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.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Qualified Nursery Nurse for Bury Nu...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Full time key stage 2 teacher job at ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary