NIS Stories

School-Supported Self-Taught (SSST) Language at Nagoya International School

A student studies online in the school library.

Within the IBDP subject structure, students are required to take six subjects in addition to three core elements, which include Studies in Language and Literature (known as Language A) and Language Acquisition (known as Language B). This ensures that students meet the IB's values and aims in relation to access and multilingualism.

Language choices in DP courses are unique. The language choices of “Studies in Language and Literature” and “Language Acquisition” can be somewhat flexible, depending on what language and level at which they choose to study. DP requirements necessitate one “main” language subject and another for language acquisition, as a core principle of multilingual education in the IB program. For some of our students, they are even able to undertake the double pursuit of Language and Literature in both English and Japanese, earning successful students a bilingual certificate. 

Non-Japanese students at NIS typically fulfill their Language B requirement in Japanese as a continuation of their MYP studies in Japanese as a foreign language. Some have also chosen a Spanish program through an established external language course that is available online. 

And though NIS has been offering options for other languages as much as possible in order to meet the students’ interests and future aims through the School-Supported Self-Taught (SSST) program for the Language A requirement, up until now, there has not actually been a student to step up to the challenge of completing the full SSST through to Gr. 12. That is, until this year! Recently graduated, Hatice is the very first student who has taken the journey of SSST at NIS. She has been studying French for the two years of her DP curriculum.

Hatice is from Turkey and came to NIS from Belgium, where she had been living from Kindergarten through grade 10. In Belgium, she studied in French and had just only started learning English as an additional language when her family moved to Japan. Despite this, at her recent graduation ceremony, Hatice was awarded the "Outstanding Senior Award," recognizing her as both an outstanding academic student and as someone who exhibited leadership and conviction to make a positive impact on her community.

We sat down with Hatice to find out how the SSST assisted with her DP studies at NIS. What were the challenges and triumphs, and how did she view her DP journey using the SSST option? Let’s find out!

Q: In which grade did you join NIS? How did you find the NIS community when you first arrived?

I joined NIS in Grade 10. Basically, I had very little English knowledge. When I came here, the NIS community was very different from my previous school, both language-wise and the style of the school. I struggled at first because it was hard to understand everything because of the language barrier. But also, at my school in Belgium, there was, what I guess you would call, a “more traditional” style of teaching. The MYP is clearly different, with more collaborative, project-style learning. That first year was a year of adjusting to many things.

Q: In addition to English, the MYP course at NIS provides only one other language option: Japanese. How did you like studying Japanese in your MYP course? 

I actually enjoyed learning Japanese. It is an interesting language! I really enjoy learning different languages and found Japanese engaging without being too difficult. As an extra language requirement,  it makes sense to study the language of the host country. I mean, you need it to live your everyday life and it has been very useful, especially outside of school.

Q: When selecting your DP subjects, was it difficult to choose a language in order to balance your other subjects? 

It wasn’t very difficult. I knew that I could take French from very early on. I had heard from my English teacher that it was an option, so when it came time to take part in the DP Information Session, I knew I wanted to ask whether or not it would be possible for me. I thought if it was possible, I’d just go for it, but I also thought if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be too terrible to do English as Language A and Japanese Ab Initio as Language B.

Q: Why did you seek the option to continue French as SSST even though your mother tongue is not French? Why is French important for you in this international environment?

I studied French for 11 years in Belgium. It was the language that I was most used to in an academic setting so that is the main reason. I was also used to having literature classes in French. I didn’t want to forget my French and wanted to maintain a professional level to help my future academic career.

Q: When you realized that you could study French A Literature as a part of this SSST course, how did that make you feel?

I was pretty happy because I had been interested in doing it. Taking French Literature was very important for me because I was thinking about applying to French universities. I knew I could keep my French to an academic level if I was able to take part in the SSST.

English B was in school face-to-face, except I was the only student. Everyone else took English A. I studied one-on-one with one of the English teachers and I felt it was a pretty high-intermediate level. And since the rest of my classes were all in English, I knew I could keep improving my English ability. Taking two Language A classes would have been a little overwhelming with all the reading and writing involved so I thought this was a good solution, even though my classes were a little unique.

I had an online class once a week with my French teacher, and I would get homework to complete by the following week. I did a lot of writing but there was also other supplemental information, like videos. My teacher was very organized and gave me a lot of research resources to help me study. Using study halls in my school timetable when my classmates were in Japanese class also helped with getting my language homework done. 

Q: Your SSST is a self-paced study program with an arranged tutor overseas. What difficulties have you had to overcome compared to your classmates that are learning face-to-face? How do you feel about your SSST French so far? 

I had a really kind and supportive teacher and I had a great experience. So, to be honest, I didn’t feel particularly challenged by this class and it actually gave me much more flexibility with my time. Having the flexibility was great for me, especially when dealing with the other demands of the DP course. It was a big asset. COVID also somewhat ‘normalized’ the online learning environment. One difference compared to students studying in a class was that they got a lot more test practice. But the school was also supportive of that, and Ms. Noriko arranged for supervised test practice time during my timetable. The school also supported the facilitation of an oral examination, the Internal Assessment, that was required as a part of my overall assessment. Ms. Noriko recorded my presentation and sent it to the IB for evaluation.A student and her teacher stand in the school courtyard.
(Hatice with her teacher, Ms. Noriko Partridge)

Q: What were your expectations to grow in this course? Did you reach your goals? How will you use this experience in your future studies?

My main goal was to remain proficient in French. That was definitely achieved! Also, online classes have become so popular and I think that situation is here to stay. So I think having this experience has perhaps prepared me for the future of learning in settings outside of traditional classrooms. It also taught me how to manage my time, which is a big part of being successful in studying independently like this. I had more responsibility for my time management because I didn’t always have a teacher keeping track of my day-to-day studies.

Q: You made a unique choice to study French using the SSST option at NIS. How do you feel about this language subject option? How does this option make you feel about the IB curriculum? 

I was very happy with my choice and the flexibility it offered to continue studying French at a high academic level. It also enabled me to learn English at my pace, and I feel I was able to increase my English ability over the course of the last two years without having the pressure of taking Language and Literature in a language that I was just starting to learn.

As for the IB curriculum, since it is an international curriculum it only makes sense that there are these options to support students that have many different mother tongues. 

Q: Any messages to share in the NIS community, especially for future DP students whose mother tongues are not taught at NIS?

Some people might hesitate to take an online literature course, but I think they should go for it! If you can find the right teacher and you can manage your own time, you should challenge yourself. It wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. I wasn’t bombarded with too much homework, and it was quite manageable. 

One thing people should know is the school helped locate a teacher for me, but the expense is borne by the student and is extra on top of regular tuition. My teacher, Mr. Moody, was very helpful in helping to set everything up so that my father’s company could take care of the extra fees. That might be a consideration for some, but you should definitely look into those options if it is possible and affordable.  Regardless, if you are interested in SSST, do the research to see how it may fit into your school and family life. 

Most of all, I want to say that this could be a good option for people who want to study a mother tongue outside of the language choices at NIS. The staff and the school have the ability to support this as they did in my case. I’m grateful for the support from all my teachers who helped with my SSST journey!