December 2, 2023

Unlocking Opportunities: Thriving in an International School as a Non-English Speaker

Today, English is considered to be the world’s foremost international language, with more people speaking it as a second tongue than any other major language. But even with English’s dominance as an international lingua franca, it remains spoken only by a minority of the world’s population. Reliable estimates put the combined population of native and second language speakers at approximately between 1.3 and 2 billion. Meanwhile, most of the world’s 8 billion people communicate with thousands of other languages, effectively isolated from the wider English-speaking community and the many invaluable opportunities it offers.

Fortunately, many prestigious international schools in Singapore will accept students with limited English proficiency under certain conditions. However, a lack of English proficiency does present some practical challenges, as international schools like Stamford American use English as a primary medium of instruction. Let’s examine what non-English speaking students and their parents can do to help them thrive in international schools:

Explore Your School’s English Education Resources

Students and their parents must explore all the English language learning resources provided by their school. Fortunately, most international schools in Singapore have these resources available to students who have limited English mastery. 

Accessing these resources may have certain prerequisites. For instance, Stamford American assesses applicants’ English proficiency as part of the application process, and non-English speaking students may be entered into different English Language Learning Pathways. Middle and secondary school-age non-English speakers may also be directed to the unique Preparatory Course for Secondary School (PCS), a program specially designed to help motivated English language learners prepare for Stamford American’s rigorous academic environment.

Additionally, some schools may offer optional language learning opportunities. At Stamford American, preschool and elementary students who are already proficient in Mandarin may benefit from entering the school’s Bilingual Program, as it allows them to dive into various subjects in both English and Mandarin.

Participate Actively in Class

Non-English-speaking students should be encouraged to participate in class to build their confidence and help them become more familiar with English as it is used in day-to-day communication. Once students gain basic English knowledge, they should continue to participate actively in class to further develop their English mastery.

When applicable, dual-language programs similar to Stamford’s aforementioned Bilingual Program are especially useful in helping students gain the confidence they need to participate in class. These programs allow students to use their mother tongue or another language they’re proficient in as an anchor from which they can develop their English skills. This framework allows for more natural language development and may give students the confidence they need to further hone their English. 

Engage in Extracurricular Activities with English Speaking Peers

Young learners can speed up their English mastery if they’re given opportunities to apply what they know outside of school. Signing students up for after-school sports clubs or other extracurricular activities where they will be in contact with English-speaking peers should serve to increase their English proficiency by giving them opportunities to use the language in the context of activities that they enjoy.

Build a Support Network 

Non-English-speaking students can connect with other students who may be facing similar challenges to share experiences and strategies for language learning success. Importantly, networks like these can also provide social and emotional support for students who may struggle to develop their English skills.

Learn About Different Anglophone Cultures

The English language may be an international lingua franca but its development is inseparable from historic and ongoing developments in Anglophone cultures. Taking a deep dive into various Anglophone cultures will help learners appreciate English as a living language and may help them gain a better understanding of idioms, an area of speech that is notoriously difficult for English learners.

Listen to English Language Media

In addition to simply reading books or watching programs about Anglophone cultures, non-English speaking students can also enjoy a more immersive learning experience by listening to music with English content and watching English language programs without dubs. Research suggests that the latter strategy is especially useful for language acquisition and this is now increasingly viable with the rise of content streaming services that offer audio and subtitles in different languages.

Encourage Parents to Learn English Alongside Their Children

It’s not uncommon for non-English speaking children to also have parents who are non-English speakers. If this is the case, one of the best things parents can do is to invest time in learning English themselves. By doing so, parents can not only lead by example but they may also be able to help with their child’s homework. Importantly, it may help with family bonding, which can be important for expatriate families living far from home.

English Language Learning for Success Beyond School English mastery is important not just for helping students succeed in rigorous academic environments but also for unlocking a multitude of opportunities in the real world. As English’s status as a global lingua franca is unlikely to be challenged within the foreseeable future, investing time to gain English language proficiency should be seen as a necessity rather than a choice. Thankfully, with the right set of strategies, non-English speaking students of any age can master English, giving them the necessary foundation to succeed in school and thrive in a globalized world.

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