Language is at the heart of human communication, thinking and feeling; it’s the marker of our identity and culture, helping us to make sense of ourselves, our perspectives and our world. This is why we find it important to incorporate - and celebrate - our students’ mother tongue by bringing native language in the classroom.
In an international landscape, the use of language differs greatly. The language used at home is in many cases different to what is used in a school setting. While walking through an international school’s hallways, a multitude of languages can be heard, as students use their native, second and other additional languages. It’s a language rich environment but the cultivation of these languages requires a partnership between the school and parents.
The language of instruction at International School Bangkok (ISB) is English but we recognize the incredible value for children to maintain and continue to expand their first language. Through our world language, native language and English as an Additional Language programs, we support students in mastering English, in fostering their first languages and in learning additional languages.
Before delving further into how we use the first language within our classrooms, we need to first understand the difference between that and school language.
Defining the Difference Between Native Language and School Language
Native language or mother tongue is the first language learned in a household, it’s what children first learn from their parents and communities.
School language, true to its name, is the language used while on campus in a classroom. It’s more academic in nature and, at ISB, is English.
At ISB, we believe multilingualism and multiculturalism are assets in our increasingly interconnected world, leading to higher levels of empathy and risk-taking. Taking this into consideration, we make sure to incorporate first language into the classroom.
Why is it Important to Welcome Native Languages in the Classroom?
First language learning benefits an individual’s emotional well-being and promotes the acquisition of additional languages.
And incorporating native language in the classroom - beyond solely in our language learning program - not only increases the feeling of inclusion, but it also has contributed to higher academic achievement.
1. Welcoming the First Language Helps Students Comprehend More Subject Matter
According to Leketi Makalela, a professor and Head of the Division of Language, Literacies at Wits School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, in her journal article “Moving out of linguistic boxes”, there is more comprehension when a student’s first language is used in the classroom.
When the first language is used alongside school language, both a student’s understanding and performance improves.
It's not only crucial to incorporate native language into classroom learning; it should also an important component of extracurricular activities. Learn more about Japanese cultural clubs and activities here.
2. It Makes Teachers More Accommodating
When our educators understand what language students speak at home, it can help them tailor that individual’s learning.
For reference, Dixon used the example of a student who spoke Arabic at home. This language doesn’t use letters p, v, n or r and in many cases, Arabic-speaking students spell English words without those letters.
3. It Makes Students Feel More at Home
According to ISB alumnus, Hyuga Tsukamoto, hearing the Japanese language as he walked through the halls of the school made him feel even more connected with the community on campus.
“I tended to go towards Japanese students because I felt more comfortable using my first language...I felt more comfortable in this new environment.”
4. Students Have Higher Academic Achievement
A study conducted by Fred Genesee and Kathryn Lindholm-Leary titled, “The education of English language learners”, found when the first language and school language are used collaboratively in the classroom, students have greater academic achievement in literacy and other subjects.
Understanding the benefits that come with using first language in the classroom is why we’re committed to incorporating certain methodologies into our approach to learning and teaching.
How to Promote Native Language in the Classroom
According to Nancy Cloud et al in their guide “Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners”, there are certain things teachers can do to use the first language to their - and the students’ - benefit.
1. Help Students See Connections
In order to help students see connections between their language and school language, educators can ask them:
- How is your first language different from English and how is it the same?
- Are there words in your first language that sound similar to English? Do those words have similar meanings?
2. Native Language Program
As mentioned above, we understand the importance of maintaining your first language and that is why we have a strong native language program in place.
Classes are taught four days a week during the school day in Middle School, High School and Elementary School.
Our program helping students nurture their mother tongue is just one way we incorporate the native language in the classroom. Click here to find out what else is being done on the ISB campus.