Empowering multilingual children: high demand drives Community Language School's expansion plans
Published: 18 July 2023
When it opened in 2022, the Community Language School (CLS) at York St John University became the only such school in the region to offer free classes in multiple languages. With a motto of ‘fostering a love for languages’ they support children to learn and use their home language to help stop heritage languages from going into disuse amongst younger generations.
In their first year, the team of volunteers ran four free language classes: Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish and Korean and taught 40 children and teenagers from York and the surrounding areas.
Described by parents as ‘a true gem in the heart of York’ the CLS is now expanding its offer due to high demand. They’ve received requests for over 15 different languages, testament to the fact that Yorkshire is a linguistically rich and diverse region.
The team say every family who has joined the school has reinforced their research-informed motivation for forming the school in the first place -the need for this kind of external resource to support migrant, multilingual families with maintaining their ‘home’ languages. The school was co-founded by Dr Indu Vibha Meddegama, whose own research has highlighted the loss of heritage languages and how they’re often not being taught in the home.
They are also now offering language classes to British families whose only language at home is English as they’ve seen increasing desire from parents to see their children become multilingual.
Richard Barker, whose children attend the Korean classes said: “Speaking as a parent from a Korean-English family, the course has proved to be a valuable opportunity for the children to stay in touch with their Korean culture and for my partner to make social links with other Korean parents living in the York area. Thank you to all CLS team members for your passion, time and hard work.”
Alexa James-Ratzlaff, whose children attend the Japanese classes said: “We are incredibly grateful for the Community Language School. The dedicated teachers rekindled our daughters' love for speaking in their heritage language by making learning fun through engaging activities like games, crafts, and poster writing. The school is a true gem in the heart of York!”
Dr Meddegama said: “In our language classes children sing, dance, play games, and do arts and crafts using not only the languages that they are learning, but also English.
"We started the school to create a space where all languages are valued. This is because in some educational settings, the use of only one language, often the language of instruction, has been endorsed-this impacts on linguistic diversity at a societal level. So, we want to address this issue and we're already starting to see positive changes. Soon we plan to have conversations with educators to promote inclusive practices in classrooms."
Dr Maja Skender-Lizatovic Community Language School co-lead said: “We’ve had a really successful first year and it’s a joy to see languages coming alive in the school. For our next phase, we want to widen the range of languages that we offer and respond to the need that we’ve seen is out there.
"If you’d like to volunteer and share your language skills with the region’s children, we’d love to hear from you. And if you know someone aged between 6 and 13 who might benefit, please get in touch!”
If you’d like to find out about enrolling your child in free language classes, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.