By Laura Bickle
Photo: University of Toronto
When Gail Prasad was a child, her parents — who collectively spoke Hindi, German, Japanese and French — were advised to raise her in English to succeed in school. Now pursuing her PhD in education at OISE/UT, Prasad is challenging that assertion. The Loran Scholar and Weston Fellow’s research on children’s plurilingualism (the ability to speak more than one language) is the first Canadian study to examine a topic across English, French immersion and French-language schools. “My work demonstrates that a creative plurilingual lesson offers options that move beyond the traditional ‘two solitudes’ approach to teaching English and French,” says the award-winning researcher. “It also fosters culturally and linguistically inclusive schools.” Prasad shares how you can introduce plurilingualism in your classroom and enjoy the benefits that come with it.
Why is linguistic and cultural diversity important?
We’re doing students and their families a disservice when we do not value home languages and cultures. It seems obvious that our youth should not be leaving school with less than what they started with. Sadly, the exclusion of cultural and linguistic resources in the classroom often results in language loss. In a global knowledge-based economy, we should be preparing our students to be plurilingual global citizens, rather than monolingual graduates.
What does a plurilingual classroom look like?
It’s a dynamic space that encourages students and teachers to pool their creative and communicative resources, so that they can fully engage in the world.
What steps can teachers take to nurture plurilingualism?
You can start by giving plurilingual writing assignments, and studying the similarities and differences of a word or term across a variety of languages. The European Centre for Modern Languages (ecml.at) is a great resource that provides language awareness activities in English and éveil aux langues resources in French. The work that I’ve done with teachers and children is available at iamplurilingual.com. If we move away from accepting monolingualism as the norm, cultural and linguistic diversity become resources that everyone in the classroom can benefit from.
Describe for us the child’s perspective on this topic?
Children display a great curiosity when it comes to languages and cultures. There was a boy in Grade 5 who said that Santa Claus is the “best plurilingual person in the world” because children write to him in different languages and he responds to all of them. That’
How do you hope your work will impact policy?
As a plurilingual and tricultural Canadian researcher, teacher and mother, I am compelled to advocate for policies that recognize, affirm and build on the various resources that our students naturally bring to their learning. I hope that my work helps schools see plurilingualism as an essential classroom resource.