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Bilingualism #6. United Kingdom: the experience
Portal of the Italian language

Bilingualism #6. United Kingdom: the experience

Categories: Uncategorized -Language and education

Journey to the only school in the UK that offers a fully bilingual, bicultural and bicurricular programme in Italian and English. – Primaria - I bambini lavorano individualmente e in piccoli gruppi seguiti da insegnanti madrelingua – Primaria – I bambini lavorano individualmente e in piccoli gruppi seguiti da insegnanti madrelingua

by Annarita Guidi

At the in London, an Italian peer school that is part of theItalian Training System in the World, education is bilingual, bicultural and bicurricular.

We talked about this with Headmistress Ines Saltalamacchia, who has been involved in the project since 2006. The Headmistress has worked as a researcher between the University of Milan and King’s College London and served on the governing board of Salusbury Primary School for many years. Today she is involved in the Our Global School project, a charity founded to create exchanges between primary and secondary schools in London and The Gambia.

How do you work towards integration between the two education systems? is the only bilingual school in London where all subjects are taught in Italian and English, from nursery to Y6 (last year of primary school). To achieve this we have created a fully bilingual curriculum in which the standards set by the Italian Ministry of Education are integrated and complemented by the EYFS Framework and the National British Curriculum. This approach allows us to offer the best of both school systems in terms of content, teaching approaches and skills acquired by children, who are able to easily move from the Italian to the English school system (and vice versa) or continue their studies in an international school. The school programme is equally divided between the two languages. Native Italian and English teachers work on the common, shared bilingual curriculum; in this way the edeucational objectives taught in Italian are then reinforced in English and vice versa.

 At, bilingualism is implemented naturally and spontaneously in different situations. How does this work in practice?

Native Italian and English teachers and assistants work in parallel with groups of children on a common curriculum that covers the educational objectives of both school programmes (Italian and English). Each teacher has an assigned classroom and the children move from one environment to another, acknowledging that in one classroom only Italian is spoken and in the other one only English is. The physical separation of the spaces allocated to a specific languageactually helps and accelerates the development of a bilingual vocabulary in a completely natural way. The inclusion of art subjects in our bilingual curriculum is also aimed at fostering spontaneity in language learning: the children take art, music and drama lessons in both languages from pre-school onwards, with specialist mother-tongue teachers. The arts are a very powerful tool, because they activate all the sensory channels necessary for the development of memorisation processes and the cognitive sphere, while at the same time stimulating and involving the emotional sphere.

 Cross-functional skills, such as social and emotional ones, play an important role in learning …

We have always strived to make our school a safe and trusting environment in which children are constantly encouraged and inspired to become resilient and fulfilled individuals. Every day we monitor their well-being: at dedicated times with their teacher, the children all sit down together to talk about how they are feeling, learning to recognise and express their emotions in both languages. We strongly believe that feeling happy, supported and respected within school is essential for a successful and peaceful school year.

 The is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, in which  children can influence the learning process…

We see pre-school as the fundamental starting point in a child’s education. Our educational programme is designed to be in constant balance between teacher-led activities and those suggested by each child’s interests. Teaching is individualized and divided into face-to-face interaction, in small groups or with the whole class involved in the same activity. The starting point is always listening to each child and to their interests and needs. Even in language learning we follow the children’s motivational drives and we plan and propose educational activities in line with the interests and level of each of them. In this way, each pupil has the opportunity to progress at their own pace.

 How do you promote multiculturalism?

Our school is not just a bilingual school where the focus is solely on language learning. It is a bicultural school where children are immersed in both Italian and English cultures. The aim is to prepare our pupils to become part of the world with an open mind and curiosity, valuing nuances and differences that characterise their identity. For example, in our curriculum, PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) lessons include the study of different cultures and communities, emphasising the importance of knowing, understanding and accepting diversity. In the same way we study the history of all religions, incorporating hints of philosophy suitable for children. Cultures flow into the school’s daily life when celebrating festivals and events, from Christmas to Diwali (one of India’s most important festivals) to Eid (the Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan) and in the initiatives supporting equality and inclusion, for which in 2021 our school won the Gold Equalities Award promoted by EqualiTeach.

The governing charity of your school also offers extracurricular Italian language courses: can you describe the student profiles and the language teaching methods?

It is a separate project from that of the bilingual primary school and operates in fact under the name The extracurricular courses in Italian language and culture have been offered in London and in South England in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in London and the support of MAECI since 2018. These courses take place in over 40 different locations, outside of school hours, and aim to encourage users to develop and maintain their native language. They are offered to children and teenagers attending primary and secondary schools, regardless of their starting level. The main aims are the revitalisation, teaching and appreciation of the Italian language and culture, through an approach that stimulates awareness, interest and a sense of belonging. A communicative-situational teaching method is used, with a focus on grammatical structures, as well as writing and reading activities. In addition to gaining confidence and improving expressive and communicative skills, pupils are introduced to Italian culture, traditions, history, geography and literature.

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