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The challenges and opportunities of a multilingual classroom

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Our largest Educating Refugee and Immigrant Students (ERIS) cohort to date just completed its course.

The challenges and opportunities of a multilingual classroom was an often-visited topic. Read about the benefits of being multilingual and how teachers enhance multilingual learning. 

One of the largest takeaways reported from the ERIS winter 2019 participants has been the challenge and opportunity of educating English learners in rural Montana. Without reliable access to translators, multilingual curricula, or resources for teaching English in higher-grade general education classrooms, Montana teachers have to employ creative solutions for meeting the challenges of each multilingual classroom.

  • One teacher has begun setting up Chromebooks for students in a variety of languages.
  • A school support counselor has created training videos on how to use the tele-translator service utilized by the school district, in order to increase teacher comfort and familiarity with the program.  
  • A group of teachers has secured grant funding for a variety of new intercultural and multi-lingual library books, along with funding to translate common classroom documents for English learners and their families.

There is a lot of great research about the benefits of speaking multiple languages! 

In the past, the US school system emphasized only learning English, to the detriment of other “home” languages.  However, it is becoming clear that children who are encouraged to retain writing and speaking in their home languages are better all-around learners. Bilingual and trilingual children exhibit greater cognitive flexibility, problem-solving skills, and even empathy. A child in a multilingual classroom can potentially experience lifetime benefits. New research also suggests that knowing more languages contributes to healthier brains long-term, and may help fend off various forms of dementia! 

Thankfully, the US school system is adopting new methods for “dual language learning,” which enhances both English and home language skills.  

In the USA, transitional bilingual programs (TBE) have been the preferred form of bilingual instruction and are designed to temporarily support English learners’ home language as they transition to English-dominant instruction. In contrast to TBE programs, DLE programs use an additive approach, which elevates and values students’ home languages while providing opportunities for students to become bilingual, bi-literate, and bicultural.

In addition to the educational benefits of a multilingual classroom, there is significant evidence that there are lifetime economic benefits to being multilingual.  

Employers are becoming much more likely to hire multilingual employees and to compensate them at higher rates than monolingual employees. You can learn more about the research into the economic benefits of bilingualism.

We utilize an innovative translation platform on our website through which immigrant and refugee users can access all of our content in both English and their home language simultaneously. We believe that it is important for our users to be able to access important information in whichever language they prefer.

We are proud to support the challenge of learning multiple languages, as we know that it yields a smoother resettlement experience and lifetime benefits. 

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Resources for teachers and supporters

Sign up for our online professional development class or find cultural background information about refugees and asylum seekers – useful for professional educators and anyone who wants to support newcomer families.

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Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.