Bilingual Teaching: Dear Natalee from Honduras

4 Mar

Dear Natalee,

Bilingual Teaching is for some a post colonial issue – let us not avoid this part of the issue.


Or do, let us avoid it. Because that really doesn’t bother me anymore.

For most of us in the real and everyday being bilingual is a blessing – we connect with our roots and are mobile – opening up employment opportunities and a chance to join in the global conversation. Like this one. I write this sitting in India about a teacher in the Honduras. Natalee, I do not know you, but here is a teacher waving to another because we share a language. English is not my mothertongue, but it is my first language. And when I teach, I do realise, as you say in your story that children prosper with bilingual teaching.

I hear you too when I realise how you have invested in being a better teacher across decades. Learning how to teach in different ways, helping others become better learners and teachers. This commitment to continuous improvement is special, and if you ever come to India, I would love to tell every teacher you meet about how good was never enough – there is always more to learn as a teacher.

But there is another way your story resonates with India – the complexity.. When you say –

“The English speakers on the Bay islands are descended from Grand Cayman and

Jamaica and we speak English. The others speak Spanish or Garifuna language.

The Garifuna people have lived in Honduras for the past 216 years and have

become very important for the cultural framework. They live in the North

eastern sector of the island and we are trying to revitalize their language. When

people don’t know how to read or write, that’s how a language becomes extinct.”

India too has hundreds of languages, and tens of official languages. Children speak their local language at home and their community. Then, many of them join ‘english medium’ schools because they offer more mobility and access to jobs when you grow up. Many children here suffer because there are few classrooms that are officially bilingual. In reality,  our teachers realise that they must run bilingual classes because that is the best way for children to learn in their early years. But because we don’t have a comprehensive policy on that, most teachers are not trained in bilingual teaching.

The ones who suffer are often the poor, or those in remote areas. Like in your country. I completely understand when you say this:

“Some of the children who are impoverished are black minority people. Their first

language is English and their second language is Spanish. There are attempts to

help them, this is done by developing volunteer programmes where people send

or donate materials, books, pencils, colours, rulers, backpacks, uniforms.”

The attempts to help these children in India too are sincere and well meant. Some programs provide support with teaching, others with equipment. But the big gap in language teaching still remains – which uses tools that have been the same for many decades. Language matters, and we have seen in India how learning outcomes can be improved with local language teaching in early years. In fact the draft policy on this tells schools to teach in the local language. But then, wouldn’t the transition to English later be more diffucult?

I see that your country has the same issues. I am glad to hear you say this:

“Language definitely has an impact on how children learn and how they perceive

themselves as being part of the teaching-learning process. As a young child

growing up in the Bay Islands, there were many times in school when we were

not allowed to speak English. (Bay Islanders are English speakers living in a

Spanish country). To not be taught in your mother tongue, leaves a gap, and

makes you feel that your language is not important. Over the years you tend to

develop certain humps.”

That is true. There are gaps that we feel and this is why I certainly support bilingual teaching in at the primary school level. A bilingual classroom requires different teaching approaches. Yes, I agree – the mindset of the teacher must be more accepting. But the tools are important too. Your guideline on visual clues in teaching is crucial and I agree when you say –

“In classes with children who speak different languages, I tend to use a lot of

visual cues. I divide the class into groups, those who don’t speak the majority

language, those who are beginners, and those who are advanced. “

Do come to India sometime Natalee and see the lovely things we do in our rural schools with seeds and leaves – innovations that connect us to our roots. Come and hear our stories. Come and tell your stories about classrooms that connect with both where we came from and where we are headed.

With warm regards from a fellow traveller on the educator’s train,



One Response to “Bilingual Teaching: Dear Natalee from Honduras”

  1. Natelee Forbes March 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    Hello Meeta,

    So happy to read your blog, I am reading a book by Tooly called “The Beautiful Tree,” the descriptions of India has left me yearning to visit.

    Bountiful Blessings to you and yo

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