English in the Multilingual Classroom: a British Council course

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I have just completed the English in the Multilingual Classroom course by the British Council. The course promises an introduction to multilingualism and what it means. It also sets out to help teachers make their teaching and classrooms multilingual to allow learners to celebrate and use multiple languages. The course is structured into four parts. There is a short introductory module that introduces participants to learning online successfully and to familiarise themselves with the platform. The main part of the course is then divided into three modules, which are presented in a specific order:

Module 1: The benefits of multilingualism

21 February. United Nations International Mother Language day

In Unit 1, participants are introduced to the concept of multilingualism and its significance in the classroom. They are prompted to reflect on whether different classroom approaches are friendly or unfriendly to multilingualism. Unit 2 looks at multilingual classes and encourages participants to reflect on their own experiences both as teachers and as learners as well as the implications of having a group of multilingual learners. Moving on to Unit 3, participants learn about the benefits and difficulties of code-switching and translanguaging practices.

As a teacher who has been using translanguaging (and code-switching to some extent) for several years, I was personally very excited about this last unit. I have found it challenging to implement these approaches effectively. I have had some success with them but I still get nervous sometimes, especially during observed lessons. While the ideas related to the linguistic landscape in this unit were intriguing, I would have appreciated more information about translanguaging in particular. Nonetheless, the course provides links to further reading that I’ve yet to explore.

Module 2: Multilingualism in practice

The three units here take participants on a journey from multilingualism in elementary education through approaches to multilingualism in general to meaningful learning opportunities. Unit 1 focuses on elementary education contexts and explores the ethical and pedagogic aspects of multilingualism. There are some practical tips for the classroom, which are also covered in later units. In Unit 2, participants learn about different approaches to English language teaching, which may be quite useful for teachers of other subjects as well. The course then delves into the topic of Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB MLE) in more detail, which was new to me. I enjoyed going through the activities and took copious notes. Again, I was left wanting to know more, which is not a bad thing for a course. I will definitely explore Dr Susan Malone‘s work to learn more.

multilingual concept

Unit 3 introduces the principles of multilingual education and offers ideas for promoting MLE in the classroom. The ‘Exploration activity’ in this unit was particularly useful, and I plan to use it in my new school to find out about my learners’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This activity is explained in quite a lot of detail, with clear instructions, resources, and even reflection questions to go along with it.

Module 3: Developing multilingual learners

The first unit in this module, Planning for English in a multilingual class, provides concrete examples of multilingual teaching practices and prompts teachers to consider how these could be adapted to their own contexts. I liked the idea of ‘the language activity classroom’ interesting, although I am not sure whether I could make it work in my own context due to the number of different L1s in my classroom and the fact that I do not share a language with any of my learners.

Asian beautiful little student girl is smiling and pointing on bilingual globe model for her online lesson, concept of learn from home and homeschooling for child education.

The next unit focuses on creating multilingual spaces in the classroom and the use of multimedia to support learners in their learning. I agree with the tips that inform the examples here, especially the one about the need for learning resources to reflect the learners’ world. This is an oft forgotten, albeit essential tenet of teaching. The last unit focuses on teaching vocab and the four skills in a multilingual classroom. There are more concrete examples of classroom practice here, many of which I had been experimenting with myself, such as using maps or making vocabulary memorable in various ways.

The sentence that really spoke to me here reads: “Whatever the subject, every teacher should look for opportunities to celebrate, promote and use the linguistic knowledge and skills of all their learners.” Not only do I wholeheartedly agree with this statement but it also shows how this course is not only aimed at language teachers, but teachers in general.

Summary

What I liked best about this course is that it is free and easily accessible online, which means that any teacher with an internet connection can do it. I will definitely recommend it to all my colleagues, not just the ones teaching languages. It is important that courses like this are being created and that teachers engage with them. As the course creators keep pointing it out, multilingualism is the norm not the exception, so it is high time we make our classrooms more multilingualism friendly, and therefore more inclusive.

The part of the course that I found the most useful is the Resources section. There are documents with hyperlinks related to each of the 3 modules which provide a wealth of further reading and research. I have already shortlisted a few things to get on with, such as the British Council resource book, Using multilingual approaches: moving from theory to practice, and UNESCO’s Promoting Literacy in Multilingual Settings.

I would, however, have liked to get more expert information on certain aspects of MLE. As I’ve mentioned, I find translanguaging hard to pin down and even harder to make it work in the classroom. The parts of the course that deal with concrete examples of classroom practice were the most engaging for me and I wish there had been even more of those throughout. I also would have liked to get more ideas to use with secondary learners.

In my context there is a growing number of multilingual learners with low levels of English entering international schools where the medium of education is English. Working with them is hard because unlike elementary learners, these students only have a few years of school left before entering the work force or tertiary education. This, of course, does not leave them with enough time to learn the language of education, much less to learn content through it. While the English in the Multilingual Classroom course dedicates a whole unit to elementary education, secondary is only mentioned in a few instances, which sadly makes the course less useful than it could be to me and my particular context.

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All in all, I recommend taking this course regardless of what subject you happen to teach. There will definitely be parts that relate more to your context than others but I am certain everybody can find ideas to try in their classrooms. If, like me, you find that you’d like to know more about the topic, it’s well worth spending the time exploring the resources section and experimenting in your own classroom. Ultimately, however little we are able to do to promote multilingual teaching approaches is the first step in making our classrooms more inclusive.

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