THE POWER OF BILINGUALISM
Research has repeatedly shown that embracing home language as a distinct asset and supporting the development of native or home language is the best way to help children meet educational goals. Consider:
Last year, 28 school districts in Washington State reported that 25% or more of their students were ELL students
There are over 200 languages spoken across Washington and over 170 in the South King County region alone
Linguistically diverse and students of color are disproportionately impacted by the opportunity gap
Students who have a strong foundation in their home language can more easily learn a second language (English), and can succeed in learning English whether or not it’s practiced at home
Studies show bilingual speakers are more creative and better at planning and problem solving than monolinguals
Bilingual students retain cultural pride when we recognize their language knowledge as an important personal, educational, and professional asset
Bilingual students may be able to better engage their parents in their academic experiences
Home language speakers can now earn world language high school credits toward graduation in many Washington State schools for demonstrating competency in their home language, raising graduation rates
High School graduates who demonstrate they are bilingual and biliterate will receive a special seal on their high school transcripts – “the Seal of Biliteracy” — that makes them more competitive for college and future careers
The research about bilingual brains and learning is ever expanding. You may find these websites helpful:
UW Institute of Brain Sciences:
HOW EDUCATORS CAN SUPPORT BILINGUALISM
Understand your influence.
Even your youngest students are observing your reaction to their home language – and it makes a difference in whether or not they will retain this important asset.
Even as early as the preschool level, young children quickly recognize the status differential between their home languages and English. When the interactions they experience with teachers reinforce these status differentials, students disengage their identities from their home languages and the process of language loss is accelerated (Olsen et al., 2001)
Actively encourage parents to retain home language early on.
In the precious early stages of their child’s education, parents are looking to you for guidance on what is in their child’s best interest. It is crucial to be explicit with families about the importance of maintaining home language. You are in a key role to help them understand the many benefits of bilingualism, and to clarify that commonly-held misconception that maintaining home language may impeded English language acquisition.
Create an environment that celebrates languages.
Find ways your classroom can embrace home languages, cultures and family experiences of the children you teach. Some ideas:
– Stock your classroom library with books that represent home languages and stories.
– Create visual displays to celebrate diversity
Understand and share the TRUTH about the power of bilingualism!
You may find this report, PreK-3rd: Challenging Common Myths About Dual Language Learners An Update to the Seminal 2008 Report by Linda M. Espinosa, Ph.D. highly informative, as it addresses commonly-held misconceptions about dual language learners, and reveals the truth and what it means for parents and educators.
Support parents with resources on raising bilingual kids today
Our friends at MomsRising.org share a wealth of information for parents and educators to support bilingual learners as well. https://www.momsrising.org/blog/parents-share-why-bilingual-is-better-bilingualrisers
Remind your students to prepare for what’s ahead!
When your students reach high school, they will be eligible for World Language Credits or a Seal of Biliteracy if they have maintained their home language. Throughout the elementary and middle school years, students are shaping their identities and determining whether or not they are devoted to developing (or maintaining) their home language. You can play a key role in encouraging them to develop their language skills.
By doing so, you will help them start early preparation for these academic rewards.
Celebrate language and bilingualism.
Make space in your classroom for students’ bilingualism and ways of processing the world. The celebration of bilingualism shouldn’t be limited to ELL students; encourage all students, monolingual or multilingual, to recognize the power of bilingualism.
Provide bilingual students with space and opportunity to express their heritage and identity and build upon it. Consider classroom activities that allow students to share their bilingualism or life experiences with other students. By supporting their bilingual identities, you will be supporting your students’ socioemotional development.
Remind students about the importance of maintaining home language.
Correct negatives myths about home language retention for students!
During the elementary and middle school years, parents may be beginning to focus on academic success. For this reason, it is important to remind them that bilingualism is a distinct advantage for their student, in the classroom and beyond. Try to actively encourage them to maintain home language. Many parents withhold from speaking home language due to misinformation or misconceptions about the effect of home language on bilingual learners.
Again, you may find this report eye-opening and full of useful information you can share with parents: https://www.fcd-us.org/assets/2016/04/Challenging-Common-Myths-Update.pdf
Reminder: many cultures afford educators great deference. You may find that if parents are keeping a distance, it is out of respect, not a lack of interest in their child’s education. In fact, many cultures put extensive emphasis on education and have parents who would be thrilled to be involved. Connect with parents and help them understand that maintaining their language and their culture is important to you, too!
Some educators find it useful to use a chart to send home academic progress reports that can be easily understood by parents who are not fluent in English.
Help Your Bilingual Students Excel and Get the Credit They Deserve:
World Language Credits & The Seal of Biliteracy
Bilingualism has a number of important benefits for students, ranging from brain benefits to self-confidence, connection to family and community, and increased opportunity in a global world. During high school, your students may also benefit from two important academic programs exist that reward home language fluency:
World Language Credits – up to 4 credits toward high school graduation may be awarded to students who test as proficient in a language other than English. Testing is available whether or not the language is taught at the school, and students may receive fewer than 4 credits for some written and spoken fluency.
Watch the World Language Credit video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgCMhiM1N-o
The Seal of Biliteracy is earned by students who have qualified for 4 World Language Competency-Based credits. The Seal is placed on the graduation diploma itself, and is noted on their transcript.
*Between 2012 and 2014 in South King County, one in five (21%) students who participated in the World Language Credit program needed their competency-based world language credits to graduate high school; and
* One in ten (10%) students who participated in the program needed the competency-based credits to be eligible to attend a four-year college.
Seal of Biliteracy Website
OSPI – Seal of Biliteracy information
Seal of Biliteracy training video:
OSPI – World Language Proficiency information
This it the first in a planned series of tool kits to assist educators. We warmly welcome community engagement and feedback, so we can continue developing tools that are most responsive to your needs!
“We were ecstatic when we had students requesting to test in more than 50 languages… It helps us motivate students to continue to strive to develop their language skills, especially reading and writing, and to aim for high school graduation so they can earn the Seal of Biliteracy on their diploma…”
Join the movement to recognize bilingualism as an asset and a point of pride! Some teachers host five minute activities in the classroom, others help organize a graduation ceremony or other recognition for students who have achieved a Seal of Biliteracy on their diploma. Our Educator Toolkit is full of ideas. You are a role model for your students, so even hearing recognition from you and encouragement to speak their home language from time to time may be enough to urge them along.
No! Many, if not most, of the educators supporting bilingualism are not fluent in other languages. By encouraging students to retain their home language, recognizing it as a benefit and a skill, you are building a stronger connection to them. You may also be helping to reinforce the parental relationship and family culture, which can pay dividends in the classroom.
Extensive research is showing us that fluency in another language does not negatively affect classroom learning or hamper English learning. In fact, bilingual students may have a better attention span for classroom activities!
Finally, participating in the SPEAK campaign is a career builder for you as an educator: today’s market demands educators who can navigate and succeed in diverse classrooms. Your ability to oversee the progress and success of multilingual students will build your authority, not diminish it.
A student may not want to test for bilingualism for a few reasons. First, they may not be confident about their level of fluency. The good news is that testing allows students to earn a range of credits, so they may get partial credit, if not full. Please make sure that if your student has some fluency and literacy skills, they understand they may still earn a few credits, if not the full four.
Some students struggle with maintaining their cultural identity while trying to fit in at a new school or in the country. Whether or not they choose to test for World Language Credits, you can create great impact on them by recognizing, celebrating, and encouraging them to maintain their bilingualism. We are finding that educators have a massive impact on whether families decide to maintain home language. Our encouragement can make the difference between languages becoming extinct and directly affect how much pride students retain in who they are and where they come from.
Now that we understand that maintaining home language doesn’t hurt and may even help their ability to learn English, we must urgently encourage students who speak multiple languages to do their best to maintain them. This message must be shared with students and parents alike. Parents are following your lead on what to do for their student’s best interest. Now that we understand that speaking home language is to the student’s best interest, it is important to support students AND parents with this message. Parents will always look to you for guidance on what to do at home to make their child academically successful. Tell them: Speak your language!
There are a number of people who may be able to help you determine this. ELL teachers, school counselors, your principal, and anyone else responsible to provide direct services to ELL students may be aware of whether the World Language Credits and Seal of Biliteracy are active programs in your school.
Make sure your students of all ages know how important it is for them to maintain and enhance their skills in their home language, especially reading and writing. Raise awareness about these programs with your students and within your school. Because these opportunities are newer, most students will not recognize they’re eligible without some guidance from you. Remind parents about these opportunities at parent-teacher conferences as well and emphasize the importance of home language.You can use these flyers in your conferences and communicate these messages in your home language.
Connect the student with the point person for testing at your school. If you’re not sure who that is, talk to your school counselor or district ELL director to find out.
World Language Credits are available in dozens of languages – students need to know that even if their language isn’t widely spoken at the school, it may be testable! Students will need your help connecting them with a guidance counselor to arrange next steps such as appropriate testing. By encouraging them, you could have huge impact on their graduating on time.
Absolutely! As educators, we are in a crucial position to recognize student’s assets and steer them to success. Bilingual research is showing us how important it is to recognize and celebrate multilingualism not only for English language learners but for all students. Any educator can assist students in taking advantage of these opportunities to learn either their home language or another language whether at home, school, or in afternoon or weekend school settings. Many students lack awareness that these programs even exist. If you’re interacting with students or parents of students who are ELL, please help them sign up to be tested for credits that may make the difference in graduating on time. The effects will also be felt in classrooms at large; when we recognize diversity of culture and experience, we are creating a richer experience for students of all backgrounds.
SPEAK is about celebrating bilingualism in our schools and community at large, so it’s relevant for all of us who come into contact with immigrant families or students of diverse backgrounds. For many years, educators typically felt home life and home language needed to be separate; we now understand the science behind the benefits of a home language, and we must actively encourage home language maintenance if we want bilingual students to truly succeed.