Meet Micheline Chaia: Director of the GWA Language Institute
Micheline Chaia leads the Language Institute at GEMS World Academy – Dubai. She speaks five languages, with a sixth in the works, and is a big advocate of teaching children their mother tongue
Tell us about your role at GEMS World Academy – Dubai (GWA)
On a day-to-day basis, I do everything from meeting with parents and conducting language information sessions to observing teachers in classrooms and organising events. Another significant role that I play is to tie up the language programmes offered through the school’s Language Institute with embassies and consulates.
How does the Language Institute work?
At GWA we offer 13 languages across the school. Twelve of these are part of the Language Institute’s mother tongue programme, which is taught in Grades 1-6, while PreK-KG2 students can choose from four beginner and two mother tongue language classes.
History, geography, literature and cultural studies about each country are integrated within the language lessons and exhibited through a variety of organised events that take place throughout the year, such as national day celebrations, movie nights and book weeks. This gives our students the opportunity to learn more about their country and its traditions, to preserve their identity and to belong to a community that speaks their language. Every academic year, we hold elections for students of each language to select their ambassador, with whom I meet on a weekly basis. Together, we organise cultural events and brainstorm future plans. Given such an opportunity, students get a better sense of belonging and feel more entitled and heard.
Being an IB school with students of many different nationalities, GWA now offers language support for students who choose to take their mother tongue language as a subject in DP. This year, we are providing three languages and we aim to extend the programme across the 12 languages that the Language Institute offers.
Why is learning languages important?
Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart”. Unfortunately, some words don’t give the same meaning or amplitude if translated to English, and this can affect the understanding of a country’s famous sayings, quotes and colloquialisms. Children who learn a language as their mother tongue feel more connected to their roots and have a stronger sense of belonging, they find it easier to move back home and reintegrate in their schools or universities and won’t feel like strangers within their community.
What advice can you offer parents and students?
Language practice is as important as language learning. We have merely a few hours a week to teach students the necessary vocabulary, grammar, proper pronunciation as well as help with their oral development. On the other hand, parents have the advantage of always being with their kids, which gives them more time to practice and communicate in their native language. As such, I urge parents to continuously support and encourage their kids to use their mother tongue language at home as well as to refrain from mixing languages, as this might interfere with their language fluency.
Who teaches at the Language Institute?
All teachers in the Language Institute are native speakers, as we strongly believe that a mother tongue language should maintain its original accent, and that can only be achieved through the correct pronunciation of words. Another important language learning aspect we take into consideration and keep a sharp eye on is vocabulary. Some languages evolved throughout the years, embracing new vocabulary that only mother tongue speakers are exposed to in their countries of origin, and that is another reason why we take teacher recruitment very seriously.
Is the Language Institute open to everyone?
The mother tongue language programme is only for native speakers. Despite the variance in language level among kids who have just arrived in the UAE and those who were born here, all students must be fluent speakers in order to enrol. For others who simply want to learn a language, we provide after-school language classes at beginner level.
More about Micheline
Born in Cairo - Egypt to Lebanese parents, Micheline Chaia was French educated, she graduated from the Sacré coeur school in Cairo, then joined the Faculty of Commerce and holds a Bachelor degree in Business Administration. Growing up in a multilingual family, Micheline developed a passion for languages and speaks Arabic, English, French, Italian & Spanish. She used her talent & experience to expand language teaching within the UAE over the past 11 years.