Multilingualism as a Resource in an English classroom in a non-native context

Why are our English teachers afraid of using a Multilingual pedagogy in their classes? How many English teachers use parallel texts written in English and the mother tongue of their pupils? Is ‘multilingualism as a resource in ELT’ a mere pedagogic slogan? Well, let’s consider the Indian case.
The aim of English language teaching in India, according to the NCF 2005 Position Paper of the National Focus Group on English Language Teaching, is the creation of multilinguals who can enrich other Indian languages. This vision statement of the Position Paper prompts us to examine the question of using multilingualism as a teaching strategy in our English classrooms. Multilingualism, which is defined as speaking two or more languages, is often viewed as an impediment to the teaching and learning of a second language. A survey of the ELT scenario across the globe indicates that the importance of the first language is often minimized in the second language classroom (Cook,2001) and it is no wonder that many Indian English teachers avoid the use of the mother of the pupils in their classrooms.
Taking note of current ELT scenario of the country, the Position Paper on ELT states that at present, “the mother tongue enters the English class as a surreptitious intruder” The Position Paper suggests that “ the mother tongue need not be an interloper but a resource” and it can occur in tandem with the first language. In spite of this unequivocal policy statement made by the Indian ELT experts ten years back, the immense possibility of the use of multilingualism as a resource has not been fully explored by the ELT practitioners of the country. Though the said Position Paper recommended the introduction of parallel texts in more than one language for a successful ELT pedagogy, little has been done till today to implement the recommendation.
Metalinguistic awareness, knowing about and being able to talk about how language is structured and how it functions is a special advantage of multilingualism ( Cook,1995; Jessner, 2006, Svalberg,2007). Multilingual children learning more than one language gain in flexibility because they can understand and analyze concepts using more than one language system. A lot of research work has been done to find out the correlation between bilingualism and cognitive ability (Peal and Lambert 1962; Cummins, 1984;Hakuta and Diaz 1985), but all these isolated studies were done with reference to the bilingual education of young children. How does cross language transfer of skills help multilingual adult learners in developing their language awareness in a target language? The role of bilingualism in academic learning in a context where the learners’ competence in two languages is of varying degrees seems to be an unexplored are of research.
There is no denying the fact that interpretative skills are transferable across languages and an exposure to the stylistic analysis of a literary text in the first language helps in the analysis of the same text written in a second language. Adult learners who are already familiar with a systematic interpretative study of a text in their first language can easily grasp the stylistic features of the same text written in a second language. By using what the learners already know of a text written in their first language, they can explore the text written in a second language without any inhibition. By comparing the way language is used in the text written in the first language as well as in the second, adult bilingual learners acquire a mastery of the second language unavailable to the monolingual learners.
L1 and L2 do not reside in two separate compartments in the mind of the bilingual learners. L1 and L2 are interwoven in the L2 user’s mind in vocabulary (Beauvillain & Grainger, 1987), in syntax (Cook, 1994), in phonology (Obler,1982), and in pragmatics (Locastr,1987). Therefore, ‘learning an L2 is not just the adding of rooms to your house by building an extension at the back: it is the rebuilding of all internal walls ( Cook, 200:407). The use of parallel texts written in L1 and L2, therefore reinforces a learner’s repertoire in both the languages.
I will be happy to know how many English teachers teaching English in a non-native context use parallel texts in their English classes.



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