Bilingual Education Strategies

Bilingual education differs from ESL (English as a Second Language) in that it emphasizes growth in the students’ home language (L1) as well as English, whereas ESL is mostly geared towards learning English. Bilingual education is premised on a social justice framework for thinking about learning that seeks to incorporate student language, culture, and identity as powerful assets in the classroom as a means of working towards greater social equality both inside and outside of schools. Bilingual education is advocated for learners of all ages and varying linguistic proficiencies (Garcia, 2009).

In 2011, the CUNY-NYS Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals published a “Translanguaging Guide” which includes many concrete strategies for drawing on students’ full linguistic capacities in a variety of classroom settings. It can be found in its entirety for free here:

In the guide’s introduction, the authors state that “Translanguaging affords the opportunity to use home language practices, different as they may be from those of school, to practice the language of school, and thus to eventually also use the appropriate form of language.” As helping students learn academic discourse is a goal of Writing Across the Curriculum, here are a few  translanguaging strategies to help improve student writing:

Have students develop a language portfolio where they can record and celebrate their language learning in your course. They can set goals for language learning, document and explore encounters with new language introduced by your class, develop rubrics to evaluate their own capacities, needs, and progress, and collect examples of their own accomplishments in both languages. Students can use this portfolio across courses and disciplines as they progress in the program.

The guide also provides the following questions to help instructors reflect on the linguistic demands of the course and develop multilingual objectives and strategies to help students meet those demands:

1) Will students need to learn certain vocabulary words?

2) Will students need to use a particular aspect of grammar?

3) Will students need to use certain signal words in their writing to transition from one paragraph to the next?

4) What type of language will students need to learn to read or write in a particular genre/discipline?

Students can make comparisons between how two languages use grammar, certain words, paragraph  structure, and sentence structure.

Other practices include the strategic, purposeful use of both languages:

– Having students create one written assignment in English, and another (related) assignment in their home language.

– Translate a written assignment from their home language to English, or vice versa.

– Create a written assignment that uses both English and the home language for a specific purpose.

Finally, consider how students can work collaboratively in your class. Students can meet in small groups where they discuss the content in any language, but then share out or report back to the whole class in English. Students can work in groups to brainstorm in any language, and then write in English. Another possibility is to have students listen to your lecture or discussion in English, and then discuss it in small groups in any language. Students could also free-write and use concept maps to explore ideas in their home language, and develop these informal assignments into a formal paper or presentation in English.





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