Language Learning at AIS

By Leonie C. Ley-Mitchell, IB Primary Years Program Coordinator at Atlanta International School
To thrive in the interconnected world we live in, we believe students should be taught their target languages by teachers who are not only mother tongue speakers, but who also have a knowledge of the cultures associated with them and a passion for sharing and celebrating them. Through learning in an interdependent, international environment students are prepared to move through the world with confidence, wherever they choose to make a difference. 

Young children are able to acquire oral language skills much faster than adults, which is why we place so much emphasis on language learning in our Early Years and Primary Programs. In addition to their ability to assimilate language, the cognitive benefits that go alongside the childhood acquisition of additional languages have been proven in multiple studies.

New students, or those wishing to start new languages, are able to join AIS language immersion programs in Chinese, French, German and Spanish in preschool and Kindergarten with no previous knowledge of the second language throughout Grade 1. Both complete beginners or native speakers are equally welcome to join language programs that cater to all abilities.

At AIS, we begin the language learning journey with a totally immersive experience. The 3K and 4K students in our Early Learning Center are taught exclusively in either French, German, Chinese or Spanish. The inquiry-based curriculum ensures that language acquisition is seamlessly assimilated rather than memorized or taught by rote. Oral communication skills develop naturally through play-based activities, storytelling, songs and games. It is an environment that leads to a level of fluency and confidence that allows children to showcase their new language development skills in everyday activities.

From Kindergarten, the French, German and Spanish programs become dual, which means students are learning 50% of their time in English and 50% in the second language in alternate English/second language days. In these programs, students who desire to enroll from Grade 2 and upper grades, require a certain level of language proficiency to be able to understand and acquire knowledge in all subjects and they are assessed before they are accepted. This requirement does not mean students are not supported once at AIS; the Learning Support team of teachers in Primary follow and assist students who require guidance and support and there are two target language educators in each classroom.

The Chinese program is also partial immersion from Kindergarten onwards, but with a slightly different ratio. Children learn 70% in English and 30% in Chinese throughout Primary School. This allows for newcomers to join the program at any grade level, with no previous experience of the language and within the classroom teaching is differentiated to offer tailored learning based on each student’s language proficiency.

The authentic foundation of oral communication provides a solid base from which to develop more advanced reading comprehension and writing skills. 

Two teachers, one from the target language track and one from the English one, work closely together to ensure that the IB curriculum is delivered seamlessly in both languages. If the children are studying a particular unit of inquiry or subject, they will continue to explore that theme in whichever language they happen to be studying that day.

Of course, learning a language and appreciating different cultures go hand-in-hand and we believe that true cultural awareness goes far beyond that of the language of instruction, it is woven into every aspect of school life. Students at every grade level have multiple opportunities to participate in cultural and linguistic events from celebrating Chinese New Year to La Feria, Harambee, the German Christmas market, and of course, UN Day and Worldfest, both colorful annual celebrations of all nations. 

The Primary School years culminate with a 10-day trip abroad for each language program. The Grade 5 students travel together to French, German, Chinese and Spanish speaking countries where they can enjoy all they have learned about the language and culture first hand, together. 

Cultural immersion remains a priority in Secondary School. Students can continue the language of immersion from Primary school and graduate with a bilingual IB diploma in that language if they chose to do so. They can also start another language from Grade 6. Similarly, students who join AIS in the secondary school years are able to study their language of choice at varying levels of proficiency. An advanced level or even prior knowledge is not a requirement.

We believe rigorous instruction of the language itself is complemented by first-hand insights into the institutions and cultures of different countries. An extensive range of study trips, exchange programs and co-curricular activities take our older students all over the world, supplementing what they have been taught in the classroom. Highlights include taking to the stage to debate in different languages and countries through our Model United Nations program to authentic homestay visits as part of our exchange programs in Asia, Europe and Latin America. 

Incorporating cultural awareness into every aspect of our language instruction is a hallmark of the AIS way of learning. Whether we are welcoming guest speakers and visitors from around the world, traveling to different countries or spending time amongst our own multinational, diverse community, over and above linguistic excellence and academic rigor, we share in a truly global outlook.

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Atlanta International School

A private, non-profit, international, IB World School for grades 3K-12, featuring full and dual-immersion language programs.

2890 North Fulton Drive

Atlanta, Georgia 30305, USA