Posted in Bilingualism in education, IMLD

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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Posted in Bilingualism in education

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

Posted in Bilingualism in education

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.

Posted in Bilingualism in education

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.

Posted in IMLD

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.

Posted in Bilingualism Myths, Family Language Planning, IMLD

#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!

Posted in Bilingualism benefits, Bilingualism in education, IMLD

#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.

Posted in Bilingualism benefits, Bilingualism in education, IMLD

#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.
Continue reading “#IMLD: Supporting languages at school”

Posted in IMLD

#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.

Posted in IMLD, Introduction

#IMLD: Top 5 (now 6) Reasons to Choose Bilingualism for your Child v2.0

Hire more multilingual employees, because these employees can communicate better, have better intercultural sensitivity, are better at co-operating, negotiating, compromising. But they can also think more efficiently.

Antonella Sorace

Every once in a while I meet someone who makes me consider this point again. It’s usually (as it was this time) someone who says to me that they aren’t bothering to have their children learn another language, because there is “no point because they speak English already”. I’m always a bit taken aback by these statements, and my mind and mouth get bogged down in “but, but, but!’. And then, after the conversation is over, I have what the French call “l’esprit d’escalier” (translates to spirit of the staircase – when you find the great come back just as someone is walking away…) and think of *exactly* what I should have said. So I’m going to use this space today to put my best arguments down “on paper” so I will remember them next time, and hopefully it will be useful to you too. I’m going to put a link in each point, not to a dry academic textbook for you to buy, but to an internet article (from a reputable source) that talks about the point I am making.

1. Bilingual kids are better at math! Really, they are… so if you have ever wished you were better at math (put your hands up!) this is a way to help out your kids. Bilingual kids are better at math and logic, because they are good at processing and analysing, and they have an earlier development of abstract thought. Check out this and other facts in the article Raising a bilingual child.

2. Bilingual kids develop better working memory. Another true fact – being bilingual improves how your brain deals with and stores information. Read about it here: Bilingual Children have a better working memory than monolingual children.

3. Bilingual kids are great communicators. The experience of becoming bilingual helps kids understand the communicative act in a deeper way, and also understand that people can be different, via language, and yet the same.
I can’t link directly to the article as it is a subscription site, but here is a quote from The Multilingual Dividend: Antonella Sorace (Bilingualism Matters) says:
“Hire more multilingual employees, because these employees can communicate better, have better intercultural sensitivity, are better at co-operating, negotiating, compromising. But they can also think more efficiently.”

4. Bilingualism is good exercise for your brain. In fact, it’s so good for your brain that bilinguals show a delayed onset of age-related memory diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Read about it here: The Bilingual Advantage. And it makes us better at multitasking…

5. Bilingualism is a hot commodity on the job market. These quotes are from the same Financial Times article I linked to in #3:
“Multilingualism will be better valued and better leveraged by companies,” says Laurence Monnery, co-head of global diversity and inclusion at Egon Zehnder, the executive search company. “Multiculturalism makes bet­ter leaders.”

“Do multilinguals make better managers?” asks Ann Francke, chief executive of the UK’s Chartered Management Institute. “Probably the answer to that question is yes.”

6. I’m adding #6 for Language Stars as they suggested it based on my last post and I think that it refers well to #3 and #5:

Because it helps children become Global Citizens

I rest my case.

I am re-posting this edited post in support of the MLK International Mother Language Day campaign – please feel free to share using the #IMLD tag!