Greatra Mayana

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Education Talks | Bilingualism in education


Bilingualism in education What is bilingualism? In my professional work,
the definition that we use in England is that every child exposed
to 2 languages is bilingual. So this can be exposure in family, in community
to a language which is different to English. What are the main benefits of
bilingualism for children’s development? What we know today about
building cognitive reserves in terms of staying healthy for longer,
having good quality life, we know that learning another language
is on the top of the list of activities that you can do to enhance
your cognitive potential and to enhance your cognitive
functioning throughout your lifetime. So if you start with
preschool children, early age the evidence shows that
there is a better focus, so children who use 2 languages
are able to focus better on tasks and kind of ignore
irrelevant disruptions. Especially in subjects like maths where you need to use
more of your abstract thinking because using 2 languages
develops abstract thinking and metalinguistic skills as well which are then useful for
learning further languages. There is latest evidence showing
that adults who use 2 languages can put off dementia
by 3 to 5 years so you can look at every stage
of our life, there are benefits. What would be your advice for
parents and teachers of bilingual pupils? Parents focus on speaking
the language of the house country because they want the children
to succeed in their life. If parents are more aware that basically children will perform
better across the curriculum, they will be better at
acquisition of any other language if their first language
is strong and supported. Then all these arguments are pointing towards it
because we are not doing children any service by not working on enhancing
the linguistic capital that they already have. Parents need to hear it
from teachers as well, that their first language is important. They need to be given advice to read
in their first language, to do some writing. There are all these different steps
that teachers can engage with and take to communicate these messages to children,
that their languages are important, their languages are part
of teaching and learning and also part of thinking
about the future, their employability and converting that, the linguistic capital
that they have into something that is going to be
economic capital in the future. What kind of strategy would you
suggest to support bilingualism? I think we need to develop an approach
that supports developing conditions which are language hierarchy-free,
so we need to find an approach to languages that says: all these benefits
apply to all languages equally and this is where I see the potential of
my approach which I call ‘Healthy Linguistic Diet’ because the cognitive benefits
that we have evidence for, they apply to all
different combination of languages. What would be the main change that
you would like to see in 10 years’ time? We shouldn’t only think about things
that we do and that we say as teachers, we also need to think about
those things that we don’t say and don’t do because not having
displays in other languages, not ever mentioning first languages
in our communication with children, with parents, that also communicates big messages, that says: these languages
are not part of teaching and learning they are not part of our environment,
they are not important. I would like to see teachers
developing reflective practice where they frequently
ask themselves… does my curriculum, does my teaching reflect the linguistic and
cultural capital of my learners.

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