Home Languages Week, ISUtrecht 2021
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Home Languages Week, ISUtrecht 2021

Every Year on February 21st, UNESCO celebrates International Mother Language Day. UNESCO believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity and works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages to foster tolerance and respect.

By Amy McGregor and Helen Absalom, English Language Acquisition specialists

This mandate for peace correlates with our school’s mission and the IB philosophy of International Mindedness. This year’s UNESCO theme is ‘Fostering Multilingualism in education and society’ with special attention on multilingual education from early childhood so that for children, their mother tongue is always an asset.

All languages spoken by any family member

At ISUtrecht, we like to say, ‘Home Languages Week’ as we feel this clarifies that the event refers to all languages spoken by any family member, plus it allows us to extend the celebration beyond just one day. Our message, however, is the same as UNESCO’s

Family Favourites

Sofa Stories

This year, considering the theme, we invited the ISUtrecht families and children to inquire into their home language usage within the transdisciplinary theme, ‘How We Express Ourselves’. We entitled the inquiry, ‘Family Favourites’ (which comprised Sofa Stories, Words from the World, Culture Cooking, Multilingual Music, and Rituals and Traditions).

Multilingual Music

The response to ‘Family Favourites’ was impressive, so thank you to everyone who shared their home and their home languages with us. Our talented Ms. Ingrid compiled the footage into five mini films carrying the five different themes.

Words from the World

Sofa Stories, Words from the World, Culture Cooking, Multilingual Music, and Family Traditions.

Identity and Self

Family Traditions

In addition to our families’ language usage, we also wanted to investigate what Home Language learning looks like across all the school disciplines, and what the implications for teaching and learning would be. Research shows that learning in and about one’s home language brings cognitive as well as social advantages. It also facilitates deeper inquiry into identity and the self, which is part of our transdisciplinary theme, ‘Who We Are’. Using our complete linguistic repertoire empowers us to make meaningful connections across disciplines and amongst individuals and within society. We invite you to read and enjoy the examples of our talented students and teachers below.

Culture Cooking

Home Languages Week in primary

In drama, Ms. Sherna and the four grade 2 classes produced a home-language assembly film. The piece showcases the six weeks of drama unit work on tableaux, voice, rhythm, choral speaking, and multilingualism. The students also made a multilingual welcome display in the aula. The assembly is called, ‘All are Welcome Here’. This is the most fundamental message from our community to our community for Home Languages Week. The grade 2 assembly will shown in school on 12 March.

In Art, we have a wonderful ISUtrecht-themed multilingual display. You may know that ISUtrecht has a mission statement of four main pillars, but have you seen the creature that dwells amid those pillars? That’s ‘Dragon’ and Dragon is our school mascot who, this year, has been lovingly curated by Mr. Sacha into what we call an Identity Text, comprising contributions from all the children in school. Each child made a dragon scale where they wrote in their home language the learner profile attribute with which they associated themselves most closely. All the scales are now being attached to our mascot. On completion, Dragon will be displayed in the Aula.

In the music lessons, children in the Early Years had been inquiring into Camille Saint-Saëns’ Le Carnaval des Animaux. Students extended their vocabulary for animals through investigation into how we say the names for animals in the languages of the class. We heard similarities between language families.

In PHE, children and teachers used a variety of languages to count out the members of the team. ‘Ok, let’s get into groups, ek, doh, teen, char, panch, che’. Hearing other languages in context and alongside our own helps us to make translinguistic connections and facilitates our learning of other languages.

During Computational Thinking, children inquired into the language of commanding through their Home Languages. Their research question being, ‘When I code a command in my home language, what will happen?’ We discovered that a command can be given in any language if our commanding is consistent!

The Dutch department interviewed children on video about their classes, physical descriptions and the languages they use in different situations for different purposes. this across the classes and interviewed the children of school about the languages that they use in school at home.

In Kindergarten, children used their knowledge of their previous unit of inquiry, ‘Light and Colour’ to introduce themselves using their individual voices and choral voices and the language of the colour of their class. The name of a class may seem like a simple colour word, but it is much more. Children identify strongly with their class colour word as it places them geographically, and emotionally within a mini community within a community. The class dynamics, the names of friends, the snack times. They are all contained in their colour word.

In grades 1-4 children enjoyed a variety of home language engagements: they brought in their favourite reading books in their Home Languages to share with their friends. We listened to children pair-reading with a friend from the same language group, or with children from a language of the same family. This was followed by children explaining their stories through interpretation. Again, on the theme of reading, some children made a paper bookcase display on their wall of their favourite book titles from their home libraries of books in their home languages. In addition, Home Languages Week library weekly visits comprised secondary school students reading to their younger peers.  

Other students examined different alphabet and number systems and made cross-linguistic connections through that investigation. Many students discussed the snow that we were enjoying at the time and connected that to their Home Languages by drawing a wintery local scene and placing themselves in the picture talking about winter in their home language.

The Grade 5 students did some authentic research about their migration unit, when they interviewed their parents in their home language. They asked their parents about experiences with moving to different countries or cities and then retold these stories to the class in English.

Home Languages Week in secondary

Despite being confined to a laptop screen, the secondary students and teachers embraced home language learning in many lessons throughout the week, which resulted in an array of cultural and linguistic connections, as well as some much-needed laughter.

The Grade 6 students worked particularly hard on developing their thinking through home languages. In drama, the tricky concept of iambic pentameter and meter was made much clearer and more engaging when Mr. E. asked the grade 6s to identify syllables in their own languages. After this activity, the students had a greater understanding of meter and subsequently performed their Shakespeare prologues beautifully! During an English class focusing on media and the role of perspective in the news, some grade 6 students compared news articles in English and their home languages. It was fascinating to discover how the same news issue may be reported differently based on the language in which it’s written. This helped the students develop their critical thinking skills. At the end of the week, Mr. Wouter asked the students to share some personal wishes for when healthier times are upon us, and the responses were touching.

Grade 7 also extended their creativity to writing poetry in their home languages. After studying and analysing some famous poems, the students were encouraged to write their own poems in English first and then in their home language or a language that they’re learning. This exercise was particularly useful in analysing word choice and meaning. It also illustrates how translation in poetry can be challenging, as some words and phrases are very specific to a certain language and thus not easily translatable.

Nelson Mandela said, ‘If you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head; if you speak to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.’ Apart from language, it is well known that one of the fastest routes to a person’s heart is through the stomach. The Grade 8 mentors thought, ‘Why not both?’ and so they asked their students to write traditional recipes from their home countries in their own languages.

Keep it up!

We hope these examples inspire you and illustrate just how valuable home language learning can be in building relationships between concepts, developing critical and analytical skills and fostering cultural appreciation and pride.

Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened and when a language is diminished or lost, so too is the cultural and intellectual heritage. Let’s continue to celebrate and grow our home languages!