Parenting Guide

Fact or Myth: International schools will deter a child's fluency in native languages?

Published by SchoolAdvisor | Jan 31, 2017

Recently, School Advisor received a question on our website, and it goes a little bit like this. 

Does international schools will deter a child's fluency in native languages?

SA question 

You can relate? 

That's probably because you're going through the same dilemma. 

giphy Most parents aren't aware that International Schools in Malaysia do offer other languages besides English. Though the language of instruction is English, Malay and Mandarin are offered as a compulsory subject to students. As per government requirements, Malay will be compulsory for all students who are Malaysian citizens up to and including Year 11. Non Malaysian citizens will have the option of studying Malay as a 2nd language if they wish to do so. In most schools, students will have at least 2 lessons of Malay per week.

Mandarin will be offered as a 1st Language, Second Language and Foreign Language at all  grade levels.

International school such as St Joseph's Institution International School Malaysia (SJIIM) offer Spanish as an additional language.  In the Elementary School, students will be exposed to some Spanish Language and Culture but will not study Spanish formally. There will be the opportunity to attend a Spanish CCA. In the High School, Spanish will be offered as an elective subject at all grade levels.

Worried that these classes are inadequate?

giphy (1) International schools such as Alice Smith School run extra language lessons as part of the Co-curricular activities programme.  Students who are native or near native speakers for a language, have the choice to sit for the external examination of their first language as independent candidates, thus providing them with the opportunity to develop added skills in a new language. The type and nature of the activities will depend on the level of interest. For example, schools may offer students the opportunity to do more intensive Chinese studies for those wanting to study Mandarin at a higher level at the IGCSE, IB and beyond.

If you find your child is refusing to speak the minority language and is shying away from it, here are 7 hopeful things you can do!

source Motivation is the key to any language learning, never more so than for a bilingual child keeping up with the minority language.


If you consistently stick to speaking the minority language with your children, they are less likely to want to switch to the majority language with you, even when it becomes the main language of their day spent at school.


Nothing is as motivating as the need to speak a language. Without coercion, come up with situations where your children will want to communicate with monolinguals in the minority language. Think of play dates, Skype calls with grandparents, movies and other activities in the language.


Being immersed in an environment where the minority language is the common language in the society is one of the most efficient ways to give the language a boost. Several parents have seen their children’s confidence in the minority language progress in leaps and bounds after a stay in a place where they are surrounded by the language and other speakers of it.


Make using the language fun – think of activities in the minority language which engage your children and make them want to speak it. This could be games, hobby groups or even computer games in the language

Positive feedback

We are a great believer in giving positive feedback. In the long run, encouraging a behaviour which moves towards the desired goal is far more effective than being told off for using the wrong language. Keep it realistic though: children see through you very quickly if they get praised no matter what they say. Your feedback needs to be honest.


Children respond well to different incentives, but always make them age-appropriate. Your five-year-old will love getting a smiling sun sticker on the wall chart, but for your teenager you need to figure out something different.

Be a great role model

The importance of you as a role model for your child can not be underestimated. Show pride in your language and use it whenever you can. Read books – any books: biographies, chick lit, novels, non-fiction, cooking books, you name it – your children will also want to read. Teach them about the culture of your language: traditions, food, clothing, arts, sports, history, fashion, movies …

… and

giphy (2)

Refuse to talk

Some parents resort to answering their children only when they are addressed in the “right” language. This is a very drastic approach and in my opinion, not to be recommended. You should never stop communicating with your child. The very essence of language IS communication. The choice of language should not become a battle ground or be associated with feelings of being forced to do something.

Threaten with negative consequences

As we have mentioned earlier, we're all for positive encouragement. You may get your children to speak the minority language by shortening their playtime or refusing treats if they use the majority language, but you are creating a negative atmosphere around the language which is not conducive to your children’s willingness to use it.

Have more questions? 

Ask us in the comment section below! 

We're more than willing to give you the answers you need.