As more educators are finding a growing population of BMLs in their schools and classrooms, there is an urgent need to empower them with understanding and expertise about their students. We believe the very first place to start is with the labels we use to define these learners. Francesca McGeary, our Director, draws connections between her own experiences as a native-English speaker struggling in her French school in Belgium. The stigma that came with ‘not being able to speak the language’ became part of her identity. Yet, as an adult, her multilingualism is now valued and usually admired by others. We need to help teachers, especially those who are monolingual (ie. and not aware of the multilingual experience), understand that students are much more than their English proficiencies and their labels. In fact, many students who struggle with English are highly-competent in their own languages and literacies. This is a reality not often considered by many educators. We need to spread awareness that our BMLs are multidimensional and their bi/multilingualism is a way of being, right now and not just something to work toward for adulthood. We can start by educating teachers about the value of referring to students as ‘bilingual,’ ‘multilingual’ or BMLs. By doing so, we honour their cultural assets instead of viewing them through a lens of ‘lack.’
Professor Gig Luk from the Harvard Graduate School of Education explains that she wants schools to extend their understanding of BMLs:
“If we only look at ELL or English proficient, that’s not a representation of the whole spectrum of bilingualism,” she says. “To embrace bilingualism, rather than simply recognising this phenomenon, we need to consider both the challenges and strengths of children with diverse language backgrounds. We cannot do this by only looking at English proficiency. Other information, such as home language background, will enrich our understanding of bilingual development and learning.” (Source)
We encourage schools and teachers to engage in meaningful discussions about this topic. Would changing your labels for your bilingual/multilingual learners impact how teachers view students? Would it change the way students view themselves? Let us know what you think.