This paper looks at language diversity in education, focusing on English language teaching in Norway. It addresses the issue of teacher competence in a situation where English is not a second language to the pupils, but a third (or fourth etc.). The paper argues that both teacher trainees and teachers need a higher level of linguistic competence in order to provide the multilingual pupils with the optimal learning environment. The mechanisms suggested for achieving this include revisions in the National Curriculum Regulations for Differentiated Teacher Education Programs (NCRDTEP), and thus in the English subject curricula in the teacher training programs, as well as further education programs for current teachers.
In The White Paper to the Norwegian Parliament nr. 6 (2012–2013), A Comprehensive Integration Policy - Diversity and Community, it is stated that multilingualism is a resource. Over 11% of children in primary and secondary schools have immigrant background. In addition, multilingual children include children with Sámi and Kven as their native languages. In some schools the number of children that do not have Norwegian as their native language is over 90%. For example, in Tøyen school in Oslo only 2 out of 250 pupils fall into that category (Aftenposten, 28th May 2013). The English Subject Curriculum (LK06) recognizes this diversity in its formulations of learning aims, where the pupils are expected to recognize the similarities and differences between English and their native language, without limiting that language to Norwegian. However, the English 1 subject curriculum for Years 1–7, part of the NCRDTEP, focuses on the teacher’s contrastive knowledge of English and Norwegian: “Studenten har kunnskap om lydsystemet i engelsk, ordtilfanget og språkets grammatiske struktur med vekt på forskjeller og likheter mellom engelsk og norsk…». Furthermore, the curriculum focuses on English as a second language: «Studenten har kunnskap om barns språklæring i et andrespråksperspektiv». Looking at the curricula at teacher education institutions, we see that the dominant English language learning textbooks are Dypedahl, Hasselgård & Løken (2012) and Nilsen & Rugesæter (2008), which both have a strong contrastive focus on Norwegian.
General linguistic competence is promoted to a very small extent. In practice, pupil errors stemming from L1 interference from languages other than Norwegian are most commonly not recognized by teachers, who lack the linguistic competence to explore the properties of their pupils’ native languages. This results in a lower quality of teaching and learning, and slower progress for these pupils. Furthermore, there is a very low level of awareness of the importance of learning strategies and tools for multilingual students. For example, the dictionaries that schools provide for the pupils are almost exclusively bilingual English-Norwegian, and cases of pupils using a dictionary in their native language are extremely rare. The paper argues that both top-down and bottom-up changes need to be implemented to improve the learning experience for multilingual children, including reformulating the NCRDTEP and the English subject curriculum for teachers to reflect the multilingual situation in Norway, and improving the linguistic competence of current and future teachers.