International Mother Language Day- nurturing each child’s heritage at school

When I joined a prominent IB school as a new teacher, I was busy taking in my surroundings and learning my way around the school. One of my favorite places to visit once the library, both in the primary wing and the secondary. I found myself venturing there many times a week for new volumes for my children, my classroom, and myself.

Students on a scavenger hunt for novels of particular genres in the library
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As time went by, I realized that much emphasis was positioned on languages – native and international. We were regularly taking note of the languages spoken by the students in our class and the languages they spoke at home to add books in those dialects to our library. The library was an ever-growing, almost living entity which never ceased to amaze me. I could peruse the shelves there for ages and still find books worth reading and taking home. I was thrilled to see that various vernaculars were being supported at school, leading to students feeling comfortable with their heritage.

International Mother Language Day rolls around every year and is celebrated with much enthusiasm. We usually invite guests to speak in their native languages to the classrooms, which garners a lot of interest. The teachers also pitch in to share their mother tongue with various classes. This year was no different, with teachers sharing their knowledge of languages like Bengali, Malayalam, Punjabi, Spanish, and French, to name a few. Senior students even pitched in to read storybooks to younger students in languages they were comfortable with. This vertical learning system holds excellent value as the younger students look forward to being read to, and older students research and work hard to provide a superior learning experience for their juniors. It is truly an enriching experience for all involved.

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We truly wanted to focus on language development in our classrooms, so every class came up with a ‘Language Profile’. We asked the students to reflect on questions such as:

“What language do you think in?”

“Which language are you most comfortable speaking?”

“Which language do you most want to learn?”

“Which languages can you write in?”

We were able to learn so much about the students and their heritage through this simple pursuit. We got to know more about the kinds of books the students liked to read; we even realized that they speak a different language in their grandparents’ house and a contrasting language at their parent’s house. They personalized their language profile to display their creativity.

Some of the students knew more than two languages and were eager to share their knowledge with their peers. They volunteered to teach them a word a day from their vocabulary. We put up these language profiles in the children’s cubbyhole so that their friends could have a look at their reflections.

This led to a burgeoning of conversations between students about how they learned so many languages and their language goals. The next time we visited the library, the students had so much to talk about with the librarian and shared their language profiles with them. They were able to find an abundance of books in their mother tongue which interested them in the library, and the librarians got a fair idea of which books needed to be ordered in the future. A small event such as International Mother Language Day eventually cascaded into an enriching experience for DPS International students and staff, and continues to be one of the most awaited days in the school calendar.

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