Bilingual in the Early Years – An interview with Christiana Gonzalez

How does language acquisition work for young learners? It’s definitely a question that has left many parents worried about the best educational path for their children. We’ve worked hard to explain truths and dispel myths about learning multiple languages from a young age, and we’ve talked about the bilingual advantage and the critical periods of multilingual exposure.

Now, thanks to our new Early Years PYP Coordinator, Ms. Christiana Gonzalez, we can talk about the specific execution of bilingual instruction in the Early Years, and what you and your child can expect from our bilingual programmes.

Ms. Gonzalez has a Masters of Professional Studies in Early Childhood Education, Childhood Education and Students with Disabilities (Birth – Grade 6), as well as a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance. She worked for 4 years as an Early Years  PYP Coordinator, and we welcome her as our new EY PYP Coordinator, and in a recent interview with her, we’ve garnered valuable insights that parents of EY students can benefit from!


We’ve described translanguaging in the past, and Ms. Gonzalez went into greater detail:

“Translanguaging is the regular use of two different languages (or more) in your daily life.

We used to think that when you learn a new language, there is a separate room in your brain that takes in the information. But in reality, when you are learning a different language, it’s a multipurpose room and you are taking from the different skills you have from other languages in order to increase your proficiency and understanding in all of the languages you are learning.

“I worked with the Early Years leadership team and the languages coordinators over the end of last term and the summer to create universal key indicators in the early phases. Part of our work was a really big push we had when doing an in-depth research on Bilingualism and translanguaging and we were able to create a universal language key indicators.

We did more research about how to actually translate that into the classroom and it’s really about highlighting those strengths that children have in their home languages and using those skills to increase their proficiency and maybe a new language that they are learning.

“With the diverse array of mother tongue speakers at SISD, as well as our multiple language streams, translanguaging is a very natural practice that is a perfect fit for our bilingual programmes. The Programme is taught in bilingual classes using a co-teaching method and we are able to use that and marry it with the international mindedness aspect of the IB.”

The phases of bilingualism

Many children will go through varying degrees of proficiency in languages other than their mother tongue. Ms. Gonzalez discussed the various phases of each student in how they learn:

  • BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) development takes from 6 months to 2 years in a full immersion programme
  • CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) and this develops withing 4 to 7 years in a full immersion programme

“Students will go through the following phases:

  1. Silent period. The pre-production period and this is very normal and it’s just the phases of language acquisition.
  2. Early production. Which is when the student knows about 1000 words and is using them in one or two phrases.
  3. Speech immersion (3000 words) and the use of simple sentences
  4. Intermediate fluency (about 6000 words): students express opinions, share thoughts and ask questions to clarify.
  5. Advanced Fluency: the student is able to perform like native speaker in a content area learning

The CALP process could take 4 to 7 years.”

Effects of bilingual learning on one’s mother tongue

We’ve debunked the myth that exposing young children to multiple languages can cause developmental delays. But are there any noticeable effects besides that? Ms. Gonzalez confirmed that early on, there can be some impacts on the mother tongue, when a child is learning a new language. However, there’s nothing to be afraid of, she stresses.

“In the beginning, it might appear that they have lost some language acquisition, but in fact it is just the brain trying to figure out how to use both languages with the same skills.”

The IB PYP with STEAM stream

Ms. Gonzalez also expanded further on the IB PYP STEAM programme that started in September 2020.

“We broke it down to allow students in each grade to follow the same Programme of Inquiry, the same math, language and science key indicators but we have added a yearlong unit that we have broken down to two different parts.

For semester one, the focus is on Engineering.

In PreKG we have introduced a creative Makers Space to the children.

In KG1 the students will be doing STEAM challenges. We have tied it with languages (English and French or German) and fairy tales. For example, if we are reading a book about Rapunzel, in any language, maybe we can build a simple machine to get her out of her tower.

In KG2 we have a focus on Architecture and we tied it to the UAE as well as home countries. How can we build the Meydan bridge, what materials do we need? How can we make it strong and durable?”

A vision for the future

Ms. Gonzalez has great things in store for our young learners. She intends to leverage her experience, as well as SISD’s core values, in order to promote the best experience for our children. She says,

“I really hope I can bring my in-depth knowledge of the enhanced to help create a balanced curriculum of all essential elements across the EY grades.

I have some new ideas on how to implement inquiry, not only within the Unit of Inquiry but also in Math and language and how we can incorporate it also to PE, library and the Arts in order to have a full immersive Programme. We are not only doing planning meetings with the teachers, but we are getting the specialists involved too into this transdisciplinary focus.”

” I am so impressed by the women I work with. From the Head of Early Years, Deputy Head, Secretary, all the way to all the teachers, CRAs and TAs on the team. They are not only dedicated professionals, they have also a wonderful positive attitude and are ready to take on any challenge given the special circumstances at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. I just feel right at home and I am very happy to be part of such a wonderful team”.

With her experience and leadership, our faculty’s expertise, and the detailed educational programmes that we’re building and promoting, our Early Years students are sure to be prepared for growth into a diverse, multicultural, and multilingual environment!


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