If 1,050 registrations for our webinar is anything to go by, then there is a lot of interest in multilingual learners in international schools. And no wonder – according to ISC Research, 80% of students in international schools are local and speak a plethora of languages.
We were very encouraged to see that majority of teachers who attended the webinar said they were reassured that they are doing the right thing, but also that they have learnt things they didn’t know before or that they will change something in their teaching practice. Hopefully you will find this webinar recording a useful reminder and a resource you can go back to for information and ideas.
More on multilingual learners:
Debunking the ‘immersion only’ myth
Is there a potential pandemic of language loss in international schools?
Input matters: supporting children’s harmonious bilingual development
Ideas for celebrating International Mother Language Day in your class
Promoting home language use: How do we make a difference?
Multilingual speech assessment tool
Many of you have asked about assessment tools that can be used with multilingual learners. Speakaboo is an app that can be used by a speech therapist with children aged 3-6 to help assess their speech development in their mother tongue in 10 minutes. The languages currently available through the app include Dutch, English, German, Italian, Egyptian Arabic, Turkish and Somali, with more to come.
Multilingual students FAQs
Thank you for your involvement and participation during the session. Here are a few of your questions answered below by Eowyn Crisfield.
Is English-medium education always the right choice?
This is an age of ‘bilingualism is better’ and ‘earlier is best’, and more and more parents are choosing schools for their children with the express goal of developing bilingualism. But how do we know if a particular school or programme is right for a particular child?
We do know that children with a wide variety of challenges (ASD, dyslexia, Down’s Syndrome) can and do become successfully bilingual, and that there is no clear reason to exclude any particular child from EMI because of learning challenges. That said, we need to be sure that the school we choose will provide adequate provisions for children who will need extra support in acquiring the school language.
Putting a child in an English-medium school that does not/will not provide support is putting them at risk of not fully acquiring English and not developing in content areas as a consequence. An equally important issue is how well the home language/L1 will be supported. The research that we draw on to understand the impact of students acquiring a new language through school is clear on one main point; the importance of maintaining and developing the students’ L1. This is particularly true for children who may struggle academically, as they will need their own language to access a variety of alternate or post-school options. In some cases, where a child is clearly not going to get the support they need to fully develop in English, a school in their own language may be preferable. Languages can be added later, or in other ways, but losing out on years of learning is very hard to make up.
What can parents do at home to help their kids with English (when they want to)
Very often parents try to use English at home, to help their children learn the school language more quickly. This is not always detrimental, but needs to be balanced with the continued development of the home language. Given the strong relationship between ability in the home language and development in English, parents first job is always to support home language growth. This should be made explicit in school documentation and parent meetings.
If the home language is well-supported outside school, and the parents are determined to use English at home, a clear structure and goals will make this more successful. Rather than defaulting to English all the time, providing well-defined activities to be done in English will guide parental support. One thing schools can do is send home “conversation starters” for families to use over the dinner table. This will help develop social English in particular. Teachers can also send home books and games that parents can use to support English development.
It should always be clear that the use of English should be restricted to a time/activity and the rest of the time should continue in the home language. Parents who overuse English in the home will often end up with children who no longer want to use their home language, which is detrimental to their social, emotional, and academic development.
Supporting multilingualism in a monolingual school
Tensions often arise when some teachers become convinced of the value of students’ L1 in education but work in schools with an English-only ethos. There are no easy answers for this dilemma, but there are steps teachers can take to improve the situation for their multilingual learners. The first is to share information with the greater school community.
There are a variety of accessible, easy to digest resources that are based on current research that have a very clear message regarding the role of the L1 in English medium education. Sharing these resources with school leadership and other teachers can provide openings for small conversations which can eventually lead to change in approach.
A second approach is to become a quite champion of home languages. Even if you are not allowed to have your students use their own languages in the classroom (a sad situation, but sometimes reality), you can purposely acknowledge the multilingual nature of your class, and talk to your students about their languages. Making a point of knowing what other languages your students speak, and having positive conversations about their bi/multilingualism will support the status of their other languages, and instil pride in being multilingual.
You can also do language awareness activities in class, helping your students think about how their own languages are similar/different from English in how they work, and use this awareness to build their understanding of English. A final approach is to be very clear with parents about the value of their own language and the necessity to keep developing outside school. If the school isn’t doing anything to promote home language development, the parents must be taking this on, or their children risk losing their own language in the pursuit of English.