This article is taken from a collection group of published scientific research that answers most parents’ questions about teaching their children a second foreign language besides the mother tongue. The eArabicLearning Academy is focusing on the linguistic aspect of teaching children Arabic as a second foreign language.
If you are a father and you have many questions about teaching your son the Arabic language as a second foreign language and you want to add it to the study materials he studies in school and whether the language will be useful and effective for him or will it be an academic obstacle for him, this article will certainly help you in making the right decision regarding your son’s study of the Arabic language
- Young children learning L2 are one of the fastest growing segments of the global population
(Kan & Kohnert, 2005, p. 380)
In every corner of the world, young children are learning languages at home that diff er from the dominant language used in their broader social world. These children arrive at school with a precious resource: their mother tongue (hereaft er referred to as L1). Typically, when minority and indigenous language children begin preschool or primary school, they must learn the language of the majority group in their region to fi t in socially and succeed academically. Most oft en, these children are educated exclusively in the second language like Arabic (hereaft er referred to as L2). Though exceedingly common, these majority language educational programs do nothing to support minority language children to develop competence in L1. Moreover, the language policies that inform these programs devalue the cultural backgrounds and knowledge associated with minority children’s L1. Persistent early school leaving and low academic achievement among minoritised children stem in part from these language-in-education policies (UNESCO, 2000). However, many initiatives around the world provide formal support for children to continue to develop competence in L1 and self-confi dence as learners, while also learning an additional language like Arabic Language. Th is literature review focuses on these mother tongue-based bilingual and multilingual education programmes.Th is review is intended to assist UNESCO, the lead international educational agency, to develop clear guidelines and principles for language policy in early education, particularly within the context of the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All (2000). Universal access to quality primary education for children and a 50 per cent increase in adult literacy by 2015 were among the goals set in this framework. In addition, UNESCO voiced support for the maintenance of linguistic and cultural diversity and the promotion of children’s right to learn in their mother tongue. Many of the world’s language and cultures are endangered by historical incursions, mostly associated with colonialism, and a host of contemporary political, economic, and social processes. One way to counter this linguistic and cultural loss is to encourage and support parents to teach their infants and young children the local language in the home, and to deliver early childhood education programmes and formal education systems in the children’s mother tongue. Th ough not conclusive, current theory and a growing body of empirical research on language acquisition and bi/multilingual learning provide a rationale for basing early education in children’s mother tongue before introducing a second language like Arabic as a medium of instruction. To date, very little research has focused on mother tongue-based care and development programs for preschool-aged children. Th e vast majority of formal school systems around the world either require children to acquire a national or international language same like Arabic at school entry or soon aft er. Typically, programs off er two or three years of primary education in L1 before requiring learners to ‘transition’ to a national and/or international language in primary year two or three. Current research suggests that this trend threatens the preservation of the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity.Decisions about which languages will serve as the medium of instruction and the treatment of children’s home languages in the education system exemplify the exercise of power, the manufacture of marginalization and mineralization, and the unfulfi lled promise of children’s rights. Stroud (2002) maintains that “linguistic marginalization of minority language groups and their political and socio-economic marginalization go hand in hand” and that “one is the consequence of the other” (p. 48-49). Political, social, and technical considerations oft en collide in policy makers’ decisions on language medium, schooling, and curriculum. Considerations include, but go beyond, questions of resources, teacher training, and subjects to be studied. Other crucial factors range from the political will of local, regional, and national governments, the relationships between countries and their former colonizers, the understanding and patience of international donors, and parents’ hopes and anxieties about which languages their children will need to secure employment and participate with dignity in their social, legal, and economic worlds. While the broader political ramifi cations of language-in-education policies and practices are beyond the scope of this report, Rampton (1995), Blommaert (1999), and Golding and Harris (1997) provide excellent analyses of these issues.Th is report provides a rationale to promote mother tongue-based bi/multilingual early education grounded in international normative frameworks, theory about dual language acquisition, and emerging evidence about the impact of mother tongue based bi/multilingual education initiatives. Th e report identifi es the ecological conditions needed to implement successful programmes, drawing on lessons from documented programme innovations. Finally, the report outlines the implications of these fi ndings for policy makers who are committed to language preservation and to ensuring that linguistically minoritised children have a chance to succeed in school and in life.
- LANGUAGE TEACHING
The language of instruction in school is the medium of communication for the transmission of knowledge. Th is is diff erent from language teaching itself where the grammar, vocabulary, and the written and the oral forms of a language constitute a specifi c curriculum for the acquisition of a second language other than L1. Learning another language, Arabic Language for example opens up access to other value systems and ways of interpreting the world, encouraging inter-cultural understanding and helping reduce xenophobia. Th is applies equally to minority and majority language speakers. Th e way languages are taught is constantly changing, and may vary considerably from one country to another or even within the same country. Much depends on the prevailing concept of language and language teaching paradigms like Arabic , as well as on the role that is assigned to the language that is taught.
- BILINGUAL AND MULTILINGUAL EDUCATION
Bilingual and multilingual education refers to the use of two or more languages as mediums of instruction. In much of the specialized literature, the two types are subsumed under the term bilingual education. However, UNESCO adopted the term ‘multilingual education’ in 1999 in the General Conference Resolution 12 to refer to the use of at least three languages, L1, a regional or national language and an international language like Arabic Language in education. Th e resolution supported the view that the requirements of global and national participation and the specifi c needs of particular, culturally and linguistically distinct communities can only be addressed by multilingual education. In regions where the language of the learner is not the official or national language of the country, bilingual and multilingual education can make mother tongue instruction possible while providing at the same time the acquisition of languages used in larger areas of the country and the world. Th is additive approach to bilingualism is diff erent from the so called subtractive bilingualism which aims to move children on to a second language like Arabic as a language of instruction.Th e current review examines research evidence that can inform policies on how best to support children’s maintenance and developing competence in L1, through parent education, preschool, and primary school programmes, while they are also acquiring one or more additional languages; that is, mother tongue-based bi/multilingual education or developmental bilingual education.
- Language acquisition in childhood
Until recently, two explanatory approaches – behaviourist and nativist – dominated understandings about language acquisition. Following Skinner (1957), the behaviourists argued that infants continue to produce and to learn the properties of the Arabic language (e.g., sounds, vocabulary, pragmatics, etc.) that are positively reinforced by the child’s caregivers and other members of the child’s social community. Critics of this account point to the speed of language acquisition in the early years and the stability of acquired meaning, neither of which can be explained by the behaviourist position. In stark contrast, nativists, following Chomsky (1965, 1975) argued that children have an innate grasp of how language works. Thus, while language input activates their inborn capacity for learning language, their learning is internally guided. Critics of this position point to empirical studies showing that the quality and quantity of a child’s exposure to language aff ects their learning (Hart & Risley, 1995). More recently, developmental psychologists have applied contemporary theories of learning to explain language acquisition. Th ey argue that language is a uniquely human, biologically based capacity, and that the inherent potential to learn language depends on the language environment – eff ectively, a biocultural perspective.
- Theories of teaching Arabic as a second language acquisition
To date, studies of language acquisition have been based primarily on studies of monolingual acquisition, resulting in more theory than empirical evidence. However, scholars agree broadly that children, including most children with specifi c learning impairments or low general intelligence, have the capacity to learn more than one language (Genesee, 2002). Th eories of second language acquisition are central to the current focus on mother tongue-based bi/ multilingual learning. Th e behaviourist approach, referred to as the ‘contrastive hypothesis’ (Fries, 1945; Lado, 1957), assumes that the same processes of positive reinforcement that infl uence first language acquisition support the learning of Arabic as a second or additional languages. However, behaviourists suggest that when the fi rst and second languages are structurally similar, L2 is easier to learn because children can transfer their learning from L1 to L2.
The nativist-oriented ‘identity hypothesis’ posits that universal cognitive structures and processes enable both fi rst and subsequent language acquisition; learning neither benefi ts from, nor is hindered by, learning L1.Th e ‘interlanguage hypothesis’ combines the contrastive and identity hypotheses, featuring both neuro-psychological and social-psychological aspects. Th is approach emphasizes the role of a broad array of communicative strategies in second language learning like Arabic language , in addition to purely linguistic strategies. Strategies include avoidance of topics, changes in meaning, code-switching, borrowing, gestures, and facial expression, among others. In accounting for the speed, quality, and trajectory of second language learning (Arabic), the interlanguage hypothesis highlights the role of the speech-language community, including the adequacy of learning opportunities, the quality of language input, and acceptance by the dominant culture. Th e ‘separate development hypothesis’ proposes that aft er a period of mixing languages in the fi rst two years of life, the two (or more) languages develop independently of one another, especially when the child is exposed to the two (or more) languages in distinct ways (e.g., diff erent people use diff erent languages, or diff erent languages are used in diff erent contexts) (De Houwer, 1994).Social-interactionist theory posits that language learning result from the interaction of the learners’ innate ability and their language environment, especially the feedback they receive from fl uent speakers of L2 to monitor and improve their output. Th is theory emphasizes the importance of the Arabic language learners’ language environments and their opportunities to produce language and receive feedback.Critical to the focus of this review, recent investigations have considered the level of competence achieved by learners in their fi rst language in determining the pace, quality, and outcomes of their second language acquisition (Arabic). Two hypotheses are especially relevant to this discussion: the ‘threshold level hypothesis’ and the ‘interdependence hypothesis’.’Skutnabb-Tangas and Toukomaa (1976) proposed the ‘threshold level hypothesis’, which posits that only when children have reached a threshold of competence in their fi rst language can they successfully learn a second language without losing competence in both languages Arabic / English. Further, only when a child has crossed a second threshold of competence in both languages (Arabic / English) will the child’s bilingualism positively aff ect intellectual development, a state which they called ‘additive bilingualism.’ Skutnabb-Tangas and Toukomaa developed the threshold level hypothesis aft er they found that Finnish children who migrated to Sweden and were required to start school in Swedish before they had become suffi ciently competent in Finnish showed weaker school performance and lower competence in both Swedish and Finnish. Th ey characterized this low competence in both the fi rst and second languages as Arabic ‘semilingualism,’ explaining that if the child’s fi rst language is insuffi ciently developed, the foundation for L2 is lacking. In their study, Finnish migrant children who started school in Sweden aft er they were highly competent in their fi rst language and could continue to develop their fi rst language abilities as they learned their second language as Arabic – attained high levels of competence in both languages and success in school.Building on these fi ndings, Cummins (1984) formulated an ‘interdependence hypothesis,’ asserting that second language as Arabic – competence depends upon the level of development of L1. Cummins distinguished between two kinds of language mastery: ‘interpersonal communication’ refers to oral communication skills that are used in everyday situations, while ‘cognitive academic language profi ciency’ (CALP) is achieved when the speaker can use language in decontextualized ways, including writing, permitting the use of the language as a cognitive tool. Cummins argues that if learners have achieved CALP in L1, this competence can be transferred to L2, permitting them to participate successfully in academic learning in L2. If, however, learners have not achieved CALP in L1, both academic learning and second language learning as Arabic – are adversely aff ected. Accordingly, Cummins recommends beginning general academic instruction in the child’s mother tongue until the child has become highly competent (i.e., has achieved CALP) in L1. Recently, the concept and operational defi nition of CALP has been challenged by research-practitioners arguing that what counts as CALP has been arbitrarily defi ned and varies widely, and that it is pedagogically counterproductive to refer
o any classroom language as truly decontextualized (e.g., Aukerman, 2007). Critics have urged teachers to hold children’s understandings of context in a central place in teaching and learning. Indeed, none of the hypotheses reviewed here have been conclusively supported by empirical research. Studies seem to confi rm the threshold level hypothesis and the interdependence hypothesis, but existing research is based on small sample sizes. Studies have also been criticized for methodological shortcomings (see Sohn, 2005), discussed subsequently.
– What does research show about children’s capacity to learn more than one language?
Most children who arrive at school with some competence in more than one language have grown up bilingual or multilingual from their earliest days at home, and have not experienced successive acquisition of Arabic as a second or third languages. Many studies have shown that children can learn three or more languages starting in their early years. Moreover, with suffi cient motivation, exposure, periods of formal study, and opportunities for practice, they can ultimately succeed in attaining profi ciency in several languages. However, despite myths about young children being able to ‘soak up languages like a sponge,’ language profi ciency does not spring forth in full bloom during the early years. Experience and research have shown that language acquisition takes a long time (Collier, 1989; Cummins, 1991). Th e length of time and the eventual outcomes of Arabic as a second and additional language learning depend on a number of factors, some of which are illustrated in Figure 1 and discussed below.
Th ere is a common misconception that young children can acquire a second or additional language faster than older children. As Lightbown (2008) has stressed, becoming completely fl uent in a second language is not, as many have claimed, ‘easy as pie’, but rather, takes several years. Th us, it is a mistake to assume that providing day care or preschool programmes in a Arabic as a second language is suffi cient to prepare children for academic success in that language. Children who have this exposure may be better prepared for school, but will need ongoing support to acquire suffi cient profi ciency in L2 to succeed in academic subjects, and they will need support to continue to develop L1.At the same time, it is also a mistake to think, as many educators, parents, and policy makers do, that when a child is encouraged to learn Arabic as a second or additional languages that their fi rst language acquisition will suff er (e.g., Smith, 1931), unless support to continue developing their L1 skills is withdrawn. Not only can young children begin to acquire more than one language in their early years, but growing evidence shows that early bilingualism can provide children with benefi ts that go beyond knowing more than one language. Research has shown for some time that bilingual children typically develop certain types of cognitive fl exibility and metalinguistic awareness earlier and better than their monolingual peers (e.g., Bialystok, 2001; Cummins, 2000; King & Mackey, 2007).
– Minority and majority Arabic language learners
Young children learn Arabic as a second language in different ways depending upon various factors, including their culture, particularly the status of their culture, language, and community within their larger social setting. Most important to this discussion, it is critical to distinguish among children who are members of a minority ethnolinguistic group (minority language children) versus a majority ethnolinguistic group (majority language children); and among those within each group who are learning bilingually from infancy versus those who have learned a single mother tongue and are learning Arabic as a second or additional language later in childhood. Th e focus of the current discussion is on young minority language children who learn a mother tongue that is different from the dominant or majority language in their broader social world. Attention is also given to indigenous children who, in many cases, are not learning the mother tongue of their ancestors as L1.Indigenous children and other groups who are not learning their ‘heritage mother tongue’ (McCarty, 2008) at home, but rather have learned the language of the dominant culture, are a unique population in discussions of mother tongue education. As defined earlier, these children have a heritage mother tongue that may or may not be spoken by anyone in their family or community, but which their family may wish them to learn through language ‘nests,’ (McIvor, 2006) and preschool or primary school programmes. Th ese special circumstances involve language recovery, which poses a number of special challenges and needs. As discussed later in this report, some of the most promising early childhood and primary school programmes in the world have been designed to promote heritage mother tongue-based bilingual education.
- Parental influences on mother tongue acquisition and maintenance :
Parents and other primary caregivers have the strongest influence on children’s fi rst language acquisition in the early years. Th ese ‘first teachers’ attitudes, goals, and behaviours related to their child’s initial language development influence children’s developing language skills, language socialization, perceptions of the value of L1, and maintenance of L1. Gardner and Lambert (1972) were among the fi rst investigators to characterize parents’ language attitudes as ‘instrumental’ and ‘integrative.’ Instrumental language attitudefocuses on pragmatic, utilitarian goals, such as whether one or another language will contribute to personal success, security, or status. By contrast, an integrative language attitude focuses on social considerations, such as the desire to be accepted into the cultural group that uses a language or to elaborate an identity associated with the language.
Baker (1992) cautioned against the assumption that parents’ stated attitudes about their child’s language acquisition necessarily match their language behaviour with the child: relationships between attitudes and behaviours are always complex. Most minority language parents are eager to see their children succeed in school and the broader society. Most minority parents also want their children to learn L1 and to be proud of their cultural heritage. Though few empirical studies have been reported, it seems that parents with these dual language goals tend to act more on promoting second language learning like Arabic than on their expressed desire for mother tongue learning. Th is behaviour in turn aff ects children’s dual language behaviours: they sense that the home language is less important, resulting in weakening of L1 in favour of L2. Th is subtractive bilingualism can begin at a very early age, just as children are learning their fi rst words. Advocates of mother tongue acquisition in the early years need to consider possible diff erences between parents’ expressed desires and their actual language behaviours with their infants and young children .Kemppainen, Ferrin, Ward, and Hite (2004) identifi ed four types of parental language and culture orientation: mother tongue-centric, bicultural, multicultural, and majority language-centric. Th ey describe a correspondence between these positions and parents’ choice of language school for their children. Of course, in many situations, parents have no choice about the language of instruction. In these situations, De Houwer’s (1999) conceptualization of ‘impact belief ’ is helpful. ‘Impact belief ’ refers to the extent to which parents believe they have direct control over their children’s language use. Parents with strong impact beliefs make active eff orts to provide particular language experiences and environments for their children, and to reward particular language behaviours. Parents with weak impact beliefs take a passive approach to their children’s early language experiences, seeing the wider environment as determining whether children acquire one or another language.Li (1999) described how minority language parents’ attitudes towards the majority language aff ect the speed and quality of children’s acquisition of L2. She identifi es three conditions that may affect young children’s majority language learning when one or both parents speak a minority language:
(a) continued use and development in L1 (extensive family talk covering more than household topics);
(b) supportive parental attitudes towards both languages;
c) active parental commitment and involvement in the child’s linguistic progress (daily conversations, explanations, family talk and joint activities). Lao’s (2004) study of English- Arabic bilingual preschoolers underscores the important contributions of parents’ home language behaviour in supporting preschool children’s fi rst language She emphasizes that mother tongue development cannot be achieved without a strong commitment from parents. To enable parents to facilitate their children’s home language and literacy skills, she urges the provision of meaningful print-rich home environments, guidance from adults with high levels of literacy, partnerships with schools, and support for parents who need to improve their own oral and written skills in L1.Factors internal to the child also aff ect language learning. Children’s responses to opportunities or demands to learn more than one language depend on their temperament and other personality variables (Krashen, 1981; Strong, 1983; Wong-Fillmore, 1983), including motivation, learning styles, intellectual capacity, sensory abilities (e.g., hearing and vision) (Genesee & Hamayan, 1980). Little research has been conducted on the eff ects of these individual diff erences on the outcomes of alternative models for language in education.In sum, this literature has brought forward several considerations when designing policies and programmes to support mother tongue bi/multilingualism in the very early years.
◆ Parents’ perceived value of diff erent language learning outcomes for their young children is a very important consideration for advocates of mother tongue preservation and early education.
◆ Possible diff erences between what parents say they want and their actual language behaviours with their infants and young children are important for advocates of the primacy of mother tongue acquisition in the early years.
◆ Children’s individual diff erences in learning styles, capacities, interests, motivation, and temperament may signifi cantly aff ect the speed and quality of their language acquisition.
- What do scholars conclude about mother tongue-based bi/multilingual early education?
While more evidence from large, carefully designed research is needed, existing studies provide a basis for developmental psychologists and linguists to draw some tentative conclusions of a general nature, as follows:(a) children’s L1 is important for their overall language and cognitive development and their academic achievement; (b) if children are growing up with one language, educational provisions need to support them in becoming highly profi cient in that language before engaging in academic work in L2; and
becoming highly profi cient (e.g., achieving CALP, as reviewed earlier) appears to take six to eight years of schooling (i.e., at least until the end of primary year six).Indeed, some educators argue that only those countries where the language of instruction is the learner’s L1 are likely to achieve the goals of Education for All. Benson (2002), a leading scholar in the fi eld of bi/multilingual education, claims that worldwide, children’s L1has been established as the most effi cient language for early literacy and content area instruction. Late transition to education in L2 is more eff ective than early transition. Furthermore, while the eff ectiveness of ‘early exit’ programmes is not well supported by research, children in these programmes have better outcomes than children in submersion programmes. Th is perspective is echoed by Dutcher (1994), who draws several conclusions about the advantages of mother tongue-based education, drawing on extensive involvement in the fi eld.
◆ Success in school depends upon the child’s mastery of cognitive/academic language, which is very diff erent from the social language used at home.
◆ The development of cognitive/academic language requires time (4 to 7 years of formal instruction).
◆ Individuals develop literacy skills most easily in a familiar language.
◆ Individuals develop cognitive skills and master content material most easily when they are taught in a familiar language.
◆ Cognitive/academic language skills, once developed, and content subject material, once acquired, transfer readily from one language to another.
◆ The best predictor of cognitive/academic language development in L2 is the level of development of cognitive/academic language profi ciency in L1.Th ese research fi ndings are consistent with those reported by Cummins (2000), another leading scholar on this topic, and with anecdotal reports of the benefi ts of early mother tongue-based instruction in Mali, Papua New Guinea, and Peru, reported by UNESCO (2008c).
- Does the language of instruction in early education contribute to children’s psychosocial adjustment?
Th e comparative lack of academic success of minoritised and indigenous children stems in part from having to adjust to schooling in an unfamiliar language, compounded by the need to accept that their language and culture are not valued within formal education contexts. Many linguists, psychologists, and educators argue that respecting learners’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds in educational settings is crucial in fostering their self-confi dence as persons and community members, and in encouraging them to be active and competent learners.Many studies show that mother tongue-based instruction can improve a child’s self-esteem (Appel, 1988; Cummins, 1989, 1990; Hernàndez-Chavez, 1984). As Rubio (2007) points out, children perceive at an early age that languages are valued diff erently. When there is linguistic and cultural discontinuity between home and school, minority language children may perceive that language and culture are not valued—a perception that lowers their self-confi dence and self-esteem and interferes with their learning (Baker & Prys Jones, 1998; Covington, 1989). In contrast, Wright and Taylor (1995) found that Inuit students educated in L1 (Inuktitut) showed increased self-esteem and cultural pride compared to Inuit children educated only in L2 (English or Arabic). Educators in Africa have described many similar benefi ts of mother tongue-based bi/multilingual education, reporting that use of the learners’ fi rst language in school promotes a smooth transition between home and school, fostering an emotional stability that translates to cognitive stability. Such children learn better and faster, and retain knowledge longer (Kioko, Mutiga, Muthwii, Schroeder, Inyega, & Trudell, 2008).
It is oft en said that the mother tongue symbolizes a deep, abiding, even cord-like connection between speakers and their cultural identity (McCarty, 2008). Indigenous scholars in Canada (Kirkness, 2002), the United States (Greymorning, 1997), and New Zealand (Harrison & Papa, 2005) make frequent reference to connections between language, community, place, and time. While most parents want their children to get a good education, parents also hope that their children will maintain their love and respect for their heritage language and culture, and for their home community. As one parent in a mother tongue-based education program in the North Solomons Province of Papua New Guinea said: “it is important to teach our children to read and write, but is more important to teach them to be proud of themselves and of us” (Delpit & Kemelfi eld, (1985).
- What is the relationship between the language of instruction in early education and children’s academic outcomes?
The relationship between the language(s) used for instruction in school and children’s ultimate academic achievement is complex. Education outcomes – such as regular school attendance, school completion, and academic achievement – are determined by multiple factors, shown in Figure 2. Improving school success includes but goes beyond the language of instruction and supports for language acquisition. Other factors, such as poverty, with its attendant risk factors such as poor nutrition, high stress, and high stigma/discrimination, must also be addressed. Children who begin school in an unfamiliar language face the dual challenges of acquiring the new language while learning the curriculum in that new language. For some populations—for example, low status minorities, refugees, and the children of illiterate parents—other risks and stresses further exacerbate these challenges. Several studies note that minority language children oft en live in families of low socio-economic status, who have a higher risk of school failure on that basis alone. Further, Benson (2009) points out that gender considerations cut across these situations of educational risk: in most traditional societies, girls and women tend to be monolingual, since they receive less exposure to the national language through schooling, salaried labour, or migration, than boys and men. Longitudinal research with large samples and diverse, relevant demographic characteristics is needed to yield diff erentiated answers about the eff ects of language policies and programmes under varying circumstances.Th e socio-economic and socio-linguistic status of minority language communities can aff ect the outcomes of bilingual education programmes. Few studies have been able to control for all the relevant variables, while also comparing academic achievement under diff erent language conditions. Th omas and Collier’s (1997, 2002) seminal study is an exception to this trend. Th ese investigators studied the educational trajectories of minority language speakers from school entry through eleventh grade in selected American schools, comparing the results of six diff erent levels of educational support in L1. In the summary presentation of their fi ndings, Th omas and Collier report that, on average, students with no mother tongue educational support fi nished between the 11th and 22nd percentile nationally, depending on the type of early education they received. Children who received one to three years of mother tongue instruction in the earliest grades fi nished, on average, between the 24th and 33rd percentile relative to national norms. Th ose with a full six years of mother tongue educational support fi nished, on average, at the 54th percentile, which is above national norms. Finally, those children placed in mixed classrooms with native speakers of English in which instruction was provided both in the minority language and English (with both groups of children learning both languages) fi nished, on average, at the 70th percentile, well above national norms.
- Is there any risk that children could lose their skills in L1 if they are required to learn a different language as a medium of instruction in preschool, upon entry to formal school, or early in the primary years?
Several studies show that the mother tongue is fragile and easily lost in the early years of school. If support for mother tongue development is phased out too soon (e.g., the child is encouraged to learn one or more other languages as media of instruction), children do not continue to acquire competency in that language. Continued use of L1 into adolescence is an essential determinant of children’s long-term profi ciency.
- Does being educated in a minority language that is the child’s mother tongue impede development of skills in a majority language?
Learning through a mother tongue and developing literacy skills in L1 do not limit a child’s capacity to develop skills in Arabic as a second or majority language. Research demonstrates that maintaining fi rst language abilities and enhancing them through the development of literacy and academic language skills in L1 actually leads to better academic outcomes in L1 (Palmer, Chackelford, Miller & Leclere, 2007), easier literacy learning (International Reading Association, 2001), and better outcomes in Arabic as a second language education (see e.g., Lindholm-Leary & Borsato, 2006). Th eadditive relationship between L1 and the majority language was demonstrated in Cummins’ seminal (1986) study, which supported his interdependence hypothesis: that is, when children are supported in acquiring L1 to the point of developing academic profi ciency in that language, they transfer this profi ciency to the majority language, given adequate motivation to learn, and exposure to, L2. Cummins’ fi ndings are echoed in research by Riches & Genesee (2006), who focused on the interaction between fi rst and Arabic as a second language literacy. Th ey found that strong fi rst language skills, especially fi rst language literacy skills, were associated with long-term success in Arabic as a second language abilities for minority language children.3Evidence from Mali also demonstrates that extensive use of L1 in bilingual programmes in the primary years results in better mastery of L2: between 1994 and 2000, children who began their schooling in L1 scored 32% higher in tests of their profi ciency in the national language (French) at the end of primary school compared to children in French-only programmes (World Bank, 2007). In Zambia, a bilingual education programme called the Primary Reading Programme serves approximately 1.6 million primary school children each year. Between 1999 and 2002, these children’s reading and writing scores in English showed a 360% improvement over the scores of children in English-only programmes, while their reading and writing scores in Zambian languages improved by 485% (Department for International Development, 2005).
- How early, how long, and how intense does instruction in L1 need to be in order to establish a foundation for academic achievement and learning an additional language?
UNESCO (2006, p. 159) suggests that the transition to a language of instruction other than the child’s L1 should not be required of students before age 6 to 8 years. Other reports on mother tongue-based programs have concluded that children who learn in L1 for the fi rst six to eight years of formal schoolinghave better academic performance and self-esteem than those who receive instruction exclusively in the offi cial language or those who transition too early from the home language to the offi cial language.Several scholars, drawing on illustrative case examples, argue strongly that children should not be required to transition to instruction in L2 until they have achieved academic fl uency and are fully literate in L1, typically around primary year six. For example, many studies have found that children in mother tongue-based bilingual education (a.k.a. development) and two-way bilingual programs achieve greater profi ciency in the majority language than children in transitional bilingual programmes or majority-language only (submersion) programs (e.g., Lindholm 2001; Lindholm-Leary & Borsato, in press; Ramirez, Yuen, & Ramey, 1991; Th omas & Collier, 2002). Th is eff ect is especially robust in programmes that continued use of L1 as the primary language of instruction into secondary school. Th ese fi ndings provide evidence that, for minority language children, continued development of L1 in mother tongue-based bilingual programs scaff olds the development of competency, especially literacy, in L2, as Cummins (2000) hypothesized.
- How early is too early to begin formal instruction in a Arabic language other than L1?
Children typically need several years of instruction in a new language to use it in cognitively challenging academic tasks. Research demonstrates that requiring minority language children to transition too soon to education in a new language (e.g., a majority language) can be detrimental to their learning processes and their academic achievement (e.g., Porter, 1990; Rossell & Baker, 1996). In short, research counters recommendations like those made by Geiger-Jaillet (2007) and others that “there should be equality between L1 and L2.” Rather, research and theory support the gradual introduction of L2, fi rst through formal instruction in L2 as a subject of study, and subsequently, through the use of L2 in a gradually increasing number of academic subjects in the curriculum. However, this second step should not be taken too soon. Unfortunately, research support for additive forms of bilingual education has too oft en been misconstrued, unwittingly or deliberately, as support for ‘short cut’ transition programmes that require children to tackle the academic curriculum in the new language before they have developed academic profi ciency in their fi rst language (Benson, 2002, 2009; Th omas & Collier, 2002). In light of current research, it is important to clarify statements such as that by UNESCO that: “In fact, it is now assumed that the best programmes enable learners to continue to develop their ability to communicate and to learn in both languages throughout primary school” (UNESCO/Bangkok, 2007a, p. 4).
– When the medium of instruction is the child’s mother tongue, when should one or more additional languages (e.g., the national language) be introduced?
As noted by Cummins (2000), spending some instructional time in a language other than L1 does not deter children’s academic achievement, but the additional language should be introduced as a subject of study in the curriculum, rather than as the medium of instruction for other curriculum subjects. Research suggests that children benefi t from at least some periods of formal instruction in a language, during which their attention is directed to formal features of the language itself (e.g., phonological awareness, vocabulary, syntax), as opposed to simply being immersed in the language. Lightbown (2008) and others refer to this as the ‘intensity’ of exposure, as distinct from the ‘amount’ of exposure.One of the most striking illustrations of the benefi ts of mother tongue-based primary education comes from education policy and outcomes during apartheid rule in colonial South Africa and Namibia from 1955 to 1976. As Heugh (2009) recounts, during this period, most Anglophone countries in Southern Africa were replacing initial mother tongue-based education with programmes based either in a single African language followed by a transition to English, or in English only. However, in South Africa and Namibia, the political intention of educational policy was to divide African peoples by ensuring that their children did not learn a common language. Thus, the whole primary school curriculum was translated from Afrikaans and English into seven South African and several Namibian languages. In secondary school, children went on to receive intensive instruction in L2.Quite unintentionally, educational policy in South Africa and Namibia during this period produced greater educational success for African children with a variety of fi rst languages than did supposedly more progressive educational polices elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Th is policy eff ectively allowed children to develop both conversational and academic profi ciency in L1 before they were required to learn L2. Under this policy, Heugh reports that by 1976, the secondary school leaving pass rate for African students rose to 83.7%. Moreover, according to Heugh, (2002), the per capita cost for this mother tongue- based education programme was a fraction of that for other African countries at the time. Aft er the political revolt in 1976, the government radically shift ed educational policy, reducing mother tongue-based education from eight to four years of primary school, followed by a transition to English. By 1992, the school leaving pass rate for African children dropped to 44% and English language profi ciency declined as well (Heugh, 2002). Similar benefi ts for mother tongue-based instruction throughout primary school have been reported for Nigeria (Bamgbose, 2000) and Ethiopia (Heugh, Benson, Bogale, & Yohannes, 2007).
These fi ndings are consistent with theory, research, and experience on mother tongue-based bi/multilingual education around the globe (Thomas & Collier, 2002) and with case studies reported by UNESCO (2008b).In summary, where data are available, fi ndings consistently show that children who have the opportunity to receive their formal education in L1 for at least six years have higher levels of achievement than those who must transition too soon to education in a medium they lack the metacognitive skills to understand and use eff ectively in academic work (UNESCO, 2000; Mothibeli, 2005). Yet, internationally, the trend is towards early-exit from mother tongue-based bi/multilingual education and a ‘fast track’ transition to English or another dominant language.
- In mother tongue-based bi/multilingual education, are there advantages to introducing L2 early or later?
While experience shows that young children can learn more than one language in their early years, an early start is no guarantee of eventual language fl uency or permanent recall of the language. Th e vast majority of research on bilingual education has focused on school-aged children. Within the context of school-based education, existing research does not support the common belief that an early start will result in earlier profi ciency in learning a language that is not a naturally occurring part of the child’s social environment. Early formal instruction is not as eff ective as a later period of intensive formal instruction (e.g., 400 hours per school year) when students are in the later primary grades and have already developed profi ciency in L1 (Collins, Halter, Lightbown, & Spada, 1999; Lightbown & Spada, 1991, 1994). For example, research in Spain found that, despite the same amount of instruction, bilingual students who started to learn Arabic as a second language later performed better than bilingual students who started earlier, though younger learners showed more positive attitudes towards learning Arabic or English (Cenoz, 2003; Garcia Mayo & Garcia Lecumberri, 2003). Young students eventually caught up when they were older and could draw upon their literacy skills and metacognitive development as eff ective school learners. From these and similar fi ndings, Lightbown (2008) concludes that when it comes to learning a foreign language, both age and intensity matter. A later age—when children are both fl uent and literate in their home language(s)—combined with more hours of exposure and formal instruction, support foreign language acquisition better than starting “drip-feed” courses earlier.With the increasing importance of English as a global language and a vehicle of prosperity in trade, many parents want their children to learn English from an early age. However, there is little evidence of long-term advantage to an early start in the foreign language classroom setting. Studies of foreign language learning (for example, see Burstall, 1975, for a large-scale study of early foreign language learning in Britain) consistently report this fi nding.
- Is there a linear relationship between amount of instruction in, or exposure to, the majority language and the level of L2 proficiency attained?
While children clearly need some exposure to a language to learn it, research does not support a ‘time-on-task’ hypothesis predicting a correlation between the amount of exposure to, and degree of profi ciency in, L2, except in the very earliest stage of learning. For example, Lindholm-Leary and Borsato (2006) report on a study in the United States showing that by Primary year 4, minority language children in developmental bilingual programs who receive a signify cant portion of instruction in L1 attain equal or higher profi ciency in the majority language as compared to children in 50/50 bilingual programs who receive more of their instruction in the majority language. However, when interpreting these fi ndings, it is important to consider critical factors such as quality of instruction, socioeconomic resources, and the amount of exposure to the majority language in everyday life.
- Can children with atypical developmental conditions and learning challenges acquire multiple languages?
A goal of Education for All is to ensure quality education for all children, including those with atypical conditions or development (UNESCO, 2008c). Genesee (1976, 1987) found a low correlation between measures of intelligence and measures of second language as Arabic speaking and listening comprehension. That is, regardless of intelligence, children appear to be equally capable of learning to understand and speak Arabic as a second language in their primary school years. However, children in immersion programs appear to acquire written skills in L2 to an extent consistent with their measured intellectual abilities (Genesee, Paradis & Crago, 2004).Researchers have found few diff erences between bilingual children with specific c language impairment and their monolingual counterparts. Bilingual children with speech-language impairment do not acquire language more slowly than monolingual children with speech- language impairment. Rather, they will show the same patterns of impairment in both languages (Genesee, Paradis, Crago, 2004). Investigators in the fi eld of speech-language pathology (Kay-Raining Bird, Cleave, Trudeau, Th ordardottir, Sutton, & Th orpe, 2005; Th ordardottir, Ellis Weismer, & Smith, 1997; Th ordardottir, 2002) reported two studies suggesting that children with Down Syndrome and other serious learning challenges can become successfully bilingual.While acknowledging the shortage of empirical evidence, Genesee, Paradis, and Crago (2004) speculate that, “All things considered, children with severe cognitive or sensor perceptual challenges are likely to experience more success with dual language learning if they are preschool age and have more language exposure outside school than similar children whose second language learning as Arabic Language is dependent on school experiences” (p. 53). Genesee (1987) and others argue that these children can become bilingual, given suitable ecological conditions to support their learning: motivation, a communicative context, and long-term educational support. Available research indicates that these same ecological conditions facilitate bi/multilingual learning for all children
* In conclusion
Teaching Arabic to children can be a challenging task, but with the right approach and resources, it can also be incredibly rewarding. One option for parents and educators is to utilize online platforms like eArabicLearning, which offer interactive lessons and engaging activities to help children develop their language skills. By incorporating games, songs, and storytelling, eArabicLearning can make the process of learning Arabic fun and engaging for kids. Additionally, it’s important to establish a consistent practice routine and provide plenty of opportunities for children to practice speaking and listening to Arabic. With patience and dedication, teaching Arabic to children can be a valuable investment in their cultural and linguistic education.