In both international and Dutch schools in the Netherlands, students from various corners of the globe bring with them a wealth of linguistic heritages. While many schools prioritise the language in which they teach, nurturing one’s home language(s) is crucial for effective language acquisition. Optimist International School (OIS) specialises in this area, continually evolving to support students on their multilingual journey.

A strong emphasis on acquiring the school or host country’s language is evident in schools worldwide. This focus is essential for integrating into the local community, fostering communication, cultural understanding, and insights into societal dynamics of the host country.

Programmes such as NT2 (Nederlands 2e taal) in Dutch schools or special Dutch language classes and EAL (English as Additional Language) / ESL (English as Second Language) in international schools, all aim to help bridge the gap for non-native speakers.

At some schools there is an obligation to only speak the school language, however, a lot of research demonstrates that this is not the right approach. Allowing room for students to speak their home language at school plays a crucial role in the social, emotional and cognitive development of young newcomers.

Importance of development of home languagesWhen students are still learning the school language, it can be a challenging adjustment, often leading to feelings of exclusion and isolation. Developing basic interpersonal communication skills, such as social language, can take anywhere from six months to two years, while cognitive academic language proficiency may require at least five years. This extended language adjustment period can negatively impact students’ motivation as well as their overall development if they lack opportunities to express themselves.

How home languages help with learningRecent research in Haarlemmermeer by Verwey Jonker shows that this language gap can affect students’ engagement in learning, leading to demotivation. Speaking their home language provides relief and clarity for many students, contributing to their socio-emotional development, progress and achievements in school.

Dr. Jim Cummins, a prominent researcher in bilingual education, also supports this idea. He highlights the positive correlation between home language development and the acquisition of new languages. According to him, proficiency in one language often facilitates the learning of another, maximising a child’s potential.

Furthermore, language and conceptual development are linked. Thematic education with appropriate language support offers numerous opportunities, connecting with students’ experiences and helping them to articulate their thoughts.

Language diversityFostering language diversity in the classroom promotes mutual understanding, respect and the preservation of cultural heritage that is embedded in every language. Embracing diversity is essential for schools, enabling all students to explore beyond their boundaries and gain insights into different cultures and backgrounds.

Multilingual classroomsCummins suggests that classroom instruction should promote a students’ flexible and strategic use of their linguistic repertoire in regards to their academics. Embracing trans-language learning allows schools to harness multiple languages, enabling students to use various linguistic resources to interact with the curriculum.

Students should feel empowered to express themselves in any language they feel comfortable with as this motivates them to utilise their existing language skills. This not only boosts their confidence, but also fosters an interest in English along with other languages.

Many schools are also certified Language Friendly Schools, which is a network of schools aiming to create an inclusive and language friendly learning environment.

Support and resourcesSome students may experience a “silent” or non-verbal period, which can extend up to six months for younger learners. In these situations, the parents play a pivotal role and it is encouraged for them to maintain speaking their first language(s) at home, helping students to preserve their parents’ languages while being exposed to their learning language.

Technology aids language development; translation apps and earphones enable non-English-speaking students to participate in English-based activities. This allows them to express thoughts, produce work and conduct research in their native languages.

Assessing students’ skills irrespective of language offers a deeper understanding of their capabilities. The use of instructional methods like “comprehensible input”, TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), and Talk4 Writing are ways to engage students in language acquisition through storytelling, integrating gestures, actions and visual aids.

Optimist International School is a Dutch international primary school that celebrates the cultural heritages of their students and staff, fostering a more inclusive and welcoming learning environment. Contact their team for more information.

The North Sea’s tough and cold quality has inspired works by prolific authors and artists all over the world, including some Dutch ones. Evgeniya Lupova-Henry from Liber Sum Books proposes seven great reads that showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage and history.

One of the great things about living in the Netherlands is being near the sea. Sure, the North Sea in particular doesn’t always bring pleasant weather, as you know if you’ve already cycled against the wind and rain. However, this cold and grey sea has been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers in the countries surrounding it. Here are some great books that pay tribute to this region.

The Edge of the World by Michael PyeWhat if not the Roman Empire but the Lowlands were at the heart of Europe’s development in the Middle Ages? In The Edge of the World, Michael Pye sets out to answer this question and sheds light on the North Sea region’s lesser-known (and somewhat foggy) history. He rather convincingly claims that people owe a great deal to the Vikings, Frisians, or the beguines of mediaeval Flanders, who largely contributed to shaping the world of today.

Pye combines sound research and great storytelling and invites you to re-think the role of the North Sea region in shaping Western society.

You Have Me to Love by Jaap RobbenThis multi-award-winning novel by Jaap Robben – a Dutch poet, playwright, and author of children’s books – is a coming-of-age story that explores the not-so-romantic side of living on a remote island. Located somewhere off the coast of Norway, the fictional island is home to a tiny community, where its very few inhabitants are exposed to rough weather and lack of socialisation.

This somewhat dark and eerie book explores the psychological strain and mental issues the protagonists face living on a secluded island.

The Sea, the Sea by Iris MurdochThe 1978 Booker Prize-winning “The Sea, the Sea” by Iris Murdoch offers a very different take on life by the sea. The novel follows a retired theatre director who “leaves it all” and moves to a secluded house on the coast. Living as a hermit, he decides to take pleasure in the simple things – food, daily swimming in the sea and writing.

That is, until he comes across his first love, now in her 60s, married, and living just around the corner … And this is where the plot starts taking unexpected twists (don’t worry – no spoilers!). This funny, engaging, and easy-flowing book is a marvellous character study, rife with black humour and observations of human vanity, egotism, and self-delusion. And it might be just what you need if you are also entertaining a dream of moving, one day, to a secluded place somewhere by the sea …

Image credit: Etienne Henry

The Silver Darlings by Neil M. GunnFirst published in 1941, “The Silver Darlings” has never gone out of print and is one of the most successful novels of Neil Gunn, an acclaimed Scottish writer. The story is set in the north of Scotland during the herring fishing boom. Following the lives of herring fishermen and their families, Gunn paints very accurate, warm, and compassionate portraits of his protagonists.

This novel will transport you to a different setting and draw a compelling and broad picture of the life of remote fishing communities that depended on the sea for their survival.

The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat by Sjón and Ted Hodgkinson (Eds.)In this book, you will find 18 funny, creepy, weird, playful, and magic stories by authors from various Nordic countries, from Iceland to the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Norway, and Greenland. If what you currently know about the Nordic region amounts to the cosy concept of hygge and noir thrillers, this book will definitely take you beyond these clichés.

As one of its editors, Ted Hodgkinson, says, “We wanted to show the ripples on the surface of Nordic life.” (Oh, and here is a sea reference for you!)

A Line in the World by Dorthe NorsDorthe Nors is a Danish writer whose fiction has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In this travelogue, she describes her journey to her native Jutland and its coastal villages. The book is divided into 14 essays, each of which focuses on a different section of the North Sea coast. Nors intertwines the stories of her youth, growing up amongst these windswept landscapes, and the history of the region, from its Viking legacy to the Nazi occupation.

Offering a rare glimpse into this region, its culture, rituals, and traditions, this book is also a meditation on how our psyche is shaped by the geographies we inhabit.

North Sea: A Visual Anthology by James Attlee (Ed.)If you are more into visual arts, you may enjoy this fantastic visual exploration of the North Sea in all its manifestations. Bringing together contemporary and vintage photography, the book showcases the North Sea coastline and draws portraits of the people who sail on this sea and those who live by it. Some photographs are accompanied by essays or poems, making this book truly an artistic tribute to the North Sea.

Do you want to discover more great literature? Liber Sum Books is an online bookshop and book subscription service that brings to you authors from across the globe. They propose monthly selections of English-language fiction, non-fiction and art / photo books curated. Get 20% off your first order with code LIBEREXPAT!

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