Tuesday, 17 January 2017

How Bilingual Are Bilingual Schools in Spain?

I live in a fairly small city in Castilla-La Mancha and where I live the majority of "bilingual" schools are concertados, a concertado school is neither completely a state school,nor a completely private school but  something in between, almost like a private school which receives funding from the government,and I think there are only two state schools which have a bilingual programme, a primary school and a secondary school.I was adamant that I was going to send my children to a bilingual school so that they had even more imput in their minority language and also to compensate for the fact that I work in the afternoons/evenings as a TEFL teacher so their exposure to the minority language would be more limited once they started school due to my job and when completing the form, I included almost all the schools which had a bilingual programme.In the end we were lucky enough to get into the school which was our first choice and on the whole we are very happy with it but unfortunately my recurring question is: just how bilingual are bilingual schools in Spain?

Many schools in Spain,especially the concertados, which tend to be more religious schools, often follow the BEDA, which stands for Bilingual Education and Development & Assessment, programme.In my daughter´s school this means that the amount of English is increased to 180 minutes per week with 3 30minute sessions of a Non Linguistic Discipline (Disciplina no Linguestica) and 2 weekly 45 minute sessions of English.This is implemented right from when they first start school at 3,which I think is great.The teachers, as far as I know are Spanish but I think the lessons are given completely in English but they have little or no exposure to any native English speaking teachers.However,no subjects are taught completely in English until they reach Primaría(age 6 going on 7), where they have 2 weekly sessions of music and 1 weekly session of Arts & Crafts in English. Again as far as I know there is no exposure to a native English speaking teacher(at least in my daughter´s school),which I´m a little disappointed about as I was previously under the impression that there was a bilingual native assistant who visited all the classes at least once a week. I´ll be able to tell you more about this next year when my daughter starts Primaría!!

At the moment the bilingual programme uses the Amco(click on the link for more information)methodology which has evolved in Mexico and therefore teaches American English. I have no problems with this methodology or the fact that it is teaching them American English as I think it is important for them to learn all types of English although it doesn´t seem to be in keeping with the fact that they are a Cambridge examining centre and offer the Cambridge exams,which are largely geared towards British English although you can use American English in the Cambridge exams too if you use it consistently.The books used by this method is a workbook & students book called Gear Up Levels 1-3 as shown in the photo and I think this is supported with lots of songs and games.                                                                                          
      One of my main worries when it comes to my children´s bilingualism is the literacy side of things so I was quite relieved when I flicked through last term´s English workbook and found that they have started writing words above the pictures.Here is an example in which my daughter had to draw things that she can see in school and above the drawings,she´s written the words :door,window and clock.However,I know that in other bilingual schools they do extra reading in English although maybe not when the children are still in Infantíl or the Infants and have exposure to native teachers at least once a week from 3 yrs and up.
Extracurricular English classes are also offered with the aim of obtaining the Cambridge exams from Starters up to First Certificate and in these classes students are offered exposure to native English speaking teachers but these classes are not free and parents have to pay for their children to take part in these extracurricular classes.

Nowadays the Government has toughened up and English teachers or teachers who are participating in bilingual programmes have to have an English level of at least B1/B2 but I think that they should have a C1 or even C2 if they are teaching a bilingual programme and teach English classes 100% in English in order for these bilingual programmes to work properly because there are many doubts about how effective and beneficial these bilingual programmes really are. Many students who attend "bilingual" schools often end up going to extracurricular classes in academies to further improve their English. I also believe that to be fully bilingual 50% of the classes should be given in English and 50% of the classes should be given in Spanish,starting from when they first start school at the age of 3.

These are just my experiences and opinions of bilingual schools in Spain and I can´t really compare it to all bilingual schools in Spain.I am neither completely satisfied with the bilingual education nor am I completely dissatisfied but rather sit somewhere in the middle.I often think that my daughter must find it boring in English class as she knows a lot of the vocabulary that they are learning...for example the colours, the numbers 1-10, clothes etc but she says she isn´t bored. I´ll just have to see how her bilingual education pans out and I´ll be updating you on the changes. Next year should be exciting with the introduction of classes in English! I´d love to hear about your experiences and opinions of bilingual schools and education in Spain or other countries.


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