multilingual primary school - a great approach to learning!

As the students at Tandem IMS' Primary School shuffle in from their break, there is a buzz of energy that moves with them. They are still chatting about their lives, what has happened during their outdoor break time and what their plans are for the weekend. Listening closer to their words, they are flipping seamlessly between different languages as they speak to different friends or as various friends join in the conversation.

Once they enter the classroom, the buzz dies down as they then get ready for the next lesson.

On the surface, Primary School at Tandem IMS is much like most other primary schools. The students develop friendships and work through the different subjects to the best of their abilities. At the end of Primary School, they then move on in different directions whilst keeping many of the close friendships from their youth.

Below the surface, however, Tandem IMS is not just like any other school.

Multilingual Curriculum

At Tandem IMS, the Primary School students begin their schooling in two languages. Although German lessons are done in German, and English lessons are done in English, all other subjects are sometimes taught in German, sometimes taught in English and sometimes taught in both languages at the same time. On top of this, French lessons start officially in Grade 1 as well with many of the students successfully taking the DELF exams starting in Grade 3.

Language Lessons

In their language specific lessons, the students work incredibly hard to learn how to read and write at grade level in both English and German at the same time, even when their first (or even second) language is something else. In German, the students work to the standard given by the Canton of Zurich (Lehrplan 21), whereas in English, the standard is according to the British National Curriculum.

The teachers then motivate the students and help them to develop the tools to not only learn how to speak, read, and write in both languages, but to compare the languages directly to find where they are similar and where they are very different. The students are assessed using the Lernlupe in German and the SATs in English to help the teachers ensure that the students are at level with the «native monolingual» German and English speakers in Switzerland and in the United Kingdom.

Enquiry-Based Learning

Moving away from the language lessons and into the other subject areas, an Enquiry-Based Learning style quickly takes over classroom teaching and learning where the students are encouraged to question and explore the different subject areas. Even in mathematics the two teachers work together to help the students question and understand the «why’s» behind the different mathematical concepts as well as to become not only familiar with, but also comfortable with, how mathematical equations and problems are approached and solved in different cultures. The teachers may introduce the different symbols used in the different cultures and encourage the students to recognise and use both in their daily work. For example, the symbol : is often used here in Switzerland to indicate division. However, in North America, the division symbol looks like this ÷ . The students, then, learn to recognise and use both symbols interchangeably.

Researching the various areas in enquiry and science using the Enquiry-Based Learning system also allows the students to explore topics of interest to them and to have fun with their learning whilst applying their English and German skills. During their topic research, the students are often working in groups doing the research and writing together. The group then presents their findings to their classmates using a variety of IT presentation tools.

Intermixed with all of this language learning, enquiry research and mathematics, the students also have a specialist music teacher and visual arts / woodworking teacher who teaches music and music theory, art history and artistic forms and concepts. They also have gym or swimming lessons each week as well as portfolio work and IT lessons. It is a very full programme.

After School Activities

At the end of each day, the students again start chatting with one another about what they will be doing that evening at home or in one of their extra curricular activities. After working hard all day, they somehow still find the stamina to do their homework, go do dance or piano lessons and have fun with their friends.


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