Teacher uses four languages in her class to support learning

Every day, south Auckland teacher Moetagi Fakaalofa speaks four languages in the classroom as she switches between English and Samoan, Niuean and Tokelauan languages to help students learn.

Her class of 24 at Viscount School, Mangere, is multicultural and, for most, English is not their mother tongue.

The students are from seven different cultural backgrounds, and most are members of families that migrated to New Zealand, which means learning in English at school presents challenges. Tokelau Island-born Moetagi is a specialist in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and speaks Tokelauan, Samoan, Niuean and English in classes.

In using translanguaging, which means moving between languages or dialects or registers of the same language, Moetagi brings her own cultural background into her teaching, as well as her linguistic skills. She uses multiple languages as she interacts with the children, particularly when they are grouped by ethnicity. The children have opportunities to work bilingually and switch their listening and speaking languages.

Moetagi says translanguaging is time-intensive, but necessary.

"When students have the freedom to express themselves in their own language, their learning is better as they are using the language they use at home.

"If they have difficulty with something in English, they can achieve and excel using their mother tongue, and that is why translanguaging is important. The result is their ideas are expressed in more depth, both orally and in their writing."

Language issues, not behavioural issues

She believes that what are often seen as behavioural issues with students in multicultural learning environments in schools are actually issues being caused by language difficulties, where the student cannot understand something as their first language is not English, and they are from a different cultural background.

"Teachers need to be able to understand the cultural background of all their students, and that is an important factor in effective classroom management."

She says showing support for other languages also helps relationships between the school and Pacific parents.

"The parents feel more comfortable when they can speak to me about their child in their own language."

Moetagi came to New Zealand from Tokelau to train as a teacher. She’s a strong supporter of maintaining her own language, and encourages parents of Tokelauan children to use dual language books, which are written in English and five Pacific languages, as well as to use their language at home.

"If we native speakers don’t keep our language alive by speaking it as much as possible, it will die."

Tongan is next

She is not stopping at four languages – her new goal is to start learning Tongan, as a growing number of her students are Tongan-born.

She is also studying for a TESSOL (Teaching English in Schools for Students of Other Languages) qualification at the University of Auckland.

Moetagi believes all teachers in New Zealand should speak at least two languages.

“We are a multicultural society and our schools should reflect that. Being able to speak another language brings a richness of cultural understanding that helps teachers become better at helping students achieve.”

During the school’s language weeks celebrations, there was huge support from the community. The school hall was packed with parents and family members who came to support their children and some parents volunteered to teach children their cultural dances and costume-making.

 

 

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