Rojas commenced her talk by going through the common myths on children and language (see myth busting above). She then explained the 5 types of bilinguals (for more you can read this summary)
- Compound bilingual / Dominant Bilingual (A person being more proficient in one of the two languages).
- Co-ordinate bilingual (person develops two parallel linguistic systems, usually when the two parents have different mother tongues and each parent speaks only his or her own mother tongue to the child. In response, the person constructs two separate linguistic systems and can handle each of them easily.)
- Balanced bilingual (people who are more or less equally proficient in both languages, but will not necessarily pass for a native speaker in both languages).
- Ambi-bilingual / Equilingual (person who passes in any situation in both languages for a native speaker, i.e. he or she is indistinguishable from a native speaker).
- Passive Bilingual (A person who is a native speaker in one and is capable of understanding but not speaking another language.)
- Semi-bilingual (not strong in either language)
She went on to explain that every teacher is a language teacher – not just language teachers as language comes with content, and pointed to research done at Stanford University on language and literacy learning in the content areas. A positive learning environment for bilinguals is one where the home language and culture is regarded as an asset, instruction is adapted to meet different needs, children are “immersed but not submersed”, progression is seen from speaking to reading and writing and the child is monitored to ensure growth and progress. In a later session for teachers she went into detail about “being nice with high expectations” for students who were learning English, and distinguished between the three kinds of vocabulary: basic (T1); high frequency, multiple meaning, cross disciplinary (T2) and low frequency discipline specific (T3). The most important were the T2 words, which were necessary for bilingualism and achievement and were transferable and allowed for connections (e.g. describe, observe, explain, illustrate, on the other hand, contrast, compare, similar, like, prove etc.). Strategies should include distinguishing between shades of meaning among verbs differing in manner and adjectives differing in intensity. T1 words were the domain of language teachers and T3 of subject specific teachers.
Parents should work on maintaining and improving the home language and not leave this to the school (even if the school provides the language). Children should be given a “wait-time” of 5-7 years for language to develop, allowing each child it’s own time and way of achieving bilingualism. Parents need to be informed and act accordingly, and to plan their childrens’ bilingualism. In her opinion at least 3 hours a week had to be spend on formal lessons in the home language including reading and writing with additional time during the summer vacation. Texts and materials should be provided in the home language at home.
In the library
I asked her separately about the library and what role it could play. She reiterated the need for books in other languages to be visible, to have text books in mother tongue available, and to integrate (non-fiction) books into the collection.
Practically for us it wouldn’t make sense to integrate the non-fiction books as we’ve concentrated on fiction except for the odd donated book. It would probably be a good idea to try and get a used text-book donation drive to add to our collection.