When it comes to speaking English as a second language, Portugal stands out. In the last study on the subject, Portugal ranked 7th among the most proficient English speakers in the world.

Recognising the predominance of English in Portugal and the importance of speaking English fluently for the workers of the future, there is a small school in the village of Porches, EB1 + JI de Porches, which has started a new and successful project - bilingual education.

The Portugal News went to visit this friendly school in the Algarve, which is the only one where parents can opt for a free bilingual education (both in Portuguese and English) in the Algarve.

In this school, most of the children are Portuguese, but there are children of other nationalities who benefit a lot from this program, which starts from the kindergarten and continues until the fourth grade (nine years old). “I think this program also makes the school more inclusive, as we have managed to integrate all cultures”, said Ana Tarroeira, coordinator of the school.

The program is not only available in Porches school, as there are 28 schools in the country that have this curriculum, developed by the Ministry of Education in partnership with the British Council.

According to the coordinator of the school: “With bilingual education we provide students who are in Portuguese state schools the opportunity to have parts of the curriculum taught in English. The goal is to provide between 25 to 30 percent of the weekly hours in English, in subjects such as arts and sciences and humanities”.

Bilingual education is for anyone who wants it, regardless of nationality. “While Portuguese students, who do not speak English yet, learn English while learning content from other subjects, English-speaking students have the chance to have curriculum components taught in their mother tongue”, said Helena Soares, coordinator of the bilingual project in Porches school.

“We Portuguese learn several languages with ease. This is a quality that we should use as a tool for the future of our kids”, Ana Tarroeira added.

Positive child development

In addition to all the obvious advantages that these kids will get from learning the English idiom itself, there are studies that show that “bilingual children will be able to switch between languages quite naturally”.

Also: “There are studies that suggest that bilingual children develop a much higher speed of information processing, not only in linguistic terms, but also in other subjects”, she said.

The sooner, the better

It is never too late to start learning a new language. However, the sooner the second language is introduced, the easier it will be for children to get into bilingualism.

In this school, English is part of the atmosphere even in kindergarten. I was extremely curious to see how these young children could be taught, so it was on a visit to the kindergarten that I noticed how happy these children are while learning new and exciting things.

“Bilingual education is integrated into daily life. For instance, in kindergarten attendance records are made in English and every day we see how the weather is. Is it sunny? Is it cloudy? And over time, if we say 'go and wash your hands', or ask 'what colour is this?' they get that vocabulary over time,” said Helena Soares, who is also an English teacher.

More kids applying for this school

The school prides itself on being a bilingual school - “even non-teaching staff assume this bilingual identity”, the coordinator of the school highlighted.

This type of education has attracted children from other villages, increasing the number of students. “I can even say that around three quarters of the students come from neighbouring parishes”, said Ana Tarroeira to The Portugal News

This school is small and has only 103 students, in kindergarten and primary school, but if they could have more, they certainly would, given that only in Porches do young people in the Algarve have access to this type of service free of charge.