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Plurilingual education: an exciting new perspective   

January 05, 2023

"In teacher education, we need systematically to raise critical, plurilingual and pluricultural awareness." - Angel M. Y. Lin, SFU Education Professor and Tier 1 Canadian Research Chair in Plurilingual and Intercultural Education

Faculty of Education Professor Angel M. Y. Lin is on a mission to change perspectives in language teaching and learning. A Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Plurilingual and Intercultural Education, she was recently recognized in the Scopus author profiles as one of the world’s top 2% scholars in her field. Professor Lin sees herself as a catalyst and facilitator to help change the “deficit” perception of plurilingual, frequently minoritized, learners.   

Her work is particularly relevant in the current Canadian context. A new federal immigration plan for 2023-2025 sets an annual target of up to half a million new permanent residents. Many will be school-aged children whose first language will be other than English or French and whose skillsets might be different from their Canadian born peers.  

“In a classroom, such learners are often disparagingly viewed as having ‘deficits’ that need to be ‘fixed’,” explains Professor Lin. This can be demoralising, both for teachers and learners. “Even those who mean well often don’t see the multifaceted resources that these learners bring. While they might not have the exact skillset you want to see, they have other valuable skills that usually are neglected. My goal is to make the ‘invisible’ visible.”

All resources – including gestures, facial expressions, intonation and rhythm – are leveraged in communication, and we have to attend to emotions and whole-body engagement, Professor Lin explains. Because this approach is often missing in the classroom, assessments are narrowly defined and are largely oriented towards the limited display of cognitive skillsets, while other relevant skills go unrecognized and unrewarded.

Teachers need new kinds of knowledge and support, says Professor Lin: “In teacher education, we need systematically to raise critical, plurilingual and pluricultural awareness. We must also attend to teachers’ emotional, physical and cognitive well-being in plurilingual and pluricultural contexts.”

Professor Lin also wants teacher educators to tap more into teachers’ experiences: “Teachers have rich experiences, and I see my role as bringing these to the academia so as to mutually fertilize practice and research”. She also stresses the importance of making knowledge shareable and scalable, so teachers can identify relevant solutions and adapt them to their own contexts.   

Currently, she is undertaking research aimed at integrating critical/media literacies in plurilingual and pluricultural teacher education. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partnership Development Grant, the three-year project is carried out in partnership with the Surrey School District, York University and Bishops University.   

One focus of this research is how students experience and interpret social media and ways to enhance their critical awareness. “Social media [tend to] perpetuate stereotypical representations of different cultures,” Professor Lin notes.  

Teacher participants appreciate this opportunity to share insights and resources, and to collaborate on embedding critical education into pedagogical practice. “As a secondary teacher, I am able to see many relevant issues affecting youth, and engage [my students] in discussing equity issues, particularly in the areas of media literacy,” says one research participant.

Complexities of intercultural communication are also the focus of doctoral research that Professor Lin supervises, and one of her recent graduates has been looking into the life experiences of immigrants to Canada.

“I have been looking for ways that we can experience others’ experiences and where each of us is coming from,” says Dr. Qinghua Chen. He argues that this is particularly relevant in the current Canadian context.  

“Since Canada has made plans to take in more immigrants in the near future, it would be important not simply to label them by their cultural background,” he says. “It would be important to set up safe spaces where people, both local and newly arrived, can share their life stories and experience the life of others.”  

A course on living in intercultural society/communities can even be built into the citizenship education package for new immigrants, as well as in the K-12 and tertiary contexts for locals, Dr. Chen adds.  

Canada strives to be a vibrant, successful, pluricultural society. To this end, outdated ‘melting pot’ ideas about immigration policy and how to ‘integrate’ new citizens are being overtaken by the kind of path-breaking ideas and practices that Professor Lin and Dr. Chen are advancing in their research and education, contributing to the mosaic of a plurilingual and pluricultural Canada.