Concurrent literacy in Portuguese and English provides for even broader learning
National Literacy Day is an invitation to reflect on the benefits of an expanded linguistic-cultural repertoire
On November 14th national literacy day is celebrated. This day highlights the relevance of reading and writing in the development of individuals: at around 6 years old, literacy is crucial for children’s communication and interaction with society. Reading and writing skills, a complementary social skill set to literacy, gives social meaning to it as it starts before, in early childhood, when through everyday situations children learn to interpret codes.
Being literate means understanding and using a writing system. And that takes time. Time that begins when we are born and never ends, because we are always learning new ways to communicate in a continuous process of learning.
With the speed with which technological advances happen, combined with increasing connectivity between people from different parts of the world, the date is also an invitation to reflect on communication and the need that individuals have to adapt to these transformations and to move through different cultures. In this scenario, concurrent literacy in English and Portuguese gains prominence both in cognitive and in social achievements, as well as in the development of other skills and competencies.
According to the Bilingual Brains study, published by the University of Sandford’s scientific journal The Cutting Edge focused on education research, bilingualism strengthens the brain’s pathways and improves neural efficiency. In an experiment, bilingual children demonstrated greater self-control skills, avoiding distractions and organizing information more quickly than monolingual children.
For Denise Lam, pedagogical director of the Red House International School, international bilingual schools that adopt the process of biliteracy, learning English at the same level as the mother tongue favors students’ access to the diverse knowledge in the world. “It is through the linguistic repertoire that children build their knowledge. Therefore, with bilingualism they will have a larger repertoire, which will expand their range of information, putting them in touch with an even richer and more diverse world. This benefit will accompany them through life.”
For Denise Lam, Head of Learning Leadership of the Red House International School – bilingual international schools that adopt the process of biliteracy – when the literacy process takes place in both languages simultaneously, favor students’ access to the various knowledge existing in the world, in addition to expanding their skills and competencies for learning in different aspects. “It is through the linguistic repertoire that children build their knowledge.”
Why start early?
It is scientifically proven that children can more easily learn a second language in early childhood. According to research published in the scientific publication The Journal of Neuroscience, conducted by scientists at King’s College London and Brown University in Rhode Island, between two and four years of age there is a critical window of brain training for language enhancement. This period is when the skills involved in the literacy process develop more rapidly.
Denise says that even with these scientific proofs, there is still the myth about the possibility that students confuse the two languages. “It should be taken into account that the different stages of linguistic development, popularly known as “errors” (e.g. agreement, conjugation and pronunciation), made in the native language during linguistic development will also happen in the second language, which is natural. And not only that! There are developmental processes arising from the first language, the second language, and also from the interaction between the two. All this is part of the bilingual repertoire, and is different from the monolingual process. Therefore, a “bilingual bar” is needed for this evaluation. When comparing bilingual and monolingual, the processes, although very similar, are confused as right and wrong, due to the construction of the different linguistic repertoires. Over time, learners solve these problems, just as they do in their socializing language, also called a native language,” explains the director. Denise is also attentive to the fact that even with the resolution of developmental problems, bilingualism still presents a linguistic repertoire composed of two systems, and this, in itself, already characterizes a difference in relation to monolingualism. In other words, bilingualism is not the sum of two monolinguals, but rather a bilingual one.
To the extent that children are exposed to linguistic contexts, they build their own references and patterns of each language, in the case of Red House, English is the primary language of instruction, because the exposure time is longer, i.e, the number of hours in the daily school routine. Portuguese language skills are developed in Portuguese Language, Brazilian Culture and Social Studies classes. It is quite interesting to observe how children perceive who they interact with and choose the appropriate language to establish a dialogue, alternating the use of the two languages according to context.