LinguaMites is the first trilingual preschool in South Africa, offering quality preschool education to children ages 1-5yrs in Chinese, English and isiZulu everyday. While that in itself makes us really different (as different as you can get some might say) there are in fact other reasons why we’re so unique. In this article we’d like to unpack 10 reasons that make LinguaMites Multilingual Education so special:
Everything we do at LinguaMites is based on the belief that language is part of life and cannot be separate into a ‘language programme’ devoid of meaning, necessity or usefulness. We also believe, and research supports, that there is a valuable, but very small window of opportunity to acquire multiple languages in the formative years, and so our focus is on transforming additional language learning in young children. We pride ourselves on providing a quality preschool education, while maximising every child’s potential to reach a level of fluency in three languages before the age of 6yrs.
Without a doubt, it has been the winning combination of a linguist married to an educator that has driven LinguaMites’ success. Kyle Bailey is a South African who grew up in Zimbabwe learning Shona, before living and working in South East Asia. In addition to completing an MBA from Wits University (South Africa), Pontificia Universidad Catolica (Chile) and Tsinghua University (Beijing), Kyle can speak (at a level of fluency) more than 6 languages (Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, siShona and Indonesian among them). He has an in-depth understanding of culture and his experience learning additional languages makes his input into the curriculum invaluable. Kyle currently facilitates business between Chinese and African companies and can see the long-term opportunities of such languages in the future world of work. Meryl Bailey is an educator that has been involved in developing schools and educational programmes for more than a decade. Meryl obtained a degree in Fine Arts while working as a teacher and teacher-trainer in both Soweto and the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. As newlyweds, Kyle and Meryl moved to China where Meryl pioneered Beijing’s only Special needs school at the time between 2008-2011, while navigating life as a foreigner in a completely Chinese-speaking community. As parents of three children, now aged 5,3, and 1yr, they understand the need not just for quality education, but an environment that raises Culturally Sensitive, Socially Responsible citizens for the Future. Together, this husband and wife team have diligently researched and developed a multilingual preschool model based on their unique experience and expertise, one that is both effective and transformational.
- Small Class Size
We offer an unmatched class size of maximum 8 in a class. We carefully add to each class in order to ensure a speaker/non-speaker ratio so that non-speakers are assisted in their learning from their peers as well as their teachers. We pride ourselves on a close family feel and our classes reflect a ‘home’ style as would be found in China and KwaZulu Natal. Culture, not just learning, is emphasised in our classes in order to retain an authentic ‘real-life’ feel.
- Child-led Teaching Strategies
While there are many merits to Montessori, Reggio and other exceptional teaching methodologies and practices, nothing can beat being led by the child’s interests, personality and learning style. LinguaMites incorporates successful strategies across all our classes and uses tools and methods from a wide range of excellent educational practices. We are able to change and adapt our methodology based on the latest research and have the opportunity to question the reason and merits behind every model because we remain unbiased to any one teaching practice. We are also able to groom and work with a wider range of teachers who bring varying expertise and experience to our team. We are not limited to a small pool of teaching resources, both in human capital or practical teaching tools. What leads us every day are the strategies that will support, encourage and get the best out of each individual child at LinguaMites and we are able to do this because of the family feel and small class sizes as mentioned above.
- Our Classrooms
The decision to separate our languages into different classrooms is entirely the brainchild of our founder Kyle Bailey. His extensive travel and language-learning experience, coupled with the latest research in language acquisition in children led us to establish each language with clearly defined boundaries and practicalities. The colour of each classroom is different, the food eaten within it’s walls are the cultural food of the people who speak that language, the music is only in the target language and all the posters are translated into that language. For example, in the Chinese class you will not find any English words written anywhere on the walls, in fact you will not even find the English alphabet as everything is in Chinese characters, the writing system of China. Each child is given a Chinese name, and all their work in this class is subsequently labelled with this name which they soon identify as their own. The expectations and etiquette of each culture is different and children learn to function within the norms of each culture, adapting appropriately and thereby identifying with the ways of each individual culture not just the language. Because each culture is unique we place emphasis on different activities within each class, for example, Zulu culture is predominantly verbal and musical and so in our Zulu classes there is a lot of storytelling and music.
- Commitment to language learning
There are many things we want to be remembered for as a school community, but one of the most important to us is that we do what we say we will do – help raise children that can speak 3 languages. We are strict and committed to this endeavour, even to the point of admitting when a child may not be a good fit into our school because of this. When it comes to our teachers there is no mixing between languages at all. Our attention to this detail is what makes the difference between a child learning to speak the language and not. We ‘demand’ (in a gentle and encouraging way) that children, who are able, respond to their teachers in the target language. Research has shown that a young child’s brain is extremely efficient, and will not acquire skills that are not absolutely necessary. This means that if they are not expected to speak the language (and can get away with responding in their mother tongue) they simply wont acquire the skills and connections necessary in the brain to respond back in that language. It is for this reason that we have no translation in our classes either; like one landing in a foreign country for the first time with no means to communicate with locals, we artificially create the ‘need’ to speak the language within the school environment.
- Trilingual Approach (rather than bilingual)
Some have argued that it’s too ambitious to teach a child three languages to proficiency, and that there is not enough time dedicated to each language for this to occur (roughly 7hrs/week in each). Well, the proof is not only in our own efforts where 4&5yr olds are conversing with ease across all classes, but in countries like Singapore, Germany and Russia where speaking 3 languages is the rule and not the exception. Firstly, children can be multilingual, which has always been our starting point – why waste your child’s potential educating in only one language when the benefits of multilingualism are so vast. Research shows that children under the age of approximately 6 years have the innate ability to acquire multiple languages without inhibition or confusion and with a perfect accent. After the age of 6yrs, this becomes increasingly more challenging. Being bilingual certainly has the benefits of an increased cognitive ability, memory and problem solving ability. However, being trilingual does this and more – especially when you consider the choice of the three languages we educate in, as seen below.
- Choice of isiZulu, English and Chinese
We have always maintained that the cognitive and social benefits can be gained no matter which additional language you are educating in, however there are several important reasons why we have chosen isiZulu and Mandarin Chinese in addition to the usual English. Firstly, they are from 3 different language groups: Chinese is tonal, and a foundation in a tonal language will make learning other tonal languages (like Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese) easier later on. English has similar grammar structures like those found in Portuguese and Spanish and other European languages (even Afrikaans), while isiZulu is a Bantu language which means learning other Bantu languages (Nguni, Swahili, Shona, Xhosa) will be easier as well. Being able to speak these diverse and extremely useful languages in the future will no doubt be an asset in any industry or workplace. An understanding of the culture as well as the language will make graduates from LinguaMites more adaptable and cultural sensitive.
- Christian worldview
Choosing a Christian worldview in no way excludes families from other religions/beliefs from joining us at LinguaMites. Practically, this translates into prayer time before meals, teaching the story of Jesus’ birth at Christmas and death at Easter, with one hour a week dedicated to Bible reading and story in the English class. As LinguaMites is an extention of our own family, and is the education we wanted for our own children, we knew that it also needed to contain the faith and doctrine that we as a family hold so dear.
- Teachers & Staff
Enough can not be said about the remarkable teaching and support staff we have at LinguaMites. The calibre of these individuals is phenomenal and they are so dedicated to their task of not just teaching our pre-schoolers how to speak such unique languages, but also to teach the social etiquette required for a successful transition into adulthood. We would not be where we are without them and as a team we share in the celebrations of the school’s success.
LinguaMites Multilingual Preschool just celebrated it’s 2nd Birthday this past July, and has, since 2013, been on the cutting edge of multilingual education in SA. Our personal experience with the 21 children and families that we have had the privilege of working with through our school and afterschool programmes, not to mention the two dozen families we’ve encouraged to raise isiZulu speaking kids via our Caregiver Training, can all vouch for the effectiveness of our model, the excellence of our team, and the uniqueness of our school. Our diligently researched and tested trilingual programme will continue to be the standard against which other language initiatives are measured, and a pioneer for other schools to follow. While our model has not yet been adopted into the mainstream, it won’t be long before being multilingual (and multicultural) is as necessary as being literate. And only time will tell how bright the futures of our young graduates will be. For now, we are thrilled with this start, and are excited for the future as we aim to raise a generation of South African children that speak more than one language.