At English Martyrs, a Birmingham primary school, pupils speak a total of 31 different languages. The dialects spoken range from Afrikaans to Arabic, Somali, Spanish and Tamil. Urdu is one of the most popular dialects in the school, given the fact that most of the pupils have a Pakistani background. The teachers use English as the primary language of instruction and they also need the help of translators in order to effectively communicate with students. Even though the schools faces communication challenges, the school was ranked among the best in Birmingham. Many students who join the school do not have any knowledge of English whatsoever. This led the teachers to come up with a strategy to help the students get integrated into the school system fast and cope with their studies. They introduced a partnering system, where new students are partnered with older students, who speak a similar mother tongue.
Children tend to learn better if they are instructed using their mother tongue. However, there are many challenges that make it not possible to use one’s native language as a primary means of learning. This includes the diverse cultures and backgrounds of most students who live in areas where multiple languages are spoken. The other challenge faced is getting teachers who speak the languages of the children. It is usually much easier to find qualified teachers who speak the official or national language spoken in the country. This has led most schools in different countries to opt for bilingual education. This is where the native language and a second language are taught and also used a medium of instruction in schools.
In African countries, the language used for teaching students is based on the colonial legacy. Most schools in Africa teach students using English, Afrikaans, French, Portuguese and Spanish. The native languages are sometimes used in schools, but this is often at the elementary level. One of the reasons why it is important to choose a single language of instruction rather than different dialects is to promote equality among the students by not promoting one native language at the expense of the other languages.