cycle. The person in this role is the Main Class Teacher; he or she takes all the core academic subjects (Math, Science, English and Tutorials) as well as responsibility for breaks, meal times, field trips, Forest School, end-of-year videos, personal comments in reports, stage productions and any other class-based activities – as well as primary responsibility for the students’ language development.
A final key component in the Bilingual.hu system is our Reading Program, which begins in late spring of first grade. The exact starting point is determined in conjunction with the Hungarian teacher in order to avoid any interference with the children’s acquisition of reading and writing skills in their native language. The program kicks off in earnest in the second grade and carries on throughout the students’ primary school years. In the lower school, reading is done in English classes and also in Tutorials.
Upper School (Grades 5 to 8)
Our upper school program remains largely the same as the lower school program in grades 5 and 6. Co-teaching remains the rule of the day in all subject classes, where we continue to adhere to our one-person, one-language rule. Once again, students have ample opportunity for code-switching through frequent shifts in focus from teacher to teacher, all with an even distribution of time in each language. The program also remains the same in English classes, where our code of practice requires that both teachers – the native speaker of English and the Hungarian English teacher – speak English throughout English language lessons.
Tutorials continue to be a key feature of the program. As is the case in the lower school, these are mandatory 30-minute afternoon sessions with groups of 4 to 8 children; however, they are held twice a week in the upper school in grades 5 and 6. In contrast to the split groups for English lessons, tutorial groupings are often based on language level. In general, these small group sessions provide the perfect opportunity for reading development as well as further communicative practice and test review for English and Civilization.
The concept of the Main Class Teacher undergoes some changes in the upper school. Whereas in the lower school the Main Class Teacher takes all the core subjects, in the upper school our subject teachers are specialized (as they are in the Hungarian system). Therefore the Main Class Teacher in the upper school is the English teacher. This person takes English lessons and Tutorials and/or Exam Prep sessions, as well as Civilization classes. The other subjects are distributed among a range of other teachers. To the greatest extent possible we still endeavor to keep English teachers and their classes together for the entire four-year upper school cycle. The person in this Main Class Teacher role takes responsibility for end-of-year videos, personal comments in reports, field trips and any other class-based activities.
The Bilingual.hu Reading Program continues unabated in the upper school, where reading is done in English classes, Civilization lessons and also in Tutorials. We also place an emphasis on using not adaptations or simplified versions of works of literature but rather original English-language texts from a range of English-speaking countries. Of course, our staff choose texts at appropriate levels; also, our staff members teach these texts in ways that make them both enjoyable and accessible to their students.
Many aspects of our program remain constant throughout the upper school years. However, there are some key differences between the Bilingual.hu program in grades 5 and 6 on the one hand, and grades 7 and 8 on the other. In essence, grades 5 and 6 are the final years of preparation for the more independent language acquisition that the students are capable of in grades 7 and 8.
The most significant change in grades 7 and 8 is the shift in our focus on Science. In grades 7 and 8, we co-teach only some of the Science subjects with our Hungarian counterparts. The subjects that we do not share in the morning program are covered by our teachers in special afternoon Science Tutorials. These are mandatory 45-minute sessions run twice a week with the entire class.
Our aim here is two-fold. The first stems from the fact that upper school students, especially seventh and eighth graders, are overburdened due to the high volume of material in the Hungarian national curriculum, particularly in the hard sciences. Therefore, we must allow adequate time and space for the material in these subjects to be taught and learned in Hungarian. (As our program operates in public schools, Hungarian state education must take precedence.) This is especially important in terms of students maintaining their competitive edge in their efforts to secure a place at the four-year high school of their choice.
Second, our Science Tutorials offer the chance to begin the kind of work that our high school/university prep program will expect of students starting in the ninth grade, where non-traditional formats and expectations – of either an independent or cooperative variety – will be in focus as a way of better preparing students for their university studies and/or for life in the working world in general. Therefore our afternoon science teachers focus on real-world connections to topics and include in their classes a great deal of group and pair work as well as some lab experiments, presentations, debates and other means of engaging students in more creative, practical, challenging and stimulating work than is usually the case in morning sessions – all in order to facilitate the acquisition of English through the subject.
Of course, we do this in all our subject classes: we use the subject as a medium for learning a wider variety of English at ever greater depth. However, even though assessments are conducted and a great deal of concepts and lexis are covered, we believe our Science Tutorials allow us to accomplish this goal more efficiently and in a different style as compared to the Hungarian state system, to the greater benefit of the students and the program.
In sum, the shift in emphasis regarding the sciences creates a realistic and achievable set of goals for the children in our program, allowing them to proceed apace with their language development while also allowing them to excel in the Hungarian portion of the curriculum (an ever more important consideration as high school entrance exams move into view).
The other key difference in grades 7 and 8 is the shift from Tutorials to Exam Prep Sessions. These are mandatory 45-minute sessions run twice a week with the entire class and are designed to accelerate the students’ progress toward their B2 level language exam (the Cambridge First Certificate) at the end of eighth grade.
As they approach their B2 level language exams, students can be expected to be far more self-reliant, and are able to operate in monolingual environments in English without undue difficulty. This is why the emphasis and character of the programis slightly different in grades 7 and 8: in order to lay the groundwork for both our high school program and successful completion of the students’ final Cambridge Language Assessment, and in order to create a realistic and achievable set of goals for the children in our program. We aim to create a well-rounded student, in terms of both language and culture; at the same time, we aim to create a learning environment where success is reachable and where students have the wherewithal to achieve all their goals, both within the Bilingual.hu program and within the boundaries of their broader education in Hungary.
Staff and Teacher Development
Bilingual.hu considers it critical to employ only teachers who are native speakers of English or, on occasion, balanced bilinguals. Our teachers may be specialized in Teaching English as a Foreign Language or in Primary or Secondary Education, and in many cases both. Our Upper Primary teachers are also subject-specialized. This range of background, training and experience allows our staff to employ the full range of approaches and techniques the success of our program is based on. Also, by employing only native speakers of English, and making consistent use of TEFL and CLIL methodology, we can ensure that our students experience the English language not as a school subject but rather as a natural tool of communication, simply a part of everyday life.
We also believe in developing our employees in order to help them excel in the unique teaching environment this public-private partnership has brought into being. Thus we offer orientation to all our incoming teachers as well as year-round in-house observation and training opportunities. In addition, our Head of Education and Team Leaders coordinate with our External Trainer to provide workshops and observation/feedback sessions several times a year. We believe this provides a means to further professional development for individual teachers as well as an ever-higher quality of service delivery for our program.
The Customized Program
The above core overview describes the Bilingual.hu program as implemented at all of our partner institutions. However, our program is also customized to some extent depending upon the requirements of the host school. Please contact the relevant school coordinator if you would like further details.
Anthony J. Laudadio
Head of Education – Primary