Why mother-tongue-based multilingual education ?

Posted by Sorosoro on November 27, 2010

By Finnish sociolinguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas who has specialized in multilingual education, among other research topics, and is involved in mother-tongue education projects in Nepal and India.

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas

When children come to school, they can talk in their mother tongue about concrete everyday things: they can see and touch the things they are talking about and they get immediate feedback if they do not understand. They speak fluently, with a native accent, and they know the basic grammar and many concrete words. They can explain all the basic needs in the mother tongue.

This may be enough for the first grades in school where teachers are still talking about things that the child knows. But later in school children need abstract intellectually and linguistically much more demanding concepts; they need to be able to understand and talk about things far away (e.g. in geography, history) or things that cannot be seen (e.g. mathematical and scientific concepts). They need to be able to solve problems using just language and abstract reasoning.

Children need to develop these abstract concepts on the basis of what they already know in their mother tongue. If the development of the mother tongue cognitive-academic language proficiency (which mainly happens through formal education) is cut off when the child starts school, s/he may never have an opportunity to develop higher abstract thinking in any language.

If teaching is in a language that the Indigenous/Tribal/Minority child does not know, the child sits in the classroom the first 2-3 years without understanding, without developing his/her capacity to think with the help of language, and without learning almost anything of the subjects that s/he is taught.

This is why many Indigenous/Tribal/Minority children leave school early, not having learned properly how to read and write, not having developed their mother tongue, and almost without any school knowledge.

If the child has the mother tongue as the teaching language, s/he understands the teaching, learns the subjects, develops the cognitive-academic language proficiency in the mother tongue, and has very good chances of becoming a thinking, knowledgeable person who can continue the education.

> Next week we will post the second part of this article, which will explain by concrete examples how the longer mother-tongue education is extended, the better the grades, in all subjects including national language and English.


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Assistance to multilingual families

Posted by Anna Stevanato on November 21, 2010

Anna Stevanato founded the association D’Une Langue à l’Autre at the beginning of 2009, in Paris. Her objective : help multilingual families pass on their language and culture to their children, along with an education in french.

workshops in mother tongues for bilingual children

workshops in mother tongues for bilingual children

In France, one in four children lives in a bilingual context. Migrant families, mixed couples, expatriates, adoptive families : these are just so many types of families of foreign origin living in France. If you look carefully, you will certainly find some in your surroundings.

Parents often wish to transmit their language and their culture of origin to their child. And it’s just as well they do, as much research shows that bilingualism is a considerable asset for the child’s cognitive development, identity development and career path.

However, this transmission of a second language to children is not without difficulty, as when for example it is spoken at home by one parent only, or when it is undervalued, or when the child enters school. “My child understands everything but answers me in French, I feel that he’s mixing the two languages, and I am afraid speaking to him in my language will be detrimental to his integration in school…”. These are questions in front of which parents find themselves helpless.

The association D’Une Langue A l’Autre has been created in order to answer them, and provide support to multilingual families and their children for the early development of bilingualism.

She holds workshops in mother tongues for bilingual children supervised by expert coordinators. All languages have their place, Arabic as well as English, Tamil, Italian or Creole…

D’Une Langue A L’Autre also organizes discussion groups and conferences on themes of bilingualism and intercultural relations for families and professionals working with children in multicultural settings.

Through these innovative actions, the non-profit association D’Une Langue A L’Autre works for the recognition of bilingualism in all children and especially the invisible bilingualism in  children from immigrant families.

Read more : www.dunelanguealautre.org
Press Contact : Anna Stevanato, +33 6 18 36 13 14 anna@dunelanguealautre.org

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Mother-tongue based education in French Overseas Communities

Posted by Michel Launey on November 15, 2010

If we are to assume that every French should master the national language, we must ask what is the best means of access to it for non-Francophone children.

In Metropolitan France, this scenario only occurs with newcomer immigrants. In much of the French Overseas Departments and Territories, on the other hand, it relates to french children. All studies in psycholinguistics and educational sciences show that activities carried out in the mother tongue (L1), around referents known to children, are more effective than monolingual submersion in a language of schooling until then unkown to them. Far from hindering second language (L2) acquisition, such activities promote it, thus helping to build a balanced bilingualism which has positive repercussions on the overall learning process. The period of language development (up to 7 years) is crucial in this regard.

In the Overseas departements and territories, french school is faced with a linguistic-cultural context very different from its standards and its programs. Educational premises, nevertheless, often remain linguistically homogeneous : the presence of L1 (mother tongue) in school is therefore both necessary and relatively easy to implement. And indeed it is already in different ways, depending on parameters such as regional degree of autonomy, presence of mother tongue speaking teachers, linguistic and pedagogic upstream reflection on language issues :

- In Oceania (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna), we find teachers giving from 5 to 7 hours of class in local languages.
- In French Guiana, around 40 assistans in mother tongue education (ILM) carry out activities in Amerindian languages, in Bushinenge (Maroon Creole language, with an English lexical basis), and in Hmong (spoken in 2 villages by populations originating from Laos), in places where these languages are spoken. Unfortunately, the absence of a stable status for the ILMs threatens the device, and even led to the dismissal of 9 of them (the most experienced!) in September 2009, the situation being corrected a year later.
- In Mayotte, we find a similar experience (in Shimaore and Kibushi) in only 3 schools. This time it is the open hostility of local education authorities which thwarts and threatens an experience that could prove to be extremely beneficial, if only teachers would receive support from their hierarchy and appropriate training.
- In creolophone Overseas Departments (French Antilles, Reunion, and the creolophone part of French Guiana) finally, this approach is less crucial : early bilingualism is indeed very common, and the lexical proximity of Creole and French gives it a different shape, with the result that the Regional Languages and Cultures system implemented in Metropolitan France may be more suitable. Where knowledge of French is inferior to that of Creole, some teachers resort to methods similar to those of the guyanese mother tongue assistants.

In conclusion, teaching regional languages as such (as practiced in Metropolitan France) is a legitimate program, but different from supporting existing bilingualism (as exemplified by many Creole people) and helping to build a balanced bilingualism for non-francophone children. Evaluations conducted in the Oceanic region confirm that including native languages in schooling is a pedagogically more fruitful approach than ignoring them.

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Learning how to count in first language in order to improve counting skills in second

Posted by Gérard Lavigne on November 7, 2010

Gérard Lavigne is a professor of mathematics since 1978. He has undertaken a research and action program on “understanding the inaccessibility of scientific concepts and courses of study for kanak and oceanian children in New Caledonia “.
As a member of the Centre des Nouvelles Etudes sur le Pacifique (CNEP), he promotes awareness of ethno-mathematics among students of Oceanian Languages and Cultures, at the University of New-Caledonia. 

A case for an ethno-mathematical approach to numbers in new-caledonian schools


Mathematics are indeed universal, but is the teaching of mathematics too, as developed in given cultures and languages ? In New Caledonia this question is being addressed in very concrete terms : should the French school system be replicated there ? Results of this policy show that 20% of oceanian and kanak children end school without a diploma. Examples of kids reaching 6th Grade without having built a positive relationship to numbers are everything but rare.



One explanation for this would be that children learn how to count in French, which for the majority of them is not their mother tongue. And just as orthography is not transparent in French (pronunciation often being inconsistent with spelling), neither is the number-naming system. The French language mixes bases 10 and 20 with very numerous irregularities, making it difficult to build a positive relationship to numbers.


But what can be said about how Kanak and Oceanian languages speak numbers ? Polynesian languages, such as Tahitian, Wallisian, Futunian, Maori or Samoan use a genuine base 10. And 12 numerical words are enough to count up to 1000. Kanak languages, on the other hand, generally speak in base 20 with a frequent sub-base 5. This means that for 6 we say : “5 and 1”, for 7 : “5 and 2”, and so forth. In both cases, regularity allows to construct numbers easily. And this, precisely, is a very favorable condition for establishing a positive relationship to numeration.


Rémi Brissiaud, who is a specialist in didactics of mathematics and a senior lecturer at the Versailles IUFM (post-graduate teacher training institute), has established this very clearly : « the way children take ownership of numbers depends on the way numbers are ‘spoken’ in their language, family and in school ».

Thus by learning how to count in their mother tongue, kanak and oceanian children will be able to build a positive relationship to numbers, and subsequently operate the necessary conversion to french numeration. Isn’t this what school should aim at in intercultural settings?

>Next week, linguist Michel Launey will take us to French Guiana, for a new chapter of our series on mother-tongue based education.

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