A holistic and explicit whole-school focus on both home and formally-taught languages can improve learning outcomes for all students, no matter their linguistic profile.
Monash senior lecturer in bilingual education and TESOL, Dr Marianne Turner, looks at the benefits of schools adopting a holistic language policy.
Students in Australian schools are linguistically diverse – both in terms of the variety of languages they speak and also their linguistic range.
There are students who speak another language at home and others who are only exposed to another language as part of a languages education program at school.
Almost one third of students in Victorian schools speak another language at home.
Navigating linguistic complexity
The complexity of students’ linguistic profile can be difficult to navigate. Language can be compartmentalised. Students from language-background-other-than-English (LBOTE) are left to speak their languages at home, and students work through the languages curriculum in languages classrooms.
This kind of thinking limits the well-established communicative, cognitive, creative and identity-affirming benefits that languages bring to students’ learning.
However, even when we understand the benefits, it can be challenging to see how linguistic diversity can be addressed in a sustainable and effective way.
Being explicit about language objectives is a good place to start.
Incorporating languages across the curriculum
Schools can guide the incorporation of languages across the curriculum by making two objectives explicit in a languages policy.
These objectives overlap, but they can clarify why languages are being used or leveraged in class.
Developing a school-based language policy
Thinking about these two broad language objectives side-by-side is a way to help a school community consider why they are incorporating languages into their classroom, and also ways they might be able to collaborate with other teachers.
A language policy simply refers to the way a group of people – a school community, for example – think about and manage language, and also their language practices.
A set of objectives can act as a language policy. Without any explicit attention, English-only – and a focus on learning rather than using language in language classrooms – is frequently the default de facto language policy in Australian schools.
Taking a multilingual stance
The kind of language policy discussed in this article takes a multilingual stance. Adopting a multilingual stance can help:
- EAL students connect their English language learning to prior knowledge and experience;
- second-generation migrant students who are fluent in English maintain and develop their languages; and
- all students learn languages.
In our interconnected world, preparing students for diversity is increasingly important, and creating an explicit (multilingual) language policy in a school can harness languages for this task in a systemic and sustainable way.
Ideas and resources in this article are drawn from Marianne Turner’s own book, Multilingualism as a Resource and a Goal: Using and Learning Languages in Mainstream Schools.