The Triannual Newsletter
Language and Identity at Stonehill
Volume 12, Issue 2, March 2023
- Head of School Message
- Perspectives from the Primary School
- Perspectives from the Secondary School
- Boarding Focus
Welcome to the second edition of our Triannual Newsletter. This edition focuses on Language and Identity at Stonehill. Our community has been working on the importance of Language and Identity in determining what it means to be a “Global Citizen”.
We may ask the fundamental question, “does the language we speak, shape the way we think?” With over 7000 different languages, language plays a pivotal role in our perception of the world and how we interact within a diverse community which is complex, challenging, and exciting.
Language and identity are closely intertwined. Language connects individuals to their family, identity, culture, and beliefs. The language(s) we speak and the way we use language can reflect and shape our social identities, which are the various ways in which we identify ourselves in relation to others.
Language is a key component of a person’s cultural identity. The IB PYP labels this as a child’s home language. It is this language that the child utilises with expressions and intonations from home and family. They share their understanding of the world, ask questions and socialise. It is this language that sets them up for future success in education. A home language of about 2000 words is expected of a four year old upon starting school. Speech should be clear and understandable.
Several years ago I met with a number of different home language groups to discuss the possibility of continuing home language learning at school. The response was quite extreme, depending on the group - from an all-out-no to a maybe…right up to yes. Several home language groups at Stonehill continue home language development after school and on weekends to ensure an easier transition back to their home country both culturally and educationally.
Stonehill is an English medium school, meaning, we teach the IB curriculum through the English language. We provide a full immersion English programme from the age of three. For many of our young learners this is the first time they have heard an additional language outside of their family environment. For some, it is initially overwhelming but their ability to adapt is outstanding. Young children engage with others in more ways than oral language.
Non-verbal communication plays a HUGE role in their communication schema. Some may stick to their home language and ways of being, expecting others to align themselves, some will just absorb and adapt to the new ways of speaking and doing. Eventually all members of the class will communicate in a way that they can all understand. This generally means some of the differing cultural-isms represented in the room are taken on by children. Thus they are beginning to synthesise identity into their schema through verbal and non-verbal communication.
From the age of seven, an Additional Language is introduced in our curriculum. This may be Hindi, Chinese or Spanish. Again, young children will investigate new schema through this new language. They may directly translate the ways of knowing and being from this language into their personality.
Your child’s personality will continue to change as they make connections with others, continue to try on personalities and integrate different cultural practices. International schools give our children opportunities to be something unique and their interactions with language and language learning certainly ensure their identity is unique.
Primary School Principal
Stonehill PYP learners learn to communicate confidently and creatively in more than one language with an awareness of the power of language to have an impact on others. Through language, Stonehill PYP learners:
develop international mindedness
become effective inquirers
The PYP school at Stonehill welcomes all learners and seeks to understand, affirm and promote their language and cultural backgrounds through the learning community and curriculum.
All learners have a unique language profile shaped by relationships and interactions within their own family, culture and the wider world. The continued development of home and family languages is crucial for cognitive growth and in nourishing cultural identity.
Literacy invites the learner into new ways of making meaning and exploring the world through language. Language learners make meaning from written, viewed or oral texts and apply their understandings of symbolic cues.
Through literacy, learners uncover perspectives in texts and learn about the power of communication. Literature is a source of pleasure as well as thoughtful provocation as learners use it to explore other ways of knowing and seeing the world.
Multilingualism is significant in building international-mindedness as it gives learners insight into the thinking and perspectives of the self and others.
Language enables learners to gather and compare points of view, and to show empathy, compassion and respect.
Learners’ skills, knowledge and understandings of language play a fundamental role in the development of the attributes of the learner profile, for example, as communicators.
Shared understandings of language are constructed and contribute to an ongoing exploration into what it means to be internationally minded.
The language of school is different in many respects from the languages children learn and use at home. Learners and teachers use language for specific purposes and within particular learning contexts, and these influence the language choices made. Language supports relationship-building and the negotiation of meaning. Through language, learners communicate their ideas and understandings to the local and wider learning community using multiple modes of expression. Learners use language to:
question and probe
set limits and break boundaries
compare, explain and influence
Becoming Effective Inquirers
Language is essential to learning. It underpins the capacity to think critically and creatively, to inquire and collaborate. It is the primary means through which knowledge is accessed and processed, and through which conceptual understandings are developed; it is the means to reflect on ideas, knowledge and experiences.
Language learning immerses learners in the interplay between learning language, learning through language and learning about language.
Although these aspects are inseparable, they are used to support an understanding of how language is learned and used to make meaning.
Identity: A Blend of Linguistic and Cultural Interactions
As an international school, Stonehill is a multilingual and multicultural community, where everyone’s identity is supported. Many of our students’ identities are a mosaic of values, traditions and behaviours that originate from their home languages, the language of the classroom and the language of the playground. Multilingualism goes beyond the ability to communicate in several languages because communication, as we know, is more than choosing words; it also means understanding contexts, values and attitudes.
In this international context, the Additional Languages Department plays an essential role in giving students the opportunity to learn about a new language and new cultures. The central idea of the unit, ‘How We Express Ourselves’, is “diverse interactions foster connections and action.” A key focus of the Additional Language programmes is to develop the students ability to make connections between their linguistic and cultural identities and the language they are learning. The students often observe similarities between their home language, English (their academic language) and the additional language they are studying, “this word sounds the same as X in this language.” Observing the particularities of each language also raises conceptual and cultural questions. For example, several languages use masculine and feminine markers for all nouns. This has led students to ask questions about what we should use for non-binary people and to have fruitful discussions as there are often no clear answers to these questions.
Look at any report card from any school and you will almost certainly see a language as the first course listed for every student. Typically, this will be the home country language/mother tongue/native language/language of instruction (the terminology changes) of the students at the school, and the placement of language at the top of the report card signifies its importance in the education of the child.
The reality is that all education is predominantly ‘language education’. Students don’t ‘do’ biology or history at school the way that biologists or historians do their work; instead, they learn to read, write and speak about the subjects. This is why you’ll still hear older people in the UK talking about ‘reading’ physics at university, or ‘reading’ mathematics.
As mysterious as it might sound, I like to think of a person’s language as the operating system inside their minds.
A person’s experiences in the world are categorised by the operating system based on the available concepts and categories that the language uses. Although there are many similarities between languages, each of them have a unique way of interpreting the world. The language that we think most frequently in, therefore, has a significant impact on how we see the world.
International schools are one of the most fascinating arenas where you can study the impact of language on the growth and development of young people. Over 95% of international schools have selected English as the language of instruction (French and Spanish account for the other 5%), and this immersion in English brings with it a whole range of behaviours and cultural attitudes that students in international schools develop. This is why, I believe, you will see many similarities between students at different international schools who come from vastly different backgrounds: the immersion in English is bringing them together.
Families of students at international schools will often supplement the school-based immersion in English with lessons or tutoring in another language at home. This is often important to ensure that the student still feels a connection with wherever ‘home’ is, and is still able to communicate effectively with other family members who don’t speak English. Due to the diversity of the student body, it’s often very difficult for international schools to provide meaningful ‘mother tongue’ or ‘native language’ classes.
Language Acquisition at Stonehill
Learning additional languages is not just about travel. Learning an additional language is an essential aspect of a child's development, and this holds true especially in the Indian context.
As India is a multilingual country, with more than 22 official languages and a significant number of dialects, learning other languages can open up a world of opportunities for children, both academically and personally.
It can give them the skills to navigate and engage with the world around them, and help them become global citizens.
At Stonehill, we understand the importance of learning languages and have made it a key part of our curriculum. In addition to a strong appreciation for home languages, our students have the opportunity to learn several additional languages which may not be regularly used at home like Chinese, French, Hindi, Spanish and English as an additional language option.
At Stonehill, we provide our students with the opportunity to learn a foreign language and immerse themselves in the culture through a variety of activities, while also providing opportunities to interact with age appropriate authentic texts.
This approach not only enhances cognitive skills and improves academic performance but also plays a crucial role in shaping a young person’s identity and providing a deeper understanding of the world around them.
As language is inherently connected to identity, the English Language and Literature curriculum is designed to showcase a wide variety of voices and perspectives, including those of our host country.
The students delve into Indian and South Asian works in every grade.
Recently, after the death of Lata Mangeshkar, the M3 students studied, “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo” and other patriotic songs.
Indian voices are also examined through non-literary texts, like the DP students’ explorations of advertisements and political cartoons from India, and the M2 students studying informative writing when learning about various Indian holidays.
Through these texts, the students not only learn about Indian culture but they also gain an appreciation for the diversity of English as a global language.
Learning resources also explore identities beyond their typical cultural context; in DP English, for example, the students read Banana Yoshimoto’s novella, Kitchen, which examines themes of gender and sexual identity.
The M3 students read excerpts from Dori and Gina by Choi Jin-young, which explores the challenge of navigating friendship and sexuality in the context of the recent pandemic.
The M5 students study Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, a graphic novel that explores the intersection between identity and cultural norms. It is hoped that these texts not only reflect students’ own identities and beliefs, but also challenge students to consider how their values differ from those of the characters they encounter.
The students might consider how values are informed and how differences can be bridged. In analysing the techniques authors use, especially in viewing these through the social contexts in which works were written, the students become more aware of different forms of expression and what effects these can have on readers and the world. When engaging with these works, the students refine their critical thinking while exemplifying the Stonehill value of being Global Citizens, who can “respect and appreciate their own culture and are open-minded to the views, cultures, values and traditions of others”. In reading, analysing and using language, the students are actively investigating notions of individual and collective identity.
Boarding at Stonehill is a melting pot of cultures with students from India and all over the world, speaking over fifteen different languages.
We realise that a child's mother tongue is a crucial part of their cultural identity, and we strive to ensure each child preserves that identity during their stay with us away from their family.
Boarders are encouraged to call their loved ones at least once daily to maintain the strong bond between them and their family and friends back home. As they do this, they tend to display their natural tendency to speak in their mother tongues, ensuring they do not lose their ability to communicate in their local language even after living in a different environment.
Furthermore, at the International Food Fair (IFF) organised by the PTA at school, some of our boarders got a feel of their home while others got to taste new flavours from different parts of the world. The IFF allowed boarders to meet parents and individuals of the same nationality and communicate with them in their mother tongue. The International Baccalaureate's mandatory language acquisition programme requires students to learn a second language, further expanding their communication abilities and widening the audience they can talk and relate to.
During a discussion regarding the existence of a vibrant cultural community in our boarding environment, Samyak, a DP student, commented on his personal experience. "I have spent sixteen years living in the Maldives, where I was the only Indian student. I barely speak Hindi, my country's second official language. Growing up abroad forced me to communicate with everyone I met in English. After moving to a boarding school in India, I have a deeper connect with my culture, thanks to living with so many individuals who I can identify with. I now understand a lot more conversations because my vocabulary in Hindi has significantly increased. As I use Hindi more frequently now, I am gradually losing my unusual foreign accent while speaking Hindi."
At Stonehill boarding, the students talk to each other in both English and their mother tongues. The different languages do not create a barrier between individuals but it garners curiosity amongst those who do not speak it.