Supporting students' emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual well-being is the basis of my practice, and this can really only be accomplished if students know you value them as individuals with different life and learning experiences. I recently had a conversation with a student about English fluency, dual language acquisition, and superficial school expectations and it was so illuminating and relevant to this week's module. It showed me how deeply complex multilingual skill acquisition is, and how teachers can help their students develop both their L1 and L2 by engaging with each student on a personal/intellectual level to find out their own understandings of their education.
The student in mind is seventeen, had been educated in the states for a few years when she was young, moved to Korean public school for her middle school years, and began high school at my current school in which students graduate with a bilingual International Baccalaureate diploma (Korean and English). She told me that when she entered this school, her Korean language skills were well developed, and her English skills were much lower because she had lost the skills she developed when she was younger as they weren't used in the Korean public school. She expected both her languages to develop here, but she is finding that her Korean has stagnated (if not declined) and her written academic English is much improved but feels deeply inadequate in spoken academic and BICS English. Essentially, because she speaks casually in Korean with classmates but not academically, and her coursework is based on academic writing and structured oral assessments (as per the IB curriculum) she is not encouraged to develop both her languages in the same way even though she technically attends a bilingual school. Even more fascinating, when I asked her about concept development in Korean vs. English, she said that because the assignments are completed in English, her peers do not talk about academic work in Korean...they don't bother to understand the concepts or learning outcomes in their mother tongue because that creates more work for them.
She mentioned that she feels inadequate because she isn't fluent (i.e. comfortable) in either her L1 or L2 and I suggested to her that the fact we had this conversation in the first place indicates a high level of fluency. I learned that in an environment focused on a rigid view of academic success, true multilingual skill acquisition falls by the wayside to make room for memorization and highly specialized vocabulary.
Teachers should know that learning programs for English Language Learners involves creating a complex network of skills and knowledge development in both the L1 and L2. I also think the more teachers understand that language affects the way we think, the way we make sense of the world, the more likely we are to truly value multilingual education. As an English speaker who loves to travel around the world, I've been inadvertently taught that my language has a type of cultural hegemony others want to understand and have access to. I have tried to learn five languages, and never moved past the introductory phases because it was challenging and frankly there was no need for me to communicate in these L2s. I am learning so much about my own linguistic assumptions in my current position, and think that an important way for teachers to meet the needs of ELLs is to constantly evaluate our own assumptions and values as they manifest in our lessons, assessments, conversations, and curriculum interpretations daily.
I am an enthusiastic and conscientious educator. I use my blog to connect my personal experiences and adventures to my pedagogy.