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Teaching languages in schools with Guadalupe Valdes

March 3, 2018
illustration of "hello" in many languages
Guadalupe Valdes sat down with Dan Schwartz and Denise Pope to discuss how language is taught in schools. (Photo: beastfromeast / Getty Images)
On the podcast School's In, a discussion around the best ways to teach English – and other languages – in schools.

Guadalupe Valdes, the Bonnie Katz Tenenbaum Professor of Education and co-founder of the Understanding Language initiative, recently sat down with Graduate School of Education Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to discuss teaching English to children in schools, as well as how lessons learned could be applied to teaching foreign languages to native English speakers.

Below are excerpts from their conversation on School’s In. Listen to the full episode at the link below and find more episodes at Stanford Radio. The show airs weekends on SiriusXM Insight channel 121.

Interview Highlights

Bilingual Education

There have been a number of different approaches to educating individuals who arrive in a society without speaking the societal languages, and one of them is mother tongue teaching. In the United States, mother tongue teaching has been given the name bilingual education. Bilingual education means you're educating in two languages. Two media of instruction. And those arrangements could take on any number of forms. You could have mornings only in English, afternoons only in Spanish. This subject in English, this subject in Spanish, or whatever the language is.

But what's underlying this is there needs to be access to English, but there also needs to be access to meaning. It's very hard to learn if you don't have access to meaning.

Picking Up a Language Faster

We know that when the learners outnumber the fluent speakers, that is not a good situation for language acquisition. And most foreign language classes are set up exactly in that way. So, for both the children who are coming in who do not speak English, they're best context for acquiring English is where there's a lot of speakers of English already. And for anyone who's, say, a mainstream mom that wants to give the gift of language to their children, then you want to have a context in which there's a lot of users of that language around because they provide affordances for language acquisition.

Teaching Languages Other than English

We haven't been very successful in the teaching of non-English languages in this country as subjects. We really haven't. We start too late. We don't have things like language camps the way you have football camps and tennis camps that might encourage people to acquire languages. And we now have some ideas that we want to reward those students who actually have had long programs and they can actually show that they can get some sort of a seal of bi-literacy on their diplomas, and that's a move for good.

The Difference Between ESL, ELD and ELL

There are programs such as ESL programs, English as a Second Language programs, and that means there is going to be instruction in those languages. More recently people have started using the term ELD, English Language Development, but essentially, it's the same thing. It's attention being given to the development of language in some way. ELL is the term usually given to the children. So, an English Language Learner, ELL, is what that term is used for the learner, him or herself, and the ELL could be in an ESL program or in an ELD program.