Dubai-Based Consultants Train Teachers around the Globe to Understand Why ‘English Only’ is a Bad Policy

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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:  



Alison Schofield Co-Founder IngeniousEd. (+971) 50 398 3518

Kevin Simpson Founder KDSL Global|USA Affiliate (312) 478 1695




The acquisition of language in a dynamic world is crucial as it serves as a means of interaction between other cultures. As a valuable source of communication, bilingual or multilingual people disclose diverse perspectives that would be considered valuable today. Despite their skills, many bilingual or multilingual speakers are frowned upon; due to language barriers some may view multilingual speakers as dyslexic.

Due to such talented speakers being viewed as ‘abnormal’, Alison Schofield and Francesca McGeary launched their own book: “Bilingual and Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out: Elevating expertise in Classrooms and Beyond.” Their book now serves as a guiding path for their innovative, professional course they introduced this fall. The course aids teachers and educators around the global to better understand bilingual and multilingual speakers. “Most teachers are not trained in second (additional) language acquisition, they do not understand that it would be perfectly normal for a BML to struggle with tasks and how to support them.”

Alison argues that, “our society tends to hold bilingual or multilingual adults in high esteem and it is very clear that they have a skill-set that is important not only for the future, but for cross-cultural interaction and diverse perspectives that are valuable right now. Nevertheless, the challenge is that bilingual and multilingual speakers attending English-speaking schools often need additional support due to language barriers. “They are viewed from a deficit perspective because their other language and/or culture is not considered an asset.”

If you are an educator and are looking to better comprehend the science and thought process behind bilingual and multilingual speakers visit: