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Host Country Language Teaching - How do we get it right?

One of the first things I say when working with a new group of teachers of "host country language" in international schools is: You guys have the hardest job! And, without maligning any of the other hard-working international school teachers, this might very well be the case.

So why is it so challenging to provide quality host country tuition in international schools? Here is a short list of reasons:

1. Classes will often include a wide range of abilities, from students who have been living in the country for awhile to students who are newly arrived.

2. Classes will usually include students whose parents want them to learn the local language, and students whose parents are not really that interested...

3. Students come and go frequently, leading to high turn-over in classes.

4. Perceived status issues relating to the local language can impact student motivation.

5. There is no curriculum that meets the needs of all the students listed above.

6. There is no real teaching qualification that prepares teachers for this particular set of challenges.

And if reading that list doesn't convince you, then try talking to a few Host Country language teachers, and they will!

Are there solutions to these diverse challenges? There are certainly pathways to consider, but unfortunately, there isn't a one-size fits all solution. The best approach a school can take, as far as I am concerned, is to invest time in developing their own curriculum rather than trying to fit various other methods into these unique circumstances. A school should consider what their main curricular approach is, and what their desired pedagogical style is, and develop a stand-alone curriculum based on the whole-school educational ethos. If a school uses the IB curricula, this means developing a curriculum using the PYP framework or their chosen literacy framework, and the same in MYP. The teaching in the host country language classes doesn't have to be exactly the same as the main curriculum, but it should be connected in beliefs about teaching and learning. This will help in developing a pedagogical approach that is in line with your school pedagogy, rather than in conflict with it. I often hear stories from students, teachers and parents about children being resistant to host country language classes because the teaching style is so different from the rest of the classroom time. The ultimate goals of host country language teaching are communication within the environment, and cultural connections to the host country. Neither of these are going to happen by memorising vocabulary, doing dictation, and completing worksheets. Understanding the host culture and having interactions with friends, neighbours, shopkeepers, requires real, living language experience. This is the root of developing international mindedness and global citizenship. So it's time for international schools to start taking their duty of host country language teaching as one of the most important mandates of international education rather than something that is squeezed in twice a week for 30 minutes, unless there is a field trip or an assembly!

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