The DP Coordinators view: language level placement I

Originally posted on June 2, 2020 @ 3:20 pm

I am not a language teacher. In this post I want to share some scenarios surrounding language level placement in the IB DP and I would love to hear feedback to the questions raised.

In my experience, one of the most murky, opaque areas of the Diploma Programme is language placement in the group 1 and 2 subjects.

Having worked as a university guidance counselor and diploma programme coordinator for around five years in total (at the time of writing), I have been involved in the discussions around this topic in two schools on two continents.

It can be a highly contentious issue it seems; lots of people want to give their view, including me!

So whats the issue? Surely if a student is a native speaker they should take the language at group 1 and if non-native then they should take it at group 2, right?

Well, no. It isn’t that simple.

International schools can be very complex places and students language profiles are no exception to this. Add to the fact, that schools may have a medium of instruction that is different to the host country language as well as first language of the majority of students in the school, who may come from a country other than the host country or any country that uses the medium of instruction.

Let’s imagine a student. This student lives and attends school in country X where the local language is language Xphone but the schools medium of instruction is Zphone. This students family speak neither of these languages but students parents moved to country X from country Y for work 8 years ago.

The family speak Yphone. At home this student speaks Yphone every evening, but at school they are taught in Zphone for all their academic subjects and studying Xphone as the host country language is mandatory. Ever since this student was in upper primary they have studied at school primarily in Zphone and but also have had lessons in Xphone.

To make matters more challenging this student has been in the langugae aquisition stream for both language X and Z since upper primary and, whilst their language use of both language is strong, they are not fluent or at the level of a native speaker in either of the languages.

How should a student in this scenario be treated when undertaking their choices for the IB DP? None of the language teachers feel that they are strong enough for Language A courses and all recommend Language B HL. Should this student not be allowed to take the full IB DP because they can’t “do” a language A course?

The student in question wants to take school supported self taught literature A in Yphone. Should they be allowed to do this? What if they do not have the requisite skills to analyse literature in that language? They may have been speaking it at home all their life but they have not formally studied in it or with it for many years and so their reading and writing skills in this language skills are somewhat reduced.

What do you recommend? How should we approach this scenario as DP Coordinators?

Let’s imagine another student. This student holds a passport for country C because they were born there but their parents are from country D and moved back soon after this student was born. The family speaks Dphone at home. The school is located in host country D but teaches in language Cphone for most of its academic subjects.

Because of a quirk in the admissions process, despite being a mother tongue D speaker, this student was placed in D acquisition classes in upper primary and has stayed in these classes all the way through secondary. The teachers cite his slow progress in the acquisition class for language D and the fact that he holds a passport from country C as reasons that he has never moved into the main language D classes.

Now it comes to IB subject selections and the student is in acquisition classes for both language D and language C but cannot take both as group 2 subjects – one must be in group 1 but which one?

How do you decide which course would be most appropriate for a student? What would you do to resolve these issues if you were presented with them?

In next weeks post I hope to provide some thoughts of my own.

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