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Bilingual Montessori: an oxymoron?

Many of us have experienced the friction and frustration of bringing bilingual education into our Montessori environments. In these moments we may see the term “bilingual Montessori” is an oxymoron. The etymology of the word indicates that it refers to something that is “pointedly foolish”.

A couple of examples:

What happens to the concept of freely chosen work spontaneously repeated in a bilingual environment? A typical child will choose work in their first language, which is not only an emotional comfort zone but the place where they will most readily find the satisfaction of competence. Guides will want to offer these happy experiences with literacy work in their first language and will question if they are supporting their self- construction by encouraging them to work in a second language.

In the second plane, we have to live with the compromise that a child who is still learning a second language cannot access the cosmic curriculum as easily, so she may not have the level of curiosity and spark to pursue new questions of their own.

These conundrums illustrate why for years I felt like trying to marry bilingual education with the Montessori philosophy was like trying to get a square peg into a round hole, or pointedly foolish.

However, we know being bi or multilingual also offers many advantages to children and many societies all over the world are demanding that a second language be part of education. So, we have to find ways to be true to our Montessori principles and make the necessary adaptions to help children engage in a second (or third) language.

This is instructional “scaffolding” or supporting development by offering just the right help at the right time in the right way.

Sound familiar?

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