5 Tips to Honor Language Diversity in Dual Language Classrooms

Even when students speak the same Language Other Than English, language diversity should be expected and celebrated. Photo by Naomi Shi on Pexels.com

Language is ever evolving.  How we spoke a hundred years ago is not how we speak today, and how we speak today is not how our descendants will speak a hundred years from now.  The English we speak in the US is not identical to the English spoken in England.  For that matter, the English spoken on the East Coast is not identical to the English spoken on the West Coast. The evolution of all languages are influenced by three factors: globalization (vocabulary from other languages), community isolation, and language trends amongst those with status. 

Here are a few examples of three such influences on American English.

Influence Examples in English
Vocabulary from other languages 
Native American Languages – Chocolate (Nauhatl), Avocado (Nauhatl), Opossum (Powhawtan), Squash (Naragansett), Barbecue (Taíno)
Japanese – karaoke, karate, origami, tsunami 
German – Kindergarten, waltz
French – genre, faux, ballet, cafe, buffet, chalet, entrepreneur
Spanish – jalapeño, guerilla, macho, plaza
IsolationThe 13 colonies (and subsequently, the United States) had sporadic contact with England; therefore, a unique accent that was different from the British accent and influenced by the various ethnic groups in the United States developed.  
Language of Those with StatusNew England, compared to the rest of the United States, had greater contact with England. Because the British upper class trendily dropped their r’s, New Englanders, especially Bostonians, continue to do so.
Much of US’s Southern dialect was highly influenced by enslaved Africans, whose English was in turn influenced by the grammatical structures and pronunciations of African languages.  Enslaved women who took care of rich children passed these words and pronunciations on to the rich families they served.  Because these rich families had status, the rest of the region quickly copied them.  
Three Influences on the English Language

Although the US English dialect varies from region to region and certainly varies from the English used in England, each dialect continues to be English, and we should not consider one dialect of English better than another.  In schools throughout the United States, we find both teachers and children from different regions and even different English speaking countries.  We allow different English dialects to coexist.  For instance, we would never refuse to hire a teacher from England to teach students in the United States or a teacher from New England to teach in Texas just because their English dialects are different.  Similarly, we would never expect a student from Georgia to stop using y’all or to change their accent just because they are studying in Seattle.

We, as Dual Language educators, need to give the same respect to the various dialects of the Language Other Than English (LOTE).  One of the three goals of Dual Language Education is sociocultural competence. Therefore, it is important that we teach our students to honor the identities of their teachers and classmates, especially when those identities are different from students’ own identities.  Language is a key factor in people’s identities.  For instance, although Puerto Rican students may use the words mani for peanut and oportunidad for opportunity, when their Mexican classmates use cacahuate and chance to say the same thing, both groups should not only understand the importance of accepting these variations in language but should also recognize the beauty in those variations.  Furthermore, the more we expose students to different dialects and different accents, the better students will be at using their language in different circumstances.  This will eventually serve students well when, as adults, travel and business give them opportunities to work with varying groups of people.

Here are some tips to help foster respect for regionalisms in the LOTE: 

  1. Keep a Chart of Regional Differences: Using chart paper, keep a graphic organizer of words that are used in different countries for the same meaning.  Keep adding words that students and teachers use that are specific to particular countries or regions so that everyone can learn them. If there is a lack of language diversity in the classroom, consider introducing literature from different countries and identifying words from the readings.
  2. Respect Students’ Language:  Because language is forever evolving, it is not surprising that English is likely to influence students’ home languages.  For instance, when students speak Spanish, they may use Spanglish terms such as lonche or puchar for lunch and push although they are not recognized in standard Spanish in any country.  Engage in contrastive analysis of language.  Create with your students a graphic organizer which compares colloquial language with academic Spanish.  Let students know that their words are perfectly okay outside of school, but then teach them the “school” words of almuerzo and empujar.  Also, students whose families are from remote settings may use more archaic language that is no longer considered standard in any country.  For instance, in Spanish, students may use muncho for mucho.  Again celebrate students’ language and engage in contrastive analysis of language.  Creating a graphic organizer that compares archaic language with modern language will help honor students’ linguistic backgrounds while helping them learn “school” language.  
  3. Embrace Your Own Dialect/Language: If you are the one whose dialect or accent is different from the majority’s, do not try to change your language.  For example, if the majority of your students and colleagues are Puerto Rican and you are Columbian, continue to use Columbian regionalisms.  Don’t try to change your accent.  Provide an example of what it looks like when you are proud of your identity so that your students, when faced with a similar situation, will do the same.  
  4. Have students listen to different accents: Look for YouTube Videos from different countries so that students can intentionally compare accents and words used when speaking the LOTE and hence, become better at understanding people from different countries and/or regions.  This is especially important when students do not have access to language diversity in the classroom.
  5. Hire Diversely: Especially when most students’ backgrounds are from the same country or the same region of a country, try to purposely hire teachers from varying places who can facilitate instruction in the LOTE. This will provide students a greater opportunity to experience diversity in language.

Overall, as educators, we need to teach students to respect those whose identities are different from their own and help students learn as much about the Language Other Than English (LOTE) as possible.  Exposing students to differences in various language dialects and teaching students to respect these differences is a great start.

How do you encourage students to accept differences in linguistic backgrounds?  Comment below.

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