The Grade Five Bahasa Indonesia class is learning how to build a sentence using the sentence formula; SPOK (Subject, Predicate, Object and Adverb). Students practice to make a sentence by describing a situation they view in a photograph. Then they are given a list of vocabulary words from each sentence element to help them develop their idea.
To apply the sentence formula they have learned, they are asked to get information from one of their friends and write about her/him using good sentence order. Next they read it in front of the class.
As a group project, they created a dialogue. Students they acted out their dialogues in front of their classmates.
YES!! Use your 1st language to gain access to the 2nd language.
Sometimes people ask me if it is OK for second language learners (ELL’s) to use their first language in class, the hallway, when talking to others, reading, etc. YES. A hundred times YES!
When ELL students use their first language in the classroom, they are transferring what they already know to the new language as well as affirming their identity. There are many other benefits to allowing and encouraging the use of the first language, but these are the two that stand out to me when I co-plan and co-teach in a class.
When ELL students enter a classroom, they come in with a wealth of knowledge. They enter the learning environment with the culture of their home, family and community, and the teachings of their parents and possibly other schools (depending upon age.) They are not a ‘blank slate’. Their prior knowledge supports their learning, allowing them to transfer what they already know to the new language. Educators can proactively and specifically leverage this prior knowledge to support their learning as well. For example, teachers create various graphic organizers and resources to build on what students already know so it is easier for them to learn something new. Teachers sometimes provide ELLs with the text or video in advance as another way to promote background knowledge to help ELL students better understand the material when it is being introduced for the first time to a class as a whole.
When I co-plan with teachers, we make sure to affirm the ELL student’s identity. We know that the new language is NOT a “better” language, it is just the medium of instruction of the school. We want ELL students to be proud of the fact that they are becoming bi- or even multi-lingual and help them to understand that their first language is important and not seen as inferior. Whenever it is possible, we try and make references to the student’s first language and encourage the use of their first language through reading, writing, and discussion activities. We also provide bi-lingual or translated versions of various resources and multilingual word walls so students can make meaning of what is being taught. These activities (along with others) can increase the student’s confidence when engaging in language and literacy activities.
Yes, English is the language used at our school, – but it is not the only language. We all know (or should know) that multilingualism is an asset and an invaluable resource in the 21st Century. Allowing students to use their mother tongue and cultural background to attain a new academic language is advantageous and empirically sound advice. So, the next time you wonder if it is OK for a learner to read in their first language, the answer is an emphatic YES.