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Parlement Européen
Label Européen des langues édition 2013
16 mai 2013
Multilingualism in education.
Problem or asset?
Piet Van Avermaet
• Theoretical framework and sociolinguistic
• The Ghent Home Language Education
research project and its results
• Conclusions
Theoretical framework and
sociolinguistic context
Current trends
– Globalisation
– Localisation
super diversity
“Glocalised” super diverse societies and schools
Innovative answers to urgent language
education issues
Social inequality and unequal outcomes in education are a
tenacious problem;
Language spoken at home is often invoked as an
explanatory variable (e.g. PISA);
Causal reading of correlations;
Language (i.e. the standard variety of the dominant
language) is seen as pivot, condition and key to school
Danger of “outsourcing” L2 learning processes from
Monolingual ideological frame of reference
Official national language: powerful index of group
belonging and its mastery as pivotal for
maintaining national order (Agha)
Monolingual education paradigm is engrained so
deeply that it even provokes resistance to
multilingual practices within school settings among
parents and pupils from targeted linguistic
minorities (Bourdieu)
Immune to cognitive/academic dissonance and
palmed off as common sense thinking, as doxa
Search for the best language
education model
How language ideologies impact on school policies and
classroom practices is well documented;
Learning in the dominant language is seen as the
legitimate norm: an L2 submersion model;
Widespread advocacy in favour of bi/multilingual
education model;
Which language education model is more effective for L2
acquisition, children’s well-being, as well as for closing the
‘achievement gap’ between non-native and native
Multilingual education vs. L2 submersion
‘Clash of the Titans’?
Search for ‘one-size-fits-all’ model -> polarization
– L2 submersion (L2-only):
• Competition between languages / negative transfer -> deficits, confusion,
delays, … -> exclusion of L1’s from classroom / school
• ‘Sponge’: young children are ‘automatic’ L2-learners
• Time on task / frequency of input: the more L2 the better -> maximum L2
exposure & exclusion of L1’s
– (Bi)-Multilingual education (compensatory):
• Linguistic interdependence: positive relationships between higher-order
language skills (Cummins)
• Positive transfer L1-L2
• Facilitation / scaffolding (constructivist learning)
Within a context where ‘super diversity’ is becoming
the norm it is important to reflect on the boundaries
of the current recipes that are being used in systems
of (language) education.
As concepts like language, citizenship, learning, ... are
social constructs we have to consider reconstructing
them, in the light of new and emerging social
Multilingual education: towards a new
Customary bilingual education
– Separation arrangement:
Spatial: separate, homogeneous classes/schools
Temporal: separate lessons/moments
Segregated groups of learners
Compartmentalized languages: two solitudes assumption
(Cummins, 2008)
• Multilingualism = parallel monolingualisms (Creese &
Blackledge, 2010)
– Educational challenges and consequences:
• Need instruction by bilingual teachers (not all are)
• Low involvement of mainstream teachers overall
Multilingual education: towards a new approach?
Day to day realities of Belgian schools:
– Multitude of languages and linguistic repertoires
– School as a social space:
• in which not only language (L2) is learned
• In which children want to interact, communicate
and construct knowledge
– Safe environment
– Motivation
– Involvement
– Active actors
Functional plurilingual learning
Exploiting plurilingual repertoires as didactical
capital for learning: functional use of home
languages in multilingual, L2-dominant learning
environments (Translanguaging , García, 2009)
A ‘multilingual social interaction model for learning’
as alternative for a ‘language learning model’
Social context: super diverse localities (including
schools and classrooms)
Practical: is it feasible to organize
bilingual/multilingual education in urban
heterogeneous schools?
Theoretical: new sociolinguistic conceptions of
multilingual communication in today’s complex
Functional plurilingual learning
Two important conditions:
– From empirical research it is clear that ‘functional
plurilingual learning’ can only be effective when it is
structurally embedded in a school policy that opts for
a multilingual perspective.
– From empirical research we also learn that the
creation of ‘powerful learning environments’ is a
fundamental condition.
The Ghent Home Language Education
research project and its results
Research project
• 'Home Language in Education' (HLE)
• Background:
• Funding: city of Ghent
• Contesting and reconstructing Flemish monolingual policy
• Aims:
• alternative for traditional bilingual education
programmes: exploiting plurilingual repertoires of
children as an asset for learning
• L1-L2 interdependency (focus on literacy L1 skills first)
HLE distinguishing features
Increasing linguistic diversity of urban school populations
Persistent socio-ethnic segregation and inequality in urban
school system
Dominant language ideology:
– Official policy line: Dutch exclusively the medium of
Educational position of low-status minorities:
– Restrictive school policies: L1’s are not welcomed in
school (e.g. banning, punitive practices, tattler policy)
– Prevailing didactic paradigm: ‘Dutch-only’ & L2
– Denial of linguistic capital: L1’s are not seen as useful
resources, multilingualism is a problem, deficit
– “multilingualism leads to zerolingualism”
HLE-project: objectives
Objective A: Creating powerful plurilingual learning environments
• Aim: positive language attitudes, well-being, functional use of home
languages (diverse linguistic capital)
• 4 primary schools in Ghent (linguistically diverse populations, lower
• Target group: all classes (K1 – G6) (age: 2.5 – 12)
• Participants: teachers, school staff, parents, pedagogical advisers
Objective B: Academic literacy development in L1
Aim: learning to read & write in L1 (Turkish) and L2 (Dutch)
2 of the 4 schools
Transitional bilingual education (‘early exit’)
Target group: K3; grades 1-2 (age: 5-8)
Bilingual teachers (Turkish/Dutch)
What changes did we observe in classroom
Did the HLE project support teachers in creating powerful
plurilingual educational environments?
How did teachers exploit the L1 of the students?
Data based on classroom observations in 2008, 20092010, 2011-2012
– 2 (to 3) observations of classroom practice each period
– Teachers K3 to G3
– 30 teachers → 20 teachers (6 Kindergarten + 14 primary
school) observed twice: 2009-2010 + 2011-2012
L1 functional
Observed use of L1: Change in kindergarten & primary school
from 2008 till 2012
Teacher introduces classroom activities in the home language:
•With the help of parents (as experts): e.g. telling stories
•With the help of pupils (as experts): e.g. making an own classroom dictionary
•With the help of internet: e.g. text on topic of the lesson
Teacher stimulates pupils to use home language during peer work:
• In group work
• To support one another
Teacher responds to what pupils express in their home language:
• Teacher builds on experience and knowledge expressed in pupils’ home languages
• E.g. Teacher asks pupils about the strategies they use in problem-solving in their home
Teacher encourages pupils to use home language on isolated moments:
•E.g. ‘Let’s count in Turkish’ ‘Let’s sing in another language’, ‘How do you say X in
your language?’
Teacher tolerates use of home language:
•Home language is allowed for well-being: children should express themselves
in their own language
•Home language is allowed if needed: e.g. to explain something to a weaker classmate
Teacher ignores home language:
• Explicit remarks to forbid home languages are absent
• Home languages are tolerated, especially on informal moments
L1 suppression
Teacher opposes use of home language:
• Teacher intervenes when hearing home languages: ‘Only Dutch in the classroom!’, ‘Do I hear
Slovak again?’
• Teacher composes linguistically heterogeneous groups to prevent interaction in home
Effect on Dutch language proficiency
Teacher questionnaire (overall):
 Primary school teachers report no positive/negative effect on
overall Dutch language proficiency,
 kindergarten teachers are more positive about impact on
Dutch language proficiency
Teacher interviews: Mixed beliefs
"I think that because of the project the children are much more
involved with language " (K3)
"They're now talking in their own language but I do not think that they
speak less Dutch. No, certainly not.“ (G1)
"I think that they feel more confident, more at ease. But whether their
Dutch improves, I don't know. Actually, I have my doubts." (G2)
Effects on Turkish language proficiency
Turkish Teacher interviews:
 Positive effects: richer vocabulary, standard Turkish
improves in vocabulary and pronunciation
"In the beginning, it took a long time, you know, before
they understood the system [distinguishing sounds and
letters]. That's why I cannot invest a lot in reading
comprehension. I only have seven hours and a half and you
have to spend much time in teaching the system. But for
the pupils, ... they really learn to read and write Turkish
well. It's a pity that I have to stop after the end of January,
because then it will be in Dutch. "(G1)
Socio-affective effects
Teacher questionnaire (overall):
 overall positive effect on well-being of pupils
Teacher interviews: improvement in
Eagerness to speak
Involvement in classroom activities
Personal relationship teacher-pupils
Motivation to read in Turkish
"I feel that some children have fully blossomed. The fear of public speaking
has completely disappeared" (K2/K3)
"I think that our relationship has become a bit closer, maybe I should
say: more bonding." (G2)
"Now they are all interested in reading. The motivation is much higher. I
think it's wonderful to see how the kids have opened up by learning to
read in Turkish first." (G1)
Impact on teachers (1)
Classroom practice: learning environment became more
plurilingual (and more powerful)
 Acceptance of home language use in informal situations: all
 Spontaneous interactions in home language: kindergarten
teachers more responsive than primary school teachers
 Language awareness: occasionally
 Functional use of home language: peer-tutoring
"More languages ​open up a range of activities, you can do more. I use
home languages more knowingly and constantly look out for materials
in other languages​​." (K2/K3)
Impact on teachers (2)
Attitudes towards home language of pupils and
multilingualism in general
– Positive attitude and appreciation in kindergarten
– Growing awareness of linguistic diversity in primary
"I've grown in the use of different languages ​in the
classroom. I have a greater appreciation now for the
language of the children."
(teacher newcomers, primary school)
Shift from monolingual school policy and classroom practice
to functional plurilingual teaching/learning go hand in hand
with an observed shift from instructivist pedagogy to more
social constructivist paradigm of learning.
– When allowing to use L1, indications of a more powerful learning
– Positive shift towards power of co-teaching
FPT/L seems to be more powerful and seems to have more
potential than traditional compartimentalised bilingual
learning. In super diverse classrooms the translanguaging
reality of children is taken as an asset, a resource for
More involvement of teacher; of children; more
interaction taking place in the classroom
Positive impact on teachers’ beliefs and perceptions
Teacher as an active agent in processes of the
reconstruction of old ‘recipes’:
Training, coaching, feedback, co-reflection, co-construction
Empowerment and increased positive awareness of parents
co-construction with parents; parents as active stakeholders
Increase parental involvement and of change in parents beliefs in
role of L1 and translanguaging as good practice in classrooms
(schools as local agents; change from below)
Parlement Européen
Label Européen des langues édition 2013
16 mai 2013
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