Plurilingual Lab Member Angelica Galante in The Conversation Canada

It’s time to change the way we teach English

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Luiz Capitulino, 11, and his mom Sheyla Do Vale of Brazil embrace after becoming official Canadians during a citizenship ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Angelica Galante, Concordia University

As we move into 2019, the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, it’s time to consider not only how we think about Canada’s linguistic identity but also how we might develop best practices for learning and teaching languages.

Since 1969, Canada has recognized two official languages, English and French, but many people who live in the country are in fact multilingual. There are approximately 60 Indigenous languages and 140 immigrant languages in Canada besides English and French.

For example, in my own case I use five languages: Portuguese, Spanish, English and a little Italian and French. I was born in Brazil in a family with Italian and Spanish heritage, and learned Portuguese, the country’s official language, at school. Later, I learned English, followed by French after I moved to Montréal. In Canada, stories like mine are more common than we think.

To teach English in a way that acknowledges multiple languages in Canada, we need an approach that values and advances students’ existing language and cultural identities.

Plurilingual instruction is an approach that doesn’t discourage or shy away from using the learner’s primary language(s) when the new language is introduced. Plurilingual approaches seek to move beyond monolingual approaches, focused on the target language only.

A plurilingual approach can be taken to teach any new language. But in particular, my research has led me to focus on how plurilingual approaches to teaching English could change students’ experiences of language learning.

English is often a second or third language

In Canada, 7.7 million residents speak a non-official language as a mother tongue, an increase of 13.3 per cent between 2011 to 2016, and the number of people speaking more than one language at home is on the rise.

Using more than one language is not uncommon in Canada, particularly in metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver where switching and mixing languages for different purposes is part of everyday life.

East Pender Street, Vancouver. In Canada, using more than one language is not uncommon, particularly in large cities such as Vancouver, Montréal and Toronto, where switching and mixing languages for different purposes is part of everyday life.
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Canada is multicultural in addition to being multilingual. Cultural diversity is not only represented by immigrant cultures but also by diversity within Indigenous, anglophone and francophone groups. After all, these groups are both linguistically and culturally diverse in the sense that not everyone who speaks the same language and is part of the same cultural background speaks or behaves the same way.

While Canada recognizes English and French as official languages, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has called for the revitalization, promotion and preservation of the country’s Indigenous languages. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act also mandates that we “preserve and enhance the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada.”

But the way English language programs have presented teaching English to students doesn’t acknowledge the diversity of multiple linguistic backgrounds. The category “English as a second language” — so common now it is frequently shorthanded to ESL — ignores the fact that many students find themselves in my situation: they are, in fact, studying English as a third, fourth or fifth language.

Further, ESL programs often undervalue the use of more than one language to access information, communicate and use cultural knowledge in interactions with people from diverse backgrounds.

Benefits to students

In plurilingual language instruction, teachers focus on developing what linguists call a linguistic repertoire rather than the mastery of one language only.

Plurilingual instruction values the use of languages, dialects (or varieties of language) as well as cultural knowledge that students have developed throughout their lives; they build on this knowledge to further develop proficiency in the new target language.

For example, students learn strategies such as translanguating: when learning words in the target languages, they reflect on similarities and differences in other languages.

And, as the language learner’s confidence grows with switching between languages, this also develops the person’s ability and confidence to make language choices and manage language risks in socially and linguistically diverse social settings.

Thus, researchers believe that embedded with plurilingual competence is also pluricultural competence: learners experience greater comfort with, and enjoyment in, the fluid linguistic and cultural demands and opportunities of communicating in diverse societies.

While plurilingual instruction is relatively new in Canada, many countries including Uganda, Spain and Mexico have introduced plurilingual instruction and reported benefits of linking linguistic and cultural diversity in language education.

Studies based in Canada alone suggest that when teachers use a plurilingual approach language students gain opportunities to personally identify with multiple languages and value multiple strategies for language learning. Students also become confident and skilled in using different languages or a language mix depending on their location.

Bilingual menu at Schwartz’s Deli, Montréal.
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In my most recent study, I examined plurilingual instruction in comparison to regular instruction that emphasized one language only (monolingual) in a university English language program in Toronto.

I recruited seven teachers who taught the same program to 129 students but used different approaches.

After four months, students who received plurilingual instruction reported it was beneficial for the development of cognition, linguistic and cultural empathy, relatability, critical thinking and willingness to learn more languages, among other benefits.

All of the teachers in my study showed preference for plurilingual instruction and reported that it challenges cultural stereotypes and encourages students to be active, engaged learners who are empowered and confident with their own language use.

While more research is needed to confirm these results, future research could also be done in classrooms where French is taught as the official language, or where any languages are taught to help our understanding of benefits of plurilingual instruction.The Conversation

Angelica Galante, Assistant Professor in Applied Linguistics, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Translanguaging and Plurilingual Pedagogy: Critical Literacy in Multilingual Language Classrooms

by John Wayne dela Cruz

Concordia University’s Department of Education welcomed Dr. Sunny Man Chu Lau as the second presenter in our Plurilingual Lab Speaker Series on November 15, 2018. The talk entitled Affordances of plurilingual pedagogy for critical literacy engagement in second language classrooms gathered a roomful attendance by department professors and students in the Applied Linguistics (MA, PhD) and TESL (BEd) programs, friends and family. With a review of her three most recent research studies, Dr. Lau summarized the affordances that plurilingual instruction offer in engaging second language students towards critical literacy.

Though languages do not exist in a vacuum, traditional monolingual and grammar-oriented pedagogy persists in second language classrooms. Language programs and curricula often strictly enforce a target-language-only policy in the hopes of achieving native-like grammatical competence, much to the disservice of their students. To that end, Dr. Lau illustrated how theoretical and empirical evidence invites us to reflect about the following:

  • Texts—by virtue of the language in which they are written—are positioned and positioning; they serve to express the writers’ perspectives and to situate the readers within this point of view.
  • Language learners and speakers are then subjected to the process of interpellation—they are constantly called to confront, accept, or refute messages with which they are bombarded.
  • In Second Language Acquisition, we should always remind to ask ourselves, on behalf of students, why they’re learning something and what they can do with language; in other words, since languages are intertwined with lived experiences, language gains in the classroom should be as important as real life social practice.

In plurilingual pedagogy, language is learned and used in meaningful ways. Language students can then be social agents inside and outside of the classroom, while the teachers can guide students, who become co-researchers in such social explorations.

This process shifts the notion to position students as knowledge experts, which has been shown to allow enhanced biliteracy learning in bilingual classrooms. Through theme-based approaches that contextualize language learning within the real world, peer translanguaging—where students are allowed to speak to each other and the teacher in a language other than the target—have been demonstrated to lead to three main areas:

1) reflection on abstract concepts such as othering or self-distancing and personal racial biases through their words and actions;

2) awareness of hidden concerns and perceptions about the target language, their peers, and their larger social circles;

3) intercultural understanding in the classroom, particularly in classrooms in multilingual and multicultural settings like Canada.

Plurilingual Lab’s members thank Dr. Lau for giving this talk. To our growing readers and followers, we hope to see you in our third talk in the Plurilingual Lab Speaker Series by Dr. Dianne Querrien on November 29th.

Contributions of Multilingualism and Bilingual Education to Applied Linguistics Research

by John Wayne dela Cruz

Plurilingual Lab and Concordia University’s Department of Education hosted Dr. Michal B. Paradowski’s talk on Multilingualism and Bilingual Education last October 25. The free event gathered a roomful attendance by department professors and students in the Applied Linguistics (MA, PhD) and the TESL (BEd) programs, friends and family. Using a survey of past and current research in applied linguistics and second language acquisition, Dr. Paradowski focused on elucidating the truths about some of the popular myths surrounding bi and multilinguals.

While much research debunking these myths have been around for many years, certain myths still persist, especially in language education. Some of the main take-aways from the talk include:

  • MYTH 1: Multilingual acquisition must start from childhood/bilingualism in children means true adult bilingualism.

TRUTH: Later age onset is not an excluding factor; 1 in 4 adult bilinguals retain productive proficiency in only one of their languages.

  • MYTH 2: Bilingualism means equal native-like command on both languages.

TRUTH: Functional plurilingualism – unbalanced proficiency between languages is normal and expected, and is highly context dependent.

  • MYTH 3: Childhood bilingualism is detrimental to linguistic/cognitive development and performance.

TRUTH: Bi/multilinguals outperform monolinguals in a number of cognitive and non-linguistic tasks. Although it is true that bi/multilingual children can be a bit behind in certain lab-based linguistic tasks (by the milliseconds!), this lag is not noticeable in daily production, they eventually catch up to and even acquire larger linguistic repertoires than monolinguals.

  • MYTH 4: Childhood bilingualism can lead to language deficit impairment.

TRUTH: As previously stated, this is false. Further, on the topic of disorders, bi/multilingualism have been strongly correlated to delays in dementia onset by 4-4.5 years, and to lower risks of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Plurilingual Lab’s members thank Dr. Padowski for coming and giving this talk.

To our followers, we hope to see you in our next event!

Plurilingual Lab at the Second Language Research Forum

Dr. Angelica Galante will deliver a talk at the Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) titled Cognitive and emotional engagement through translanguaging: A quasi-experimental study investigating L2 vocabulary development among multilingual students in Canada on October 27 (Saturday).

This year, SLRF is being held at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), in Montreal from October 26 – October 28.

More information about this and other presentations from faculty and graduate students from Concordia can be found on the SLRF website.