Bilingualism

8 Apr

Language is intensely political. The powers that be, from Catalonia to Khartoum, have a vested interest in what language their subjects speak. Throughout history people have resisted and fought for the right to speak their “mother tongue”. In Britain today establishment attitudes towards the UK’s linguistic diversity can be best characterized as grudging acceptance. According to recent research carried out by Dina Mehmedbegovic,  MPs from both sides of the house stress that languages other than English (and perhaps Welsh) belong “at home”.

It is accepted that language learning is important and benefits children’s cognitive development. However, the languages valued by schools are generally German, Spanish, Italian and French and rarely Bengali, Somali and Punjabi. Of course, there are signs everywhere with “hello” or “welcome” in scores of languages but really EAL (English as an Additional Language) is treated as a barrier to educational success. Of course, cognitively there is no hierarchy of language. It has shown to be of equal value for a child to be bilingual in Bengali and English, as French and English. However, the elite has decided that Bengali is of little cultural value, whereas French is.

At English for Action we are determined to challenge this prejudice. Our students at St. Mary’s Battersea are keen to celebrate their languages and send the message to their children their first language is valuable. The languages in the class include Arabic, French, Somali, Tigrinya, Spanish and Dari. Together we can challenge the myths that surround bilingualism and the dominant discourse that presents EAL as a problem. They also want to support parents with tips and ideas to help develop “mother tongue” language skills.

Five myths about raising bilingual children:

1 – Children will confused get confused if they learn more than one language

2 – Bilingual children will end up mixing their languages

3 – Learning more than one language will lead to speech delays

4 – Children will not learn a new language fluently after infancy

5 – Children pick up languages automatically

 

The class at St. Mary’s discussed this issue over a series of lessons. First of all the students shared their experience of language:

What language did you speak at home?

Did you speak more than one language as a child?

What about your country? How many languages are recognised?

Is your house a bilingual household?

What is your experience of bringing up children bilingually?

Are there any differences between bilingual and monolingual children?

They then read a graded article about “raising bilingual children” and discussed the content in pairs, before working on some of the new vocabulary.

In the next lesson the class remembered the five myths and then created a list of tips for parents:

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They then discussed what action to take in order to support parents and promote community languages. The class worked in groups of four and five and used an action matrix to record their ideas. They decided upon four actions, put a reason for the action, delegated tasks to individuals and set dates. Here is a summary of the four actions:

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The International Day will be organised by the students. It aims to teach parents games and activities that they can use with their children to help them learn their home language. We will celebrate the linguistic diversity of the area with an international lunch.

The Language and food assembly is partly an action on the local schools. Parents will deliver an assembly for the children where they teach a traditional recipe using their first language. eg “how to cook flatbread in Dari”. The children will learnt he names of ingredients and cooking verbs in one of our community languages. The children will have fun with language and speakers of the language will feel proud that it is being valued outside of the home. The schools will see that teaching community languages works and that the parents have a wealth of linguistic resources.

We will hand out the bilingualism leaflet to parents at school and at the information meeting.

The following lesson the group started drafting the leaflet.

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And then one student created a typed version and brought back to the group for them to edit.

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The following lesson we went back to the action and listed the different types of writing we needed to do to organise or carry out the actions. There was an email, a letter, a leaflet and a flyer. The students analysed each for audience, purpose and style. eg:

Type of writing To who? Why? Style?
email Head-teachers To ask permission for our assembly Formal, typed, persuasive

 

They then worked in pairs to draft the email, letter to parents and promotional flyer.

We have a date for the international day: Friday May 30th and will post details here soon……..

 

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