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Leonardo Myers
Leonardo Myers

Language Policy For The Multilingual Classroom:...


The multilingual language ladder puts comprehension at the center. It insists on the use of a familiar language to teach unfamiliar content so that there is a higher likelihood that the student will thrive in their environment. To ensure this goal is achieved, it is not enough to develop a policy that simply endorses mother-tongue instruction. There is also a need for technical guidance as to how multilingual schools can implement such policy on a classroom level.




Language Policy for the Multilingual Classroom:...



In this excerpt from her book English Learners Left Behind (Multilingual Matters, 2008), Dr. Kate Menken offers language policy recommendations targeted towards policymakers and educators based on her experiences working with English language learners (ELLs) in New York City Schools.


The power play between educational policy and language policy is thus complex, as top-down education policies often assume the place of language policies in schools. When this happens, top-down policies overpower local practices and it can become difficult for schools to provide quality educational programming for their language learners; all too often, such policies directly disadvantage these students. Specifically, the assessment and accountability mandates of No Child Left Behind are 'leaving behind' alarming numbers of English language learners.


A clear and cohesive school-based language policy which is consistently implemented on a schoolwide basis with a collective vision for the education of ELLs, is the greatest way to protect programming and negotiate topdown reforms and policies in ways that make sense for ELL students.


With these fundamental points in mind, the following are recommendations based on the research shared English Learners Left Behind. These recommendations are relevant to No Child Left Behind, yet are also related to any context where high-stakes testing, language policy, and language learning intersect. Some recommendations mainly pertain to New York, as noted, though these also have implications elsewhere. The following recommendations are divided into those for educational policymakers, and those for schools and teachers.


Within the trajectory of education policy in the United States, we have arrived at a critical crossroads with regard to testing and accountability for students who are English language learners. On one hand, we have raised our expectations for these students. Yet on the other hand, we have created test-based systems that build barriers which are equally likely to impede upon the success of these students. In light of these realities, we must ensure that this becomes a time of possibility rather than liability for students who are English language learners in public schools, by creating systems that not only include but, further, promote the ideal education for these students. Doing so, as indicated in the recommendations above, is entirely feasible.


Multilingualism is good for us. Not only does speaking more than one language keep our brains healthy as we age, but it has multiple benefits for children too, such as giving them an academic advantage and improving their employment prospects once they leave school. Moreover, multilingualism gives us access to more than one culture and improves our understanding of our own cultures.


The shift in the function of English as a medium of instruction together with its use in knowledge construction and dissemination among scholars continue to fuel the global demand for high-level proficiency in the language. These components of the global knowledge economy mean that the ability of nations to produce multilinguals with advanced English proficiency alongside their mastery of other languages has become a key to global competitiveness. That need is helping to drive one of the greatest language learning experiments the world has ever known. It carries significant implications for new research agendas and teacher preparation in applied linguistics.


Evidence-based decision-making, whether it pertains to language policy decisions, instructional practices, teacher professional development or curricula/program building, needs to be based on a rigorous and systematically pursued program of research and assessment.


The present day reach of English education is, in some respects, one of the greatest language learning experiments the world has ever known. As I first pointed out in my book World English: A Study of Its Development, for speakers across the globe, English is, by its nature, a language of multilingualism and multilinguals, and English has established itself alongside other languages in many speech communities around the world. This process takes on different forms and intensity and generates a good deal of intellectual debate in the field of applied linguistics (Brutt-Griffler and Kim, 2016; Kramsch, 2016; Seidlhofer, 2011; Widdowson, 2003). My goal in this paper is to look at some of the current processes and consider what drives English learning today, what impact it has on preparing future professionals and students and what kind of new research is needed to understand the needs of the learner.


Multilingual proficiency development constitutes an intellectual endeavor in which in the process of language learning a learner uses the knowledge from various languages (Baker, 2011; Lantolf and Thorne, 2006; Brutt-Griffler and Varghese, 2004; Swain and Lapkin, 2000). Thus taking knowledge as its point of departure, multilingual proficiency becomes an objective measure of language learning from its incipient stages all the way through the attainment of advanced level of proficiency in multiple languages.


It goes without saying that learning English is not, as is sometimes falsely assumed from a monolingualist standpoint, a rejection of the advantages of learning other languages. On the contrary, English learners around the world recognize the equal importance of knowing other languages. If we listen, therefore, to the students on whom a student-centered model must be constructed we hear them emphasizing through their actions their own understanding of the need for multilingual proficiency. Their goal is to learn English alongside other languages they grew up speaking, learned from the context around them, or studied in school.


DLK12 is a publishing venture specializing in bilingual education, ESL, language policy, school reform, civil rights, constructivist pedagogy, and related issues. Our books are used widely by teacher educators, researchers, and policymakers. This site will highlight those titles, as well as other works by James Crawford and Sharon Adelman Reyes from their decades of experience in education and journalism.


Although multilingualism and multilingual education have existed for centuries, our 21st-century entrance into the new millennium has brought renewed interest and contestation around this educational alternative. Ethnolinguistic diversity and inequality, intercultural communication and contact, and global political and economic interdependence are more than ever acknowledged realities of today's world, and all of them put pressures on our educational systems. Now, as throughout history, multilingual education offers the best possibilities for preparing coming generations to participate in constructing more just and democratic societies in our globalized and intercultural world; however, it is not unproblematically achieved. There are many unanswered questions and doubts as to policy and implementation, program and curricular design, classroom instruction practices, pedagogy, and teacher professional development, but there is also much that we understand and know very well, based on empirical research in many corners of the world. Here I highlight Bolivian and other Indigenous educational experiences with which I am most familiar, and which capture certainties that hold beyond the particular instances I describe. My emphasis is on what we know and are sure of, and my goal is to convey my deep conviction that multilingual education constitutes a wide and welcoming educational doorway toward peaceful coexistence of peoples and especially restoration and empowerment of those who have been historically oppressed.


Menken, K. (Ed.). (2011, March). From policy to practice in the multilingual apple: Bilingual education in New York City. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(2), March 2011.


Menken, K. (2011, March). From policy to practice in the multilingual apple: Bilingual education in New York City. Editorial Introduction. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(2): 123-133.


Menken, K. (2006, Summer). Teaching to the test: How standardized testing promoted by No Child Left Behind impacts language policy, curriculum, and instruction for English language learners. Bilingual Research Journal, 30(2), 521-546.


Menken, K. & García, O. (2017). Language policy in classrooms and schools. In McCarty, T. & May, S. (Eds.), Language policy and political issues in education (pp. 1-16). Encyclopedia of language and education (3rd Edition). New York, NY: Springer.


Field, R. & Menken, K. (2015). What might the process of language education policy development look like at the district and school levels within the context of the Common Core State Standards? In Valdés, G., Menken, K., & Castro, M. (Eds.), Common Core, Bilingual and English language learners: A resource for educators. Philadelphia, PA: Caslon.


García, O. & Menken, K. (2015). Cultivating an ecology of multilingualism in schools: Building interindividuality of voices and ideologies. In B. Spolsky, O. Inbar & M. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Challenges for language education and policy: Making space for people. New York: Routledge.


Menken, K. (2013). Dis-Citizenship or opportunity?: The importance of language education policy for access and full participation of emergent bilinguals in the US. In Ramanathan, V. (Ed.), Language policies and (dis)citizenship: Rights, access, pedagogies. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. 041b061a72


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