Multilingual Voices

We often hear and use phrases like ‘student agency’, ‘student voice’, ‘student action’ in our daily conversations about learning. I continue to be fascinated about language acquisition and growth; the factors that accelerate and foster this, and those that inhibit language development. In an international school community, in fact I would argue in the majority of school communities world-wide, our students are no longer from a single language experience or, in many cases, a single cultural experience. The reality is our students are more language rich than ever and exposed to a myriad opportunities to develop and grow lingustically as well as deepen their understanding of other languages and cultures. I am wondering how we leverage this rich language experience to enable students to really be able to fully express themselves. How do we ensure that language rich is not translated to ‘English Language rich’ in our international schools? How do we foster value in all languages as adding to learning rather than detracting from it?

Attending the ECIS (Educational Collaborative for International Schools) Multilingual Learners Week #ECISMLIE online provided a huge amount of insights, expertise and food for thought about best practices in bilingual multilingual language learning. It was such a valuable collection of voices sharing a range of experiences and best practices as we learn more and more about bilingual multilingual learners.

What are the conscious and subconscious messages we send as organisations and as individuals? When considering our learning environments and the language acquisition journey I wonder how we can make our beliefs visible in a more intentional way?

For example, I believe:

  • Language learning is a lifelong learning process, not a a finite destination we need to propel learners through.
  • Linguistic acquisition ability is not connected to nationality, nor is it all good or all bad, all easy or challenging, it just looks different for everyone.
  • Language learners should be encouraged to use all their languages, not be limited through negating their home language use in the classroom.
  • Learning environments should reflect the language experiences of the learners rather than the curriculum.

Four Action Ideas

  1. Stay current with research and support others in doing so, our student, teacher and parent community must know about language acquisition.
  2. Encourage a positive mindset towards language learning, role model, be honest and empathetic, celebrate successes and acknowledge when it is hard – most of all help each individual learner find their purpose.
  3. Embed translanguaging practices into learning and planning. Question and challenge teachers to think about learning purpose and design the practices needed to guide students to reach a specific learning outcome.
  4. Promote visible linguistic diversity in classrooms and throughout the school, value the use of many languages, for many purposes.

I hope to look back 12 months from now and be able to reflect on how I have taken further action to better foster multilingual voices. What action might you take in your context?

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