The Bilingual Kindergarten Programme
The English teachers at the kindergarten have the function of gently, in an unforced way, introducing the English language to children.
The English teachers spend their days with the children, talking to them, interacting, playing, holding activities, reading stories in English, so that besides Hungarian culture, children get to experience the language and culture of English-speaking countries as well.
Therefore, the presence of both Hungarian and English becomes a normal part of their everyday life at the kindergarten.Children get twice as much teacher-attention, which comes with exceptional developmental benefits, especially since both the Hungarian and English native teachers place strong emphasis on skills development.
Throughout the day, the appropriate terminology and expressions are used in each situation and activity. In this way, children learn, at their own pace, new words to describe situations and learning experiences. It is well-known that language development in the native language varies with each child. This is also a natural assumption with respect to the English language. The children find the English teacher’s presence in the classroom a normal part of their kindergarten world, and it becomes completely natural that activities are also in English.
The English teacher follows the principle of “one person one language” and the children experience the language in a playful way in everyday situations. The children’s language learning is incidental and follows the same principles as native language acquisition. Native English speaker early years professionals are the prerequisite for this approach, which follows immersion principles. The English speakers use their native language consistently in kindergarten daily life.
Such a concept, which follows immersion principles, strengthens the children’s feeling of self-efficacy and enjoyment in language learning. The level of immersion in the new language is controlled by the children themselves. They have the opportunity of having contact with the new language throughout the day
In order to be able to put the advantages of this type of language learning into effect in the kindergarten, we pay attention to the following aspects:
- The contact to the new language is not limited to a particular area, but rather is incorporated into all activities and topics across the whole day.
- The organisation of daily situations in the foreign language as well as the spoken accompaniment of these activities enables the children to understand the new language from the context.
- It is important that children are actively involved in the language learning and, especially when they are still small, that they do not experience the language practice as an exercise. Language and talking are not the aim for children, rather they are the means to an aim.
- The kindergarten staff recognise that there is a ‘silent period’ of language acquisition for young learners. During this period, the child listens to, remembers and may even silently practise words or groups of word but does not actually use them.
It is important to understand that each child is different – some children may start using a few words almost immediately while others may not use any English at all for a prolonged period.
My colleagues and I have experience of ‘silent’ children suddenly becoming un-silent. It is unpredictable when this will happen and important to stress again that each child is different and language development occurs at the child’s own pace.
During this period, the child WILL understand simple instructions given by the English teacher with regards to daily routine in the kindergarten. For example, ‘wash your hands please’. The English native teacher is a master of gesticulation and will often accompany a request to a child with gesticulations in order to reinforce the language.
Subsequent to the silent period, the child will start to use single words or groups of words with subsequent development into simple sentences.
We do recognise that this programme may not be suitable for all children. If the child has development issues in their native language, we do not recommend this programme as it may cause further development issues.
There are meetings between individual parents and English teachers in order to discuss individual children’s language development.
By the end of the kindergarten years, the aim is for the children to be able to follow the bilingual school programme. I have personally experienced the difference between children from Daisy Kindergarten versus children from a non-bilingual kindergarten entering the school programme. The children from Daisy Kindergarten are, of course, far more confident at the school as they have been exposed to English for 3 or 4 years. From experience, this seems to be the period when children really start to use the language more fully that they have acquired at the kindergarten.
Head of Education – Early Years