Teaching in tongues: the bilingual pre-school tapping new potential

Introducing the first officially accredited Russian-speaking bilingual nursery in Britain

Education Editor

The children in this nursery in the leafy London suburb of Richmond are busy acting out a story about a bear in a forest. Stage directions, however, are being given to them by their teacher in Russian.

This daycare centre for under-fives is unique in the UK, being the first Russian-speaking bilingual nursery in the country to be officially registered by education standards watchdog Ofsted.

The centre, run by the Azbuka Foundation, attracts parents from miles away as a result of the dearth of alternatives – there is a two-year waiting list to register a child.

Svetlana Ochetnikova, who teaches there and whose own three-year-old daughter Arina also attends, travels in from Crystal Palace – about an hour away – every day.

“It’s marvellous,” she said. “Arina loves it. She was very surprised when she first came here. She’d heard her parents speaking Russian at home but she just said: ‘Look mummy, all the children here are speaking Russian!”

Maria Gavrilova, the proprietor, who also teaches at the centre, believes the Government is missing a trick by not promoting more bilingual nursery centres or schools.

“There are so many people in the UK who are bilingual –Polish, Urdu, a whole host of languages,” she said. “It is not like the Middle Ages where you’re stuck in your village and live there for the rest of your life. There was no difficulty in getting people to help teach here – there are lots of Russian speakers out there.”

It would, she argues, be the same for other languages and that would help erase the UK’s reputation as a linguistic desert.

The benefits, she says, are that bilingual children can start to learn about both cultures at the same time – instead of languishing in a monoglot setting and have to make up on the second language in any spare time parents have at home.

Most of the children come from bilingual homes where one parent is Russian and the other English – though some have parents with no Russian connections at all, who still see the value of a bilingual start to their children’s education.

Russian is the lead language of the centre, although those children who do not speak much Russian go through a “scaffolding” initiative where they are taught by being shown objects they recognise.

Ms Gavrilova, however, is worried that her children may lose out when they reach school age as there will be no-one to help with Russian.

As one parent said of her son: “He is embarrassed speaking Russian to me when I am in his English school – no-one else speaks Russian so he feels excluded.”

Another added: “My child’s amazing bilingual abilities and skills are not valued, used or developed in his English-only school.”

The foundation, an independent charity, is running a complimentary school on Saturdays for around 60 older children to keep up their Russian studies.

Some of its students have gone on to obtain GCSEs in Russian – gaining A* grades three years earlier than students in mainstream schools.

The Foundation is aiming to offer a full-time education at its complimentary school in future and to set up a club, through which it can stage cultural events and activities.  However, it is still searching for full-time premises.

The Government can point to a growth in the number of bilingual primary schools as a result of its free school programme – there are French, German and Spanish schools in operation.

In addition, it is making languages compulsory from the age of seven in state primary schools for the first time ever from next September.

However, such actions are too little, Ms Gavrilova feels. “Our children are set to grow up in a world where their sense of normality is very different from ours,” says the brochure outlining its plans. “Their ability to adapt and adjust will be the difference between success and failure.

“It’s why the behemoth of the British education system is increasingly not the answer to our children’s needs.”

At a time when the British Academy claims that too few of our ambassadors speak the language of the country they are serving in, it seems a valid point to raise.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Geography Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Temporary Teacher of GEOGRAPHY ...

Supply Teachers needed in Salford!

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Nursery Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Nursery Assistants RequiredNursery Assis...

Supply Teachers needed in Bolton!

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments