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An expert on multilingual education

In this video Prof. Dr. David Little reports on the multilingual approach of a school in Dublin which uses English and Irish for instruction, along wi
Well what’s happened in the school that I’ve been working with is that from the very beginning, the home languages of immigrant pupils are drawn into the discourse of the classroom. At the age of 4 1/2, many of these pupils are beginners in English, but they’re encouraged to use their home languages to say anything they want to say. And when it comes to some of the basic teaching and learning, home languages are involved in that as well. So learning to count for example. They learn to count in English and in Irish, because that’s the second language of the curriculum. But also, they tell the rest of the class how to count in their home languages.
And this involving of home languages in the discourse of the classroom as a resource for language awareness, but also as a skill that the owners of these languages must develop as they move up through the school, has created a situation where the pupils become highly proficient, not just in speaking, but in writing English as the language of schooling, home languages, and Irish, and in the last two years, French. So because of the very dynamic classroom discourse and the admission of all languages to that discourse, the status of Irish is somehow transformed, and it becomes, suddenly, a living language, an alternative code in which to express your thoughts and ideas.
And that of course is what explains the learning achievement that’s typical of the school, but not typical of the learning of Irish in schools generally.
Irish can benefit the learning of immigrant languages in I think two ways, depending on the learners. Irish can benefit the development of immigrant pupils’ proficiency in their home languages, on the basis of the principle of linguistic interdependence, which was originally formulated by Jim Cummins, who though a Canadian scholar, was born and educated originally in Ireland. And what this interdependence hypothesis says is that skills that are developed in one language can relatively easily be transferred to another language, provided that other language is offered in the right kind of dynamic of exposure, and so on.
So in a situation where English is the language of schooling and Irish as the first language of the curriculum is being taught with an emphasis on learning through using the language, and the development of literacy in Irish is working in parallel with the development of literacy in English, those things help to support the independent efforts of immigrant pupils with the help of their parents in developing their literacy skills in their home languages.
The second way in which Irish can assist the learning of immigrant languages has to do with the way in which pupils in the school learn bits and pieces of one another’s language, and how some of the Irish pupils whose home language is English, learn little fragments and sometimes more than little fragments of the class of their classmates languages. And there again, Irish is supporting this linguistic interdependence process. So by making Irish a language that you learn by using, rather than learn in order to use, you support, consolidate, strengthen, the learning of all other languages.

In this video Prof. Dr. David Little reports on the multilingual approach of a school in Dublin which uses English and Irish for instruction, along with all languages spoken by the pupils.

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