Researchers and Educators Advocate Wider Understanding of Language Diversity

March, 1998

A group of nationally recognized leaders in education, linguistics, communication, and speech pathology called upon public school officials to take seriously the systematic differences among varieties of spoken and written English common in this country. Language differences play a critical role in instructional effectiveness, student learning, and educational assessment, according to Donna Christian, President of the Center for Applied Linguistics. These conclusions were reached at a Conference on Language Diversity and Academic Achievement in the Education of African American Students in New York City on January 11 and 12, 1998. The conference was sponsored by national professional and research organizations. "The classroom is a communicative environment and most instruction and assessment involves the use of language," says Orlando Taylor, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Howard University. "A disregard for language diversity can inhibit effective instruction and student learning and can result in inappropriate evaluation of student achievement," he continues.

For example, those attending the conference agreed that contrasts between Standard English and some of the varieties of English spoken by African American students frequently lead to ineffective classroom instruction and mistakes in identifying predictable differences between language varieties as deficiencies in reading, writing, and speaking. This lack of understanding pairs with negative attitudes to foster low expectations that often impede academic achievement for the students involved. Researchers urged teacher education programs to give the nation's teachers accurate and practical information about language and dialect diversity to enhance their ability to teach students that come from a variety of language communities. They also described successful programs for training teachers and their students about how English varies in different geographical regions and social groups.

Attending the conference were teachers, school administrators, educational researchers, linguists, speech pathologists, communication scholars, professors, university deans, and representatives of the sponsoring organizations.

The conference was sponsored by the American Association for Applied Linguistics, the American Dialect Society, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the Center for Applied Linguistics, the Council of the Great City Schools, Howard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Linguistic Society of America, the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing, the National Communication Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.