The Language of Belonging
I became interested in the place of languages in schools through experiences with bilingual schools. Here, however, I will explore teacher and student opinion on first language use in multicultural mainstream schools, where I have undertaken placements in South Australia and in Darwin. The teachers varied as to whether they incorporated students’ first languages in lessons, some doing so in connection with geography by asking for equivalents of English words. The teachers nonetheless agreed that first languages played a role in their classrooms through sharing of culture and experiences, languages sometimes being spoken within groups in the class. All teachers were happy for first languages to be used at recess or lunch time and with friends, and they also listed Harmony Day, welcome to country, library resources and visuals as ways different languages were acknowledged. All the students I spoke with were literate in their first language. Whether or not they used it at school generally depended on there being other speakers of the language there, when they mainly used the languages at lunch or recess, but with some use for project work or performances. Mainstream multicultural schools cannot have bilingual education due a lack of funding and resources for dealing with multiple languages, which might also promote the segregation of language groups. Even so, with the intense English focus often found in multicultural schools, it is important to provide an environment and opportunities where students feel comfortable to share their languages.
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