Languages - Gift of Bilingualism Is Too Often 'Squandered': News

By Barker, Irena | Times Educational Supplement, November 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

Languages - Gift of Bilingualism Is Too Often 'Squandered': News


Barker, Irena, Times Educational Supplement


Professor speaks out as report criticises UK language deficiency.

English-speaking countries are "squandering" the benefits of having bilingual children in their schools and risk turning them into monoglots, according to an international languages expert.

Professor Joseph Lo Bianco, of the University of Melbourne, said school leaders must think of ways to help children maintain their mother tongues, at the same time as teaching them English and "prestige" languages such as French or Japanese.

The professor, who advised the Australian government on its languages policy, said it was of "critical importance" that education systems across the world fostered a "multilingual mentality", with bilingual children being given a strong role to play.

His comments came in the same week that the British Council released a major report showing that three-quarters of UK adults are unable to hold a conversation in any of the 10 most important languages for Britain's future prosperity, including Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin and German.

The report calls on policymakers to introduce a broader range of languages to every child's education, and to give languages the same prominence as science and maths. More schools should draw on the language skills of native speakers and cultural organisations in their local communities, it says.

Professor Lo Bianco told teachers at a conference organised by the British Council in London this week: "Schools should not be about making children forget what they already know.

"Hundreds and hundreds of children in your schools and in schools in Australia and Canada and other places begin schooling as potential bilinguals. They have the gift of bilingualism already in their homes and yet we subject them to an education curriculum that assumes that English is normative knowledge and what they already have is some kind of subtractable skill, so we turn them into monolinguals.

"As headteachers and leaders you need to devise ways where, even if we can't teach the languages the children speak in their homes, we can help them reinforce that knowledge, (so) that they maintain it."

Professor Lo Bianco added: "This gift, this donation that they've made to the public education system, is something that we squander. We need to foster it much more."

He also stressed that anglophone countries had a "seriously anaemic" performance in second language education, and that native English speakers must not be fooled by the "false comfort" of their "superficial advantage". The skills gained through learning languages were as vital as the languages themselves, he argued. …

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