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April 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

To Be or Not To Be a Bilingual Teacher? Summer Reflections on My Last Year in a Bilingual School

Anna Przybylo – an active teacher of English and History in Open Future International School, manager of “WISHES” school of English, teacher trainer at KIRE, Kraków. Email:


Nowadays, more and more schools are gaining possibility of opening bilingual classes. Some schools are following International Baccalaureate Programmes, some have got just few subjects in English. It all sounds wonderful, especially for the parents, who seem to be overwhelmed with the idea of their child using fluent English after one or two years of attending this kind of school. However, the aims of parents and their way of understanding the bilingual education is, in my point of view not clear for everybody. I wish to start the discussion that may bring some changes in bilingual teaching for three parties – teachers, parents and students.

I have started my work as a history teacher in a bilingual and IB school last year and I have encountered many problems. Let me start from the beginning. As an English teacher, working for about ten years I had quite a lot of experience with kids on different levels. I thought that changing the subject for History in English will be a new, fresh start. Especially, knowing that the kids at this school had a great knowledge of English and for some it was even a mother tongue.

And here comes reality! I didn't assume that there is a very big difference between social language that we teach during our regular English classes and between academic language ( in this case connected with history), which is completely something else. After the first lessons my students were depressed and discouraged as they were not able to follow the pace of the lesson, stuck with a bunch of completely new definitions, geographical names and king's or queen's names that sounded differently in English. That was too much. Especially when the material introduced was connected with something that they were not familiar with.

Another very big obstacle for us was the matter of student books and materials to be used. There are actually no materials for bilingual classes and no books in English that would correspond with the Polish curriculum which would be the support especially for those kids, who e.g. have come back to Poland with their parents from other countries. That is why, I had to translate and prepare all materials by myself with a little help of the internet if the topic would touch the world history. Unfortunately, there was a much bigger problem with Polish history as there are very poor resources available that could have been used for the lessons with kids in English.

There comes another problem. One could say that Polish history is said to be lectured in Polish so there is no need of translating materials into English. However, what to do with students that do not speak Polish or they speak Polish using common language but do not understand the student books. Furthermore, there is a matter of tests – in which language they should be written? Some pupils would not be able to construct an answer in Polish, on the other hand I have noticed, that if the lesson was in English, my kids had a very big problem in constructing the test answers in Polish because of a proper language used only in English. Even bigger problem appears during the exams. First and foremost, tests for foreigners are written in Polish!

The next thing is connected with students themselves. Their getting into the point in which they can easily communicate with others, makes it enough for them not to study as hard as they should. However, a general ability to lead the conversation does not mean that this is the end of their education. Student's books are usually too easy for them which means that students are not encouraged to study. Pupils should realise that they are good but they still need to improve language skills to get to the academic level of proficiency.  Again, it is in teacher's hands to motivate them and prepare materials that would be on adequate level.

Another part of the story are parents and their expectations connected with bilingual schools. They believe that the main goal is to use English, forgetting that their children need to face Polish standards in future education. They need to be fluent in both languages and for that we need a balance.

At this point the level of my frustration was really high. I knew that the expectations of headmaster, as well as the parents, were clear – the lesson should be conducted in English. Fortunately, it has turned out that leading bilingual classes is not only a problem in Poland but it is still a very big problem everywhere, also in the USA although in this topic they have much more experience.

So few conclusions for all of us – teachers, parents and students.

First of all, in my point of view, the plan and the idea for bilingual education is needed. It cannot be connected with just learning English it needs to be connected with preparation of gaining the knowledge in both languages. We cannot deny our native language. So we should balance the usage of both languages in order to get equal effects and minimize the anxiety that occurs when children are suddenly immersed into another language. Bilingual does not mean monolingual. Following Jose Cardenas in his “Current Problems in Bilingual Education: Part I” the most important aspect is to keep the balance between usage of both languages. Unfortunately, we teachers, are left with the problem, because a very small number of materials are available on the market. Therefore, we need to help each other in every possible way by constructing the bilingual exercises, lesson plans, games and other activities that would suit the level of English, as well as tackle the right subject vocabulary.

The next thing, which I find very accurate is this statement:

Where bilingual programs actually use native language instruction, teachers are under tremendous pressures to make a premature transition into English language instruction or to exit the students from the bilingual program into regular English language classrooms.

This kind of understanding bilingual classes by parents and very often headmasters make it very difficult for teachers to introduce parts of the lessons in a mother tongue. In this case, only the education of parents of what does BILINGUAL mean can change mentioned point of view.

To support this argument I would like to mention one of the  TEDx speech titled: “5 techniques to speak any languaguage, in which Sid Efromovich was talking about mastering five or more languages. For him, one of the most important thing is to create “a comfort zone” and not being forced to leave it before the learner is ready to take up the risk of making a mistake.  For him, what was significant was the possibility of comparing the sounds (which made it easy to memorize some words) or the grammar systems with his mother tongue and gradually switching into the newly learned language.

To sum up, I believe that new educational challenges are coming up. The changes in our kids, who are growing up in a completely new world, in which travelling without any borders or restrictions, switching from one language into another to communicate, playing games with people using different languages; these all are opening new paths for education. Teachers and parents need to support each other as we are always one step behind our kids. Although I have come across many problems mentioned above, I still feel very encouraged and determined to make bilingualism work better for all of us.



Jose Cardenas, Current Problems in Bilingual Education: Part I, August 1993,


Please check the Methodology and Language for Primary course at Pilgrims website.

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    Anna Przybylo, Poland

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