language variation in schools


As a sociolinguist, I study how and why Americans talk differently from one another, based on our diverse histories, identities, and cultures. Language variation can have concrete implications when it comes to the classroom, however. In educational settings, the language that students bring with them to school can significantly affect how they perform academically. Some students already speak the standardized variety of English that is viewed as being the most correct. Not surprisingly, these students are often more likely to succeed. But many other students come to school without already knowing standardized English and as a result may face linguistic hurdles.

In our book, Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools, published by Teachers College Press in the Multicultural Education Series, Dr. Anne Charity Hudley of the College of William & Mary and I provide essential linguistic information about the language patterns of culturally and linguistically diverse students. In our ongoing research, funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and from UMBC, we are also collaborating with educators in public and independent schools in Maryland and Virginia to explore best practices for integrating knowledge of language, literacy, and culture into classroom pedagogy. Through these partnerships, we are working to apply linguistic and educational theory to the real world, to help all students achieve academic success.

Christine Mallinson is the co-author of the forthcoming book, “Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools”

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