Language Variation in the Classroom

“‘It’s a Language Variation, and It Has Its Own Structure’: K-12 Educators in Maryland and Virginia Talk about Language Variation in the Classroom”

by Dr. Christine Mallinson, Laura Strickling, and Dr. Anne H. Charity Hudley

Click on this audio player to listen to “‘It’s a Language Variation, and It Has Its Own Structure’: K-12 Educators in Maryland and Virginia Talk about Language Variation in the Classroom” (46 minutes, 18 seconds; copyright 2011).

Language variations can have concrete implications in the classroom. As a great deal of sociolinguistic research over the past 100 years has found, students who speak non-standardized varieties of a given language may face linguistic hurdles at school. Students don’t leave their language patterns at the door when they come to school, and neither do teachers.

Anne and Christine recently co-authored the book Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools, which delves into issues of language, literacy, identity, culture, and education.  We see the need for scholars to work closely with educators to explore the real-world educational implications of language differences. For that reason, for the past several years we’ve worked with hundreds of educators throughout the U.S.,  particularly in Baltimore, Maryland, and throughout Virginia, to explore how best to integrate knowledge of language variation into classroom teaching.

This podcast collects the voices and insights from 14 of these pre- and in-service teachers from a range of grade levels and content areas.  Participants include a kindergarten teacher, middle school and high school English teachers, a middle school science teachers, an elementary school art teacher, a reading and literacy specialist, an American Sign Language school interpreter, and more.

As you listen, you’ll hear the teachers talk about how learning about language variation positively affected their teaching practices and their relationships with their students, and how they have gained the information and confidence to be able to work more effectively with culturally and linguistically diverse students in their classrooms.  You’ll also hear the creative and insightful strategies and practices that the teachers have used in their classrooms to engage with their students and to support linguistically informed teaching.

Educators with awareness of and knowledge about linguistic and cultural diversity are in a unique position to promote the success of all students, and linguists also have much to learn from educators about how language and culture intersect within local educational settings. Our work therefore emphasizes the importance of building collaborative partnerships between educators and linguists that integrate cultural and linguistic knowledge into classroom contexts and enable linguists and educators to  more effectively address educational issues that face culturally and linguistically diverse student populations.  To learn more about the work that we do and our professional development with educators, visit  In the meantime, we hope you enjoy listening to our podcast!

-Christine, Anne, and Laura

You can also watch this short YouTube video of Christine talking about language variation in schools.

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