Moving to Singapore with non-English speaking kids? Need English lessons for your kids education here? One of Singapore’s leading international schools, the Overseas Family School (OFS), has a Study Preparation Programme (SPP) that helps their students who are non-native English speakers achieve and succeed.
Camelia Gergely is the school’s resident English language-learning expert. She has 14 years’ experience of teaching SPP, and recently assumed the position of Chapter Coordinator in Singapore for English Language Learning Specialists in Asia (ELLSA); this is an organisation dedicated to promoting and supporting best practices in English language learning and teaching in international schools in Asia. We asked her about the benefits of SPP offered by OFS.
How is the SPP at OFS different from English as a Second Language (ESL) programmes to other international schools in Singapore?
Over the course of almost two decades, the school has carefully designed a best-in-industry programme of English lessons for kids that’s like no other offered at any other international school. It’s a unique, full immersion experience that facilitates the acquisition of both social and academic language vocabulary for non-English speaking kids. There are three levels that we call “the Pathway”. Many foreign students come to the school with little to no English and progress through the levels in as little as 12 to 18 months, from SPP1 to mainstream classes in SPP3.
OFS also has an extensive mother tongue programme with 14 different mother tongue languages. So SPP students also benefit from the support of our mother tongue teachers while taking English lessons. They rapidly acquire English skills by tapping on their native languages through a process called “translanguaging”.
A key concern of families moving to a new country is the loss of academic time – for example, children being held back a year because of their English language level. How does SPP manage this and help students graduate with their age peers?
At OFS, the non-English speaking kids are fully immersed in the mainstream curriculum, including all activities, projects and assessment tasks. They follow the same learning goals in all the curriculum areas but in a modified and adapted way carefully tailored to their English learning needs and abilities. Hence students will be able to experience the same concepts taught in mainstream classes with little to no loss of academic time, and meet the same academic standards as their English-speaking peers.
What are some strategies that you’ve found to be most effective in helping English language learners?
My first priority when an SPP student arrives at OFS is that they feel welcome, happy, safe and comfortable in the new school environment. It can be hard for them being away from their family and friends back home. So it’s important for them to quickly acquire functional social language skills that will help them interact with their peers and teachers. It’s also important for me to form a strong partnership with their parents and build a positive rapport with them. This helps me understand their child’s background better and what they enjoy doing, so I can plan my English lessons for their kids accordingly.
We also have a ‘buddy’ system in our home base classes where we pair them up with friends from the same country or those who speak the same language as they take English lessons. Every child is special to us and will, in time, build a memorable experience at OFS by feeling part of our community.