Evolving LILAC: Updated thoughts on this schema for multilingual learners

Our bilingual/multilingual* students are constantly engaged in learning in-between languages and cultures. This isn’t new. I blogged about it already in my very first post, Learning In-Between Languages And Cultures, but as I continue to think on it and talk to others educators and read and learn, I thought I’d post again to share how my thinking is evolving.

In my work supporting the practice and curriculum design efforts of educators in multicultural, multilingual communities, I found the need for a schema for the teaching and learning that traditional, monolingually-oriented standards don’t represent. So I’ve identified 5 areas that are unique to the education of multilingual learners and named it plainly, Learning In-between Languages And Cultures (LILAC). LILAC makes more explicit what have been long standing implicit expectations–The expectations that multilingual learners engage in:

  • The Expansion of a Multilinguistic Repertoire**
  • The Development of Meta-multilinguistic Awareness
  • The Development of Meta-multicultural Awareness
  • The Development of Sociolinguistic Awareness
  • The Practice of Translanguaging

My hope is that by anchoring the education of multilingual learners with clear and visible expectations that recognize the potential for not only the mastery of more than one language, but also the unique skills and understandings that only happen in the “in-betweens” of languages and cultures, we can be more deliberate about centering multilingual students in our curricular design, more grounded in culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy, more insightful and accurate in our assessments, more successful in protecting space for our students to realize the full beauty and depth of their multilingual identities.***

Here are some of the big questions that led me to develop this schema I call LILAC.

  • What explicit and implicit expectations do we have of students who carry the label “English learner” and other multilingual students that we do not have of monolingual students?
  • How is the view of bilingualism as dynamic, distinct from seeing it as set of  double/parallel monolingualisms?
  • How can we better recognize the unique attributes and potentials of bilingual students and make them more visible, more audible, more manifest in our learning environments?
  • How can cultivating students’ awareness and understanding of the interrelationships between languages and cultures enrich and enhance their learning across disciplines?
  • What are the missed opportunities and blind spots we’ve created by neglecting to overtly address students’ learning in-between languages and cultures?
  • When we embrace the concept of dynamic bilingualism and the need to address learning in-between languages and cultures, what does it imply for our curricula? assessment? pedagogy? policy? practices? programs?

Again, I humbly offer this most current attempt to articulate these expectations to my fellow educators as a tool to bring learning in-between languages and cultures more firmly into the curriculum planning process and more visibly into the foreground of our practice. I believe that by acknowledging, articulating and centering this learning–framing it as a set of expectations–we can design curriculum, assessment and instruction that honors, supports and maximizes the translinguistic and transcultural understandings and skills that are unique to our multilingual learners.

*I use the term “bilingual students” sometimes because it’s recognized and commonly used among practitioners and programs but in some contexts I do prefer the term “multilingual learners” because it is more inclusive of everyone who has multiple language systems and language varieties in their communicative and meaning-making repertoire.

** In my first iteration of LILAC I had called this “Cross-Linguistic Transfer” but later realized that this put focus on the named language systems (an external perspective of language) more than on the users of language themselves. In my updated version, I have renamed the first expectation, “The Expansion of Multilingual Repertoire,” to emphasize the internal perspective of bilingual/multilingual people.

***Shout out to my 10th grade teacher who tried valiantly to coach me away from overuse of the comma and dramatic run-on sentences. Sorry Mr. Ward.

Here is an updated LILAC infographic.


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