Imagine going to school and trying to learn the subject matter in a language that you struggle to understand, or don’t understand at all. This is the reality for millions of children who are members of non-dominant language communities throughout the world.
Results show that children learn most effectively in the language that they know best and speak at home.
This is where Multi-lingual Education (M.L.E for short) comes in!
In an M.L.E program, students begin their education in the language that they know best. Then, when they have gained some competence learning in their first language, the second language is introduced as a subject - orally at first (vocabulary is learned), followed by reading and writing. Effective M.L.E programs continue to foster language skills in all languages (two or more) throughout the duration of schooling.
On Sept. 5, 2012, the Global Times of China ran an article entitled ‘Languages on life support,’ which highlights the work of a team working on an MLE program. A CanIL graduate is contributing to the work of that team.
The Ethnologue lists 292 living languages in China , while a study published by Chinese scholars in 2008 recognizes 129 independent languages in the country, 117 of which are threatened , according to the study. The discrepancy in figures in mainly due to the fact that Western scholars and Chinese scholars tend to define the term “language” differently. Languages that face the threat of extinction are significantly bolstered towards preservation when people can learn to read and write and be educated in them.
SIL International “has been cooperating with local authorities in Yunnan province to conduct bilingual education among children since 2004 in Jianchuan county, where over 90 percent of the population are Bai people.” The greatest ethnic diversity in China is found in Yunnan province, which has 25 of the 55 ethnic minority groups in the country.”
The following excerpts are included as they appear in the article:
The Research Institute of Southwestern Minority Languages and Cultures in Guizhou University, an institute founded in cooperation with SIL, found that 60 percent of the students in their bilingual project among the Dong people in Guizhou finished junior middle school and attended senior middle school, much higher than the 10 percent seen in the past.
Feedback from the local partners and students is also positive. Yang Jimin, the project manager from the education bureau of Jianchuan, said the students showed significant improvement in their test results. The school used to rank at the bottom in the township, but now has moved up to the mid-level.
"We also found that kids who learned their mother tongue first are much better at learning Putonghua and show much better progress in cognitive development," said Yang Jimin, the project manager from the education bureau of Jianchuan.
Multi-lingual education in Yunnan province is helping to raise a generation of children who are proficient in their first language as well as the larger dominant language, Putonghua. The long-term impact is that these children will grow into citizens who are able to function in the market places and domains of public life, while hopefully maintaining their first language at home, and perceiving it as an important cultural and linguistic identifier that they will pass on to their own children.