Bilingual Literacy

This article in the Santa Rosa Democrat brought to mind the notion of bilingual literacy. What is bilingual literacy?  Bilingual literacy or biliteracy is the notion of going beyond being orally proficient in two language to becoming highly fluent in speaking, reading, and writing and learning about other cultures. It also emphasizes strong skills in both the majority language– English and a foreign language. In the context of the “bilingual path” that the Windsor schools are going to recognize it’s about cultural, spoken, and written knowledge in two (or more) languages.

I’m kinda amazed that they’re taking such a progressive view of bilingualism. Although language curricula usually does include aspects that focus on culture, history, literature and so on. But, often it’s a by-product and not a focus. For example, the California framework for foreign language teaching does include as content learning about history, art, literature, music, and current events. This provides students with both the spoken and written language competence and gives them context that might be applicable to them as well. I know for example that in my son’s Spanish class they are studying the geography, foods, and traditions (among other things) of various Spanish-speaking countries.

The California Foreign Language Project emphasizes learning foreign languages and cultures as an economic necessity. The report also discusses the social and economic costs of monolingualism.

I was curious about whether these kinds of standards existed for children learning English as a second language or ELLs. The answer (at least based on my quick search) is that yes and no. Standards vary according to each state. Some states– e.g., Arizona, seem to focus on reading, writing, speaking, and listening. There is a consortium of states that have standards for learning English language and reading skills specific to the curriculum– so, the English of mathematics, of social science, of science and so on. To me, this kind of approach better ensures that ELLs have the language skills they need to do well academically. I think that these are the kinds of standards we need to push– not just expect that children will learn them by osmosis. This explicit emphasis on academic language is important for children with language impairment as well– but, that’s a topic for another post.

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