Three languages; one classroom?

By January 25, 2013

International (MNN) — What if you showed up to your first day of school and couldn’t understand what you were supposed to learn because your teacher was speaking a foreign language?

Maybe that was your experience. Maybe it wasn’t.

But for thousands of children in marginalized communities, education can be a struggle when they have to learn school material through a new language.

That’s why Greg and Diane Dekker with Wycliffe Bible Translators conduct Multilingual Education (MLE). Diane explains, “Multilingual education begins with the learner’s first language–the language they first learn to speak at home–and helps them learn the curriculum content in school in that language. Then it adds other languages that they need to learn, like perhaps the national language or English in addition.”

And just so children don’t get overwhelmed, Diane says, “[It] plans for introducing the other languages in a progressive manner. They’re learning one thing at a time, step-by-step, rather than immersing children in languages that they do not know.”

Why is it so important? “There is this big gap between English language learners and their achievement in school, and mother-tongue speakers of English and their achievement in school,” Diane says. “Sometimes that is blamed on other issues, but really if we create a scenario where these kids who don’t speak English as a mother tongue can actually learn through their mother tongue, then it helps them learn English better.”

The Dekkers with Wycliffe apply this technique for education across Asia and Africa in marginalized language groups. They conduct as many as 3-4 languages in one classroom. Greg and Diane have specifically worked in the Philippines for 25 years.

Greg says they started in a localized community, but it didn’t stay there “because other educators saw the advantage that students were having by starting their education in their first language. So increasingly, the national government was an observer to this, saw statistically the benefits to learners in their first language, and then requested, ‘Can you help us at the national level develop a program that is expanded for more and more classrooms?’”

Greg became involved in strategic planning for an MLE program for schools in the Philippines. He continues to work on training for linguistics while Diane focuses on literacy issues.

In giving better quality education through MLE, the Dekkers have seen poverty go down for marginalized families. “Education in the first language enables them to change that cycle of poverty so that they’re learning well, they’re learning the other languages that they need to communicate with people around them, [and] they’re gaining the skills to get them into other job opportunities that they normally don’t have,” Diane states.

Their work with Wycliffe on MLE has provided incredible opportunities to share the Gospel. “This opportunity for MLE opens broad doors for us as Christians to interact and to minister to people who normally do not accept Christians to come into their community,” says Diane. “They allow us in because we’re interacting with them on something that’s a very basic need.”

Diane shares how she and Greg first got involved with Wycliffe. “We went away to Urbana [a student missions conference], and we decided, ‘You know what, we need to follow God’s leading. And if that means God’s not leading us together, we need to be willing for that. So let’s not share each other’s ideas lest we play off each other’s ideas.’"

Diane continues, “I remember sitting in a presentation by a Wycliffe speaker, and I was sitting on my hands because on the inside I was jumping up and down saying, ‘This is for me! I could easily do this!’ After the whole presentation was over, Greg said, ‘I really think that is what I could do. That is how I could contribute.’ I nearly broke down because I was so excited because that was what God was saying to me.”

As they continue in their ministry, the Dekkers say they need more workers who love people and have a heart for education. Greg asks for prayer. “Pray that the Lord would raise up people to be involved in this area. Pray that God would raise up others to have a heart and a vision for education and literacy for marginalized people around the world.”

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