Multilingualism in our learning community: Why UWCSEA's Home Languages Programme is in line with our mission
Margaret Chhoa-Howard, Primary EAL Coordinator, Dover Campus
20 December 2018
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages opens every door along the way.” Frank Smith in To Think: In Language, Learning and Education
For many people, speaking more than one language can be a foreign concept. That is certainly not the case at UWCSEA where the diversity of languages and cultures is regarded as a rich resource. At UWCSEA 72 languages are spoken by students from around 90 different nationalities. A microcosm of even greater diversity exists in our residential community; the 324-boarding students on our two campuses speak 40 languages between them, with 33 different first languages. The development of bilingualism and home languages is recognised and promoted. All bring a richness of language diversity and culture which makes up our community.
To support our multilingual students, a range of home languages are offered across both campuses, in addition to our English as an Additional Language (EAL) programmes. These aim to support students to develop and maintain home language skills. In May 2018, 146 students gained a bilingual diploma in 37 languages, including English. By promoting home languages, we want our students to feel valued, that what they bring to our learning community is valued and to demonstrate that our community appreciates, celebrates and promotes language and cultural diversity. Above all we want to avoid students gaining English at the cost of losing their home language which is central to their family communication, identity, relationships and culture. It is part of their story. Parents are encouraged and frequently reminded, to expose their children to the home language continually, even if the children reply in English.
In his book The Future of English (1997) David Graddol argues that in the next 50 years or so it will be those with both English and their home language who will benefit most and who will be most involved in world affairs. Those with only English might be less fortunate.
UWCSEA promotes additive bilingualism, where acquiring English, while actively encouraging the maintenance of home languages, is key. To use the analogy of a bicycle (Developing bilingual skills Source: Baker (200:13) adapted from Cummins (1996), one wheel can get you places, as can a big wheel and a little wheel. When both wheels, however, are fully inflated and nicely balanced, you will go farther. Balanced wheels, ie, balanced languages, are what students should aim for. This might be home language plus English or, where English is the home language, English plus possibly the host country language.
There is a growing movement to promoting bilingualism as scientific research shows evidence that it can have immense benefits on psychological and cognitive development (Dr Leher Singh, NUS).
Dr Leher Singh visited Dover Campus last academic year, discussing how a child’s proficiency in his/her first language is a significant predictor of how he/she will perform in the second language and the ability to become bilingual. The riches of Language 1 will transfer to Language 2. The bilingual world is a more complex world than the monolingual world as the bilingual brain has to deal with dual languages and systems, multiple dialects and cultures. As it does this, the bilingual brain develops into a more complex machine. Bilingualism sharpens the brain’s executive system and encourages focus, self regulation and verbal reasoning. Bilingual children show evidence of being able to take in another’s perspective earlier, a greater ability to think out of the box, increased creativity and improved problem solving. As children develop both languages in tandem, their vocabulary may initially be more limited than in monolingual children but evidence shows that they can catch up later. There may be intrusion errors. This might be seen in phoneme learning when phonemes are represented in the mother tongue in a different way. This is a normal part of the bilingual journey along with mixing languages.
Dr Singh further outlined how there can be a positive transfer between languages when commonalities are shared. Knowledge of one language can help understanding in another. Bilingualism has positive social benefits including a positive impact on friendship choices. Bilingual children are more open to people that are not just like them; they are more likely to trust people based on behaviour rather than race, making them less vulnerable to social biases and more able to have a complex understanding of the behaviours of others.
She also mentioned how bilingualism is also a ‘preservative’ for the brain. The brain maintains a greater cognitive ‘reserve’ making the ageing brain more resilient.
Raising a bilingual, and in many cases biliterate, child requires commitment from all stakeholders: child, family and school. Becoming bilingual is hard work and rests precariously on bilingual motivation. Buy in is vital so that the child intrinsically sees the advantages and benefits. Goals need to be set. In younger children it might be that they can converse with family members during holiday visits. Older children might have the goal of a Bilingual IB Diploma.
As UWCSEA develops our EAL programme in the Dover Campus Primary School, we aim to follow best practices. Our goal is two well inflated tyres shaped for success and efficiency. We might encounter a few punctures and roadblocks along the way, but armed with determination to ride the journey with our students and parents, we know that we will get there and our students will be better for it.
Home Language Programme at UWCSEA
The programme is offered for students who want to maintain a language spoken at home but who do not study this language as part of the academic curriculum during the school day. By providing personalised lessons our aim is to support biliteracy rather than simply bilingualism.
Classes are delivered by a qualified teacher in small groups after school, supporting students to develop their home language skills. In K1 to Grade 1 the focus is on maintaining or expanding a students exposure to their home language in an environment other than home. A particular focus on developing the literacy skills of reading and writing is introduced from Grade 2. For older students, the programme is intended to assist them maintain a level of proficiency that may allow them to move into classes offered in the academic curriculum in Middle or High School, including the option of School Supported Self Taught Language courses from Grade 9. Although the intent of the programme is the same, there are slight differences by campus, including the languages on offer.
Classes are offered subject to demand from our community; at the time of writing (December 2018) the home languages programme at UWCSEA offers:
- Bahasa Indonesian
- Bahasa Indonesian