The immersion language approach at AIM continues into the elementary grades. Children choose either the Chinese/English or the Japanese/English track (although some truly trilingual students may spend time with all three languages).
- Three teachers, three languages. The AIM private school program is staffed by three trained Montessori elementary school teachers. One head teachers is a native Japanese speaker, another one, Chinese, and the third, English. Each teacher speaks with the students in his or her native language, throughout the day.
- A combined classroom, with specific language areas. Our elementary program operates in one large space, and Montessori materials are spread throughout this space, largely separated by lower elementary (1st – 3rd year) and upper elementary (4th – 6th year.) However, students work in three different areas, depending on their language track and the language used in instruction: Japanese students spend most of their day in the Japanese side of the classroom; Chinese students, in the Chinese side. Children at similar levels from both programs also come together in the library, where the English-speaking lead teacher delivers lesson to them in English. This set-up enables us to offer a larger social group, comprised of both Japanese and Chinese speakers, to maintain a rich, mixed-age classroom with a wide variety of materials, and to maintain Chinese or Japanese as the dominant language children speak with each other throughout the day (while not engaged in English lessons.)
- An effort to translate the Montessori materials into Chinese and Japanese.Starting last year, we have begun to translate the entire Montessori elementary program into both Chinese and Japanese. After a year of looking for commercially available programs, and reaching out to schools across the globe, we have come to realize that what we want to offer hasn’t been done before. So we are blazing trails by translating our rich Montessori curriculum into both Chinese and Japanese. This process will take us a few years – but we’ll ensure we stay ahead of our students as the program will grow with them!
- All-day immersion. Our students receive lessons in English and either Chinese or Japanese all day long. Japanese or Chinese are not relegated to an hour or so daily of specialist language classes. Instead, students receive lessons across the curriculum in both English and either Chinese or Japanese (those who are trilingual may receive lessons in all three languages.) Children learn math, geography, science and history in English and Chinese or Japanese. They also enjoy independent reading in Chinese or Japanese: our huge elementary library with over 4,000 books contains a wide variety of books in Japanese and in Chinese. Finally, they engage in writing activities in English as well as Chinese or Japanese on a daily basis. This full immersion approach ensures that students acquire vocabulary in Chinese and Japanese across the curriculum. It also demonstrates, on a daily basis, that at AIM, Chinese and Japanese are important languages, and prevents English from becoming the de facto dominant class tongue.
- All-day Montessori. To cover the broad, engaging Montessori curriculum fully, and to do so in three languages, requires time. That’s why our private school program for the elementary years is a full day program, 8:30 am – 4 pm. It’s also why we run a Montessori classroom all day: in the past, we tried Montessori mornings, and afternoons dedicated to Chinese or Japanese language lessons. We found that this didn’t work: mornings were too short a time period to fully explore the rich Montessori program. And by relegating Japanese and Chinese to shorter afternoon specialist classes, they became second languages in a bad sense: they were less valued by students, a mere adjunct and not an integral component of daily life. Lastly, following a traditional text-book based approach for language instruction made the afternoons less enjoyable, and clashed with our high engagement, follow-the-child, self-motivated approach to learning we want to foster in the Montessori environment..
- Social language environment. To be bilingual means not just reading or writing in a foreign language, but also speaking and living it. In AIM’s private school program, we actively encourage students to use Japanese and Chinese not just with teachers, but also as a social language in the classroom. As many students come up to AIM’s private school program from our Montessori Children’s House, they already have the habit of speaking in Japanese or Chinese to their friends, and we encourage this social use of language throughout the elementary years by dedicating certain areas of our classroom as Japanese or Chinese environments, where the children are expected to speak in these languages with each other and with their teachers.