Photographs: Copenhagen International School
Text: The International
Language is both universal and unique – more than words, language informs our identities, facilitates integration, and improves our learning and earning capacity. And exposure to multiple languages is better than one, as Copenhagen International School shows!
Schools that embrace multilingualism report higher levels of academic achievement, and community engagement reports the International Literacy Association (ILA). Multilingualism will be the differentiator for job seekers of the future, says the ILA, and today's educators need to work on cultivating more accepting and welcoming environments to facilitate that*.
Embracing language diversity is a key focus at the Copenhagen International School (CIS), where creating an environment where everyone feels that they belong and have equitable opportunities forms part of its vision and mission.
"We're very proud of our diverse community, and it's definitely something parents and students appreciate – we do our utmost to help our students be multiliterate and multicultural," says CIS English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher Ronald Rosenow.
Language and identity
Language forms a pivotal role in our lives as it is inclusive of our culture and identities and is linked to a sense of belonging, which is linked to society, values, and heritage. This is according to Somikazi Deyi, a lecturer at the School of Language and Literature at the University of Cape Town, South Africa**.
In that country, which boasts 11 official languages, extensive research has been conducted on the role language plays in children's learning, with additive multilingualism recommended to boost learning.
As history shows there and elsewhere, language can be a tool for both divisiveness and unity – it's the latter that schools like CIS, as a proud home to multilingual students in (officially) monolingual Denmark, wish to emphasise.
"Kids often talk about their language as something that they're proud of or find interesting, for example, in our recent 'Nations Series' of student interviews featured on our website. I think that's interesting that they do that because I don't ask; it's something they talk about unprompted," explains Head of Communications Ida Storm Jansen.
In that series, children like Arnas from Lithuania and Fica from Indonesia reference the things they find the most remarkable about their home countries (whilst pointing out common cultural misconceptions) and their unique language(s) is what stands out for many of them.
Agreeing with the research conducted by prominent linguists like South Africa's Deyi, CIS recognises the importance of continued home language development for its international students via its Mother Tongue Programme, which offers native level language teaching to students from grade one onwards.
To celebrate multilingualism the school observes the UN's International Mother Language Day on February 21st each year – this year, the school community was encouraged to translate the school's manifesto into their home languages. These translations showcased an array of languages and alphabets and can currently be seen in the school's foyer.
"There's also evidence suggesting that bilingual and multilingual children develop better social skills, and that being exposed to multiple languages helps them have greater sensitivity to cultural norms and helps them build healthier cultural identities."
Language and integration
It could be argued that in a country where up to 85% of inhabitants speak English, internationals can get by without Danish at all! But acquiring the language of your host country is useful in integrating within its culture and society and being the ticket to higher education programmes, the Danish citizenship test, and the economy.
English – the global lingua franca of commerce – is offered at CIS as an additional language in support of bilingualism, whilst Danish is offered in two streams – A, which is native language taught at the highest level and B, for non-native speakers. This integrated approach prepares pupils for both secondary and higher education programmes and the job market.
Language and learning
Aside from the cultural and economic benefits, did you know that there are also cognitive benefits to being multilingual?
Learning new languages requires our brains to learn that one thought can be expressed in multiple ways – and this helps make us more creative thinkers, capable of more cognitive flexibility and more adept at problem solving.
There's also evidence suggesting that bilingual and multilingual children develop better social skills, and that being exposed to multiple languages helps them have greater sensitivity to cultural norms and helps them build healthier cultural identities.
That would seem to be a compelling case for exposing children to language diversity. At Copenhagen International School, there are over 60 languages represented in the diverse student body that includes young people from Austria to Zimbabwe, Colombia to Kenya, India to Israel - it is truly the students that put the 'international' into Copenhagen International School.