Brace for embrace: ISUtrecht and the ‘Language Profile’
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Brace for embrace: ISUtrecht and the ‘Language Profile’

The introduction of the ‘Language Profile’ this academic year marked the embarkation upon an exciting venture in language development at the ISUtrecht. Students inquired into their unique linguistic repertoires and produced a piece of art to show their language connections and journeys.

By Helen Absalom, primary English Language Acquisition teacher and Sara d’Orazio, secondary English teacher and Language Coordinator

In line with the International Baccalaureate standards and practices, ISUtrecht’s mission clearly states that we ‘embrace’ all languages. While this is true, what do we do to find out about those languages and how are we embracing them?

Emotional connection

For many years now, during the registration process, a parent has been asked about the languages that a child uses at home or has used in previous learning. This information is then shared with teachers and provides us with valuable information. However, in order to obtain a deeper understanding of how a child connects to their languages we wanted to ask the children themselves. We hoped to learn how, where, when, why, and with whom they used their different languages and most importantly of all, what emotional connection they had with those languages.

In primary, the English Language Acquisition (ELA) teachers collaborated with class teachers to design a series of learning engagements which resulted in the ‘Language Profile’. 

In the above examples, children first drew themselves and then colour-coded their work according to how they used their languages. This made them think about which languages they heard, spoke, wrote, and read. They also colour-coded their heart in ratio to the depth of their emotional connection to their diverse languages. In follow-up interviews, children elaborated on their work describing with whom they used their languages and why: for example, grandparents who speak a language other than the languages English or Dutch, the languages the children use in primary (in secondary students also learn Spanish).

In the example above, students used the idea of a ‘Selfie’ and mobile phone dialogue to show how they move between two languages and to demonstrate their writing and translation skills.

Secondary students explored their unique language landscape

In secondary we wanted our students to take the concept of the Language Profile further and by giving them complete student agency, we encouraged them to be as creative as possible. We rebranded the experience, ‘Language Portrait Project’ and with the help of the mentors, we asked students to reflect on their language makeup. We also made the project into a competition and had our then head of school Rynette the Villiers judge the portraits just before the winter break.

We wanted students to recognise that whatever their personal journey, they all have a unique language landscape which is an important part of who they are. The results of the Language Portrait Project were as surprising as they were creative. We saw students focus on sharing their emotional connections to their different languages and on their recognition of how language experiences had shaped their identity. They then had to come up with a visual representation of the twists and turns of their language journey.  For the first time we were able to openly see the wonderful, multi-coloured patchwork that is ISUtrecht’s multilingualism. 

The winners!

The winners are: Rachel (7Y) for junior secondary and Akshara (10P) for senior secondary. As runners up she chose Shaheer (7P) and Rugved (6Y). Ms de Villiers wrote a report to explain the reasoning behind her choices:

Rachel – ‘her work stood out because she really showed an understanding of both her personal development as a language learner, but more importantly which part of her being connects with a particular language’.
Akshara – ‘her work stood out for its creativity, but also for her clear drive and curiosity to learn more (about) languages.  A true inspiration – she get’s it!’
Shaheer – ‘a poster that gives real insight at one glance on how he sees his language development’.
Rugved – A lot of thought went into this poster. The fruit and leaves describe the outcome of how knowing a language can broaden our type of contacts as well as open different worlds for us.’

Interest Languages

When we reflect on the Language Profile and Language Portrait Project across the entire school, we can see that all our students clearly recognise their multilingualism. The portraits display: the language of instruction, English, and the host country language, Dutch. They also show home country languages studied in school and Spanish Language Acquisition from school. As for home languages: you van see home languages spoken by both parents, but also two different home languages spoken by parents. If you look closely at these portraits, you can also find heritage languages where the grandparent speaks the language with the child. Displayed are further: languages from previous educational contexts and countries, and interest languages, languages that our students are learning because they chose to.

Revisit Language Profiles

But seeing this linguistic landscape is just the tip of the iceberg and we now look forward to taking the inquiry into our Language Profiles deeper where students revisit their Profiles after a year of study to reflect on language growth. We believe this will empower students to move from a fundamental noting of language skills to using their Language Profiles to inform active language goal setting and development across their entire linguistic repertoires.