Amber Rudd gives us another ill-informed and imprudent attack on international students


Johanna Waters, University of Oxford

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has outlined plans for a new student immigration system that would make it harder for graduating students to work in the UK. In her speech at the Conservative Party conference Rudd revealed government plans to create “two-tier visa rules” which would affect poorer quality universities and courses. This would essentially mean that “lesser” UK universities will be discouraged from recruiting international students.

This is not only yet another misguided and myopic attack on overseas students, it is also an insult to the rich diversity of universities on display within UK higher education. Because the fact is, universities excel in different academic areas. Yes, a few are outstanding across the board, but many post-1992 institutions which converted from polytechnics provide exceptional teaching in particular subject areas – and excellent international students are attracted to those programmes.

Then there is also the small issue of finances. A recent briefing from the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory revealed that in 2014-2015, tuition fee income from non-EU students made up almost 13% of UK universities’ total income.

There is no limit on how much universities can charge non-EU students for their courses – but it has been estimated that the average fee for a classroom-based undergraduate degree in the 2014-15 academic year was £12,100 for a non-EU student. And many post-1992 universities are reliant on income from international students as a significant source of revenue. Just how the government propose universities replace the income generated by international student tuition fees, is as yet unclear.

International economy

What is clear, is that the government has failed fundamentally to understand the value of international students to British society. Non-EU students in the UK are thought to generate around £11 billion annually in export revenues alone. This includes tuition fees and other personal expenditure – international students often spend a lot on food and goods while residing in the UK.

The government’s proposal also fails to recognise the longer-term link between international student mobility and a successful domestic “knowledge economy” – because international students are tomorrow’s knowledge workers.

It is also a fact that creativity in industry relies fundamentally on international mobility. Just look at the success of Silicon Valley’s multi-billion dollar technology industry, which is dependent upon immigration. And many of its workers had immigrated as international students, before being headhunted to work in a particular firm.

International students are good for the economy.
Shutterstock

The success of British industry is no different – it relies on creativity and knowledge transfer and exchange. And it is very shortsighted to think British schools and pupils will produce all the knowledge, creativity and insight that we will ever need.

Cultural diversity

International students’ diverse backgrounds and experiences also enrich the entire student body, not to mention society more broadly. They engage in a two-way cultural exchange that is of mutual benefit to both international students and domestic students – and to wider communities.

Although not a primary task of British universities, we are nevertheless trying to create citizens that are cosmopolitan and open-minded in outlook. And there are immeasurable benefits to be had from interacting with students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. If British universities are to be “world class”, then they have also to be “in the world”, in the fullest possible way. And they need international students to fulfil their potential in both a practical and philosophical sense.

Of course, it is not the case that international students are an unquestionable “good”. If we take a global perspective, there are some compelling social reasons for at least reflecting on what happens to international students when they return home. International students are nearly always the most privileged members of their home societies – and being educated in the UK only enhances and reinforces that privilege.

Consequently, British universities are rarely a force for “social mobility” in students’ home countries, and from a “development” perspective, we should be aware of the undermining and devaluing impact that UK qualifications might have on local education systems overseas. There are also neo-colonial implications of educating the next generation of leaders in other parts of the world. However, from a purely UK standpoint, we must continue to encourage and support applications from overseas applicants to our universities.

Fixing the figures

When it comes to immigration figures, the University and College Union and Universities UK have called for the government to no longer count international students within its statistics. The Australian government, for example, makes this separation, and classifies international students as “temporary migrants”, which, unlike “permanent” migrants, are not subject to caps or quotas but are “demand driven”.

Just another way of fixing the figures?
Shutterstock

In a recent survey, 59% of people agreed that the government should not reduce international student numbers – even if that limits the government’s ability to cut immigration numbers overall – only 22% took the opposing view. The study also found that the majority of people did not understand why international students would even be included in total immigration figures.

So given that there is no public desire to reduce the number of international students in the UK, it would instead seem they have become a target – because the government has no better ideas for reducing immigration. It feels like a “quick fix” and is not, I would suggest, the way to go.

Johanna Waters, Associate Professor in Human Geography, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Could the language barrier actually fall within the next 10 years?


Image 20160325 17840 l4cqce
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ‘The Tower of Babel’ (1563).
Wikimedia Commons

David Arbesú, University of South Florida

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to travel to a foreign country without having to worry about the nuisance of communicating in a different language?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, technology policy expert Alec Ross argued that, within a decade or so, we’ll be able to communicate with one another via small earpieces with built-in microphones.

No more trying to remember your high school French when checking into a hotel in Paris. Your earpiece will automatically translate “Good evening, I have a reservation” to Bon soir, j’ai une réservation – while immediately translating the receptionist’s unintelligible babble to “I am sorry, Sir, but your credit card has been declined.”

Ross argues that because technological progress is exponential, it’s only a matter of time.

Indeed, some parents are so convinced that this technology is imminent that they’re wondering if their kids should even learn a second language.

Max Ventilla, one of AltSchool Brooklyn’s founders, recently told The New Yorker

…if the reason you are having your child learn a foreign language is so that they can communicate with someone in a different language twenty years from now – well, the relative value of that is changed, surely, by the fact that everyone is going to be walking around with live-translation apps.

Needless to say, communication is only one of the many advantages of learning another language (and I would argue that it’s not even the most important one).

Furthermore, while it’s undeniable that translation tools like Bing Translator, Babelfish or Google Translate have improved dramatically in recent years, prognosticators like Ross could be getting ahead of themselves.

As a language professor and translator, I understand the complicated nature of language’s relationship with technology and computers. In fact, language contains nuances that are impossible for computers to ever learn how to interpret.

Language rules are special

I still remember grading assignments in Spanish where someone had accidentally written that he’d sawed his parents in half, or where a student and his brother had acquired a well that was both long and pretty. Obviously, what was meant was “I saw my parents” and “my brother and I get along pretty well.” But leave it to a computer to navigate the intricacies of human languages, and there are bound to be blunders.

Even earlier this month, when asked about Twitter‘s translation feature for foreign language tweets, the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey conceded that it does not happen in “real time, and the translation is not great.”

Still, anything a computer can “learn,” it will learn. And it’s safe to assume that any finite set of data (like every single work of literature ever written) will eventually make its way into the cloud.

So why not log all the rules by which languages govern themselves?

Simply put: because this is not how languages work. Even if the Florida State Senate has recently ruled that studying computer code is equivalent to learning a foreign language, the two could not be more different.

Programming is a constructed, formal language. Italian, Russian or Chinese – to name a few of the estimated 7,000 languages in the world – are natural, breathing languages which rely as much on social convention as on syntactic, phonetic or semantic rules.

Words don’t indicate meaning

As long as one is dealing with a simple written text, online translation tools will get better at replacing one “signifier” – the name Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure gave to the idea that a sign’s physical form is distinct from its meaning – with another.

Or, in other words, an increase in the quantity and accuracy of the data logged into computers will make them more capable of translating “No es bueno dormir mucho” as “It’s not good to sleep too much,” instead of the faulty “Not good sleep much,” as Google Translate still does.

Replacing a word with its equivalent in the target language is actually the “easy part” of a translator’s job. But even this seems to be a daunting task for computers.

So why do programs continue to stumble on what seem like easy translations?

It’s so difficult for computers because translation doesn’t – or shouldn’t – involve simply translating words, sentences or paragraphs. Rather, it’s about translating meaning.

And in order to infer meaning from a specific utterance, humans have to interpret a multitude of elements at the same time.

Think about all the contextual clues that go into understanding an utterance: volume, pitch, situation, even your culture – all are as likely to convey as much meaning as the words you use. Certainly, a mother’s soft-spoken advice to “be careful” elicits a much different response than someone yelling “Be careful!” from the passenger’s seat of your car.

So can computers really interpret?

As the now-classic book Metaphors We Live By has shown, languages are more metaphorical than factual in nature. Language acquisition often relies on learning abstract and figurative concepts that are very hard – if not impossible – to “explain” to a computer.

Since the way we speak often has nothing to do with the reality that surrounds us, machines are – and will continue to be – puzzled by the metaphorical nature of human communications.

This is why even a promising newcomer to the translation game like the website Unbabel, which defines itself as an “AI-powered human-quality translation,” has to rely on an army of 42,000 translators around the world to fine-tune acceptable translations.

You need a human to tell the computer that “I’m seeing red” has little to do with colors, or that “I’m going to change” probably refers to your clothes and not your personality or your self.

If interpreting the intended meaning of a written word is already overwhelming for computers, imagine a world where a machine is in charge of translating what you say out loud in specific situations.

The translation paradox

Nonetheless, technology seems to be trending in that direction. Just as “intelligent personal assistants” like Siri or Alexa are getting better at understanding what you say, there is no reason to think that the future will not bring “personal assistant translators.”

But translating is an altogether different task than finding the nearest Starbucks, because machines aim for perfection and rationality, while languages – and humans – are always imperfect and irrational.

This is the paradox of computers and languages.

If machines become too sophisticated and logical, they’ll never be able to correctly interpret human speech. If they don’t, they’ll never be able to fully interpret all the elements that come into play when two humans communicate.

Therefore, we should be very wary of a device that is incapable of interpreting the world around us. If people from different cultures can offend each other without realizing it, how can we expect a machine to do better?

Will this device be able to detect sarcasm? In Spanish-speaking countries, will it know when to use “tú” or “usted” (the informal and formal personal pronouns for “you”)? Will it be able to sort through the many different forms of address used in Japanese? How will it interpret jokes, puns and other figures of speech?

Unless engineers actually find a way to breathe a soul into a computer – pardon my figurative speech – rest assured that, when it comes to conveying and interpreting meaning using a natural language, a machine will never fully take our place.

David Arbesú, Assistant Professor of Spanish, University of South Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How strong academic support can change university students’ lives


h1>How strong academic support can change university students’ lives

Image 20170301 5492 15hasrs

Black South African students need fewer excuses and more support from universities.
Kim Ludbrook/EPA

Savo Heleta, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

In South Africa tens of thousands of students leave universities each year without completing their degrees. They are largely being pushed out of the system due to funding issues and a lack of academic support.

Funding is a national problem. But what about the lack of comprehensive academic support for students who really need it? The fault here lies squarely with universities.

Universities blame the country’s disastrous public schooling system for the fact that many students enter higher education unprepared.

Public schooling is definitely a massive problem. Research suggests that of one million children who enter Grade 1 in South Africa each year, half do not go on to complete secondary school. Only 100,000 get to university and only 53,000 graduate from university after six years in the tertiary system.

We must stop expecting first-year students – many of whom come from public schools and whose first language isn’t English – to somehow figure out how to cope with the rigorous demands of any university degree without genuine, committed support.

There are some programmes in place to ease the transition. But many students at my own institution have confided in me that these programmes are often inadequate. Most classes to improve second language speakers’ grasp of English are optional, as are workshops on academic preparedness. Some students attend them; others struggle to find time due to packed class schedules.

My institution has a writing centre to support students with essay and assignment writing. The problem is that it’s understaffed and students often have to wait weeks for an appointment.

But there’s a fascinating and troubling contradiction at play: this very same institution offers comprehensive and compulsory programmes to help students who don’t speak English as a first language – as long as they’re international students from outside South Africa. And these programmes work very well, helping students cope with university demands and go on to graduate.

These programmes must be adapted, broadened and rolled out to ensure that South African students who are struggling with English and the demands of university education don’t get left behind.

I’m speaking from experience. Fifteen years ago I barely spoke any English but managed to earn a scholarship to a university in the United States. The support I received there made a world of difference. Similar support can change South African students’ university experience – and their lives, too.

Comprehensive and dedicated support

In 2002 I received a scholarship to study at the College of St Benedict and St John’s University in Minnesota. I’m from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and English isn’t my first language. I learned a bit of English in primary school. Then the war interrupted my primary school education for two years. After the war, the education system was dysfunctional.

When I got to the US in 2002 I could hardly speak, read or write English.

I spent two months in a school for students learning English as a second language, then headed to university. This helped a bit but I needed so much more.

The first year at university was hell, academically speaking. I struggled to understand what was going on around me. I could hardly express myself or write my assignments. Often, I doubted myself and my choice to accept the scholarship. I doubted my own intelligence.

Over the years in South Africa, I have heard many accounts of similar struggles experienced by South African students whose first language isn’t English. They all speak about the inability to engage in English, to cope, follow lectures. They, too, often think that they are not good enough to be at the university.

The best thing about my first year was the English language class I attended with other international students. Our professor taught us to read, write, speak and present in English. There were three classes a week, but she supported us way beyond those set times.

Without her, I probably would have quit my studies. Instead, my marks improved dramatically and my confidence grew. In 2005 I was persuaded by my American friends to write a book about my wartime experiences. I wrote it in English. It was published in 2008.

I’ve been in South Africa since 2007, obtaining a Masters and PhD. Today I write, do research, publish, lecture, present at national and international conferences. All in English.

I didn’t accomplish any of this because I was special. The support I received at the start of my university education made all the difference.

Becoming student-ready institutions

In South Africa, the lack of comprehensive academic support for all who need it is excused by the lack of capacity and the price tag. But surely investing in programmes that bolster student success makes sense? After all, universities receive government funding partly based on their graduate numbers. And more graduates can boost the economy.

In 2013, the Council on Higher Education proposed that university studies and “qualifications should accord with the learning needs of the majority of the student intake”. This, the council argued, would entail extending undergraduate programmes by a year. The first year would become foundational, with students spending a considerable amount of time on compulsory academic preparedness and development.

This has not yet been implemented.

Byron White, vice president for university engagement at Cleveland State University, argues that universities need to stop complaining that their first-year students aren’t prepared for academic life. This approach, White says,

has allowed higher education to deflect accountability. It’s time that we fully embrace the burden of being student-ready institutions … It turns out the problem was not as much about the students as we thought. It was largely us, uninformed about what it takes to help them succeed or unwilling to allocate the resources necessary to put it into practice.

Universities must ditch the excuses and do more. Extensive academic support changes lives. It’s time we got to work.

Savo Heleta, Manager, Internationalisation at Home and Research, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Accessible, engaging textbooks could improve children’s learning


Image 20170313 9408 bb6pp1
It’s not enough for textbooks just to be present in a classroom. They must support learning.
Global Partnership for Education/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Lizzi O. Milligan, University of Bath

Textbooks are a crucial part of any child’s learning. A large body of research has proved this many times and in many very different contexts. Textbooks are a physical representation of the curriculum in a classroom setting. They are powerful in shaping the minds of children and young people. The Conversation

UNESCO has recognised this power and called for every child to have a textbook for every subject. The organisation argues that

next to an engaged and prepared teacher, well-designed textbooks in sufficient quantities are the most effective way to improve instruction and learning.

But there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to textbooks in African countries’ classrooms: language.

Rwanda is one of many African countries that’s adopted a language instruction policy which sees children learning in local or mother tongue languages for the first three years of primary school. They then transition in upper primary and secondary school into a dominant, so-called “international” language. This might be French or Portuguese. In Rwanda, it has been English since 2008.

Evidence from across the continent suggests that at this transition point, many learners have not developed basic literacy and numeracy skills. And, significantly, they have not acquired anywhere near enough of the language they are about to learn in to be able to engage in learning effectively.

I do not wish to advocate for English medium instruction, and the arguments for mother-tongue based education are compelling. But it’s important to consider strategies for supporting learners within existing policy priorities. Using appropriate learning and teaching materials – such as textbooks – could be one such strategy.

A different approach

It’s not enough to just hand out textbooks in every classroom. The books need to tick two boxes: learners must be able to read them and teachers must feel enabled to teach with them.

Existing textbooks tend not to take these concerns into consideration. The language is too difficult and the sentence structures too complex. The paragraphs too long and there are no glossaries to define unfamiliar words. And while textbooks are widely available to those in the basic education system, they are rarely used systematically. Teachers cite the books’ inaccessibility as one of the main reasons for not using them.

A recent initiative in Rwanda has sought to address this through the development of “language supportive” textbooks for primary 4 learners who are around 11 years old. These were specifically designed in collaboration with local publishers, editors and writers.

Language supportive textbooks have been shown to make a difference in some Rwandan classrooms.

There are two key elements to a “language supportive” textbook.

Firstly, they are written at a language level which is appropriate for the learner. As can be seen in Figure 1, the new concept is introduced in as simple English as possible. The sentence structure and paragraph length are also shortened and made as simple as possible. The key word (here, “soil”) is also repeated numerous times so that the learner becomes accustomed to this word.

University of Bristol and the British Council

Secondly, they include features – activities, visuals, clear signposting and vocabulary support – that enable learners to practice and develop their language proficiency while learning the key elements of the curriculum.

The books are full of relevant activities that encourage learners to regularly practice their listening, speaking, reading and writing of English in every lesson. This enables language development.

Crucially, all of these activities are made accessible to learners – and teachers – by offering support in the learners’ first language. In this case, the language used was Kinyarwanda, which is the first language for the vast majority of Rwandan people. However, it’s important to note that initially many teachers were hesitant about incorporating Kinyarwanda into their classroom practice because of the government’s English-only policy.

Improved test scores

The initiative was introduced with 1075 students at eight schools across four Rwandan districts. The evidence from our initiative suggests that learners in classrooms where these books were systematically used learnt more across the curriculum.

When these learners sat tests before using the books, they scored similar results to those in other comparable schools. After using the materials for four months, their test scores were significantly higher. Crucially, both learners and teachers pointed out how important it was that the books sanctioned the use of Kinyarwanda. The classrooms became bilingual spaces and this increased teachers’ and learners’ confidence and competence.

All of this supports the importance of textbooks as effective learning and teaching materials in the classroom and shows that they can help all learners. But authorities mustn’t assume that textbooks are being used or that the existing books are empowering teachers and learners.

Textbooks can matter – but it’s only when consideration is made for the ways they can help all learners that we can say that they can contribute to quality education for all.

Lizzi O. Milligan, Lecturer in International Education, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indigenous languages won’t survive if kids are learning only English


Jane Simpson, Australian National University

The question of what language(s) to teach Indigenous students, what languages to teach them in, and how to go about it has been generating a little political heat (but not quite so much light) of late. The Conversation

On ABC’s Q&A earlier this month, Yalmay Yunupingu – the widow of Yothu Yindi front man Mandawuy Yunupingu – asked a pointed question about how the teaching of Indigenous languages will be funded given that Article 14 of the United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People states that Indigenous children have the right to education in their own language. And a recent piece in The Conversation by Stewart Riddle sparked controversy after he said it could be argued that the emphasis placed on English literacy was no better than discredited historical attempts to make Aboriginal kids more “white”.

In fact, there’s a broad consensus that Indigenous students need to be taught English to fully participate in society. Most people also agree Indigenous languages need to be preserved. But there’s a great deal of confusion about how to go about this. This stems from confusion about how to address the language needs of children.

How and what do we teach Indigenous children?

Let’s begin with children who come to an Australian school speaking an Indigenous language or Cantonese or Arabic or a language of Somalia or… These children need to learn English as a subject – they need to learn English grammar, pronunciation, and to expand their English vocabulary. Otherwise they’re cut off from the goods and services of mainstream society. Everyone agrees on this: Indigenous parents, immigrant parents and teachers alike. Where they disagree is how this should be done.

There’s the el cheapo sink-or-swim approach – we chuck the kids into an English-only classroom where they don’t understand a word of what is being said, and then we expect them to learn to speak English by immersion. This may work in classes where almost all the classmates speak English and the child’s parents can provide support at home. But it doesn’t work in classrooms where the classmates don’t speak English, and where parents can’t read or write English. If a child can’t understand what a teacher is saying about arithmetic, then they won’t learn the basics of arithmetic. Children become bored with not understanding what is happening in the classroom, and lose confidence in their ability to join in mainstream society.

There’s a better approach – where children are taught in English, but where from the start teachers do teach them English as a subject in a systematic way, building up their confidence in speaking, reading and writing English. This will result in delays in understanding subjects such as arithmetic and science, until children have mastered enough English to understand what the teacher is saying. But at least it gives them a chance to learn English well.

In both these approaches, the home language is sometimes taught as a subject for perhaps 30 minutes a week. This doesn’t help children understand what is happening in the classroom, but it may give them a sense that the language is valued. However, to do this properly, a staged curriculum is needed, where children build on what they have learned, and enhance their knowledge. There aren’t the materials to do this in many communities, and so children may endure a lot of repetition of the same low-level material on plants, animals and artefacts. This may lead them to think that their home language is a restricted language, not something that they can use on Facebook, or something to use to talk about rockets, asteroids etc.

Then there’s the best practice approach – where the home language is used as the medium of instruction in the classroom at the start. Children begin school with teachers who can explain what’s happening in the classroom in their home language. These teachers can teach children English in a systematic way, building up their confidence in speaking, reading and writing English grammatically.

They can explain the fascinating and complicated ideas of maths and science in a language that children can understand, until they have mastered enough English for a switch of language of instruction to English. This is ideal. For it to work, governments need to invest in training fluent speakers of the languages as teachers, in helping them learn how to teach children to speak, read, write and understand English, and in developing elementary curricula and materials in the languages (see the Living archive of Aboriginal languages for examples). The payoff of a good mother-tongue-medium instruction program is excellent – children who can talk about a range of ideas in two languages, and who grow up knowing that both their languages are valued.

Indigenous languages are shrinking

As the children grow older, there’s the question of enriching their home language. As English speakers, most Australians are used to developing a mastery of the language in school, through using it to talk about maths, the economy, genetics, and so on. They learn new ideas and new words to express these ideas concisely.

Some indigenous language teaching materials.
Author

Classes on English literature, poetry, plays, and films are other ways of increasing our knowledge of English. A few second language speakers of English may be lucky enough to have the opportunity to enrich their home languages in a similar fashion – German or French or Mandarin speaking children may be able to go to bilingual schools in Australia where they can learn to talk about ideas in a sophisticated way. They can learn at school about the histories and societies linked to their home languages. They can read Goethe, Victor Hugo, Mo Yan.

Indigenous children have no such luck. The domains in which they can use their home languages are shrinking, there is little or no material in their languages for them to study at school, and compulsory schooling in English means they have less time to speak their home languages anyway. Very few learn at school about the great works of verbal art of their communities. All too often, teaching about Indigenous arts at school is reduced to “didgeridoos, dots and damper”. Teaching at a higher level requires teachers who know the Indigenous language and understand the language of songs and storytelling, or who can collaborate effectively in team-teaching with senior Indigenous singers, performers and story-tellers.

English-only schooling as practised in most Australian Indigenous communities is destructive – it reduces children’s ability to learn English, to learn other subjects, to learn about the verbal arts of their own societies. It reduces opportunities to enrich their first languages through discussing new ideas in those languages. In the long-term, it reduces the chances that the next generation of Indigenous children will be bilingual in Indigenous languages and English. And in that way English-only schooling reduces the chances that Indigenous languages will survive much longer.

Jane Simpson, Chair of Indigenous Linguistics and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language , Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Younger is not always better when it comes to learning a second language


Image 20170224 32726 1xtuop0
Learning a language in a classroom is best for early teenagers.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Warren Midgley, University of Southern Queensland

It’s often thought that it is better to start learning a second language at a young age. But research shows that this is not necessarily true. In fact, the best age to start learning a second language can vary significantly, depending on how the language is being learned. The Conversation

The belief that younger children are better language learners is based on the observation that children learn to speak their first language with remarkable skill at a very early age.

Before they can add two small numbers or tie their own shoelaces, most children develop a fluency in their first language that is the envy of adult language learners.

Why younger may not always be better

Two theories from the 1960s continue to have a significant influence on how we explain this phenomenon.

The theory of “universal grammar” proposes that children are born with an instinctive knowledge of the language rules common to all humans. Upon exposure to a specific language, such as English or Arabic, children simply fill in the details around those rules, making the process of learning a language fast and effective.

The other theory, known as the “critical period hypothesis”, posits that at around the age of puberty most of us lose access to the mechanism that made us such effective language learners as children. These theories have been contested, but nevertheless they continue to be influential.

Despite what these theories would suggest, however, research into language learning outcomes demonstrates that younger may not always be better.

In some language learning and teaching contexts, older learners can be more successful than younger children. It all depends on how the language is being learned.

Language immersion environment best for young children

Living, learning and playing in a second language environment on a regular basis is an ideal learning context for young children. Research clearly shows that young children are able to become fluent in more than one language at the same time, provided there is sufficient engagement with rich input in each language. In this context, it is better to start as young as possible.

Learning in classroom best for early teens

Learning in language classes at school is an entirely different context. The normal pattern of these classes is to have one or more hourly lessons per week.

To succeed at learning with such little exposure to rich language input requires meta-cognitive skills that do not usually develop until early adolescence.

For this style of language learning, the later years of primary school is an ideal time to start, to maximise the balance between meta-cognitive skill development and the number of consecutive years of study available before the end of school.

Self-guided learning best for adults

There are, of course, some adults who decide to start to learn a second language on their own. They may buy a study book, sign up for an online course, purchase an app or join face-to-face or virtual conversation classes.

To succeed in this learning context requires a range of skills that are not usually developed until reaching adulthood, including the ability to remain self-motivated. Therefore, self-directed second language learning is more likely to be effective for adults than younger learners.

How we can apply this to education

What does this tell us about when we should start teaching second languages to children? In terms of the development of language proficiency, the message is fairly clear.

If we are able to provide lots of exposure to rich language use, early childhood is better. If the only opportunity for second language learning is through more traditional language classes, then late primary school is likely to be just as good as early childhood.

However, if language learning relies on being self-directed, it is more likely to be successful after the learner has reached adulthood.

Warren Midgley, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tough immigration laws are hitting Britain’s curry houses hard


Image 20170223 32705 au4loj
shutterstock

Emily Falconer, University of Westminster

The British curry industry is responsible for 100,000 jobs and contributes more than £4 billion to the UK economy. But it’s now feared that up to a third of all Indian restaurants could disappear because of tougher immigration laws. The Conversation

The current rules require restaurants that want to employ a chef from outside the EU to pay a minimum salary of £35,000 – or £29,750 with accommodation and food – to secure a visa.

These high costs have meant that many restaurants are unable to hire the skilled chefs they need – which has led to a shortage of top talent – with the ones that are available demanding higher wages. And this combination of rising costs, along with a shortage of chefs means that many curry houses are now facing closure.

Fusion food

Britain has a long, deep relationship with what is widely known as “Indian” food. But food eaten on the Indian subcontinent is so widely diverse, that it has as many differences as it has similarities. Meaning that “Indian” and “curry” is often used as an umbrella term for what is in reality a multifaceted combination of tastes and influences.

It’s been predicted that more than half of all curry houses may shut down within ten years.
Shutterstock

“Indian food” in reality is often derived from particular regions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well as across Britain and Europe. And a long and complex history of colonialism and migration has made the “British Curry” a popular national dish.

As the author Panikos Panayai explains, decades of residing in Britain has inevitably changed the tastes and eating practices of many British Asian communities – whose connection with traditional foods has become increasingly tenuous.

In his book Spicing Up Britain: The Multicultural History of British Food, Panayai charts the patterns of migration and the influences of food, taste and consumption habits. He follows the tastes of British Asians who have grown up with a fusion of tastes and influences all their life.

These are people whose diets reflect the variants of English food their parents invented to make use of the ingredients readily available to them – as opposed to just tastes from the Indian subcontinent. It meant childhood classics became spicy cheese on toast or baked Beans Balti with spring onion sabji and masala burgers.

Merging of tastes

Panayai claims that the taste of South Asian food became as much a part of the childhood tastes of white British children living in certain areas of the UK as their second and third generation Asian school friends.

In the London borough of Tower Hamlets for example – which is home to a large Bangladeshi community – local councillors played a significant role in influencing the content of school dinners. As early as the 1980s these lunches often included Asian vegetarian dishes, such as chapattis, rice and halal meat alongside “English” staples of chips, peas and steamed sponge with custard.

Fish and chips and curry sauce – a British speciality.
Flickr/Liz Barker, CC BY-NC

These tastes shaped the palates of many British children, to the point where a combination of “English” food and “curry” became the nostalgic taste of childhood. This was commodified by major brands such as Bisto with their “curry sauce” gravy granules.

These combinations are still a main feature of many “greasy spoon” English cafes or pub menus – which feature British staples such as curry served with a choice of either rice or chips, or jacket potatoes with a spicy chicken tikka filling. Then there’s the coronation chicken sandwich – a blend of boiled chicken, curry powder, mayonnaise and sultanas – a nod to the dish created for Queen Elizabeth II Coronation lunch in 1953.

More recently, in a time of gastronomic obsession and “foodie” culture, the “hybridisation” of cuisines has shifted from being a matter of necessity – due to availability of ingredients – to an increasingly sophisticated, cosmopolitan and fashionable food trend.

‘One spicy crab coming right up’.
Shutterstock

The influential taste of the British curry can now be identified on modern British fine dining menus, where fillets of Scottish salmon, hand-dived scallops and Cornish crabmeat are infused with spiced cumin, turmeric and fenugreek. While bread and butter pudding is laced with cardamom and saffron.

Multicultural Britain

But in the current political climate of migration restrictions, the free movement of people across borders looks ever more threatened – and with it our rich cultural heritage as a multicultural country is also under threat.

As diverse as the food on our plates.
Shutterstock

This will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on imported food produce and ingredients. And it will also impact the diverse communities which have brought with them long histories of knowledge, recipes and cooking practices.

Of course, throughout history there has always been a degree of racism and resistance to “foreign” foods, but for the most part these tastes have become embraced and firmly appropriated into the British diet.

Perhaps then we can take heart during this uncertain time that merging cultures will be a British tradition that is set to continue. Because what started as the “taste of the other” is now so deeply ingrained in our food, culture and identity that it is no longer possible to disentangle national, regional or local tastes to determine what belongs where.

Emily Falconer, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Westminster

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.