A couple of weekends ago, I was at the AINET conference in Bombay where Jason Anderson did a workshop on trans-languaging (which is a bit trendy in India at the moment). Unfortunately, he ran out of time and couldn’t really make it past the first section of his presentation. A week later, I attended a session with Jemima Hughes from the British Council who presented some practical ideas for facilitating the multilingual classroom.
Here’s a summary of ideas I gleaned these two sessions.
Ideas from Jemima’s presentation:
- Get students to make an alphabet chart of their L1 script.
- Greet students in their home languages and encourage them to greet each other using their home languages.
- Label different things in the classroom in English and in the students’ home languages using different coloured pens. Depending on the students’ level, the teacher could assign this to them as an activity.
- Establish a multilingual word wall with frequently used words and expressions from the students’ L1 with English equivalents. Encourage students to contribute regularly to this wall.
- Create a collection of multilingual books for your classroom. (Pratham Books have a fantastic collection of free digital books in English and a variety of Indian and non-Indian languages)
Ideas from Jason’s workshop:
- Ask students to bring things to class that have some cultural significance to them and get them to talk about these items in any language they like. Then have them create a text or give a brief presentation in English.
- Students work in pairs to write five sentences on a topic you assign in a shared familiar language (but not English). They share these sentences with others students. In a subsequent lesson, the procedure is repeated but in English. In the next lesson, students try to recall the sentences in English without referring to their notes.
- An interesting idea sourced from NCERT involves presenting students with parallel texts which aren’t translations but convey a similar meaning or similar language activity.
- Use L1 to check understanding.
- Set short translation tasks – for homework, students translate a text from English and then in class they work with a partner to reconstruct the text in English using only the translation.
- Put new words into a vocabulary box – put the English word on one side and get students to write translations in their home languages on the other side.
- Get students to create bilingual posters. For example a human body with labels for parts of the body on cards that can be stuck on the poster – English words on side and L1 translation on the back.
Jason also presented some interesting findings on L1 use in India:
Recent research on L1 use in Indian contexts
Rahman (2013): 65% of 25 teachers reported using Assamese ‘frequently’. Why? To explain concepts (65%); to save time (15%); to engage ss. (10%); and because ss. demand it (10%). 95% of ss. said they needed help of Assamese in English classes.
Chimarala (2017): 95% of 112 teachers use other languages. 71% allow students to use them. Why? To explain concepts and difficult words (69%); to reprimand or bond with ss. (11%); to check comprehension (11%).
Durairajan (2017): summarises esp. PhD studies (1981-2017): ‘These varied growths, mostly ‘small gains’ … may not be statistically significant but – in terms of pedagogic implications and student growth and feeling of confidence – nearly exponential.’
When he asked participants at the workshop whether they thought national policy permitted or discouraged the use of L1, it was surprising to see that most of the teachers present thought that the state prescribed restrictions on L1 use. While this is apparently the case in countries like Ghana, education policy in India strongly endorses the use of home and shared languages. Teachers, however, seem to either approach L1 use with some guilt or as a necessary evil.
I’ve observed teachers using L1 or shared languages in the English classroom sometimes in purposeful and skillful ways, and at other times in a manner that’s crude and pointless. Inconsistent implemention aside, I see the benefits of using learners’ home languages strategically as a resource in the classroom. This is particularly critical in a multilingual country like India. Jemima said something very poignant about teachers often minimising students’ home languages and impoverishing their identity and as the demand for English as the Medium of Instruction (EMI) schools expands, the potential for marginalising students from different linguistic backgrounds will also grow.
So the question I have to ask myself is what stage of development am I at in making multilingual approaches a part of my teaching practice? The challenge I face is that I’m so conditioned to avoid L1 that while I see the benefits of using L1, I’m not able to embrace them. This is not to say that I don’t use L1 but I mostly use it for non-instructional purposes similar to some of the teachers in one of the studies Jason cited; to build rapport, establish a certain classroom dynamic, and very occasionally draw analogies. What complicates matters is that my work is now mostly with teachers, and when I am teaching actual learners, it’s often in the presence of other teachers who are observing me to see ‘best practices’. In these situations, I run an English-only classroom because I am very apprehensive about how L1 use might be received without appropriate contextualization. I’m not merely imagining this – I have heard a couple of observers pass a derisive remark in this respect.
This is an area that requires more reflection but I’m going to try and build my multilingual repertoire by designing some activities which will hopefully see the light of day on this blog soon.
Image attribution: Multilingual by pinelife – Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0