Why teach a second language to learners who are already struggling to master their first? What are the benefits of language learning for learners for whom the purpose of such study is not always evident to themselves, to their parents, and sometimes, even, to their teachers? What is the rationale? What benefits are we claiming to offer? What expectations do we have of learners? And are there any benefits for teachers?
BENEFITS FOR LEARNERS
All children are citizens of a plurilingual world.
All have a right, and perhaps a responsibility, to learn about other cultures and to sample other languages.
All children need to learn to accept and value people from backgrounds different from their own.
In our work we have met children who saw themselves as ‘different’ from those around them and who were comforted to learn of a wider world in which people could be different and valued.
Learning another language helps children to become more aware of their own. This awareness can lead to improvements in literacy across the curriculum.
Research shows that bilingualism, even partial bilingualism, can have a beneficial affect on brain development.
It’s another way for children with delayed skills development to revisit basic concepts and to learn social skills in a way that seems more interesting and grown up.
The experiences that accompany foreign language learning are life-enhancing, but the precise benefits for any specific child may be unpredictable.
Who can say what benefits any child will gain from any particular experience? Who can deny any child the chance to enjoy those benefits, whatever they may be
Experience has shown that, contrary to common expectations, all but a very few children can benefit from language learning, provided that the content offered and the methodologies employed are appropriate for their learning needs.
So why not at least give it a try? It may be the only chance a child will get, and the decision can be reviewed later. Miss the chance when it comes, and the opportunity is lost, maybe for ever.
BENEFITS FOR TEACHERS
Over the last fifteen years or so we have encountered young people with all sorts of difficulties and disabilities successfully and happily learning a foreign language. Many of them in special schools and units where we might not have expected language learning to be part of the curriculum. We have also encountered young people who were struggling to learn and some – often in mainstream schools – who have become alienated. If some can do it, why can’t more be successful?
Teachers sometimes report that they feel reluctant to spend the necessary time with so-called ‘bottom sets’ because they feel ‘more able’ learners are losing out. Yet the approaches that work with less able learners also work with more able learners and can often transform the experience of those struggling in the middle. So, by adopting these approaches, teachers find they also become better at meeting the needs of other learners too. Far from having to spend time devising ‘special measures for special learners’, teachers gain valuable insights into techniques that make language learning seem easier for learners of all levels of ability.