A bilingual education in Brussels can set your child up for life, helping them develop their language skills while gaining internationally recognised qualifications.
If you’re planning on moving to Belgium, choosing the right school for your children is one of your biggest decisions. Do you select a local state school in your new community or instead opt for bilingual English and French education at an international school?
In truth, your decision depends on a number of factors, not least your child’s age and whether your long-term plans are to stay in Belgium or move back to your home country.
Whatever your situation, a bilingual education in an international school can offer your child valuable skills that they can use throughout their life, whether they are in Brussels or elsewhere in the world.
Here, BEPS International School, an education provider for children aged 2 to 14 in Brussels, explains the importance of bilingual education and what you can expect at an international school.
Bilingual education for the expat community
You know your own child better than anyone, and children react differently to the upheaval of moving to a new country – so it’s important to make them feel as at home as possible.
Parents may be concerned that the concept of bilingualism will be confusing for a child, especially if they’re very young and still be developing their grasp of the English language. But in truth, for most children, the introduction of a new language is very organic. Children have very plastic, malleable minds which constantly process new information. The best time to learn new languages is definitely at that young age, and even if it can at first lead to subtractive bilingualism (where a child’s attempts to learn a new language interferes with the development of their first language), the hiccup will soon pass and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your children integrate their new tongue and how soon their accent sounds native.
Starting a bilingual programme means your child will soon feel that learning two languages is ‘normal’. It has many untold benefits: not only will they have developed more flexible brains, with an increased ease of learning new languages that will last for a lifetime, studies have also proven that being bilingual (or more!) leads to being more adaptable, more resourceful and more open-minded. One of the reasons is that your children will be taught in an inclusive, international environment where diversity is the norm.
Bilingual schools for expats can offer a sense of community where children can feel at home, with fellow pupils facing the same learning patterns and plenty of extra-curricular activities. This kind of environment can help you as a family feel included in the school community, rather than just the children.
Bilingual education in Belgium
Being bilingual is a highly sought-after skill anywhere in the world, but particularly so in a country like Belgium. One of the biggest benefits of a bilingual education in an international school is the range of opportunities beyond the classroom.
With Belgium’s position as the administrative centre of the EU, mastering more than one language can be a great long-term skill for your child, especially with UK set to leave the European Union in 2019.
How international schools manage the difficulties of learning two different languages can vary. Some methods of bilingual learning involve the child and their parents speaking their mother tongue at home, and developing their second language (in this case French) at school.
While this segments the process of learning two languages, it’s not necessarily the best way to do things. Some international English-French schools adopt a tailored plan that combines more than one national curriculum to increase your child’s speed of learning and help them grasp both languages.
That’s not to say there aren’t trade-offs when choosing a high attaining international school for your child. Naturally, choosing an independent international school rather than state school can involve a greater cost, but some expats are offered school funding as part of their employer’s relocation package. (Please note that you’ll also need to apply for a top international school early to secure a place.)
How the curriculum works in bilingual schools
See here for an overview of the education system in Belgium. Generally speaking, primary education begins at the age of five or six in Belgium, with secondary school starting at the age of 12.
A good international school offering a bilingual English and French education will teach a mixture of curriculums while offering recognised qualifications through the International Primary Curriculum.
For example, you might find that Numeracy and Literacy are taught using the English curriculum, while French will be taught as a separate language. You can also expect more vocational subjects such as Physical Education and Music to be included in the curriculum. Creative activities foster the integration of new languages, as children learn while having fun.
After school sports, arts and games clubs are a great way to help your child settle in Belgium, while school holiday clubs during the summer offer a retreat that can help children both socially and academically.
For parents, meanwhile (you are not forgotten!), some schools have buddy systems in place where a new family can be paired with an expat family who has lived in Brussels a little longer and can offer advice to help them settle in.
BEPS International School / Expatica