UK: Bilingual classes 'raise results'

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Mar 24 13:04:18 UTC 2007

Bilingual classes 'raise results'

Bilingual children who learn in their family's language as well as English
do better at school, research suggests.  Even second and third generation
immigrant children with English as their stronger language could benefit.
A team from Goldsmiths, University of London, analysed some primary school
children in England using two languages in maths and English lessons. They
found that, far from confusing them, having two languages deepened their
understanding of key concepts.

Grasping concepts

Lead researcher Dr Charmian Kenner said children who led bilingual lives
could access their lessons through both languages. "Learning a
mathematical concept in Bengali and English, for example, deepens
understanding as ideas are transferred between languages. "Or children can
compare how metaphors are constructed in a Bengali poem and its English
equivalent. "The children in our project expressed a strong desire to use
their community language in school and teachers were able to tap into
their pupils' full range of cultural knowledge."

 It is very important that parents continue to talk to their children in
their first language and then they can transfer the key ideas they learn
to their new language Dr Kenner worked with four small groups of children
aged between six and 10 at two primary schools in the London Borough of
Tower Hamlets. She watched them learning their mother tongue in community
language classes, after school or at weekends, and observed them in
bilingual activities in mainstream classes. When the children were allowed
to use their mother tongue as well as English they seemed to grasp
mathematical concepts such as division and multiplication more easily, she
said. A separate research project carried out by Tower Hamlets community
language unit found children who attended mother tongue classes did better
in their national curriculum tests.


Schools which have a high proportion of children with English as a second
language are generally expected to do worse than those that do not. But
this research suggests that bilingual pupils do better than those with
just one language. Dr Kenner warns that many second and third generation
children are in danger of losing their bilingual skills if they do not
have the chance to develop their mother tongue through their schoolwork.
She now wants multilingual children to be allowed to use their mother
tongue in mainstream classes. Her call comes soon after the government
urged schools to ensure Britishness was at the heart of citizenship


The argument that classes should be only in English is based on
assumptions that run contrary to all the research findings, Dr Kenner
said. "The other thing is that people think that, in order to be British,
children of immigrants have to distort parts of their identity ... but we
found it was the other way round. "The children wanted to be able to use
Bengali at school as it was part of them. For them being British included
being Bangladeshi. They are British Bangladeshi." The Department for
Education and Skills has recently funded a research project aimed at
spreading best practice from bilingual schools.

'Missed opportunity'

Dr Kenner said: "The advice has changed quite a lot. When the first wave
of people arrived in the 1960s and 1970s people were told only to speak
English to their children. "But we can see that it is very important that
parents continue to talk to their children in their first language and
then they can transfer the key ideas they learn to their new language
which would be English at school." The findings come after the centre for
languages, Cilt, found bilingual pupils do better at GCSE. Cilt patron Sir
Trevor McDonald said: "In our haste to ensure they acquire good English,
we frequently miss the opportunity to ensure they maintain and develop
their skills in their other languages too. "Rather than thinking in terms
of an 'English-only' culture, we should be promoting 'English plus'."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/03/15 10:26:52 GMT


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