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Home language, school language: bilingual students caught in the middle

13 December 1993


This qualitative study examines the development of literacy of several bilingual elementary students as it relates to their school experience and the role of their primary language in that learning process. Based on observations made during the months of September and October at Briarwood elementary school, the study finds that schools must begin to recognize the students' primary language as an invaluable key to the success of developing literacy in the second language.
This investigation uses observations and informal interviews to address the
questions of what it is like to be a bilingual student, and more specifically, how does the development or lack of development in the primary language affect the educational experiences of these students. Clearly, a dichotomy exists between the ideal learning situation and the students are too often falling behind in the development of literacy skills in the dominant language, and all too often their first language is seen as a hindrance, rather than an asset to learning English.
The study concludes that a radical change in thinking and practice could
alleviate many of the current problems faced by language minority students.
Students who have teachers who value their language and who foster interaction and communication between students will feel more motivated to learn and their social skills will be enhanced, thus empowering the students in the classroom. These changes would be the beginning of a more equal education for all students.


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