Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 1, No 1 (2011)

Creating Space for Students' Mother Tongues in College Classrooms

Vicki Bismilla


This study is a qualitative action research that explored the possibility of legitimizing the use of students’ mother tongues (L1) in college classrooms as scaffolds to their acquisition of their second language, English (L2).  There were three phases to this study.  The focus of the research was to understand the impact of this multilingual pedagogical approach on the students’ learning experience, academic engagement and identity formation. Phase 1, was a survey of 90 English as a Second Language (ESL) students to determine their levels of understanding of our English-only curriculum delivery and student services. Phase 2, comprised of interviews with three English for Academic Purposes (EAP) students.  Phase 3 was the major phase comprised of five focus group sessions  with 19 EAP students. On the basis of the findings of this study the paper argues that the creation of space for students’ mother tongues in college classrooms is an ethical imperative since their mother tongues are integral components of their identities; and all of their prior learning and life experiences are encoded in their mother tongues. Overall the findings highlighted bilingual students’ perceptions that their L1s constituted an important scaffold for their learning of English. Students’ comments also expressed their sense of the centrality of L1s to aspects of their identity.


mother tongue; scaffolding; code switching; multilingual; identity; academic engagement; learning experience

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