ISP's innovative language scheme
Students learn languages in globally connected classrooms
Posted: March 20, 2013
By Michael Finnigan
For the Post
Long gone are the days where learning a foreign language meant poring over dusty textbooks and reciting problem phrases until the early morning. Now, oral exams are no longer the source of sleepless nights. At the International School of Prague (ISP), students from around the world come together to enjoy a curriculum of modern languages in the school's globally connected classrooms.
At ISP, five of the world's most widely spoken languages are taught to children from 60 different nationalities. To find out how teachers and students cope in such a multi-lingual environment, The Prague Post recently visited the school.
"The most important thing about language acquisition for me is that students leave the school with more than just a functional understanding of a language," says Lawrence Hrubeš, curriculum team leader for English as an Additional Language (EAL) in the upper school. "Most schools make the fundamental mistake of not showing a child how their language will come into play once they leave, and unfortunately that is the norm," he says. "To show children exactly what life might be like after school, we engage them in real-world events."
According to Hrubeš, the best way to do that is to use the school's campus-wide Internet connection to show them the latest popular video or cutting news story in the lesson's target language.
He says this idea ties in with the mission statement of ISP, which is to give students "real-world" experience that will in turn make them more successful when they join the global work force.
Jesús Alemany, curriculum team leader of Modern Languages in the upper school and IB Spanish teacher, says those methods make learning languages more engaging for the children, which in turn is reflected in their grades.
"What we look to do at the International School of Prague is ensure fluency in the four basic skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. And we are quite successful at that," he says. "All of our students end up with a level of comprehension above and beyond that of the national schools, and part of that is because many of the children already know how useful a language can be."
Alemany explains that because many of the children come from an international background where they speak two or sometimes even three languages at home, they have a far greater appreciation for the value of language and are more inclined to work hard.
So successful are the programs at ISP that they now employ 20 different foreign language teachers and educate more than 180 non-native English speaking children through their EAL scheme. Though it is not always easy, the mission of the scheme is to allow a large population of students from different national and linguistic backgrounds the opportunity to acquire the level of English needed to communicate at ISP and beyond.
When EAL students first arrive at the school, their fluency is tested. Once a complete assessment has been made, the staff chooses a selection of English-speaking mainstream classes that will best suit the candidate's needs and support the transition both inside and out of the classroom.
Zbyněk, a student at the school, is a native Czech speaker who learned firsthand just how challenging such a linguistic transition can be.
"I won't lie: It was really tough at first," he says. "Going from my safe, Czech-speaking school to one where I could only understand about half of the things people were saying was really hard. At first there was a lot of head nodding, but after a few months I began to settle in."
Zbyněk recalls that before he attended ISP he was a very introverted thinker - someone who would only speak up if he was sure he was correct. He says it wasn't only the opportunity to learn a second language that gave him confidence, but also the atmosphere at ISP, where teachers encouraged him to speak up and showed him that there was nothing wrong with being wrong.
Now that he has almost concluded his time at International School of Prague, Zbyněk has been looking to the future, saying his experience at the school has given him the confidence and language skills to continue his global education at a foreign university.
Arnie Bieber, ISP's director, says Zbyněk is just one of the school's many success stories.
"We find that our students are very successful at getting into excellent universities in the United States, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe," Bieber says. "Probably because of the high esteem ISP holds with many universities, but also because the admissions office recognizes just how vital it is to have a second or third language."
Bieber is particularly proud of the new Mandarin Chinese program, which was added to the curriculum last year.
Ann Light, director of the school's Mandarin studies, says Mandarin Chinese is already the most widely spoken language in the world and it will become even more important in the years to come.
So while the International School of Prague might look like a school of the future, it may be more apt to describe it as a school preparing children for the future.
Michael Finnigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org