ENGLISH NOTES For REET-Multilingualism

This post discusses the possibilities and effects of different language policies in schools around the world, based on recent research on second language learning and on the relationship between language and cultural identity. With reference to some of the latest findings from brain imaging in learners who speak one, two or more languages, it looks at the physical effects of bilingualism and multilingualism, and how these may be applied in teaching and in school policy to improve education. With reference to a recent survey of students in international secondary schools in Indonesia, it also discusses the cultural aspects of language use in schools and the role of language in identity. It examines the effects of learning more than one language at a young age, and of learning subjects through a language which is not the learner’s first language. A large number of schools worldwide currently teach English to speakers of other languages from an early age. This paper discusses the degree to which such early foreign or second language teaching is actually useful or effective. In many parts of the world, it has also become popular to teach mainstream or even all curriculum subjects in English. Some, however, have found this to be detrimental in several ways and have therefore reverted to teaching subjects in their national language. Many are concerned about the possibility that languages with a small number of speakers are doomed to being lost and replaced by a national language, or that their national language could eventually be replaced by English. This could have important repercussions both on local cultures and on international relations, given the emotive aspects of one’s first language. Vital decisions on language are frequently made based on the need for English in careers. However, it may be that the current language teaching situation is not actually succeeding in improving students’ use of English or their learning in general. Moreover, there is a great risk of producing one or more generations of school leavers and graduates who cannot function beyond everyday conversation in their first language. It may be impossible for English to continue to dominate education without raising affective barriers to learning by giving a low status to local languages and cultures. In this paper, all of the above questions are discussed and researched, and several solutions to the problems arising from them are proposed. We live in a multilingual world in which new languages are formed, constantly adapted, and lost. A language may dominate for decades or even centuries, only to be consigned to history when the political paradigm changes. Some are stored and studied by interested scholars and other enthusiasts, but many are lost and forgotten. Few survive the onslaught of a language with a larger and / or more powerful group of speakers. Across nations and over the centuries, different languages have become dominant, due to their speakers’ use in politics, commerce and / or various educational fields. which transcend borders. They have taken on the role of a lingua franca to facilitate the sharing of information and discoveries in specialized fields such as mathematics, science, religion and history, making it necessary to learn them to become a member of the powerful community in areas such as
politics and education.

Throughout history, dominant languages have come and gone. For centuries, Greek and Latin were the major languages of learning in Europe, giving a lower status to other European languages, including English, even as late as the mid-20th century, when Latin was a common requirement for entry into a university. Celtic languages used to number in the hundreds across Europe, but now only a few remain today, thanks to the efforts of their speakers. French was the major diplomatic language before the mid-20th century, and was used by educated Russians, who were often unable to speak Russian at all, regarding it as the language of peasants. English emerged as a development of West Germanic when Angles, Saxons and Jutes moved to Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. Powerful though the English language is today, for centuries it was, like Russian, regarded as a peasant language not fit to be used in politics or education. It was only able to gain a degree of respect and acceptance through its use in literature by authors such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. Further examples of this phenomenon around the world probably run into the hundreds; many have been lost, and others and would be too numerous to mention here.


Today, many countries have more than one national or official language, with any number
of smaller linguistic groups within them. Governments make difficult decisions on which language or languages to promote in education and which to omit form the school curriculum. Currently, the major language of international communication and education is English. Some countries have encouraged an exclusively English-medium education, meaning there is danger of the loss or near loss of their national or local languages. Others preserve the use of their own languages in education, treating English as a separate subject. Many people feel strongly that their first language is part of their identity, yet if the
current dominant language is neglected, learners may have difficulty accessing information and entering the job market. This situation poses serious questions for education policy. How can national and local languages be preserved while educating young people so that they can learn and function in the wider world? Is it more effective to teach and learn in English, students’ first language, or a combination of these? How effective is multilingualism in education?


It seems clear from the studies described
above that there are great advantages in the
use of more than one language in education.
This leads, then, to the question of which
language or languages to prioritise. Another
recent study of the use of more than one
language in education proposes prioritising
students’ first language, at least during the first
six years of school, giving them a strong
foundation for the learning of further
languages from secondary education onwards.
Pinnock & Vijayakumar (2009) undertook
research for Save the Children (an
internationally renowned British development
charity) and CfBT (Centre for British
Teachers, an organisation which has decades
of experience in school teaching where
English is a second language in countries such
as Brunei and Malaysia). Like the European
Union, this study’s validity is enhanced by the
large numbers of participants involved in it.
This looks at very extensive worldwide data
and the authors conclude that, based on their
data, the best language policy for schools is
“Mother-tongue-based multilingual

education”. This is defined as “Learner-
centred, active basic education which starts in

the mother tongue and gradually introduces
one or more other languages in a structured
manner, linked to children’s existing

understanding in their first language or mother
tongue.” This research recommends that the
first 6 years of schooling are conducted only
or mainly in the child’s first language. The
gradual introduction of new knowledge based
on what is already known and has been
consolidated by the learner is supported by
brain imaging, and the field of education. In
learning in general, new information needs to
be linked to what is already known, in other
words fitted into the learner’s existing
schemata, in order for it to be understood and
recalled. Thus, the authors of this study argue
that first language skills need to be built up in
early life as a foundation for further learning:
“Requiring a child to learn abstract or
academic concepts through a process which
expects them to first link new second language
to the corresponding words in their first
language, and then to process, retain and use
that academic language – all in the same
amount of schooling time that another child
would be given simply to learn the concepts in
their first language – involves a huge cognitive

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