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Should I Send My Child to an International School?

December 17, 2012

The other day we went to Hiroshima International School to see a musical production of “Pinocchio.” I was an English teacher at the school a while back, and I’ve since continued tutoring a number of children from the school through my Bilingual Kids program.

Although there would certainly be some advantages in sending my own kids to this school, it might interest you to know why we haven’t chosen this path. Such schooling decisions are naturally based on each family’s unique set of circumstances and longer-term plans—there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer for everyone here—but I do think we share similar overarching concerns and considerations when it comes to this question. In that spirit, I offer these thoughts.

A key advantage

People are sometimes surprised when I tell them that we don’t send our children to Hiroshima International School. They assume that because Lulu and Roy are bilingual (and bicultural) that they must be students there.

This points to a key advantage in sending a child to an international school—and the number one reason many parents around the world make this choice: the child will invariably gain stronger English ability through the intensive language exposure that an international school setting provides. In this situation, a fair balance will likely be struck between the two languages, with the child acquiring the majority language (here, Japanese) from the home and community, and the minority language (English, in this case) at school.

If a child attends an international school, it also means less time and energy is required of the parents when it comes to supporting the child’s English side. (And, believe me, on days when I’m feeling weary of this challenge, that fact starts to look very inviting indeed. :mrgreen: )

Concerns and considerations

Still, there may be notable downsides to sending your child to an international school—even when the school, like Hiroshima International School, would be a wonderful choice in many respects. In our case, these are the concerns and considerations that have guided our thinking. Let’s call them the “three Cs.”

Cost

For many families, the heavy expense of sending one or more children to an international school is a very high hurdle. I have known middle-class families at Hiroshima International School, not much different from my own, who have somehow managed it—viewing this as an investment in their children’s future—but the truth is, even if we could comfortably afford to send our children there, I’m not sure we would, particularly in the younger years, given these two additional factors.

Capability

When a child attends an international school, this certainly boosts the English side of their bilingual ability, but it may also impact, to a significant degree, the child’s capability in the majority language, especially with regard to reading and writing. Here in Japan, because the Japanese writing system is so complex, bilingual children attending international schools must work very hard to keep pace with their peers at public schools when it comes to Japanese literacy. Because this is often a struggle, and because my family intends to remain in Japan, we felt it was important for Lulu and Roy to receive a solid grounding in the Japanese language by attending a Japanese school.

Community

In the same vein, since we live in Japan, we’d like our kids to grow up within the larger Japanese community (though I may not be thrilled with everything about it) so they can make friends locally, experience the culture fully, and learn to navigate this society effectively. As a teacher and tutor of international school children, I’ve seen how some end up feeling rather disconnected from their own surroundings and really only feel comfortable in this more sheltered environment.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Hiroshima International School—and I do think my kids might thrive there in the higher grades—but these “three Cs,” for now, outweigh the obvious advantages that an international school setting could offer. (Which means, because they’re still just 8 and 5 right now, that I’ll be running myself ragged to support their English side for quite a few more years!)

How about you? What are your thoughts on international schools? What concerns and considerations have influenced your own schooling decisions?

1 cyrille, le praticien du bilinguisme June 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Hello Adam,

I am not so surprised by your choice. I experience quite the same with parents asking why our children are not in the two-language cursus (It simply means that they study german and english at the same time as foreign languages).

There is no additional cost for us but capabilities in german count. German is so complex at the beginning that I prefer to expose them to english only at the age of 13. I consider an international school to prepare A-levels at the age of 15 but then cost and capabilities come again (our children are bilingual in french and esperanto but international schools are for bilingual in german and english). Will their level in german be good enough for such a school? Maybe. But certainly not for english. Then it would cut them from the community. It is amusing that the house in front of the school there my youngest go is dwelled by a family whose children go to an international school, but nobody in the area even know their names!

Just send them 6 month at school in the US when they will be 13 to 15 and you will get the back up you need in english.

Cyrille

Reply

2 Adam June 22, 2013 at 7:39 am

Cyrille, yes, I want my kids to feel connected to their local community and I don’t think this would be the case if they attended the international school here. When I was a teacher at the school, I saw that this was the fate of many of the students. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to leave that position was because I felt disconnected from the community, too!

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3 Ivy June 5, 2014 at 8:02 pm

I have been thinking and struggling to send my trilingual daughter to an international school lately. We live in Thailand and the dominant language is Thai. She was born in Thailand and taken care by a Thai nanny before she turned 2 yrs old. Now she studies at an English-Thai bilingual school. English and Chinese are the major languages we use at home. Since I’m the only one who talks to her in Chinese and this is the only resource she is being exposed to learn Chinese, I’m quite worried about her Chinese proficiency or literacy or fluency. She obviously shows no interest in watching cartoons spoken in Chinese because she has limited vocabularies to watch complicated cartoons or movies. She is 3.5 yrs old (been to school for 1.5 yrs already for nursery) and I just wanna transfer her to an international school which provides 24/7 fully English immersive learning settings and she won’t spend lots of learning subjects in Thai language which doesn’t really matter to us and she has many Thai friends around in this neighborhood, which means she still can use Thai as much as she wants. If she goes to international school (her English is good enough), she can spend time learning Chinese. I have no idea if my plan will turn out good for her…

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4 Adam June 6, 2014 at 6:06 am

Ivy, it sounds to me like moving your daughter to an international school setting will have a very positive impact on her language development. I understand your concern, but this is a strong step toward providing her with more balanced exposure to all three languages.

At the same time, if English is mostly used at the international school, you will need to be proactive and consistent about your use of Chinese with her at home. You don’t mention if your daughter is actively speaking Chinese or not, but if she’s only communicating with you in English, then you’ll need to pursue other strategies, too, to strengthen and “activate” this weaker minority language. For more ideas, please see this post…

What to Do when Your Bilingual Child Won’t Speak Your Language

Best of luck, Ivy!

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5 sundar September 8, 2016 at 8:36 pm

Good read through! I had the same question in my mind when I had to enroll my kid to school just 3 years back. I was so confused that I was not able to take a right decision. Me and my husband decided to put him to the best school in Bangalore, Greenwood High School which is an international school. I must say that the amount of exposure he has in his school cannot be found in any other schools. I think it’s the best decision we took so far.

Reply

6 Adam September 10, 2016 at 4:39 am

Sundar, I’m glad this school has been a good choice for your son. Best wishes to you all as your bilingual journey continues!

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