Two Dubai-based educational consultants, Francesca McGeary and Alison Schofield are making big waves around the world by educating teachers about working with bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs).
Having lived and worked in the UAE over the past 12 years, the two have written a book and teacher-training programme based on 3 years of research. Their focus is to help teachers work with students who do not speak English as a first language, but who attend English-medium schools. The two have launched their work at the IB Conference of the Americas in Toronto last summer. Since then, they have trained international teachers in Germany, Ecuador, Egypt and Montenegro.
“Our research has shown us that bilingual and multilingual learners are the fastest-growing student population in the world today,” says McGeary. “Whether we look at the US, Canada, or the UK, the figures show dramatic increases in the number of learners who speak another language at home. This creates a huge problem because the large majority of teachers, regardless of what country they are in, do not receive any additional training to understand and work with BMLs effectively. They do not have a knowledge base about the language-learning process these students undergo when learning English. This can lead to all kinds of problems, including students being misunderstood and misdiagnosed with learning disorders or speech and language delays.
“In schools today, the dominant terminology used to describe bilingual and multilingual learners represents a glass half-empty because words like English language learner (ELL) and students learning English as an additional language (EAL) do not remind teachers that students are bilingual or multilingual and that there are many strengths that come along with that.” McGeary, who speaks several languages herself, receives a great deal of positive attention about her multilingualism, but says that young students acquiring English are often viewed from a deficit perspective in schools. “In general, teachers are caring and have good intentions but they simply have not received the right training.
Schofield goes on to explain that many schools emphasise ‘English only’ because they are not aware that a student with a strong mother-tongue language can actually have an easier time learning English. “Many schools tell parents to start speaking English at home if the child goes to school in English. This is the wrong advice. Schools need to promote bilingualism in their policies and practices in order to support students in becoming strong in both or all of their languages. That is what we help schools with.”
McGeary states that there is a big demand for their services around the world but she also thinks that teachers working in the UAE and Gulf region would greatly benefit from training as well. “In expatriate countries, English is so widespread that it can easily take over the mother-tongue languages of the region, like Arabic, for example. This can dilute the culture, since language and culture are deeply connected. These countries need even more highly-trained teachers and strong educational policies to ensure students’ own languages are protected.
The authors also offer an accreditation award for schools that apply strong training, policies and practises. Recognising a school as a School of Excellence for Bilingual and Multilingual Learners is a step in the right direction for showcasing schools that value and promote bilingualism and multiculturalism.
The authors run their online training institute at: www.educatorsofbmls.com
Alison Schofield Co-Founder IngeniousEd. (+971) 50 398 3518 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Simpson Founder KDSL Global|USA Affiliate (312) 478 1695 email@example.com