Being an educator encompasses not only the education of our students, but also the social and emotional health of our students. This exercise showed me how to consider the whole student, including their education, social, and emotional backgrounds and experiences as a multi-language learners. Learning another language impacts the student in all aspect as of their lives.
Speaking from personal experience as a multi-language learner, when students learn another language besides their mother tongue, it opens doors for connection with the world around them. When students learn additional languages at an early age, we must take into consideration the emotional maturity and the impact of language learning on their life as a whole.
How can understanding multi-language learners’ identities promote multiculturalism and enhanced learning outcomes for the student?
Language learner identities promote multiculturalism and enhanced learner outcomes by providing context about the individual learners’ experiences. In a classroom environment, the learner identities as a collective provide valuable information about learner needs, social interaction and engagement, and areas of potential challenges. Multiculturalism is promoted by developing a clear understanding of the cultural backgrounds of the students and sharing cultural experiences and norms with the collective. This sharing promotes enhanced learning outcomes through creating a collaborative and open environment for learning to take place.
In our case study, all three of the multi-language learners presented have different family experiences and cultural backgrounds, mother tongue languages, and second languages. They also have different exposure to language learning, attitudes about language learning, and goals for their academic learning. Each student is also experiencing individual challenges and areas of growth in their language learning.
Learner Profile One: Beatriz
Beatriz’s mother tongue is Spanish. She also attended bilingual school and attended language immersion in another country. She studied English during her summer breaks. Her exposure to the English as a second language throughout her childhood provided her with a foundation of understanding about the cultural nuances and differences between English and Spanish. Immersion in an English environment during her student exchange program provided her with contextual understanding about how native speakers of English connect with the world around them and relate to one another.
Learner Profile Two: Sarah
Sarah, a native English speaker, was exposed to the foreign language Amharic as a baby, then, in school she learned French and furthered hr language learning in Portuguese as an adult. The case study indicates a linguistic link between English, French and Portuguese, therefore making the language learning easier for Sara. Having said that, Sara is a highly intelligent learner and is motivated to learn languages to connect with the world around her.
Read Sarah’s full learner profile HERE.
Learner Profile Three: Pedro
Pedro’s mother tongue is Spanish like Beatriz. However, Pedro’s English language learning is English immersion with only Spanish being spoken socially and at home. Pedro is younger than the other two case examples and his social emotional behaviour in his language learning is age appropriate (De Gruyter Mouton, 1968). All three learners experienced impact to their motivation to learn additional languages as each case reports periods of frustration with language learning.
Read Pedro’s full learner profile HERE:
It is assumed from the case studies hat Beatriz and Sarah are raised in a family who support their language learning. Research shows that children who have actively supportive parents during language learning are more likely to acquire additional languages than those who have passive active parents because of the students motivation to learn being reinforced at home (R.C. Gardener, 1968). For the purpose of this summary, motivation is defined as ‘ a state of cognitive and emotional arousal, which leads to a conscious decision to act, and which give rise to a be round of sustained intellectual effort in order to attain a previously set goal’ (Williams and Burden, 1997, p. 120). With parent support at home, students acquire a state of emotional arousal for learning additional languages.
Multiculturalism is integral in language learning as learners’ motivation is impacted by their ‘attitudes towards the target language and the people who speak it.’ (p. 120) Their learner confidence and beliefs as well as their outlook for the goals they wish to achieve also influence motivation. Overall, their sense of purpose in learning additional languages is an important factor in their motivation.Williams and Burden, 1997
Educators can promote motivation in the classroom by:
- Making language classes interesting through variation of activities and the level of input from multi-language learners.
- Promoting learner autonomy to encourage discovery and language exploration. Self reflection, ownership and empowerment are essential for language learners’ attitudes toward the language being learned.
- Personalizing the learning process by collaborating with students to match tasks with learner abilities.
- Increasing the learners’ goal orientation to support students with self action plans. (p.120)
Being able to adapt to the multi-language learners’ needs as they work through the lesson material is important for a student-centred approach.
Why is understanding multi-language learners’ identities and multiculturalism important?
Educators who understand learner identities and multiculturalism are more equipped in the classroom to meet individual learner goals in language learning. Understanding the cultural context of the learners helps educators to bridge the learner’ s mother tongue and the language being learned in the classroom by using strategies to bridge the mother tongue language and the language being learned. For example, educators understanding the cultural nuances like the gender rule with Spanish having a masculine and a feminine nuance in the language is helpful when teaching a language like English as it provides opportunity for the educator to make meaningful connections when discussing English language elements such as pronouns (Lisa, 2014).
In reading the case studies for this unit, and in creating our own case study as a group, I have one question about multiculturalism in the classroom related to online learning. With the exponential growth in online classrooms, what are the contraindications for educators who are teaching multicultural learners language online?
In my own experience I have taught online since 2009 for Canadian universities and in China during the COVID-19 crisis. My experience in my Canadian university is limited as online courses are not asynchronous and students log in online to complete activities at their own pace. However, in China, I was teaching up to one hundred and seventy hours a month in Zoom and Tencent classroom platforms. Although in this experience the learners were all Chinese, there were undercurrents of multiculturalism as some were abroad in Dubai, Russia, Mongolia, France, and Saudi Arabia, all of my online language learners were Chinese national citizens. In China there are fifty six different ethnic groups and as many dialects of Mandarin and Cantonese and other variations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and the differences between north and south China. However, my experience has been that the multicultural essence in China is more related to society and socio-cultural position in Chinese society based on industry of work, community, and relationship to the dominant ethnic group the Han Chinese. What are the implications of language learning with these types of cultural undercurrents?
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