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Language Education

Resources for exploring the theory and practice of language education

Language education refers to the development of the four language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing.  Language education, however, can refer to three very different types of learning experiences.   In one type of language education the medium of instruction throughout the entire school experience is the learners’ mother tongue, e.g. the language spoken at home.  In this type of language education it is assumed that the learner has age appropriate oral language fluency in his/her mother tongue.  One of the primary objectives of this type of language education is to improve the language proficiency of the learners, thereby increasing their ability to use and understand that language when it is used as a medium of instruction in content areas, such as mathematics, science, or history.

In many contexts around the world, however, students do not have the opportunity to attend school where their own mother tongue is the language of instruction.  In this type of school the medium of instruction is often a regional, national, or colonial language that many of the learners may have very limited knowledge of or ability to use.  Language education in this context involves teaching fundamental communication skills in a language that is not the first language of the students.  Therefore, the academic language that is needed for education is not developed in the learners’ first language.

A third type of language education is in an environment where Mother Tongue Based-MultiLingual Education (MTB-MLE) is used.  In this type of education, the learner’s mother tongue is typically used as a medium of instruction initially.  Then, at some point in the primary or secondary schooling cycle, a language other than the student's mother tongue is introduced.  The second language is often a national or colonial language that is new to the student. In an MTB-MLE program, there should be a systematic plan where the second language is introduced and reinforced consistently and effectively throughout the schooling years; while at the same time continuing the use of the first language in some capacity.  After several years of primary schooling, the students become proficient enough in the second language so that the second language can become the medium of instruction.

In this Resource Basket we offer some resources to present what research in second language acquisition tells us about how best to structure the educational experiences of young students as they enter the system and how to transition from a mother tongue to another language as the medium of instruction. These two areas are then tied together to provide an overview of the design of an effective MTB-MLE program.

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