Meaning-Making Practices of Emergent Arabic–English Bilingual Kindergarten Children in Cairo

Roy Capell, Julia (2022). Meaning-Making Practices of Emergent Arabic–English Bilingual Kindergarten Children in Cairo. EdD thesis The Open University.



The number of British Schools in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is growing. The National Curriculum of England is used by an increasing number of such schools. As well as exporting a culturally-specific curriculum, these schools usually adopt an ideology of monolingualism, thus potentially limiting communication for emergent bilinguals and failing to acknowledge the multiple ways of meaning-making.

Current studies of translanguaging are moving the focus to multimodal forms of communication as a resource for thinking and communicating (García and Wei 2014, Wei 2018). Building on the work of Kress (1997, 2010) I explore pre-school emergent bilinguals’ wider signifying practices and create an analytical framework, which I call MMTL (multimodal translanguaging), used as a lens to illustrate meaning-making.

Valley Hill in Cairo, Egypt is a British school which encourages ‘English-only’ as the medium of instruction in the kindergarten. Using a case study methodology, this research explores the meaning-making practices of eight emergent bilingual children aged 3–4 during child-initiated play, later reduced to four in the thesis to provide a detailed multimodal analysis. The principal aim is to explore their speech, gaze, gesture, and their engagement (layout/position) with artefacts during play.

The findings of this study suggest that although there is an ‘English-only’ approach, these young emergent bilingual children are meaning-making in a variety of ways. Children are translanguaging but it is never in isolation from other modes of communication. Emergent bilinguals use a range of modes to mediate their understanding and communication with others. They use gesture, gaze, and artefacts alongside translingual practices to move meaning across to more accessible modes, enabling communication and understanding. The implications for schools should be to embrace such hybrid practices and for teachers to be more responsive to young children’s meaning-making to enable learning.

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