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Bilingual education means to have two languages of instruction and learning. In our concrete case, the two languages are Guinean Creole (denoted L1) and Portuguese (L2).

The L1 and L2 have the same importance, thus they deserve the same adequate didactic attention, each in its proper place, with its level of importance, and its appropriate learning difficulty:

"Many studies done on different socio-economic environments demonstrate that bilingual persons possess greater abilities than monolinguals, in respect to learning flexibility, creativity, and multi-directional thinking." - Kessler & Quinn, Positive effects of bilinguism on science problem-solving

1. Each in its proper place

L1 is the mother tongue for some, and for others it's a language they understand or can quickly learn during 1st grade.

It's the language of learning for reading and writing during the first phase of elementary school (1st-2nd grade).

“Once students learn well to read and the strategy to obtain meanings, along with writing, this ability is a support for L2." - E. Thonis

“Students who learn to read and write in L1 make quicker progress reading in L2 than those who don't know how to read and write in L1. This can also be verified when the two languages don't use the same graphic system." - C. Ovando

L2 is, at present, Guinea-Bissau's only (!) official language, the privileged second language, but almost foreign to the majority of our students.

In our schools, it's taught orally in the beginning, from second grade, and for reading and writing from 3rd grade onward.

From 4th-6th grades, the L1-L2 are given the same importance as languages of instruction (until achieving the ideal of 50% class-time per language, for instruction of subjects in the disciplines of Mathematics, Integrated Sciences, and others).

For the specific discipline of language instruction, Guinean Creole begins at this stage to have fewer lessons than Portuguese, because Creole is already structured in the students' minds, while Portuguese is beginning to be learned and requires more class-time.

The study of Creole should continue with the learning of its grammar and literature:

“To guarantee success in the learning of L2, the student should develop an oral and written understanding of the mother tongue, during elementary school at the latest." - Ovando

“If L1 is forgotten during a person's early years, there is a loss of knowledge. He who loses L1 has worse results in academic understanding than one who acquires L2 while maintaining L1." – Ovando

2. With its level of importance

It's clear that L1 is the language the student identifies with and uses to communicate with others - expressing feelings, emotions, sounds, odors, to name things from the external world, and to structure ideas.

L2, on the other hand, is a language that developed with another culture, but which has the possibility to open the students to access to the study of certain disciplines, whose texts are written in Portuguese.

By way of L2, the student is enabled to get to know a broader world, the international world of global culture, and its newspapers, radio, and Internet.

3. Its appropriate learning difficulty

The student has learned L1 in everyday life, and this language's grammar patterns are consolidated and always present, as an image or example, when he wants to learn a second language.

L2 is a language that, most likely, the student will hear for the first time in class, and which he has few opportunities to use outside class. Therefore, its learning is a long and patient process, sometimes tiring, throughout his school years.

Only when the student has contact with a community of Portuguese-speakers does this process start to speed up!

That's why the Portuguese Language Teacher should possess a specific ability for teaching Portuguese as L2 (which is different than teaching Portuguese as L1: in fact, a six-year-old student enters school with a 10,000-word vocabulary and knows many grammar patterns in his L1!), he should create an adaptive classroom environment and interact with students and help them to interact amongst themselves by means of dialogues, displays of images and drawings, and the learning of vocabulary from simple phrases.

The first principle of the linguist Krashen states:

“To better learn a language, the student should be given linguistic knowledge he can understand but which is slightly above his current level of comprehension." - S. D. Krashen


Taking into consideration our brief experience and - above all - the competence of our researchers interested in bilingualism, we can formulate some fundamental rules and laws that can serve as orientation for the didactics of bilingual education.

1. Rule of separation of the linguistic codes

The teacher should be careful to use either L1 or L2 in separate lessons or at distinct times within the same lesson.

At times, especially during the first lessons, the teacher should forewarn the students of the choice for language of instruction.

When the student responds to a question by using both languages, at the same time or in the same phrase or discourse, the teacher intervenes and helps distinguish the two linguistic codes so the student may notice the differences.

This rule does not impede the teacher from, on certain occasions, offering a "concept" or other argument in the L1 and then resuming classroom activities, using L2.

In the classroom, it should be discouraged to use the "translation-method" habit from one language to the other.

“In a classroom where students the lose the habit of translating from one language to the other, it's easier to direct the students to communicate in one language or the other for longer times, which favors better learning of the two languages." - C. J. Faltis

2. Rule of L1's importance

From a didactic point of view, it's a mistake to prohibit parents and students from communicating in L1. In 1981, Professor Jim Cummings presented research indicating L1's importance as an instrument for developing concepts that can be transferred to L2.

“When parents tell their children stories using L1, the children will continue to learn various literary forms and genres." - J. Cummings

“When parents and children speak the language they know best, they're working at the maximum level of their cognitive ability and are augmenting this ability to acquire knowledge." - Ovando

“The conclusions from research on L1 teaching-learning has affirmed that this teaching-learning, with its literary aspect and as a means to developing cognitive ability, plays a very important and critical role in the scholastic success of the learning of L2." - Tinajero & Ada

The richer the experience with L1, the easier the learning of L2 will be. Students who've already learned to read and write in L1 should continue to read and write in L1, because this will facilitate their reading and writing in L2:

“Many studies have demonstrated that students are not capable of learning L2 well if learning development is suspended in L1." – V.P. Collier

The meaning of words is not only learned by way of language, but also by gestures, experiences, drawings, and presentations of objects, as happens with a 3-to-6-year-old child who absorbs vocabulary and their meanings, by way of smells, tastes, colors, sensory contact...

Thus, to say the word "mom", for example (or any other word), with one's mother tongue is not the same thing as to say it in another language. The word "mom", said with the L1, is richer in feeling and emotions.

3. Rule of teaching and learning L2 using all the disciplines

The Portuguese teacher should teach L2 not only during certain classes of the language-learning discipline, but also by way of subjects in the other disciplines (such as Mathematics, Integrated Sciences, and others) utilizing L2.

Clearly, the teacher should be prepared for this: he should be aware that his students' knowledge of L2 is limited.

When the teacher comes across a new vocabulary word or an interesting phrase, he should pause a second and switch to teaching L2, using a method of lacunar phrases, as has already been well-demonstrated in our two Portuguese teaching manuals for the 3rd and 4th grades.

Here's an example:

the monkey eats the banana
the monkey eats ?a
?b eats the grass


Students are invited to fill in the empty squares:

?a = the mango
?b = the cow

The same methodology can be used to teach adjectives, colors, food product names, or to solve a math problem, for example.

Our methodology of language instruction utilizes the language in its full expression (and not just its grammar): it's necessary to use authentic phrases, accepting even incorrect orthography at first, being more concerned with the phrase's meaning and with what the student already knows.

“It's necessary to teach a language by using themes that students find interesting and useful.
Since the 1980s, language instruction has been given in a context that has meaning for students, while in previous years language methodologies prioritized the study of grammar (until 1950) or use of the language, without giving much importance to the quality of themes."
- Ovando

There are social factors (importance given to L1 and L2) and affective factors (the classroom environment) that positively influence the learning of L2.

The teacher shoudl be aware that L2 is learned with greater ease when it's taught in an interesting and concrete context, able to attract the students' attention.

“In order to have a positive classroom environment for learning, the teacher should have a plan, beginning with the awakening of students' past knowledge to guide them in their discovery of new knowledge, by way of "problem resolution", "interactive projects", and - above all - "cooperative learning" methodologies, in order to lower the level of anxiety and build self-esteem in students." - Ovando

4. Rule of respect for the students' culture

A student is not an empty board, but enters school with his knowledge of his own - linguistic and otherwise. Schools have programs, a teacher is not always the same ethnicity as his students, he sometimes comes from the city or has studied in it many years.

Therefore, there's an interaction between the two worlds, the teacher's modern and the village's traditional; this encounter initiates the process of a meeting of cultures and the transformation of different mentalities.

The teacher ought to understand the term culture (which is normally the result of a long process of a community's responses to environmental conditions, designed to resolve specific problems related to survival) and the difference between acculturation (a "normal" process of accepting a few cultural aspects of another culture, without losing one's own identity) and assimilation (an "abnormal" process of accepting aspects of another culture, enough to lose one's own identity).

There are values and behaviors that aren't the same for teacher and student: an example is what happened to an urban teacher who went to work in a village in Alaska. She brought a baby rabbit to the classroom and wanted the students to begin a loving relationship with the animal: she became angry to see the students react in a repulsed manner, because, for them, the rabbit was a source of food and not an animal to be petted like a Teddy bear.

Sometimes it's necessary to change the way we ask questions or give orders, because the students are used to different ways of asking questions or giving orders in their villages and families.

This happened to me in 1979 in Canhabaque, when I had the habit of asking boys to do things and I'd use the expression, "please". Many times, the boys became paralyzed, not knowing what to do.

One time, the chief Victor was present and said to me: "Look, here in Canhabaque, we don't use "please" with the boys, but an order is given in a direct manner as an order should be; that way, they'll quickly realize an order from an older person must be completed."

Note: Like learning one's mother tongue

Sometimes, parents think a language is learned easily with a few years of schooling, or that a second language is learned in relation to a certain number of classes. But, this is not so:

“The important thing in language learning is the number of years of connection to L2 and not the number of hours per day." - Ovando

To indicate that language learning is a complex process and that the instruction should also take into consideration this complexity, I resume what Ovando Carlos refers to in his book, "Bilingual & ESL Classrooms":

- 0-5 years: children learn the oral language (to listen and speak) with a total capacity of 50%. They learn sounds, vocabulary, grammar, semantics or the meaning of words, and pragmatics (how the language is used in certain contexts and with certain intentions);

- 5-12 years: the child continues his oral learning, subconscious of phonology, grammar, vocabulary, semantics, discourse, and pragmatics. Reading and writing of the language develop at school, until adolescence when the language's development reaches a complex level;

- after 12 years: some aspects of L1's learning will continue throughout life, such as the development of vocabulary, writing ability, and the learning of pragmatic elements.


PAEBB's teachers have already received and studied the 33 texts, “For a methodology of teaching Portuguese with its status of official, but second, language", written by Lino Bicari.

What we recommend here, in teaching Portuguese, is to pay attention to and make a list of the most common Portuguese “mistakes" observed in Guinean-Creole speakers (but which can also be observed in other African countries of PALOP):

We call these situations "mistakes", but many times they are the students' attempts to form proper grammar:

“One must keep in mind that those learning L2 utilize their knowledge of L1 to learn L2; the student compares some of L2's grammar rules with the grammar rules of his mother tongue."- Ovando

Some “mistakes":
1. Omission of the article;
2. Difficulty with alterations in number (singular/plural) and gender (masculine/feminine);
3. Lack of agreement between subject and verb;
4. Use of the demonstrative;
5. Use of prepositions;
6. Order of words (subject - verb - complement);
7. Proper order of a complex phrase;
8. Different sounds: there are more vowels in Portuguese, and Creole has some of its own consonants, such as dj, tc, n’;
9. Semantics: the same word with different meanings;
10. …

Clearly, there is not only a list of "mistakes", but also a list of "points of mutual support" between the two languages, especially in vocabulary learning.

The Guinean Creole lexicon derives 80% of its total from Portuguese, and is a great help for the comprehension of many Portuguese words that have the same root.

The teacher should guide students in learning the rules of "word formation" (see pp. 17-18 in our Basic Portuguese Grammar).

Luigi Scantamburlo

Bubaque - July 3, 2007

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