I’ve been unfortunately tied up with my “day job” these last weeks, and haven’t had the time I wanted to dedicate to relating some of what we discussed at the Expert Seminar on Early Language Learning in Friesland. I’d like to pick up the thread now with some thoughts on teacher-training.
The reason I was invited to speak at the seminar is my work on teacher-training for bilingualism. Over the last years, I’ve worked with a variety of schools, doing everything from one-off seminars on bilingualism, to working with the British School of Amsterdam on a project that has now stretched over two years, and is still going strong. So, what are we doing together, these teachers and administrators and me?
We are working very hard on developing a program, or programs, to help schools and teachers better understand and integrate language learners into their classrooms. Aside from the mostly-expat population I work with, the fact is that the EU has the second-largest migrant work force in the world (after the US). At last count, there were (legally) over 48 million migrant workers in EU countries. Why does this matter for schools? It matters because it means that more and more classrooms are hosting children who do not speak the language of the school – some not at all, and some not well enough to learn. However, very few teacher-training programs have any modules or courses that address language acquisition, bilingualism or teaching language learners.
This has created a situation in which teachers are uniformed and not capable of fully meeting the needs of these children, through no fault of their own. The talk I gave in Friesland was based on this problem – how can we (policy-makers, teacher-trainers, researchers) begin to make changes that will result in system-wide teacher-education for bilingualism? A small part of the solution would be people like me (and I am not alone!), and schools who are open to having their teachers acquire knowledge and make positive changes. A larger part of the solution must come from an institutional level – changes to initial teacher-training programs, and changes to in-service teachers programs.
If you have a child in a school where they are learners of the majority language, your job is to talk about bilingualism, with your childrens’ teachers, and with the administrators. Find out what they know, what their school policies are about language use (do they have a majority language only policy?) and share your knowledge and opinions as well. As I have mentioned before, one of the primary tasks of a parent raising bilingual children is to have an open and on-going conversation with educators working with their children. So, this week, go and talk to a teacher about bilingualism!