Learning from the past?

Aboriginal people have a right to language. Unless we do something in this generation the languages will die in the next generation — the generation of my daughter.

— Lorena Fontaine, PhD student at the University of Manitoba

As a Canadian living abroad, I tend to focus on all the good things about our history and have an admittedly Pollyanna view of my passport country, including about educational issues. Yesterday, while commuting to work, I came up against a less savoury side of Canadian educational history. Listening to a CBC Ideas podcast, Undoing Linguicide, brought me face to face with the stories of the First Nations children who were taken away from their parents, over a period of more than a century, and sent to residential schools whose mandate was to eliminate the “indian” cultures and languages. Not only was this a barbaric idea, but the practices were barbaric as well, with schools functioning with rules that systematically separated siblings and punished heavily for the use of aboriginal languages. Lorena Fontaine, the lawyer/researcher featured in the program, is attempting to prove a case that the indigenous communities in Canada have a right to the survival of their languages, and to governmental support to reestablish what has been almost lost due to the residential school system. The history is complex and the podcast well worth listening to, as I can’t do their whole story justice. And of course, it’s a story that has been repeated in many places and times around the world, to many groups of indigenous peoples, it happened in France with the suppression of regional languages, and in Wales with the “Welsh Not” for children who dared to speak Welsh in schools, and many more.

In an era where hindsight has shown us that these practices were not acceptable and in an era of truth and reconciliation commissions and efforts to revive many endangered minority languages, it would seem that we have learned our lesson. Sadly, this is not entirely the case. Linguistic suppression does still happen, and although its guises are generally more subtle, it still is the same thing – prioritising one language as the “right” language, and other languages as “wrong”. It happens in schools where children and parents are told that their languages, their mother tongues, their home languages, are not acceptable. It happens in post-colonial Africa, where children are not allowed tuition in their own languages but instead forced to learn through a colonial language that they do not know. It happens in Suriname, where children need to go to school in Dutch – a language that they do not speak, they do not need, and is not a part of their world, but is considered to be a better vehicle for education than their own languages. It happens in international schools where children are told that they can play in their own languages, but must only use the school language in the classroom.

The agenda may not be as overt, and the punishments may no longer be physical, but for minority language speaking children, the results are the same. Minority languages, immigrant languages, refugee languages, hold no power in schools and children know this. And they abandon, by choice or by force, the language that they need to develop cognitively, to learn with, to connect with their families, their culture, their history.

So apparently, the lessons of history are far more easily forgotten than learned.

 

 

International Mother Language Day: Putting your money where your mouth is!

Mother tongue promotion in the school helps develop not only the mother tongue but also children’s abilities in the majority school language. (Cummins, J. 2001)

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This year I am celebrating International Mother Language Day at home, speaking many languages with my own children – mother, father and other. Last year, for IMLD 2015, I had the honour of participating in the the festivities at the German European School of Singapore. As the theme of IMLD this year is “Quality Education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes” I thought it would be appropriate to write this post about my visit to GESS last year. GESS is a school of two halves, with a classic German school on one side, and an IB international school on the other. I spent five days at GESS EuroSec last year, doing training with the staff and parents, and sharing in their celebrations of IMLD.

GESS celebrates it as “International Languages Day”, which recognises the fact that children have many important languages in their lives, from their mothers, fathers, school, friends etc. The school celebrates this day with a fair of language tables (Dutch table pictured above, Turkish table below) where children can use their own languages and try new languages, games and food. They also have mother tongue story-telling, with parents coming in to share stories in a wide variety of languages. All of this is a great way to show children that their languages are valued at GESS. However, the school also is putting in place programs that go much farther to support language diversity – past what Sarah Thomas, Head of EuroSec Primary calls “foods, flags and festivals”. The secondary school has a robust integrated program for Dutch and Danish mother tongue, based on a long-term partnership with LanguageOne. The primary school has launched a new “Language Enrichment Program“(LEP) this year, designed to support the home languages of as many of its students as possible. At the launch, they had over 400 pupils in 29 groups, across 13 languages involved in the new Wednesday afternoon enrichment program.

We don’t want to communicate to our children that they need to check their diverse identities and languages at the classroom door, because intended or not, the message is that classrooms are English-only environments. We want our students to bring their whole selves to class, where all their cultural and linguistic knowledge will be valued, so that they, in turn, can value their own emerging, complex identities. This makes for well-adjusted children, and as research tells us, it pays a dividend in academic success too.  

                                                                                       Sarah Thomas, Head of EuroSec Primary, GESS

 This new program is intended to support the students’ home language skills, and also to support the status of their home languages, as languages worth knowing, using, growing. Alongside the LEP, there is also a concerted effort underway to integrate linguistic diversity into the classroom, through the use of differentiated pedagogies such as translanguaging. Although the school has many challenges facing it in implementing and maintaining new approaches to diversity in international schools it is well on its way to being a flagship of best practice for international schools.

UNESCO has made it a priority to promote children’s rights to education in a language that they speak, in order to maximise educational opportunities for all children. In the world of international education we often focus on what children gain from the opportunity to go to school in another language (usually English). It’s important that we also stop and consider what they may be forfeiting if international schools don’t also make an effort to support the continued growth of their home languages.  

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Supporting multilingualism in schools: Spotlight on best practice

I’ve been very absent from my blog for the last year, and have been thinking about a good post to start the new year. I have a back-log of ideas in my brain and none was “the one”. Then I saw this video on FB (thanks to Ellen-Rose Kambel from the Rutu Foundation) and found “the one”.

One of the reasons my posting lagged last year was that I have been working more with schools, and less with families. When I started this blog I intended it to be for families raising bilingual/multilingual children. But as I spend more time doing research/training with schools, my focus has changed. So this year, my blog will often feature information for teachers and schools. I am planning to do a “throwback Thursday” series to bring back some of most popular/useful blog posts for parents as well – I know it can be hard to troll the archives to see if there is anything pertinent to your situation, so hopefully this will help.

In the meantime, I’d like to share this video, from a source called “Teacher Pages” (links below). The clip is filmed in a classroom in India, and shows so many great teaching moments that it’s hard to know where to start. So I’ll start with language. One of the issues I have been focusing on in the last 2 years is the very important issue of languages in the classroom. In many, many schools there are still restrictive regulations about language use, which disallow children from using their mother tongue/first language/home language at school. Sometimes the restrictions are only in the classroom, sometimes they apply to the whole school area. In either case, the schools are doing children a disservice, personally and academically, through these regulations. I’ve written about this before, so I’m going to avoid the temptation to go on a diatribe about all the reasons that these regulations are wrong. I will say that in my experience, these regulations are based on these misconceptions:

  1. If children speak their “other” language at school they won’t learn the school language as quickly.
  2. That the school needs all the children to use only one language or there will be cliques and divisions among the children
  3. That teachers need to understand everything said or written in the classroom in order to be “in control” of the environment and the learning.

I will write a post on each of these misconceptions in the future, but in short, we know from research that none of the above are true. When I do training on this topic, one of the most common worries is how to manage different languages in the classroom. I think the teacher in the clip below illustrates beautifully how multilingual learning enhances a classroom, and also how well children work together within and across their languages. In addition, her understanding of how children learn a new language and how to create an  inclusive classroom environment are fantastic. Congratulations to Ms. Sujata Patil (Principal) and Ms. Nikita Patil on this wonderful best practice video.

Aside from language, I absolutely love the “running board” in the classroom. No technology, brilliant multilingual, interactive teaching. This is a school we can all learn something from, no matter what our school environment is like. (I know that this shows a classroom in which the teacher speaks, apparently, all the languages. I will write on the same topic for teachers in super-diverse schools as well).

Speaking, Reading and Writing in a Multilingual Classroom

TEACHER PAGES

Forum: Why educating English language learners means success for everyone

This welcome attention to English learners, however, will become hollow rhetoric if the federal government does not fund significant professional development for teachers. A majority of teachers today report that they do not feel prepared to work with English learners, and most teachers in fact have limited or no training regarding the unique challenges and opportunities that accompany teaching English learners.

This is an issue that has been a major part of my work for the last years – teachers who have language learners in their classrooms need appropriate and comprehensive training. And these days, that means most teacher need training. While this article focuses on the US, the situation is no different in most parts of the world. In Europe, economic migration is pouring children into local schools that need to learn the language *and* keep their own language to succeed at school. In the UK 1 in 6 primary school children do not speak English at home (check NALDIC for good statistics) and other countries are close behind. Pre-service teacher training programs need to address this as a part of initial teacher training, and schools need to address this by providing substantial training to all in-service teachers and support staff. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity!

via Forum: Why educating English language learners means success for everyone.

Professor Calls for Bilingual Education Services to Go Beyond English Instruction

This is a great article about bilingual advocate Diane Rodriguez. She is working on improving provisions in US schools for newly arrived immigrant children who do not speak English. Schools often see these learners in a very one-dimensional way – they are “English-language learners”, and therefore the focus is on teaching them English. Her point, which is so important, is that these children as so much more than just “ELL”. They are also fluent speakers of another language, and have cultural knowledge and personalities and interests that they cannot tap into in English. They are also learners of culture, a new way of life, new ways of socialising and a new school and school system.

Good support for these children needs to go beyond focusing on the fact that they need to learn English, and consider all the other things they need to learn, without neglecting what they are bringing with them,

 

Professor Calls for Bilingual Education Services to Go Beyond English Instruction.

United Nations News Centre – On Mother Language Day, UN spotlights role of native tongue in education

Education in the mother language is an essential part of achieving these goals – to facilitate learning and to bolster skills in reading, writing and mathematics,” she added, noting that taking this forward will require a sharper focus on teaching training, revisions of academic programmes and the creation of suitable learning environments.

Yes, yes and yes!

 

United Nations News Centre – On Mother Language Day, UN spotlights role of native tongue in education.

#IMLD: Mother Tongue, Father Tongue?

This is revised from a previous post, and is for all the Dads out there wondering why they are being left out of the party…

Traditionally, bilingualism research used the term “Mother Tongue” to describe the language spoken by the mother. Because there is no use of “Father Tongue” there is an implication that the language that the father speaks is of lesser importance. Is this true? Is the “mother tongue” more important? The answer is, of course, “no”. The language spoken by each of the parents is important to the child, and both should be acquired.

“Mother tongue” is important, but “Father tongue” is important too. It is still a fact that more mothers stay home with their children while fathers work than the opposite (at least with the families I work with) so very often the “father tongue” needs more attention and planning than the language spoken by the mother. In order to help out all the dads who worry about passing their language on to their children, here are some tips.
The most important kind of input for language is “infant directed speech” (IDS). This is when we talk to babies, looking at them directly, and using simple, clear language. This does *not* have to be “baby talk”! In the early months (yes, I said months), spend time, every day, speaking directly to your baby. Consider mixed input, where you are showing them things and talking about the items, consider telling little, easy stories. Consider talking to them about body parts, clothing, food etc – items that are concrete and in their environment.
Never underestimate the importance of “Daddy Story Time”. Read to your little one every day, using simple books, and drawing their attention to items in the stories. Increase the amount of interaction as they get older and more able. Use longer, more complex stories to stimulate cognitive growth and conversation in your language, and take time to talk about vocabulary.
*Don’t* expect that Mama putting on a DVD in your language during the day will help your children – this is not IDS, and it is not helpful for language acquisition. You have to do this yourself!
Many families I have worked with have classified the father as “not a talker” and discussed how much the Dad struggles to interact on a regular, meaningful basis with a baby or small child. Often these Dads were tired after a long day of work, and spend a very limited amount of time with their young children. These are all understandable facts of modern life, but the bottom line is if you want your children to have their “Father Tongue” then it is the father’s job to pass it on – take that job seriously!