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Multilingual school speaks to CIMO Forum

– The school system has to take responsibility for each and every student. Issues of linguistic and cultural diversity in the classroom are connected to larger issues of race, poverty and prejudice, said Nancy L. Commins, an American specialist in multicultural education, in her guest lecture at CIMO.

Nancy L. Commins is Professor at the University of Colorado, Denver. With 30 years of experience of a multilingual and multicultural school, she has written widely on the subject. Dr Commins is Fulbright Scholar at the University of Turku in 2011–2012.

Commins completed her doctorate on bilingual students in the early 1980s. She collated her data by observing four children in a classroom for six months. These were native speakers of Spanish who attended school in English, their second language. Commins came to realise that it was vitally important to teach that the children’s primary language was also a language of knowledge, although they were being taught entirely through English.

– Learning through a second language is much more than just “learning a second language”. It is more demanding both on the student and on the teacher. Language is a tool of conceptual thinking. The aim is also to support the development of a child’s primary language, to ensure academic competencies in both languages.

The audience raised the question of how meaningful it is to aim at a total bilingualism of immigrant children in Finland, considering that they also have to learn English and Swedish. – I don’t imagine this model would work in Finland as such, but it could be modified. We need to emphasise to students and parents alike that they should use their primary language, that it matters, and to guide them to sources of knowledge in this language, too, even if the textbooks are in Finnish.

(2 March 2012 / VZ & TL, photo: Jaanaliisa Kuoppa)

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