By Robby Ching

As teachers, we know in theory that we should value the languages that students use at home and in their communities, but what does that look like when we know that our task is to teach them to become proficient users of English? It turns out there are a number of ways to incorporate linguistically sustaining practices into ERWC classes, but teachers may not always realize what these practices are.  

Using Texts that Incorporate Other Languages

Perhaps most obviously, we can select texts for our students to read that reflect their experiences as users of other languages. Even better, some texts also incorporate those languages into the texts. Reyna Grande’s memoir, The Distance between Us, and the poetry of Diana Garcia in “On Leaving” and “On Staying Behind” both exemplify ERWC module texts where the use of Spanish is integral to the craft of the texts. 

However, we should not simply assume students will get the message that Spanish is a valuable resource that skilled writers use; in the spirit of an inquiry-based curriculum, we need to ask students to think about why Grande and Garcia used Spanish when their audience would include many English-only readers. What was their rhetorical purpose? How did they go about doing it so that English speakers were not excluded at the same time Spanish speakers were privileged (for a change!). And then the most important question–what can students learn from these examples about ways and reasons to incorporate their own languages and varieties of English (for example, African-American vernacular or Hawaiian Pidgin) into writing they do for school and beyond. 

Encouraging the Use of Other Languages in Class

Another strategy is to encourage students to use their dominant language as a tool in class. Although the days when students were physically disciplined for using their home languages in school are over, many teachers still believe students should leave their other languages at the door of their English classroom because how can they learn English if they spend time speaking and writing in Korean or Cambodian or Russian or whatever their primary language might be? But we now know that encouraging students to use that language strategically can actually facilitate their acquisition of academic English and not only because it strengthens their own sense of agency. 

Capitalizing on Multilingual Student Expertise

A recent document published by the California Department of Education, Educating Multilingual and English Learners: Research to Practice (Improving Education Publication – Resources (CA Department of Education)) makes this shift clear:

(Pamela Spycher, María González-Howard, and Diane August. “Chapter 6: Content and Language Instruction in Middle and High School: Promoting Educational Equity and Achievement Through Access and Meaningful Engagement,” 354)

Our multilingual students move among varieties of English and from one language to another constantly. Making them aware of this amazing capacity benefits them while using them as experts when questions of language and translanguaging emerge works to the benefit of every student in the class, whatever the varieties of English and other languages they have at the tips of their tongues. 

Robby Ching is a professor emerita at Sacramento State in English and a member of the ERWC team since 2002. She has written many ERWC modules, most recently those with an ELD focus.

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