Literacy Now

Latest Posts
School-based solutions: Literacy Learning Library
care, share, donate to ILA
ILA National Recognition program
School-based solutions: Literacy Learning Library
care, share, donate to ILA
ILA National Recognition program
join ILA today
ILA resource collections
ILA Journal Subscriptions
join ILA today
ILA resource collections
ILA Journal Subscriptions
  • Literacy Leadership
  • Topics
  • Learner Types
  • News & Events
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Curriculum Development
  • Professional Development
  • English Learners
  • Foundational Skills
  • Blog Posts
  • Content Types

The Case for the Multilingual Classroom: A Growing Demand for Multilingual Citizens

By ILA Staff
 | May 17, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-200270493-001_x300The ability to speak multiple languages is a coveted skill in today’s economy. The goal is to create a learning environment that promotes language acquisition while making the curriculum accessible to everyone. For policymakers and educators worldwide, the question is how to foster that environment in an era of tight budgets, diverse priorities, and political sensitivities.

Schools that truly embrace multilingualism report higher levels of community engagement and academic achievement across the board. If implemented poorly, though, such programs can further marginalize groups that aren’t proficient in the dominant language.

To stimulate fresh thinking on this critical topic, the International Literacy Association (ILA) recently convened a roundtable with a distinguished group of advocacy and policy experts in Washington, DC. In a wide-ranging conversation led by award-winning journalist Diane Brady, experts shared their thinking on the best practices and priorities for achieving true multilingual learning. In a three-part blog series, we’ll explore the key takeaways from the conversation.

Parents have long recognized the importance of English as the language of global business, but as the world becomes more interconnected and emerging economies gain strength, it is clear that multilingualism is prerequisite for success. In the U.S. and beyond, dual-language programs are oversubscribed, noted Beatriz Arias, vice president and chief development officer for the Center for Applied Linguistics. “Parents are recognizing the importance of their children being bilingual or multilingual—the economic benefits of that for their kids.”

Multilingualism “is going to be the differentiator,” said Mariana Haynes, senior fellow, Alliance for Excellent Education, adding that students understand the value of having those skills on their resume.

Deputy Secretary Mohamed Abdel-Kader, the International Foreign Language Education Office of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education, suggested engaging the business community to stress the importance of language learning. “I think that’s incredibly important, because as the business community articulates the need for at least a basic understanding of language and some of the cultural nuances, parents are thinking about their kids, when they graduate college, those kids need to have a job.”

Multilingualism “is not a partisan issue,” Abdel-Kader said. This is the right thing to do for our kids. It is the right thing to do for our businesses. It is the right thing to do for our communities. The kids need these skills to be able to communicate.”

At the simplest level, Arias said, “We need leadership at all different levels in order to encourage growth and understanding of the importance of multilingualism—we need to value multilingualism, and have clear ways to do that.”

“We need to dispel the myths surrounding bilingualism primarily that learning two or even three languages as a child brings confusion and lowers academic achievement,” Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages added. “We have research that proves the opposite.”

Within the education community, we need to equip educators with the resources and tools they need to embrace and encourage multilingualism, noted Hector Montenegro, associate, Margarita Calderón & Associates. “Educators need additional resources and information about how best to work collaborative so that we can have a more accepting and welcoming environment—school and classroom—where teachers can teach effectively.”

Haynes noted that fragmented leader and teacher development should be addressed in order to create structures for language learning. “Leaders play a huge role in setting the tone. If teachers work in isolation, it is impossible to make this happen. You have a lot of district policies that are very much at odds with the kinds of things that you want to have happening within schools.”

We also need to take a step outside of the schools themselves and consider how governments can support and foster a culture of multilingualism, Abbott suggested, and continue “to build champions in Congress,” to push forward research on the importance of languages. “Hopefully we can have an impact working together.”

Leslie Engle Young, Director of Impact for Pencils of Promise, added policy considerations should take into account the best practices and proven strategies that already exist around multilingual learning. “It’s getting the case studies, bringing the evidence forward, and showing evidence from abroad. We should be cross-learning with evidence from across the board.”

Back to Top


Recent Posts