‘My Home Language is My Right’ Campaign Launches September, 2018

‘My Home Language is My Right’ Campaign Launches September, 2018


After running our Educator’s Course, Bilingual and Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out for the past 2 years, we are pleased with the impact it’s making in schools, with teachers and of course, in the lives of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs).

While we knew that empowering teachers with research and best practises would lead to positive results, we never imagined what a catalyst this course would be for promoting social justice. Rather than simply being a passive, ‘theory-based’ programme, our participants take action. Many share their anecdotes and testimonials with us, describing how their ideologies have changed and how they are updating their policies to reflect their new understandings about bilingual and multilingual learners. The greatest eureka moment for our participants, however, is learning about the value of students’ home languages and cultures. They learn how these are valuable assets that can be accessed for learning and in supporting the development of new languages, like English. When participants come to view bilingual and multilingual learners not simply as ‘ESL students’ but as individuals with ‘cultural capital,’ it’s a win. Now, we’re watching participants become advocates for their students. They’ve learned how to help their BMLs better access learning content through culturally-responsive teaching, how to promote and maintain the languages and cultural identities of learners and better engaging with parents to educate them about the importance of their home languages and cultures.  

Sadly, while we celebrate the wonderful achievements of our participants, we’re still hearing far too many accounts of inappropriate practises with BMLs in our English-speaking schools. While some of these are more overt instances, others are much more subtle. Here are just a few examples taken from our participant’s accounts:

“One of our bilingual learners is a top mathematics student but because he still needs help with his English, he’s been put in the bottom group for struggling students. This is really hitting his self-esteem and even though he’s showed the teacher that he can do higher-level work, the teacher’s still not willing to advance him.”

“At our school, our BMLs have to be put into the special education class in order to get additional support.”

“Our students are told that translating words from their mother-tongue is not a good idea because it’s not really ‘learning’.”

“Our Principal asked the students, parents and teachers to stop speaking any of their home languages at school and on the playground. He says it is interfering with the pupils’ English.”

“If the children get caught speaking their mother-tongue during class time, they get points taken away and then a detention.”

“The early years department organised a parent evening and one of the topics they discussed was that parents need to speak English at home with their children.”

While we can assume that while all of these (and similar) policies are created with the best of intentions, they are actually extremely harmful to BMLs and their families-not to mention that they infringe upon the child’s rights to their own languages and cultures. Recommended approaches with BMLs are often counter-intuitive to what comes natural and this adds another layer of complexity. For example, it might sound strange when we tell parents to keep speaking home languages if they want their child to learn English. It’s not what parents would expect to hear. In fact, having a strong language makes learning a new language easier. Since research shows that most teachers never receive any training to understand BML issues, this makes it easy to understand why bad practises and myths continue to creep into school policies and practises. From our experience working with schools around the world, we’ve seen similar issues everywhere. Many administrators and school leaders themselves are simply not aware of the research and the rights of the child to maintain their home languages and cultural identities . There is rarely a common knowledge-base to empower teachers with accurate, research-based information.

Starting this September, 2018, we’re working to change this. We’re organising a global campaign running from September 2018 – September 2020 called ‘My Home Language is My Right.’ We’ll train over 3,000 teachers in English-speaking schools around the world in our 8-week course. We want every teacher to be empowered with the right information. By training one teacher in every school, we’ll create Home Language Ambassadors who will then deliver a workshop to their colleagues about the important research and positive practises related to BMLs. This elevates the expertise of all teachers in the school so they can support BMLs and advise parents accurately. This will also do away with harmful practises that can cause BMLs to abandon their home languages and cultural identities.

If you would like to support this campaign or read more about it, visit our campaign page or get in touch. In the coming year, we’ll be traveling and running events around the world to support My Home Language is My Right. View our sketchnote below to learn more about why training teachers helps BMLs:



It’s Time to Move Beyond Labels that Focus on English Proficiency Says Harvard Professor

It’s Time to Move Beyond Labels that Focus on English Proficiency Says Harvard Professor

As many of us know, being bilingual or multilingual has numerous advantages. Enhanced cognitive functions and delayed onset of dementia are just a few of the neurological benefits. Educationally, students who speak more than one language have a greater ability to differentiate between phonemic sounds. They also have enriched worldviews that allow them to take into account broader perspectives. These super-abilities make a good case for elevating the status of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs), who so often are viewed from a deficit-perspective because of their developing English language proficiency. In almost all English-medium schools and classrooms around the world, bilingual and multilingual learners are often referred to as ‘English Language Learners’ or ‘Limited English Proficient’ and other similar labels. These very clearly fail to recognise the enriched experience that our BMLs are able to tap into through their bi/multilingualism and even worse, these labels continue to perpetuate the misconception that there is something wrong with BMLs. It’s not surprising that BMLs are over-represented in special education settings – often as a result of misdiagnosed learning and language disorders.

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.



Common Practices with BMLs in Large International Schools: Identifying Trends and Solutions

Common Practices with BMLs in Large International Schools: Identifying Trends and Solutions

If you’re like most teachers these days, you probably teach a large number of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs, ELL/EAL students). Now more than ever, teachers are required to meet the needs of a very diverse student population, many of whom are schooled in English but speak one, two or more languages at home! While so many teachers rise to the challenge very willingly and creatively, most never receive any training to understand the specific needs of BMLs or the strategies that maximise their success.

Back in 2014, we surveyed 10 large international schools around the world to learn more about their practices and resources for BMLs. We found that most schools had extremely high numbers of BMLs—around 80% of the students in the school had varying degrees of English language proficiency.

From our brief investigation, there were several interesting take-aways and trends:

Intake Practises

Since most of the schools did not collect enough (or key) information on students’ language backgrounds, a large number of their bilingual or multilingual students were not identified at the time of admission. Since many students appeared to be fluent in English, they slipped through the cracks of identification.

Additional Support

Almost all these schools had a designated department with assigned support teachers (ELL/EAL teachers) but the ratio for these specialist teachers to BMLs was an average of 1 teacher for 154 students.

The common trend in most of these schools was to provide the greatest level of support to BMLs who were formally identified, and who appeared to have the greatest need. For instance, they were students who were ‘beginners’ or who were struggling more than others.

This means that only a small percentage (roughly between 10-25%) of those students were actually receiving active support (e.g. direct monitoring, case management, small group or individualised support). A large majority of BMLs were not able to access additional services.

Types of Support Provided

Typically, the support provided ranged from more intensive sessions (daily periods of pull-out classes for individuals and small groups) to regular support (2-3 periods of support either through pull-out or ‘push-in’) and more monitoring-type classes which encompassed one period of support per week (usually one-to-one or small group). Some teachers indicated that support included: pre-teaching curriculum, reteaching class concepts, focusing on language goals or literacy goals.

In almost all of the schools surveyed, the support teachers expressed feelings of pressure because they didn’t feel they were able to “do enough” to help both BMLs and class teachers.

Summarising, based upon what we found in our target schools, the large majority of BMLs are not getting access to any kind of additional (e.g. enhanced) support. This is understandable, considering the large number of students that an ELL/EAL specialist teacher would be expected to help if he/she had an average of 154 students on their roster or register. We can understood from this glimpse into schools that there needs to be a more ’embedded’ focus of support in schools with large numbers of BMLs. It’s no longer feasible for a very small number of ELL/EAL teachers to meet the support needs of all BMLs in the school. Teachers play a large and important role in the school, as does the administration in targeting the right kinds of supports and initiatives to meet the needs of a large number of BMLs.

Going forward, we aim to develop a larger-scale investigation looking into a greater number of schools but from here we’ve described a school-wide model that can be implemented immediately, filling in gaps and focusing on services for students that meet the particular context of the school and BMLs.

Getting Started with a Solution

If the number of BMLs is increasing, how can the identification and academic support of BMLs be optimised? Ultimately, the best available solution that fits each and every context and setting is simply to work ‘smarter’ with school resources, time and people.

Start with Understanding your Student Body

First, BMLs’ need to be correctly identified and their teachers must be aware of their current levels of English language and literacy proficiency. This then makes it much easier to understand needs and assign services across the school. Right from the administration down to the teachers, having a solid understanding of the needs of your student body can help you plan for impact—across the whole-school priorities and programs to the classroom teaching practices. Since schools all have their own unique contexts and settings, it’s extremely important for them to have done an audit of the languages, cultures and educational backgrounds of their students. This is the main starting point for determining the priorities of the school. For example, schools with high numbers of late-arriving BMLs into secondary can make academic writing a priority and focus for those age groups. They would then need to consider their resources (people, timetabling, etc.) to make this priority happen.

Maximising the Resources of ELL/EAL Teachers

Co-planning between an ELL/EAL teacher and a classroom teacher is one of the top strategies that has a very positive impact on large numbers of BMLs. Both class teacher and support teacher come together to go through the teaching plans for a specified period of time (typically a unit plan). At this time, the support teacher then brings his/her expertise to help the class teacher differentiate the lessons on the plan for the BMLs in that class. The support teacher comes to the planning meeting with all the current information on the BMLs within that class, and they help the teacher come up with ideas that meet the needs of all students. Consideration of issues like materials, scheduling and curriculum objectives are taken into account. They may need to use different texts, compacted assignments or an alternative vocabulary strategy but the impact of two teachers planning together in advance not only brings about more creative solutions but it allows them to carefully consider the current abilities of the BMLs alongside specific goals. Also, when all teachers in the school have had training to understand the most effective and impactful strategies, they can also better share their own expertise in these meetings.

In this video below, watch how Francesca effectively works with teacher Becky in a school in Melbourne, Australia. Together they plan a 4-week unit and differentiate for different levels of bilingual and multilingual learners in the class. During their meeting, they ensure that lessons are comprehensible at students’ varied instructional levels. They also ensure that already-existing, high-level literacy routines are continued and reinforced.

Our 8-Week Educator’s Course, Bilingual and Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out is a solution that provides all educators with the skills, knowledge and expertise they need to help BMLs thrive in English speaking schools. We offer this course for individual teachers and for whole-school professional development.



Quick and Easy Ideas to Celebrate International Mother-Language Day with your Students

Quick and Easy Ideas to Celebrate International Mother-Language Day with your Students

Cultural assimilation, language loss and language extinction are some of the threats that can impact cultures, communities and social ecosystems. This is why UNESCO promotes International Mother-Language Day on Feb 21st each year—to build awareness of the importance of language diversity and preservation.

As a teacher, you’re on the frontline of this movement with your bilingual and multilingual learners—many of whom are already experiencing language attrition or language loss as a result of becoming ‘subtractive’ bilinguals over time. With the spread of English education around the world combined with its rising social ‘status,’ many parents are erroneously wooed into the belief that ‘English is best.’ Many simply aren’t aware of the value of their mother-tongue languages.

It’s suggested that around 90% of the worlds languages will be extinct before the end of this century (Eschner, 2017). Mother-Language Day is a day to recognize the value that individual languages contribute to society, progress and humanity. For example, did you know that Inuit people hold little-known information about biodiversity and the environment in the Arctic? Or that the Berbers in North Africa possess thousands of years of knowledge about their desert ecosystem and water management in the Sahara?

It’s clear that languages are reservoirs. They hold and carry important information that can be transmitted between language users from generation to generation. Just imagine what happens to that collective knowledge when a language dies out. Not only does significant scientific and historical information get lost but an entire cultural group—their way of life, their worldview and their impact on humanity—are erased.


Engage your Students in the Spirit of Mother-Language Day with these Activities for all Age-Groups

Open up your activities with a discussion about language and culture. Depending on the age of your students, discuss the significance of International Mother-Language Day, along with the cultural, social and psychological benefits of being bilingual or multilingual. Discuss the importance of maintaining languages and cultures as well as offering facts about the extinction of languages. Help your students realise the significance of their languages!


At this early stage, young children are still learning the foundations of their languages and cultures through the world around them. Story books continue to be an important conduit for linguistic and social development. Capitalise on this high-impact activity by getting access to a variety of books in the different languages of your students. Invite parents to your school and have them read to groups of children who speak that particular language. You may want to mix different classes and groups of children together for this activity. Have parents elicit discussions in the mother-tongue language and plan a follow-up activity for students to document their understanding and meaning of the story (e.g. a drawing, art/craft, role-play, etc.).


Have primary students tap into their languages by working in mother-tongue groups to create and illustrate their own storybooks. Have an older child who speaks the same language facilitate a group, providing support when required. Have materials and supplies ready for students’ booklets and make discussion and story-mapping an important pre-writing component. For students without any literacy in their mother-tongue language, you can have them ask their facilitator to write as they dictate or allow them to use phonetic spelling in English. The goal is for students to participate, share ideas and have fun through their mother-tongue languages. Try to keep students moving along despite their individual language levels.


Get students to work in mother-tongue language groups to document interesting aspects of their languages by making posters. Once completed, have them share with the class and post them around the school or classroom. They can:

  • Compare and contrast aspects of their language with the English language (alphabet, script, sounds, writing direction, shared words, etc.)
  • Identify and write common sayings or phrases from the language that others might like to learn and have them provide English translations.


Have students explore proverbs from their languages with same-language peers. Proverbs often communicate the values of a culture and can be an interesting form of expression. For example the English proverb, “two wrongs don’t make a right” has quite a deep meaning and can serve as an open-ended prompt for dialogue.

Have students come up with/research several examples of proverbs that are used in their language. Have them explain meanings in detail. Quite often, students from different language backgrounds discover their languages share similar proverbs so be sure to culminate this activity by encouraging students to share their work within the large group. Allow them to display their work creatively.

Announcement: Our New Name & Location!

Announcement: Our New Name & Location!

We’re off to a great start to 2018 with a new location for our institute! We are pleased to announce we are now located in Canterbury, UK. During the move, we’ve had to modify our business name so we are now ‘Centre for Educators of Bilingual and Multilingual Learners Ltd.’

All of our courses and services remain unchanged and we hope our new move will enable greater opportunities and new partnerships.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions or enquiries.

Alison Schofield & Francesca McGeary



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