Valuing Bilingualism (including top tips for use in the classroom)

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Valuing Bilingualism (including top tips for use in the classroom)

The language show this year in Olympia made me even more aware of the gift of having more than one language. One of the stand’s motto was ‘monolingualism can be cured’, another ‘Speak to the Future’ ( campaigns to promote the teaching of languages in schools in the UK. Since this September all children in primary schools will be taught a language as the government finally realised that, in a mobile world, a second language is essential for a country’s economic development.
The multiple materials available for teaching, the effort and expense involved in learning a foreign language is challenging compared to the facility with which a child learns a language naturally and effortlessly in their home environment. I always remember a beginner adult student in Paris struggling to learn English who told me sadly that his mother was English and he wished she had spoken to him in English so that he wouldn’t need to learn it now. When growing up my parents always told me that all languages are useful, I didn’t realise how right they were. Sadly, some languages are viewed by the speaker or listener with lower prestige and this can affect the both the listener’s and the speaker’s motivation to use it. As Professor Jim Cummins (2000) said, to reject a child’s language is to reject the child’ and to respect a child’s culture and language is to respect ‘who they are and where they come from’. Culture and language are an important part of one’s identity, respecting them are the key to a child’s confidence and success. Language is how emotions are expressed, there are words and expressions in all languages that loose their emotiveness and true meaning. It is important that all languages and cultures are valued and given equal status. How to value a child’s language at school:
  1. Find out greetings in home language to make child feel at ease.
  2. Have the classroom rules translated if possible in all the student’s languages.
  3. Have a welcome poster on the door with different languages (Mantra publishes a good one at can be obtained from Amazon).
  4. Have the students answer the register in their home language.
  5. Ask the students to share their favourite stories in their home language.
  6. New beginner EAL students can write in their home language.
  7. Have a dictionary for each language in the classroom.
  8. Order library books of each of the languages spoken in the school ( has a good selection).
  9. Have an artefact sharing task, students would bring in an item representing their culture. This could be used for descriptive, narrative writing or poetry connected to the object and is a great way of sharing their culture.
  10. Have a home language assembly once a term where students can share something in their home language, involve parents.
  11. Get parents on board to help translate challenging academic vocabulary into the students home language.
  12. Ask students to find connections for new words in their home languages.
  13. Have a classroom map on the wall with a pin showing where each student is from.
  14. Involve parents in a students learning as positive parents means positive students.
  15. Show an active interest in a child’s language and culture.
Think back to when you, as a learner, learnt a foreign language, how did it feel? Have you visited a country when you didn’t understand the language, what did it feel like when you didn’t understand what people were saying? Immerse your students in a new language for a few moments, discuss how it felt. This would help students understand how it feels for a new EAL student. By showing an appreciation of who they are is an acceptance of who they are and is the key to motivation. The key to the success of an EAL student is through the key to their heart, only when you have found the key will they blossom to their full academic potential. It is not how smart the students are or how academic the teaching is but how valued they feel. In this age of constant appraisals this should be taken on board, as one head of EAL stated she stipulated the EAL lessons should be appraised in a different way due to their different nature.


Cummins, J (2000) This Place Nurtures My Spirit: Creating Contexts of Empowerment in linguistically diverse schools in R. Philipson (ed.) Rights to language: Equity, power and education, Mahwah, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum

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