A French class in the International Track program at Ecole Bilingue.
A French class in the International Track program at Ecole Bilingue. Photo: Ecole Bilingue

 This story is brought to you by Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley.

Until last year, Keith Beattie’s daughter Claire attended a public elementary school in Berkeley, but she was not getting the attention she needed.

“For us, in particular, the thing that attracted us to Ecole Bilingue was the smaller class size, as our daughter was struggling a bit in the really large [public] classrooms,” said Beattie. “I think having more individualized attention is something that she really needs at this point in time.”

French bilingual middle school Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley has opened a new program for students who don’t yet speak French but are interested in an immersion program with very small class sizes. This new program, dubbed the International Track, offers students accelerated classes in French, with unprecedented individual attention, thanks to a student-teacher ratio of under 10:1.

Small class size = individual attention

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Students in the new International Track program spend half of their time in small-group settings; the rest of the time, they are mixed in with a larger group of students who are bilingual in French. Thanks to a carefully crafted schedule that balances classes conducted in English with those in French, students in the International Track program benefit from a unique combination of strong academic support from teachers and cultural immersion in French.

“I have been wanting to learn French for a very long time,” said Elyse, one of the students in the program. “I like that I can go to other places where they don’t speak English. I think French is a good asset for traveling in Europe!” 

Olani, another International Track student, wanted to learn French because of his passion for soccer: “A lot of my soccer friends speak French, and I have heard them speak it sometimes. I just listened to them, and I love the way it sounds!” 

In 8th grade, all students have an opportunity to put their French-language skills to the test, thanks to a two-week trip to France.

Is middle school too late to learn a foreign language?

Research shows that to achieve native-like fluency in a foreign language, students must start to learn that language while they are young, and be exposed to it regularly. Some schools (including Ecole Bilingue) offer immersion programs starting at age 4, a prime age when children’s brains are developing.

Is it too late to start learning a new language in middle school, when students are 10 or 11? The short answer is no. Adolescents who learn a foreign language before they turn 15 can still achieve better pronunciation than people who learn a language when they are adults and their brains are already fully formed. With enough exposure and practice, these students can still reap the benefits of acquiring a second language and become articulate critical thinkers, develop mental flexibility and agility, deal with complexity, become culturally fluent, and grow into empathetic and compassionate individuals, who have an appreciation for differences. Moreover, students who have familiarity with a second language are more likely to place in advanced language classes in high school. 

Language or culture?

The International Track at Ecole Bilingue is much more than a language program. Students are immersed in a diverse international community where French is spoken on a daily basis by students and teachers alike.

“You are surrounded by people who actually use that language in the classroom, and you can interact with teachers like me who speak French,” said math teacher Corinne Pluche. “Students can actually practice in real-world situations here.” 

Ecole Bilingue is now accepting applications for 6th grade for the 2020-21 academic year. Learn more about the International Track program by attending a tour at 9 a.m. this Friday, Nov. 8 (register online), or Monday, Dec. 16 (register online). Learn more about the program at www.eb.org/international.Questions? Call our Admissions team at (510) 809-0615 or email admissions@eb.org. 

This story is written and paid for by Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, a preschool to 8th grade French-American school. Its mission is to nurtures creative, multilingual learners, equipped to confidently embrace the delights and challenges of an interconnected world.