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!

#IMLD: Supporting Mother Tongue (everyone’s!) at school

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Nelson Mandela

I’ve been really excited to write this post for the International Mother Language Day campaign, because this topic is at the heart of what I do and why – *every* bilingual needs a “Mother Tongue” and every child has a right to use their Mother Tongue at school. And I don’t use the word “right” lightly – I really mean it. Far too often, language is used to marginalise minority speaker children. “Only X language is allowed here.” is a rule in more schools than I care to count, and breaking the rule often leads to punishment. Imagine, for one moment, what it must feel like to be a child who is being punished for using the language in which they were raised, in which they think, play and love. And now imagine for a moment what school would feel like for that child – is it a warm, welcoming place where you feel welcome and included and ready to learn? Or is it a place where you feel insecure, unhappy, unwelcome. A child’s mother tongue is a fundamental part of who they are and where they are from, and they have the right to take that language with them to adulthood, without negative interference from their schools.

Here are some ways that all schools can embrace the challenge of languages, and support all their learners

1. Bilingualism is beneficial to children. All children, no matter what two (or more) languages are involved. Even if one or more of these are minor languages, or dialects, or not really “useful”.  This is a message that all schools need to hear and understand. All too often, bilingualism is seen as desirable and worth working for if the children are middle-upper class and the languages are high status, but bilingualism is viewed as  “problem” if the children are from immigrant or refugee families, and speak a low-status language at home. The brain does not differentiate between high and low status languages, and bilingualism should be supported at school no matter who the children are or what their mother tongue is. Educating staff and moving forward with a “additive bilingualism” attitude will be a first step in supporting the diverse mother tongues spoken in your school.

2. Let the children use their languages, for socialising, and for learning. If you make their language something “bad”, they will use it in this way. I hear all the time “but when they use their own language it is to mock or exclude” as an excuse for banning any other languages in school. If children are forbidden to use their language because it is unwelcome, not as good, or even “bad”, then they will use their language to prove what they are being told. In schools where language diversity is embraced and encouraged, there are fewer language-related problems, because all the children feel accepted and use their languages in more positive ways because of it.

3. Integrate knowledge about language across the curriculum. You don’t have to be a multilingual yourself to discuss how languages work  – the school language is talked about all the time, but let the other-language speakers talk about their mother tongue when language is being discussed. A conversation about how pronouns work in English can be enriched by comparing how pronouns work in other languages – for all the learners, including the monolinguals.

4. Use translanguaging as a pedagogical tool to help your minority language speakers thrive. Also known as “dynamic multilingualism” this strategy for deepening learning and improving language, both mother tongue and school language, is growing in prominence in research and literature about multilingualism in schools. Translanguaging is a practice that plans for the use of mother tongue in the classroom, so that early emergent bilinguals can understand and learn better, and later emergent bilinguals can continue to grow in their mother tongue by using it to mediate academic content.

Schools that enroll large numbers of non-native pupils, whether they be high-status  international schools or regular state schools, have a duty to understand the needs of these learners and provide for their growth and learning in ways that respect the whole child, including their mother tongue.

#IMLD: Supporting languages at school


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I wrote this post at the end of the school year last year, the first year my children attended a European School. As both a professional in the field of bilingualism and as a parent of bilingual children, it was a year of reflection and growth for me in my understandings of a truly successful model that supports children in learning a new language at school, but also supports their need and desire to grow in their mother tongue. I share this post with you again, in the context of the International Mother Language Day campaign, and encourage you to share it wherever it may do some good – with your children’s teachers, with friends, with family. It’s a message that can not be overstated – a child’s mother tongue is a gift and a right and schools have a duty to support this in all their pupils, regardless of personal views of bilingualism or the value of other languages.
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#IMLD: Whole-family support for (very minor) minority languages

As a parent who is tasked with helping my children develop three high-status languages, I am acutely aware that even though I find my task difficult sometimes, there are parents who have to work much harder on their bilingual-family journey. These are the parents who speak a minority language with their children, one that has cultural and linguistic importance to them, but is not highly-regarded in the world in which they live. These parents have such a daunting task – many of them are the only person to speak their language to the children, and often resources such as books, television, websites etc. are difficult to impossible to find. To those parents, my hat goes off, and I offer you the below post (reposted for the #IMLD campaign) on supporting minority languages at home.


Last night I had the pleasure of spending the evening with a very diverse group of parents. All of them had children who will grow up with two languages, and many had children growing up with three or more languages. A few of the families are lucky enough to have multilingual partners, who speak each other’s languages and can use a variety of bilingual strategies. However, most bilingual families, mine included, have parents who share one common language, but do not master the language of their partner. In a lot of these situations, each parent speaks his/her language to the child, and together they speak English. This dynamic makes it trickier to support a minority language, because it can be used only by one parent.
Last night there were several parents who are transmitting to their children minority languages with small numbers of speakers. The hard task in front of these parents is not only how to provide enough language input for the children to acquire the language, but they also have to try and support the status of the language, so the children will want to speak it. The question then is what tools and techniques can parents use to promote the acquisition and use of a language which seems insignificant in a child’s world. Without visible institutional and community support (TV, school classes, community groups) it can be a daunting task.
One of the most valuable sources of support comes from within families. Having the dominant-language partner involve themselves in the process of supporting the minority language sends a powerful message to the children about language status and language usefulness. For example, if the mother is the only Polish speaker (Hi Olga!), the father may not be able to learn to speak Polish fluently (no time, aptitude, desire or other), but he can certainly enter into the discussion about why Polish is useful and a good thing to learn. He can also learn a few words of Polish – either from his wife or from the children – to engage in some some small way with the minority language. Even if it’s just learning how to say “I love you” and “good night”, it’s a visible and tangible reminder of the place of Polish in family life, and that Polish is valued by both parents.
So, if you are a family with a very minor minority language, consider how your actions may be helping or hindering the place of that language in your children’s eyes and think about what steps you can take to create a home in which all languages are valued and supported.