Plurilingual Lab was sponsored by Atlantic Education International and the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers to present at the 2019 Languages Without Borders Conference, May2–4. Check out their papers:
Practical Applications for Including Plurilingual and Pluricultural Competence in the Language Classroom
Shifting Language Instruction from Monolingualism to Plurilingualism: Results from Two Canadian Studies
Members of Plurilingual Lab presented three research papers at the American Association for Applied Linguistics conference, in Atlanta GA, March 9–12. Check out their papers:
Examining translanguaging as pedagogy for vocabulary development: A mixed methods study with multilingual EAP students in a Canadian university, Angelica Galante
Addressing writer’s challenges in read-to-write tasks, Heike Neumann
Developing an implementing a new pedagogical framework: data from plurilingual action-oriented scenarios in North American language classrooms, Enrica Piccardo and Kimberly Cho (OISE/University of Toronto, Sara Potkonjak (York University) and Angelica Galante (Concordia University)
Check some highlights of the conference in our Facebook Page:
These are a few highlights of this year's AAAL conference in the city of Atlanta, US. Many presentations on plurilingual…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.