During adolescence, the role of language in identity affirmation is of particular significance as a pedagogical principle.

Identity is dynamic and shifts as relationships alter over time. Furthermore, the physical and emotional changes that take place during adolescence have enormous influence on the personal, social and cultural identities of Middle Years Programme (MYP) students.

The role of language in how students perceive themselves in relation to others in various contexts is important in determining whether the social outcome is optimally positive or not. Specifically, this concerns the role of language in such areas as promoting group cohesion and inclusion, in negotiating power and status in relationships in those groups, in contributing to academic success and in developing the ability to reflect critically on all aspects of identity.

Human beings are typically social beings and, as group members, share certain cultural norms, expectations and ways of knowing. Language is key for the interpersonal communicative skills necessary to express group membership. Language development in the middle years is therefore crucial for building a bank of linguistic resources or a multilingual profile that gives as many choices as possible in identifying with, and belonging to, a range of appropriate groups.

In order to create and belong to a group with which they can identify, feel empowered and affirmed, adolescents will often develop particular ways of expressing themselves that differ from established forms of discourse. For instance, bilingual students may code switch or change language even within one sentence. Teachers sometimes automatically interpret code switching as a sign of unwelcome behaviour and respond by attempting to eradicate the practice. However, this may not necessarily be negative, provided the motive is not to use the language to exclude or create a culture empowering bullies. Peer bonding is natural, and one way of expressing solidarity is through language. Understanding when to express this solidarity is what is important. Ideally, in an IB school community there would be an ethos that provided opportunities for discussions and critical reflection about appropriate language use for various contexts.

Of course, for MYP students to be able to make valid linguistic choices that consider purpose and audience within the full range of sociocultural and academic contexts they will encounter, they have to be empowered with proficiencies across various language domains, including those that require academic language proficiency.

In order for students to be sufficiently supported in language learning, schools must ensure that provisions are in place to support mother-tongue development as applicable, to support the learning of the host country or regional language and culture as applicable, to support students who are not proficient in the language of instruction and to encourage learning of languages already present in the student body as applicable.

Moving from the primary to the middle years presents challenging literacy demands for students. It is a school’s responsibility to ensure there is sufficient time and pedagogical expertise for staff to allow for the development of literacy for all students so they are able to manage the academic demands of the MYP. Multilingual learners who are still developing threshold literacy skills in the language of instruction in the middle years are likely to have resources in their mother tongue that should be maintained and developed.

Language is central to learning. The IB’s stance is explained in more detail in Language and learning in IB programmes (2011).