With the help of the British Council, schools across Northern Ireland can bring language and culture alive in the classroom.
Applications are now open for their Language Assistants Programme, which aims to help improve language skills, increase cultural awareness and boost confidence in the classroom.
Currently there are over 60 Language Assistants in Northern Ireland through the scheme, and they hail from all corners of the globe, including from China, Chile, Mexico and Switzerland.
French Language assistant Régis Billamboz, who is originally from the Auvergne Province in south central France, is embarking on his second year living and working around Newcastle, Co Down. He works in three secondary schools — Shimna Integrated College, Newcastle; Kilkeel High School, Kilkeel and St. Louis Grammar, Kilkeel — covering all our different educational sectors.
Speaking about the importance of incorporating languages into the educational system, he said: “Learning a language is vital. It opens pupils up to an entirely new world and is the easiest way to form a new life. If you can speak another language, you can think in another language and form different thoughts.
“The most important thing about languages is how they change perceptions. They alter world views and open up so many new possibilities. For me, coming to Northern Ireland as a language assistant is like taking two years to live a completely different life and this is what a new language can do for anyone.”
Schools new to language assistants can expect to gain a lot from the programme.
Speaking about day to day working life, Régis, who spends one and a half days at each of the schools, said: “My classes are usually small groups or one-to-ones. I really like it as it gives me a chance to build trust with my pupils and develop some kind of bond.
“When I teach the younger ones, say in year 8 or 9, it’s mostly playing games or role plays, but it’s always a lot of fun. There’s one rule though in my class — no English!
“I try and make my teaching as exotic as I can, to build interest and retain a little mystery – my students become more curious and you can see in their eyes that their world is getting bigger.
“I wish all my students could see that learning a new language is a gift to yourself and lets you enter a new world. French for example, isn’t just France, it’s also places like Belgium, Quebec and Senegal — It’s bigger than a nation. In my classes, I try to work outside the boundaries of France and teach from a world view. For me, being a French speaker is more important than just being French. And if France opens you up to a new world, think what Korean, Japanese or Mandarin could do!”
Praising Régis’ work in the classroom Ellen McVea, Vice Principal at Shimna Integrated College, said:
"Nothing compares to having a native speaker bringing their language and culture into our school. Most importantly, Régis has brought his language, his fabulous cooking skills and his French connections to our students."
For schools interested in hosting a Chinese Language Assistant the British Council is offering additional funding support — for more information on this, or any other language, visit http://www.britishcouncil.org/language-assistants. Deadline for applications is March 27 2015. The Language Assistant programme is supported by the Department of Education Northern Ireland and is just one of a number of educational programmes available through British Council Northern Ireland. For more information visit nireland.britishcouncil.org or follow on twitter: BCouncil_NI