Dual Language in the Classroom

This weeks micro-innovations article MI Monday I Try English speaks about encouraging teachers to speak English in rural schools in India. In many rural schools and low-income schools, the language of teaching is the regional language while English is the second language. Thus, a very large portion of the audience that exits school is literate, but has little or no knowledge of English. And everyone knows and agrees that to be employable in India, youth need to have a good grasp of spoken and written English.

The challenge with teaching English also lies in the fact that not many teachers in rural and low-income schools have a good understanding of the language themselves. Thus, the learning that happens in class is directly proportional to the English teachers comfort and knowledge of the subject. Moreover, in the English class, language is taught mostly as a theoretical subject, and not in context to real-life situations.

But, what if English was taught as part of all classes, and not just the English class period?

We’ve come up with some strategies that teachers can implement in their class, to help build a stronger foundation of any second language that is taught in their school.

Our thinking was highly inspired by the famous cartoon series ‘Dora the Explorer’ and ‘Go Diego Go’. Children who watch these two series, begin to develop basic Spanish vocabulary. Although, this is an English series (aired in India), the characters introduce Spanish vocabulary terms through the episodes. For example, if Diego wants his jaguar cub to jump, he asks the viewers to say the word “Salto” (Spanish for Jump) to make the jaguar jump. Each episode incorporates this strategy, and after watching a bunch of episodes, most children develop basic knowledge of Spanish words and phrases.

Think about it – can we incorporate the same strategy in classroom too?

What if English words and phrases were introduced in every class period, across all grades. A science teacher while teaching physics, would not only teach terms in the regional language, but would also put up an anchor chart that lists the term in the second language.

For example, most people know what the term “experiment” means – but do you also know the word for “experiment” in another language? In Hindi and Marthi, it is called “prayōga” and in Spanish it is called “experimento”. Now, if the second language in school was Marathi, then each time, instead of using the common English phrase “Let’s do an experiment to find out.”, the teacher would say the phrase in Marathi “च्या शोधण्यासाठी एक प्रयोग करूयात. (Cyā śōdhaṇyāsāṭhī ēka prayōga karūyāta.)”. This helps students get a better exposure to the second language, and it’s effective because the languages is spoken in context to a situation.

The same strategy can be adopted across Math, History, Geography and other subjects. Each subject teacher should make it a point to introduce at least five vocabulary words in the second language and speak at least two phrases in the second language.

To further promote development of second language, teachers could put up dual language labels on objects in class and in the school. So, the signboard for “Toilet” would also bear the label in Marathi “snānagr̥ha”. Likewise, teachers can put up dual language labels for the chair, table, blackboard and other items. Parents can also be encouraged to follow the same practice at home.

Do you think dual language strategies would work in your classroom? What strategies do you use to promote development of second languages? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.


Kanchan Shine

Kanchan Shine

Passionate about everything related to education. I believe that the best kind of learning happens through play, experiments and fun! I love watching how children learn and love to implement play-based, hands-on teaching approaches. I get my thrill by planning activities for my children (6 yo girl & 3 yo boy) and watching them learn while having fun!

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