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A Bilingual Future for Edinburgh’s preschoolers?

Chris Atha founded Future Bilingual with the aim of providing native speaker-led, immersive language learning experiences for preschoolers in the city. I decided to find out more about what he does.

What inspired you to found Future Bilingual?

I studied Law and French at Glasgow University and have always loved learning foreign languages myself. After university, I spent a year teaching English at a bilingual primary school in Madrid. It was there that I first saw how rapidly young children pick up language.

More recently I read the results of a University of Washington study. It demonstrated that if a child aged 0-3 years receives just 1 hour of immersion in a foreign language per day, they will be set on a strong trajectory towards bilingualism. The quality of the interaction is obviously key – it must involve qualified native speakers.

How do you recruit your tutors?

Our class tutors are all qualified and experienced Early Years practitioners who already work with preschoolers in another setting. They must also be PVG scheme members.

Can you describe a typical group session?

As in a nursery, children are exposed to language through native speaker-led play and storytelling. To ensure quality interaction our tutor-child ratio is 3:1.

"1 hour of immersion in a foreign language per day, they will be set on a strong trajectory towards bilingualism" – University of Washington Study

Why do your tutors speak in ‘parentese’?

‘Parentese’ is a particular way of talking to young children which is used by parents and carers. It involves slowing down and speaking in a higher pitch. Our tutors also pause frequently. This ensures children are given plenty of time to respond. Future Bilingual tutors constantly look to affirm and encourage each child’s vocalisations, which spurs them on!

What is your vision for Future Bilingual?

I hope to roll out our group Spanish classes in other parts of Edinburgh. Currently, we offer our sessions at the Eric Liddell Centre in Morningside. Eventually, I would like to extend the language offering to include French and possibly other languages. Since the Future Bilingual method prioritises regular exposure to a foreign language, I’d also like to take my tutors into nurseries across Edinburgh. But we’re building things up gradually so as to ensure the best quality provision!

I’m interested in setting up home-based language sessions for my child, could you help me?

Of course! I have a database of French, Mandarin and Spanish tutors, which I’m constantly updating. Interested parents are welcome to get in touch.


By Laura Vida - former primary school teacher


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