When More Means Less: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Dual Language Learners

Report Author: 
Marissa Fond, Michelle Smirnova, Marisa Gerstein Pineau, and Julie Sweetland
Original Date of Publication: 
December, 2017

In an effort to develop "powerful strategies to change how people think about and understand language development," a group of three foundations (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation) commissioned the FrameWorks Institute to identify the key concepts to be communicated to the public, the nature of the resistance to those concepts, and strategies for overcoming that resistance. Through one-on-one interviews with experts in the field, the researchers identified the "big ideas" that need to be communicated to the general public, including the benefits of learning more than one language in early childhood, the facility with which children can learn two languages without suffering any kind of cognitive overload, and how school systems can effectively support dual language learners. These concepts often run up against deeply embedded cultural assumptions that challenge their validity. One such assumption is the "zero-sum game cultural model," which posits that a person's brain is like a container that has a limited amount of room for knowledge or skills.  Any gain in second language fluency is thought to come at the expense of English fluency.  This cultural model is often extended to the nation as a whole, rendering bilingualism suspect because it endangers the primacy of English as the nation's quasi-official language. Two other powerful cultural assumptions are that the family bears primary responsibility for the development of home language, not the school, and that second language ability is a nice "extra," but not something that should be a central feature of the school curriculum.  The report concludes with a list of six "key reframing tasks," including making it clear that the benefits of bilingualism accrue to society as a whole, not just to bilingual individuals. (Nicholas Montalto, Diversity Dynamics)

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Fond, M., Smirnova, M., Pineau, M. G., & Sweetland, J. (2017). When More Means Less: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Dual Language Learners (Map the Gap) (p. 45). Washington, D.C.: Frame Works Institute. Retrieved from http://frameworksinstitute.org/assets/files/DLL/dll_mtg_report_2017.pdf

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