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Bilingualism is the term used for when a person functions in more than one language in their daily lives. They have access to more than one language at home and at school. However, it does not mean that they are equal in terms of a specified level of fluency in two or more languages. In the last census (2011), it showed that around 5% of the population in Scotland over the age of three spoke another language other than English in the home. Scottish Government’s Pupil Census data for 2016 shows that there were over 39,000 pupils in school with English as an additional language. In 2017, this figure has increased to over 41,000 which equates to 6% of the total number of pupils in Scotland. You can find the most up to date information at this link:
Bilingual learners come from a range of backgrounds. Developing more than one language is not considered to be detrimental to a child’s language learning. This is a common misconception. The first language that the child learns is the best foundation for learning additional languages.
Having more than one language has cognitive benefits which can impact on the achievement and attainment of bilingual learners. They have greater awareness of how language operates which can help with literacy skills, decoding and learning other languages. They have an awareness of the importance of context and audience in language use.
Read the first section of “Learning in 2+ Languages” for more background on bilingualism and the range of benefits.
It is important to recognise the benefit and value of the home language – the language that is mostly used in the home. A person’s competence in English does not reflect overall academic competence. Support to develop language for academic purposes needs to be planned.
Read this extract from Deryn Hall’s book “Assessing the Needs of Bilingual Pupils: Living in Two Languages” which summarises what the research tells us about bilingual children. Click on the link below.
Language use can be described in two ways:
- the ability to use language for social purposes; and
- the ability to use language for academic purposes.
It is important to note that a person could have competence in language for social purposes but this does not mean they will have understanding at a deeper conceptual level. Language for social purposes can be developed in two years or less but language for academic purposes can take from five to eleven years to develop.
Watch this video where Cummins is asked to explain the social and academic purposes of language in terms of BICS and CALP theory.
Watch this clip of young people talking about bilingualism and consider how they value their languages and culture.
Watch this clip of young people using their first language (Polish) for learning and observe how they use their languages to complete a simple task.
Despite research evidence and feedback from bilingual young people themselves, there are still many misconceptions surrounding bilingualism that practitioners and professionals may be concerned about. Since most practitioners in Scotland are monolingual and do not have personal experience of bilingualism to draw on, these concerns can be a worry.
The Bilingualism Matters website has lots of useful information to address these issues. Read more on the links below.
To help practitioners understand their bilingual learners, a language profile tool may be helpful. There are many versions of this tool that have been adapted to reflect different circumstances, but there are key areas of information that it covers such as what the first language is and what literacy skills they have in the first language.
Here are some examples of language profiles. Try completing a profile for one of your learners. You will probably need to speak to the learner to do this properly.
Here is an adapted version of the profile above which you can type into, along with two examples of completed profiles.
This language profile comes from Deryn Hall’s book:
The NALDIC website has examples of Pupil Portraits. These are much more detailed descriptions of EAL learners and their needs.
Thinking about all the things you have found out through the activities in this module, reflect on the bilingual children/learners you work with. You may wish to post in the discussion forum your response to the questions below.
- From what you have learned, have you gained any further insight into your learners? If so in what way?
- How much do you know about the bilingual children in your class? Do you think you need to find out more? You may wish to use the language profile activity for other learners you work with. If you have a pupil you know a lot about, try writing a pupil portrait similar to the NALDIC ones in the link for Activity 7.
- How could you use your learning to improve your practice and/or setting? What would your first priority be?
Final Activity – End of Module Review
Hall, D, (2001) Assessing the Needs of Bilingual Pupils: Living in Two Languages, David Fulton Publishers