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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Beliefs about Bilingual Education

Those who have had the pleasure of taking part in one of John McCaffery's courses at the University of Auckland, will understand when I say that I leave his classes feeling ready to change the world.  His view on Bilingual Education is exciting, passionate and for some - controversial, but always, they are views that are informed by years of research, literature, theory and experience - both personal and professional.

I left tonight, thinking - as usual - about my hopes for my own son, who, was born to a Maori/German-Samoan Mother and a Tongan Father.  How at 6 months old, has a mother who is already searching for Tongan Language Immersion Early Childhood Centre to send him to.  Who is searching for schools that promote and value languages other than English for when he turns 5.  Practicing in my mind, the things I will say to his Dad to convince him that these are all good decisions, when I get home after my 20 minute drive home.

I left thinking about my hopes for the students in my class.  That I hope that I am doing everything I can to engage them and make them feel valued.  That I am doing everything I can to help progress and in some cases accelerate their learning.  That I am doing everything I can to ensure that they enjoy school and achieve success in school.

Considering the two most motivating parts of my life - my future bilingual child and the bilingual children in my class - I thought I would post about why this stuff matters to me so much.  Why I believe it's important to promote it so passionately...


In the 1960s - this was the view taken by most academics and from personal experience, many professionals in education and in the general public - this view still exists.  Basically - you can't learn another language without shrinking the first language - two languages can not co-exist as equal languages in the brain.  Or that to achieve well in mainstream education settings that use English as the language of instruction and assessment, you must forego your first language as it hinders your chances of fully understanding the English content.

This has now been shown by many Bilingual Education Theorists to be untrue.


It is the brain of the bilingual learner shown in this image that depicts what research now suggests.  That two languages can co-exist.  That if students are proficient in two languages (speaking, reading, writing) they have more to draw on when making sense of new learning.  Being bilingual does not inhibit students from achieving academic success.  Rather, if approached in the right way, being bilingual can mean not only academic success, but academic excellence.


Here is another good analogy.  Above the water (what we can physically see and hear) is a student speaking two languages.  Under the water is the cognitive processing and conceptual understandings that the child can draw from in order to make sense of the new learning.  This shows that bilingual students - if they have two full languages (not two broken languages - which is different), have much more to offer than the mainstream education setting suggests they do.

I feel that this will be an ongoing topic that you will see - my thoughts about this are everywhere because there is so much to consider.  However, I am loving sorting through my thoughts and would love to discuss it further if you have any thoughts or opinions.

I will definitely be fighting to ensure that my son gets every opportunity to learn and use Tongan as well as English.  I will also be actively trying to implement the heritage languages of those students in my classroom into our daily programme.  That's where I'm going to start.  Where will you?

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