Language Policy for the Multilingual Classroom: Pedagogy of the Possible

Language Policy for the Multilingual Classroom: Pedagogy of the Possible


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With contributions from leading scholars all around the world, this volume underlines the ever-pressing need for new language in education policies to include all learners’ voices in the multilingual classroom and to empower teachers to develop responsive and transformative pedagogies. Using testimonies, narratives and examples from different international contexts, this book points clearly to what can be achieved practically in the multilingual classroom so that multilingual learners’ voices are legitimated, while also addressing the complex inter-relating sociolinguistic issues around the promotion of bilingualism and multilingualism in education.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847693679
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 04/15/2011
Series: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism Series , #82
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Christine Hélot is a professor of English and teacher educator at the University of Strasbourg in France. She holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from Trinity College (Dublin). She has published several books and numerous articles both in French and English on bilingualism and bilingual education, language education policies, language awareness and intercultural education.

Muiris Ó Laoire is a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Technology, Tralee, Ireland. A graduate of the National University of Ireland, he is author of books, textbooks and several articles and chapters on multilingualism, bilingualism language policy and pedagogy.

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Ideologies and Interactions in Multilingual Education: What Can an Ecological Approach Tell Us about Bilingual Pedagogy?



This chapter uses the metaphor of language ecology to consider language practices and ideologies in complementary schools. Complementary schools are also known as supplementary, community language, mother tongue language and heritage language schools. They are voluntary, outside the state system, established and run by community members. There is great diversity in provision. Our particular focus is on schools that explicitly aim to teach a community language. The schools in our study are held either at the weekend on Saturdays and Sundays or after school during the week. They tend to meet for around 2-3 hours weekly and more or less keep to the same term dates of mainstream schools. Since 2002, we have researched complementary schools to look at identity, learning and linguistic repertoires of young people and teachers. The complementary schools we researched were Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati and Turkish in Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and London, respectively. The project aimed to explore the social, cultural and linguistic significance of complementary schools both within their communities and in wider society, and to investigate how linguistic practices of students and teachers in complementary schools are used to negotiate their multilingual and multicultural identities.

Language Ecology: An Interactional Perspective

The study of language ecology is the study of diversity within specific sociopolitical settings where the processes of language use create, reflect and challenge particular hierarchies and hegemonies, however transient these might be. An ecological perspective on multilingualism is 'essentially about opening up ideological and implementational space in the environment for as many languages as possible' (Hornberger, 2002: 30). At its heart is the dialectic between the local interactional and the social ideological. An ecological perspective warns us against too easily reaching comprehensive tidy findings. Kramsch suggests that we use an ecological framework to voice the 'contradictions, the unpredictabilities, and paradoxes that underlie even the most respectable research in language development' (Kramsch, 2002: 8; Kramsch & Steffensen, 2008).

The language ecology metaphor offers a way of studying the interaction in order to explore how social ideologies, particularly around multilingualism get created and implemented. Creese and Martin (2003, 2008) describe classrooms as ecological micro systems. They argue for the importance of exploring ecological minutiae of interactional practices in classrooms, linking these to the ideologies that pervade language choice and language policy. A similar point is made by Jaffe (2008) who describes a need for 'microecologies' of linguistic, social, political and pedagogical practice (Jaffe, 2008: 225). It is in the detail of the interactional that ideologies are formed. As Silverstein argues,

the macro-sociological is really a projective order from within a complex, and ever changing, configuration of interdiscursivities in micro-contextual orders, some of which, it turns out, at any given moment of macro-order diachrony asymmetrically determine others. (Silverstein, 2003: 202)

Silverstein shows that the dominant macro social order is a manifestation of smaller, local and iterative micro orders some of which dominate the macro ideological order more than others. In taking a classroom ecological perspective, with a specific focus on multilingualism, we can explore how cultural reproduction is framed locally (Erickson, 1990). The purpose of this chapter is to consider how the multilingual orientation of compl ementary schools frame bilingual pedagogy as an ideology and how teachers and students practise it locally and interactionally. In the larger macro ideological order, which is increasingly hostile to multilingualism and multiculturalism through its enforcement of monolingualism in society (Blackledge, 2005; Rassool, 2008) complementary schools provide an alternative (Mirza & Reay, 2000), safe (Martin, 2005) and multilingual (Hornberger, 2005) space for institutional bilingualism. We consider the possibilities they present to challenge the monolingual macro order.

Participants in complementary schools have various views and practices about what constitutes bilingualism and how languages should be taught, learnt and maintained (see Creese et al., 2008). One view is that language boundaries are clear and sacrosanct; in other words, in complementary schools a 'language' should be preserved and kept free from contamination by other sets of linguistic resources. A second view is that in practice, bilinguals do not make a distinction between the various signs which they use to convey meaning; that is they do not experience their language use as 'bilingual' or consisting of different languages, rather they draw on whatever semiotic signs are available to them to make meanings. Both views and practices run alongside one another in complementary schools (see Creese & Blackledge, 2010).

Complementary schools are different from other language teaching and learning contexts, such as English as an additional language (EAL) and modern foreign language (MFL) in mainstream schools because of their focus on the community context. Complementary schools are institutions which endorse multilingualism as a usual and normative resource for identity performance (Creese et al., 2006; Martin et al., 2006) and which strive to influence identity and cultural socializations, extending the bilingualism of the students who attend (Creese et al., 2008). Complementary schools' particular concern with community values and the nature of affiliation to and expertise in the community language suggests the need for a pedagogy which responds to young people and teachers who have experience of diaspora in particular and distinct ways (Anderson, 2008; Cummins, 2005). This chapter describes aspects of the bilingual pedagogy used by participants in complementary schools and argues for a flexible bilingualism and flexible pedagogy.

Language Separation as Bilingual Pedagogy

Bilingual education has traditionally argued that languages should be kept separate in the learning and teaching of languages. We see this explained in an early text on 'language distribution in bilingual schooling' ( Jacobson & Faltis, 1990).

Bilingual educators have usually insisted on the separation of the two languages, one of which is English and the other, the child's vernacular. By strictly separating the languages, the teacher avoids, it is argued, cross contamination, thus making it easier for the child to acquire a new linguistic system as he/she internalizes a given lesson it was felt that the inappropriateness of the concurrent use was so self-evident that no research had to be conducted to prove this fact. ( Jacobson & Faltis, 1990: 4)

Keeping the languages separate, it is argued, helps the child. This discussion is brought up to date in the rationale behind the USA's two-way bilingual immersion programmes which are described as 'periods of instruction during which only one language is used (that is, there is no translation or language mixing)' (Lindholm-Leary, 2006: 89). According to Cummins (2005) an explanation for this separateness is the continuing prevalence of monolingual instructional approaches in our schools. He describes the assumptions behind these approaches as:

(1) Instruction should be carried out exclusively in the target language without recourse to the students' L1.

(2) Translation between L1 and L2 has no place in the teaching of language or literacy. Encouragement of translation in L2 teaching is viewed as a reversion to the discredited grammar/translation method ... or concurrent translation method.

(3) Within L2 immersion and bilingual/dual language programs, the two languages should be kept rigidly separate: they constitute 'two solitudes'. (Cummins, 2005: 588)

The 'two solitudes' to which Cummins refers above are similarly captured by others in the research literature. Heller coins the term 'parallel monlingualism' (Heller, 1999: 271), in which 'each variety must conform to certain prescriptive norms'. Heller argues that students learn to become bilingual in particular ways (and therefore not others) and that these constructions of bilingualism advantage particular groups of students. Baker (2003), building on Fishman (1967), describes bilingualism with diaglossia in which each language is used for distinct and separate social functions (Baker, 2003); Swain uses the phrase, 'bilingualism through monolingualism' (Swain, 1983: 4); Creese and Blackledge (2008) use the term 'separate bilingualism' to describe language-learning classroom contexts in complementary schools where teachers insist on the use of the target language only. Each term describes the boundaries put up around languages and represents a view of the multilingual/bilingual student/teacher as 'two monolinguals in one body' (Gravelle, 1996: 11).

There are emotional implications to insistence on separate bilingualism in educational contexts. Back in 1981 Zentella recorded one of the teachers in her study saying:

When they don't understand something in one language, they'll go to the other, which is easier for them ... and like, then sometimes I have to be bouncing from one language to the other, which is wrong ... Puerto Rican teacher (in Zentella, 1981: 127)

The Zentella quote indicates the moral disapproval of 'mixing' languages in the classroom. Shin in her study describes attitudes towards code-switching as negative, noting that bilinguals themselves 'may feel embarrassed about their code switching and attribute it to careless language habits' (Shin, 2005: 18). Setati et al. (2002: 147 in Martin, 2005: 90) make reference to the 'dilemma-filled' nature of code-switching in their study of South African classrooms. Martin describing code-switching in Malaysia shows how,

The use of a local language alongside the 'official' language of the lesson is a well-known phenomenon and yet, for a variety of reasons, it is often lambasted as 'bad practice', blamed on teachers' lack of English-language competence ... or put to one side and/ or swept under the carpet. (Martin, 2005: 88)

These studies show that moving between languages has traditionally been frowned upon in educational settings with teachers and students often feeling guilty about its practice. Research shows that code-switching is rarely institutionally endorsed or pedagogically underpinned. Rather, when it is used, it becomes a pragmatic response to the local classroom context. Lin (1996, 2005) describes student and teacher code-switching practices as 'local, pragmatic, coping tactics and responses to the socioeconomic dominance of English in Hong Kong, where many students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds with limited access to English resources struggled to acquire an English-medium education for its socioeconomic value' (Lin, 2005: 46). Martin (2005: 89) speaks of code-switching as offering classroom participants 'creative pragmatic and "safe" practices ... between the official language of the lesson and a language which the classroom participants have a greater access to'. Arthur and Martin (2006) argue that code-switching allows participants to better accomplish the lesson and is a pragmatic response used to annotate texts and provide greater access.

'Translanguaging' as Bilingual Pedagogy

The educational issues around parallel monolingualism described in the research above have led practitioners and researchers to question the stricture of separate bilingualism. Cummins (2005) challenges the squandering of bilingual resources in mainstream contexts. He argues for a need to articulate bilingual instructional strategies that teach explicitly for two-way cross-language transfer. Anderson (2008) has recently called for flexible approaches to pedagogy to respond to bilingual contexts which do not fit easily into existing paradigms. Lin and Martin (2005) have argued for more multilingual pedagogic and curriculum research. The research documented in Lin and Martin (2005) and Arthur and Martin (2006) describe the pedagogic potentials behind code-switching. These include increasing the inclusion, participation and understandings of pupils in the learning processes; the development of less formal relationships between participants; ideas more easily conveyed and lessons 'accomplished'. They speak of the 'pedagogic validity of codeswitching' (Arthur & Martin, 2006: 197) and consider ways in which the research might contribute to a 'teachable' pedagogic resource (Arthur & Martin, 2006: 197).

Important avenues of research have began to question the validity of boundaries around languages. García (2007: xii) shows in her work in New York schools that languages are not hermetically sealed units. García, prefers the term 'translanguaging' to code-switching to describe the usualness and normality of 'bilingualism without diglossic functional separation' in New York classrooms (García, 2007: xiii). Makoni and Mashiri (2007) suggest that rather than developing language policies which attempt at hermetically sealing languages we should be describing the use of vernaculars which leak into one another to understand the social realities of their users. As Lemke argues:

It is not at all obvious that if they were not politically prevented from doing so, 'languages' would not mix and dissolve into one another, but we understand almost nothing of such processes ... Could it be that all our current pedagogical methods in fact make multilingual development more difficult than it need be, simply because we bow to dominant political and ideological pressures to keep 'languages' pure and separate? (Lemke, 2002: 85)

There are some examples of pedagogies which explicitly seek to develop bilingual strategies based on ecological perspectives. Hornberger (2002, 2005, 2008) describes her work on the continua of biliteracy as an ecological model in the sense that language and literacy features are nested and intersecting. One change along one point of a continuum will cause potential changes along other continua resulting in a reconfiguration of the whole educational picture (Hornberger, 2002). In terms of optimizing pedagogy, Hornberger suggests,

bi/multilinguals' learning is maximized when they are allowed and enabled to draw from across all their existing language skills (in two+ languages), rather than being constrained and inhibited from doing so by monolingual instructional assumptions and practices. (Hornberger, 2005: 607)

Another ecological pedagogic approach is described by López (2008: 143) who uses the term 'concurrent approaches' in training prospective indigenous teachers in Latin America. He describes 'concurrent approaches' as 'generally untried but innovative use of languages used in the business of teaching and learning' (López, 2008: 143). López argues for a bilingual pedagogy which shows that 'in indigenous everyday life, the two - or in some cases three or more - languages are needed many times in connection to one another and not as discretely separate as is often supposed' (López, 2008: 143).

Cummins too makes some explicit suggestions for developing bilingual strategies. He suggests:

(a) systematic attention to cognate relationships across languages; (b) creation of student-authored dual language books by means of translation from the initial language of writing to the L2; other multimedia and multilingual projects can also be implemented (e.g. creation of iMovies, PowerPoint presentations, etc); (c) sister class projects where students from different language backgrounds collaborate using two or more languages. (Cummins, 2005: 588)

In the United Kingdom, research has shown how bilingual children do not view their literacies and languages as separate, but rather experience them as 'simultaneous' (Kenner, 2004; Robertson, 2006; Sneddon, 2000).

However, there is also some caution expressed in the research literature regarding the development of bilingual strategies/pedagogies based on flexible methods. Martin writes,

And yet we need to question whether bilingual interaction strategies 'work' in the classroom context [D]o they facilitate learning? Can classroom code-switching support communication, particularly the exploratory talk which is such an essential part of the learning process. A corollary to this is whether teacher-training programmes (both pre-service and in-service), in multilingual contexts take into account the realities and pragmatics of classroom language use in such contexts. (Martin, 2005: 90)

Lin (1999) acknowledges the switching between English and Cantonese in her 1999 study ensured understanding and motivation but warns against notions of easy transferability to other classrooms in other contexts and the danger of participating in the reproduction of students' disadvantage. Further, the development of pedagogies which respond to the research literature will not work in any 'mechanistic generalisable way' (Arthur & Martin, 2006: 197). The importance of responding to local circumstances is made clear in the literature reviewed here. Although we can acknowledge that across all linguistically diverse contexts moving between languages is natural, how to harness and build on this will depend on the sociopolitical environment in which such practice is embedded and the local ecologies of schools and classrooms.


Excerpted from "Language Policy for the Multilingual Classroom"
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Copyright © 2011 Christine Helot and Muiris O Laoire and the authors of individual chapters.
Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
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Table of Contents

PART 1. THE ECOLOGY OF THE MULTILINGUAL CLASSROOM: FROM COMPLEXITY TO PEDAGOGY1A Perspectives on the learnersAngela Creese and Adrian Blackledge: Ideologies and Interactions in Multilingual Education: What can an Ecological Approach Tell us about Bilingual Pedagogy?Carola Mick: Heteroglossia in a Multilingual Learning Space: Approaching Language beyond “Lingualisms”Christine Hélot: Children’s Literature in the Multilingual Classroom: Developing multilingual literacy acquisitionAnne Marie De Mejía: Multilingualism and Pedagogical Practices in Colombia’s Caribbean Archipelago1B: Perspectives on the teachersKate Menken, Alexander Funk and Tatyana Kleyn: Teachers at the Epicenter: Engagement and Resistance in a Biliteracy Program for “Long-Term English Language Learners” in the U.S.Bernadette O’ Rourke: Negotiating Multilingualism in an Irish Primary School Context Pierrot Ngomo: Exploring New Pedagogical Approaches in the Context of Multilingual CameroonPART II: DECONSTRUCTING THE MYTH OF MONOLINGUALISM Perspectives on Identities, Ideologies and PoliticsUte Walker : Linguistic Diversity as a Bridge to Adjustment: Making the Case for Bi/multilingualism as a Settlement Outcome in New ZealandMichael Clyne: Three is too many in Australia: Questioning the Monolingual MindsetZvi Bekerman: Integrated Bilingual Education: Ethnographic Case Studies from the Palestinian-Jewish ‘Front’

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