What Every International School Leader and Curriculum Co-ordinator Needs to Know About Bilingualism

Speaker: Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic (read bio)
Institution: UCL Institute of Education, United Kingdom

Clinical research studies carried out over the last few decades involving bilingual and monolingual people provide a significant body of evidence which covers differences in many variables: visual presentation and processing, audio processing, cortical activity of each hemisphere, levels of the right hemisphere engagement, levels of lateralisation, heterogeneity in the hemispheric organisation, better ability to focus, prioritise, and manipulate symbols and ideas. Jim Cummins in his book Language, Power and Pedagogy lists 160 education studies from different countries and contexts: all provide evidence that bilingual children perform better across the curriculum than their monolingual peers.

Dr Mehmedbegovic will argue that the main barriers to utilising and further developing cognitive benefits of bilingualism in education are language hierarchies, which dominate discourse on languages in education. Language hierarchies in this case are manifested in stakeholders' perceptions (those of learners, teachers, parents, policy makers) that a select number of languages such as English, French, Spanish and lately Mandarin (in the context of Europe), are high value languages, while most others are low value languages. It is essential for school leaders to be aware of key processes shaping language hierarchies, and their impact on school life and curriculum.

This session will also introduce a new concept: Healthy Linguistic Diet (developed by Dr Mehmedbegovic) and make a proposal for a new approach to policy and practice in education which would eradicate language hierarchies. The speaker will present the latest research evidence which supports the argument that all stakeholders in education and wider society would benefit from a shift in attitudes and approaches to bilingualism and language learning. The benefits at the individual and societal level are so significant that acting on this evidence is not only an educational, but also a health and moral, imperative. The presentation will conclude with a set of recommendations for the development and implementation of this new approach.

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