23 January, 2023

Using home languages and cultures to facilitate language learning at Northbridge

Using home languages and cultures to facilitate language learning at Northbridge-Using home languages and cultures to facilitate language learning at Northbridge-Image (4)
Using home languages and cultures to facilitate language learning at Northbridge

Debbie Duman
Curriculum Leader Language 

Northbridge International School Cambodia is an English Medium school; students are accessing the curriculum through English. But, with a student body made up of diverse home languages and as an IB continuum school we value and indeed nurture student’s multilingualism and multiculturalism.

Students, of course, study English as one of their subjects throughout the MYP and the Diploma Program but one of the IB’s and NISC’s strengths is that students, led by the Language Acquisition department, must also study a second language.


We aim to develop bilingual / multilingual youngsters who can flourish in an increasingly globalised and multilingual world. The second language that a student studies may be their first or home language, but students also have the opportunity to begin learning a new language even in the Diploma Program where we currently offer Ab Initio Spanish. And, whilst some students are supported to consolidate their proficiency in English Language in MYP Language Acquisition or Language B courses, currently others can develop communication skills in Mandarin, French or Spanish.


Study of these languages is enhanced by simultaneously learning about the cultures of the countries where those languages are spoken: the cuisine of those countries is one example. In French classes, for example, students made crepes, traditional French pancakes (see photo above) and in Spanish lessons the Grade 11 students learnt how to make Tortilla Española, a delicious omelette filled with potato. Learners of Chinese have also recently studied about the cultural aspects of the Lunar New Year.


This connection of culture to language deepens a student’s understanding of the language and broadens their multicultural knowledge, creating truly global citizens. Notably, we also ensure that students’ prior knowledge and experience of culture and language is valued and indeed utilised. Students are encouraged to use and share what Lev Vygotsky highlighted as their “Funds of Knowledge”; what they already know. This leveraging of students’ prior experience of cultures is empowering for the students, encourages their autonomy and agency, and promotes learning. 


We also look for opportunities for students to learn and develop a new language through their knowledge and use of their first language; what is termed “Translanguaging”.


Translanguaging has become a key pedagogical tool in language and indeed literacy development in schools. Students who can make connections and comparisons between a new language and the language or languages they already know will be able to internalise and acquire a new language more easily; we want students to become “additive multilinguals”, students who are proficient in more than one language not only socially but also academically. And that means maintaining and developing their home languages as well as the language of instruction, English, and other languages they may learn.


In Language Acquisition lessons we encourage students to use their full linguistic repertoires to look at similarities or differences between their home language and other languages, to use their home language for researching topics if necessary and to have home language small-group discussions in class where appropriate.


In English, for example, Grade 8 students became “teachers”, teaching their home language to peers, thus reflecting on the features and vocabulary of their first language whilst gaining valuable insights into the difference between that and English. Again, this validation of and leveraging of a student’s home language is both empowering and a pedagogical tool for enhanced language learning.


By using their cultural “Funds of Knowledge” and full linguistic repertoire, NISC is helping to develop multicultural and multilingual students who are well-prepared for careers in the globalised world of the 21st century.