Before we start to look at the differences between teaching monolingual and multilingual classes, we should first define what these terms actually mean.
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Monolingual classes are a group of students that all have the same countriesâ native language and typically such classes are taught in that country. An example of that could be the teaching of English to Thai students in Thailand. The chances are that everyone in your class will speak Thai, so they all have the same L1. Hence one native language = monolingual.
Multilingual classes will have a range of first languages, so they have different L1âs. An example here may be the teaching of English to a group of students from a range of countries, in an English speaking country. An example could be a class of Europeans from different countries, learning English in the UK. Their native languages could be Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and so on, so there is no common L1 to draw upon.
Also read: Do TESOL teachers need a second language?
In order to distinguish between the two types we can use the fact that whether your class is monolingual or multilingual, they bring a range of possible advantages and disadvantages and we can use these to elicit the differences between them.
a. The first advantage with the monolingual class is that students can actually help each other in their native language. So they can discuss L2 problems together in L1.
b. Secondly for a monolingual class, because they all come from the same country and speak the same language the students are going to have some common difficulties. This is an advantage to the teacher because we can work on those common difficulties with the whole class.
c. Finally, because they are all from the same country the students will be culturally similar, which is also helpful.
a. Students will have less natural exposure to L2 than a multilingual class. An example of a monolingual class is teaching English to Thai students in Thailand. They are going to have less natural exposure to the English language in Thailand than they would in England.
b. Secondly as they all have the same L1 there will be a tendency for students to help each other in their L1 when they have problems. This may be an advantage at the lower levels, say up to pre intermediate (it can often actually be effective to allow them to do so). However, at the higher levels we should be discouraging use of their L1. So we should try and discourage any use of L1 at the higher levels.
a. One advantage that the teaching of a multilingual class will have is that because the students are often learning the language in an English-speaking country, they are going to have more exposure to the English language, on a day to day basis.
b. Another advantage of a multilingual class is that because the students come from a range of different countries throughout the world they will have a large variety of experiences and cultures. Those varying experiences and cultures can be used within our classroom.
c. The final advantage here is that the students have no common language. As they come from different countries throughout the world and they all speak a different first language their only common language in this situation is therefore going to be English.
a. One potential disadvantage is that because they come from different ethnic backgrounds we need to be very careful to be culturally aware of what we are doing and saying within the classroom.
b. Secondly, despite the fact that they may have some common difficulties within the multilingual class, it is also possible that some students may find some concepts very easy because it's closer to their native language than others. Therefore there may be a particular group of students from a particular country that have some difficulties that we may have to explain to them, that the whole class is generally okay with and we should be aware that this can cause boredom to a proportion of our class.