Accessible, engaging textbooks could improve children’s learning


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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.

How training can prepare teachers for diversity in their classrooms


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Maureen Robinson, Stellenbosch University

Teachers have been shaping lives for centuries. Everyone remembers their favourite (and of course their least favourite) teachers. This important group of people even has its own special day, marked each October by the United Nations.

Teachers are at the coal face when it comes to watching societies change. South Africa’s classrooms, for instance, look vastly different today than they did two decades ago. They bring together children from different racial, cultural, economic and social backgrounds. This can sometimes cause conflict as varied ways of understanding the world bump up against each other.

How can teachers develop the skills to work with these differences in productive ways? What practical support do they need to bring the values of the Constitution to life in their classes?

To answer these questions, my colleagues and I in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University have put together four examples from modules within our faculty’s teacher education programme. These ideas are by no means exhaustive; other institutions also tackle these issues. What we present here is based on our own research, teaching and experience and is open to further discussion.

1. Working with multilingualism

English is only South Africa’s fifth most spoken home language. Teachers must remember this: even if their pupils are speaking English in the classroom, their home languages may be far more diverse.

Trainee teachers can benefit enormously from a course on multilingual education. In our faculty, for instance, students are given the chance to place multilingual education in a South African policy framework. They model multilingual classroom strategies like code switching and translation. They visit schools to observe how such strategies are applied in the real classroom. Students then report back on whether this approach helps learners from different language backgrounds to participate actively in the lesson.

There’s also great value in introducing student teachers to the notion of “World Englishes”. This focuses on the role of English in multilingual communities, where it is seen as being used for communication and academic purposes rather than as a way for someone to be integrated into an English community.

2. Supporting diverse learning needs

Student teachers must be trained to identify and support pupils’ diverse learning needs. This helps teachers to identify and address barriers to learning and development and encourages linkages between the home and the school.

This is even more meaningful when it is embedded in experiential learning. For instance, in guided exercises with their own class groups, our students engage with their feelings, experiences and thinking about their own backgrounds and identities. Other activities may be based on real scenarios, such as discussing the case of a boy who was sanctioned by his school for wearing his hair in a way prescribed by his religion.

In these modules we focus on language, culture, race, socioeconomic conditions, disability, sexual orientation, learning differences and behavioural, health or emotional difficulties. The students also learn how to help vulnerable learners who are being bullied.

And these areas are constantly expanding. At Stellenbosch University, we’ve recently noted that we need to prepare teachers to deal with the bullying of LGBT learners. They also need to be equipped with the tools to support pupils who’ve immigrated from elsewhere in Africa.

3. Advancing a democratic classroom

Courses that deal with the philosophy of education are an important element of teacher education. These explore notions of diversity, human dignity, social justice and democratic citizenship.

In these classes, student teachers are encouraged to see their own lecture rooms as spaces for open and equal engagement, with regard and respect for different ways of being. They’re given opportunities to express and engage with controversial views. This stands them in good stead to create such spaces in their own classrooms.

Most importantly, students are invited to critically reconsider commonly held beliefs – and to disrupt their ideas of the world – so that they might encounter the other as they are and not as they desire them to be. In such a classroom, a teacher promotes discussion and debate. She cultivates respect and regard for the other by listening to different accounts and perspectives. Ultimately, the teacher accepts that she is just one voice in the classroom.

4. Understanding constitutional rights in the classroom

All the approaches to teacher education described here are underpinned by the Constitution.

The idea is that teacher education programmes should develop teachers who understand notions of justice, citizenship and social cohesion. Any good teacher needs to be able to reflect critically on their own role as leader and manager within the contexts of classrooms, schools and the broader society. This includes promoting values of democracy, social justice and equality, and building attitudes of respect and reciprocity.

A critical reflective ethos is encouraged. Students get numerous opportunities to interrogate, debate, research, express and reflect upon educational challenges, theories and policies, from different perspectives, as these apply to practice. This is all aimed at building a positive school environment for everyone.

Moving into teaching

What about when students become teachers themselves?

For many new teachers these inclusive practices are not easy to implement in schools. One lecturer in our faculty has been approached by former students who report that as beginner teachers, they don’t have “the status or voice to change existing discriminatory practices and what some experience as the resistance to inclusive education”. This suggests that ongoing discussion and training in both pre-service and in-service education is needed.

At the same time, however, there are signs that these modules are having a positive impact. Students post comments and ideas on social media and lecturers regularly hear from first-time teachers about how useful their acquired knowledge is in different contexts. Many are also eager to study further so they can explore the issues more deeply.

Everything I’ve described here is part of one faculty’s attempts to provide safe spaces where student teachers can learn to work constructively with the issues pertaining to diversity in education. In doing so, we hope they’ll become part of building a country based on respect for all.

Author’s note: I am grateful to my colleagues Lynette Collair, Nuraan Davids, Jerome Joorst and Christa van der Walt for the ideas contained in this article.

The Conversation

Maureen Robinson, Dean, Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University

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

Zut alors, Jeremy Paxman! French isn’t a ‘useless’ language


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Emmanuelle Labeau, Aston University

Presenter Jeremy Paxman recently hailed the victory of English “in the battle of global tongues” in an article for the Financial Times in which he also claimed that French was “useless” and “bad for you”.

Why such a needless attack on Britain’s closest neighbour and favourite enemy – unless he is trying to court controversy to generate interest in his forthcoming documentary on the UK’s relationship with Europe?

First of all, no language is useless: it serves communication between people. While languages may differ in the number of users and the practical and economic advantages attached to their mastery, they bring similar intellectual and developmental benefits. And multilingualism combines and increases all these gains by favouring personal mental agility, widening horizons and potentially contributing to overcoming parochialism.

Let us now focus on Paxman’s attack on French. Are his barbs aimed at the language or at the people? It’s difficult to say as he confuses countries and languages throughout his column. While he concedes that: “France has enhanced civilisation”, he argues that its influence has long gone. It is very true that the rise and fall of a language greatly depends on extra-linguistic factors such as politics and economy – and France’s current situation does little to enhance the international prestige of its mother tongue.

Burnt cream anybody? Some things just sound better in French.
Le Journal des Femmes, CC BY

Does that mean that the French language is doomed? Clearly not, as French is the official language in 29 countries and France only represents between a quarter and a third of French speakers in the world. Perhaps we might stop to consider, en passant, why Paxman’s analysis does not extend to Britain and English. How much has the elevated status of English worldwide got to do with Britain in the 21st century?

Speaking in tongues

Paxman writes that: “English is the language of science, technology, travel, entertainment and sports”. And he’s right – to an extent. As we know and as all academics can testify, there is huge pressure to publish in English (without necessarily achieving the heights of Shakespeare’s language). And our daily life has been turned upside down in the past 30 years or so thanks to the discoveries of Silicon Valley (which wasn’t in Britain the last time I looked).

When travelling, an ability to master at least “pidgin” English comes in very handy – although it didn’t get me anywhere in Beijing in 2005, and I had to revert to speaking French while in Italy. As for entertainment, of course, people are flocking from all around Europe to take part in Britain’s got Talent … but Hollywood may have a role to play on the global entertainment stage as well.

Like Paxman, I would not expect the singer, Johnny Hallyday (who is, in fact, Belgian-born), to be “the future of pop” – he probably deserves a break after his stellar 50-year career. But the rising global fame of the singer Stromae (real name Paul Van Haver) – the son of a Rwandan father and a Flemish mother – seems to show that entertainment through the medium of French may still have a few good years ahead.

History lesson

Paxman also argues that “France never really decolonised” and its continued influence is stifling development in former colonies by imposing French on their higher education systems rather than English which, he says, would be far more useful. The linguistic imperialism of France certainly does not apply to all former colonies, as eloquently illustrated by the disengagement of France in Djibouti, to the dismay of Francophile locals.

The accusation of colonialism against France appears nonetheless a bit ironic from a British citizen. The Commonwealth is an organisation of British former colonies where Britain played an instrumental role. In contrast, Francophonie – the official use of the French language – was adopted in Senegal by poet and politician Leopold Senghor, in Tunisia the decision to adopt French was taken by Habib Bourguiba and in Cambodia by Norodom Sihanouk.

English and French have coexisted and exchanged words and phrases for a millennium and more. From a 2016 perspective, there is no denying that English has become the most widespread and used language of the two, but it may be worth remembering that for the first half of this coexistence, English was the poor relative and has only taken off as the lingua franca (oh, the irony) since the late 18th century.

History teaches us that civilisations and their language soar and collapse – what would Alexander the Great make of Greece’s current situation? With that in mind, Paxman may be well inspired to moderate his triumphalism. How will the global English language fare in five centuries – will it suffer the same fate as Latin? And even if it could be argued that our hyperconnected civilisation may prevent the death of English, there is no dearth of evidence from the blooming field of “global English” studies to show that the language changes as it conquers the world.

Your language has won the latest battle, Mr Paxman – but no more than that. As you say, the future may belong to those who speak English – but above all, it belongs to those who speak English fluently alongside other languages. And, as former US president George Bush discovered, French is very useful if you want to acquire a really sophisticated vocabulary in English.

The Conversation

Emmanuelle Labeau, Senior Lecturer in French Language and Linguistics, Aston University

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

How teachers can help migrant learners feel more included


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Helen Hanna, Leeds Trinity University

Children are often at the forefront of working out what it means to be a new arrival in a different country. They feel the anxiety that comes with being the new girl or boy at school. They’re in an environment that emphasises “integration” – learning new rules, making new friends, possibly learning a new language and grappling with a new testing regime.

Amid all of these changes, teachers may not realise how important it is simply for children to feel included. Even making their home countries a feature of lessons in, for example, geography can help children feel more at ease. It is a valuable opportunity for them to contribute. If their identities are ignored these children may feel detached from school. This sense of detachment has been shown to negatively affect learning. It may also have more serious consequences for a child’s sense of belonging and, ultimately, well-being.

Research I am currently doing in South Africa and England – countries with long histories of migration – looks at the inclusion of migrant learners in primary schools through their own lens, quite literally. The children take photographs in school as a way of explaining and engaging with their environment as a place of inclusion and exclusion.

Children as migrants

South Africa’s 2011 census showed that almost 2.2 million people living there were born elsewhere. Some are economic migrants, seeking work. Others are refugees or asylum seekers. There is also a large population of undocumented migrants. Most come from other African countries.

It’s not known exactly how many migrant children attend South African schools. New arrivals – especially refugees – may lack the formal documentation required for school registration. Added to this challenge is the reality of xenophobic attacks against new immigrants.

On paper, at least, children enjoy good protection. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatories – South Africa and the UK included – to adhere to a long list of rights. These include the right to free primary education, non-discrimination and to be consulted on anything that affects them.

But my previous research in conflict-affected societies revealed that children and adolescents, particularly those from marginalised groups, struggle with freedom of speech in school. They also don’t often feel represented in the curriculum.

A new, visual voice

My new, ongoing research explored inclusion in primary schools from the point of view of recent migrant children. The learner-researchers, who are nine or ten years old, worked in small groups, each child using a digital camera. We worked with The Arrival, a wordless picturebook that has recently started to be used in this sort of research. It helped the children think about what it’s like to arrive in a new country and stimulated memories of their own experiences.

Then we walked together around school photographing signs, classrooms, playgrounds and people – anything that the children thought was important to know about their school. Finally, we talked about the photos and came up with some advice for teachers and other learners about how to help new arrivals feel included.

Three ways to include migrant learners

So how can we include migrant learners in school? Here are three tips based on a combination of what the learners in the two countries shared while taking part in the photographic project.

First, ask them. Children struggle with the idea that they are free to make suggestions to adults. I found that when we tried to come up with a list of advice for teachers, it turned into a list of rules for the learner to keep. It emerged that some things teachers did to be helpful, like getting the learner to introduce themselves on the first day, were the opposite of what the children wanted – to be welcomed quietly while sitting with a classmate.

Part of the process of doing research that involves children as participants includes building their capacity so that they can see themselves as individuals who have something important to say. Simply explaining that “We, as adults, know some things about school, but you also know many things that I don’t know because you go to this school” can empower them.

Second, be creative. Use picturebooks, photography, music and dance. These methods can engage new arrivals in a way that doesn’t demand great proficiency or confidence in using the school’s language. Of course the school day is very demanding for both learners and educators, but finding time to do something outside of the normal routine may pay great dividends in learners’ confidence and well-being.

Third, make sure that their identities are discussed and valued in the curriculum, and reflected in their school’s ethos. We must allow them to “find themselves in the story” of what they are learning in school. This will ensure their confidence in who they are, and is particularly important for marginalised groups. The very fact that these learners were chosen to take part in this project seemed to make them feel privileged and valued.

Children’s voices matter

The late statesman Nelson Mandela is quoted as declaring that:

Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.

Migrant children are a part of this great treasure. They must be included – and this will happen best when their own voices and stories are heard.

Author’s note: most of the children’s photographs featured their own faces, and so cannot be republished here. I would also like to acknowledge the support of the Centre for International Teacher Education at the CPUT, where I have been working as a visiting researcher.

The Conversation

Helen Hanna, Lecturer in Education Studies and Visiting Researcher at Centre for International Teacher Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Leeds Trinity University

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

Tongue-tied: Britain has forgotten how to speak to its European neighbours


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Martin Hurcombe, University of Bristol

The decline in the number of students of modern languages from GCSE to degree level is an annual lament. Only 10,328 pupils in the UK took French at A Level in 2015 and although Spanish enjoyed a rise in entries at A Level of 14%, German continued its steady decline.

As Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, noted last year, the study of French and German at A Level has declined by more than 50% since 1999.

A Level language entries, 2006-2015.
JCQ

Similar patterns can be observed at GCSE where entries for French, for example, declined by 40% between 2005 and 2015. The rise in interest in Arabic and Portuguese has not offset the overall trend towards the marginalisation of language learning in Britain’s secondary schools, and most notably those in the state sector.

It’s hard for language learners and teachers to remain optimistic in this climate, and harder still with widespread Euroscepticism and the possibility of the UK voting to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23.

Policy ping pong

For teachers like me, entering the profession in the late 1980s and early 1990s amid a brief bout of Europhilia, language education was still a priority. When the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 all secondary schools had to make provision for students of all abilities to learn at least one modern foreign language.

Paradoxically, this enthusiasm for language learning in the years preceding the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the foundation of the European Union emanated from a series of Conservative governments that were tearing themselves apart over the question of European integration.

Nevertheless, it was made compulsory for children to learn one modern foreign language. This was because of a belief by those in government and business that not only was it desirable to speak more than one language, but that a meaningful relationship with European partners was best served by the cultural familiarity that language learning fosters.

Ironically, it was perhaps Britain’s most pro-European government, under Tony Blair, which removed the requirement for all children to take a language at GCSE in 2004. Only now are we seeing this decision reversed with the current government’s inclusion of a language at GCSE as one of the performance measures schools are judged on.

Since the late 1990s there has also been a decline in school exchanges in state schools – a tradition in many schools that had become firmly established with the UK’s membership of the common market. According to the British Council only 39% of state schools currently offer an exchange where students stay with a host family in another country – compared to 77% of independent schools.

Identikit travel

The decline in the study of languages has also coincided with a decline in the chance for young people to have genuine cultural encounters with Europeans on the continent.

Week-long holidays to the Algarve or southern Spain often bring little in the way of cultural exchange. Experience of travel to Europe can sometimes be restricted and characterised by a sense of familiarity: airports that resemble each other, the ubiquitous Starbucks, the identikit sites of global tourism observed by Paul Fussell in the 1980s and dubbed non-places by French philosopher Marc Augé.

Limited cultural encounters.
Keith Williamson/www.flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND

Yet travel and the encounter with other cultures and peoples can challenge our fundamental beliefs. It shakes us from our complacency and forces us to rethink who we are in the light of other customs and habits. We return home to ask new questions of our lives, but also of our surroundings. While this can be a destabilising experience, it is also a highly productive one with benefits for both our sense of self and the home to which we return, which is now viewed through fresh eyes.

Learning a new language has a similar effect on one’s sense of self: it enhances such cultural exchanges and enriches travel. The study of languages is not the study of linguistic abstractions – it’s the study of cultures.

The paradox of current government policy is that it talks about the importance of global trade and competitiveness while doing little to prepare the next generation of UK citizens for the future it envisages. If Britain votes to leave the EU, it will merely confirm a policy of cultural retrenchment initiated by the Labour governments of 1997-2010. If the country votes to remain, it must be accompanied by a commitment to the European project as a cultural and not merely an economic enterprise.

And we must also recognise that learning the languages of our EU partners is often the gateway to speaking to the world at large.

The Conversation

Martin Hurcombe, Reader in French Studies, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol

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

We wouldn’t be mourning lost languages if we embraced multilingualism


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Rachel Nordlinger, University of Melbourne

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made news shedding tears over the plight of an elderly Indigenous woman. Turnbull wiped away tears during a TV interview with Stan Grant as he told of hearing a Moss Vale woman recall her mother singing to her in the Ngunawal language as a young child.

Malcolm Turnbull, in an interview with Stan Grant, cries as he recalls a lullaby sang by Aboriginal Australians.

“She was a very old lady and she remembers her mother singing this (lullaby) to her,” he was reported as saying.

And the thing that’s so sad is to imagine that mother singing that story to her at a time when you were losing culture and the last thing that baby was was safe.”

While I welcome Turnbull’s concerns for the loss of Indigenous language and culture, it’s hard to miss the irony of this happening only two weeks after Bess Price was denied the right to speak her language, Warlpiri, in the Northern Territory parliament. As a nation, we mourn what has been lost, while failing to embrace and support that which we still have.

Why are Australians so resistant to embracing multilingualism, especially when it comes to our nation’s Indigenous languages? Why can we not see the value of our nation’s linguistic heritage, and the wealth that languages bring?

Malcolm Turnbull speaking at the Referendum Council on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Paul Miller/AAP

Language is central to what it means to be human. Each individual language reflects another way of talking about the world, another framework for solving communicative problems, another example of the cognitive capabilities of our species. Each language is also a repository of accumulated knowledge about the world; knowledge that is lost when languages are no longer spoken.

However, some stark facts illustrate quickly how fragile our linguistic diversity is: 96 per cent of the world’s languages are spoken by only 4 per cent of the world’s population. The dire predictions are that half of the world’s 7000 languages will have disappeared by the end of this century – a rate of more than 40 languages lost per year. The Asia-Pacific region is home to half of the world’s languages, 250 indigenous to our own country. All our Indigenous languages are endangered.

Some believe that language diversity is problematic, and that speaking one language produces harmony and unity. Interestingly, however, those who express this view seem to assume that it should be their language, English, that is chosen for this purpose. Would they feel equally strongly in favour of moving towards a single language if it were Mandarin, Arabic or Warlpiri?

The fact is that our mother language is intimately connected to our sense of self. It is the language in which we can fully be ourselves, where we feel most comfortable, where we can laugh and grieve and dream. This is why supporting people all over the world in speaking their own languages is so important. As stated by the United Nations:

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet.

The majority of people in the world are multilingual. Mainstream Australia, however, is fiercely monolingual and wary of people who speak other languages as a part of their heritage.

This is particularly true for Australia’s Indigenous languages, which fight a constant battle for recognition and survival against the monolingual mindset of Australian policy makers.

The reaction to Bess Price’s use of Warlpiri in the Northern Territory Parliament is an all too common example of mainstream Australia’s lack of respect for our nation’s Indigenous languages.

Another is the experience of Aboriginal artist Elizabeth Close who was yelled at in a shopping centre for speaking to her child in Pitjantjatjara and told,

It’s Australia Day! We speak English in Australia.

The irony of insisting that a language from England be more closely associated with this country than one which has been spoken here for thousands of years was clearly lost on this indignant shopper.

In fact, there is a further double standard reflected in recent events, which also saw Malcolm Turnbull speak in the Ngunawal language in Federal Parliament, without permission from the chamber, and with great approval from the broader community.

Why is it that we embrace the effort from a non-Indigenous politician to symbolically use an Indigenous language, while shutting down a request from an Indigenous politician to use her own native language?

Turnbull had reportedly heard of the Moss Vale woman’s plight while learning a passage of Ngunawal language for his Closing the Gap address. In the speech, he announced A$20 million funding for the preservation of Indigenous language and culture.

This money is definitely welcome but it’s a drop in the ocean when one considers the attitudinal change that is also needed across mainstream Australia. We need to start valuing Indigenous languages as a vital part of our heritage – and recognising them as living languages that are used in everyday life.

The majority of people across the world speak at least two languages. Australia is proud of its multiculturalism. It’s time for us to catch up with the rest of the world and embrace multilingualism as well.

The Conversation

Rachel Nordlinger, Associate Professor and Reader, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Research Unit for Indigenous Language, School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne

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

Debunking common myths about raising bilingual children


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Mark Antoniou, Western Sydney University

 

A number of enduring myths surround bilingualism, such as that it causes language delays and cognitive impairments.

However, research shows that raising a child bilingually does not cause language learning difficulties. Any lag in language development is temporary, so parents shouldn’t worry!

Here are some more common myths debunked:

Raising your child bilingually can cause a delay in development

Not true. In fact there are numerous advantages, such as improved executive function (mental planning), metalinguistic awareness (the ability to think about language as abstract units), mental flexibility (processing information adaptively) and creative thinking.

Bilingual children will generally meet developmental milestones within the normal range of language development, but may in some cases be towards the tail end (which was exactly the case with Alexander).

Bilingual children lag behind their peers and won’t catch up

This is a contentious issue, as there is considerable variability within bilingual children. Some children will not show any lag at all.

It has been suggested that a temporary lag may stem from having to accommodate two language systems within the same brain, but these children will catch up within a few months (note that this is not the same as a language delay).

But more research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms that are responsible.

My child will confuse the two languages

False. Although there is some controversy concerning when the languages become separated.

It was long thought that the two languages are fused at first and begin to separate when the child is around five. Recent evidence suggests that the languages may separate a lot earlier than was previously thought.

For example, bilingual children as young as 10-15 months babble differently depending on who they are interacting with (for example, English babbling sounds to the mother, and French babbling sounds to the father).

This suggests that babies are sensitive to who they are talking to from a very young age. This is probably a precursor of code-switching (when bilinguals use two languages within the same utterance).

Five tips for parents raising a child bilingually

  1. Be encouraging and patient as you would with any infant, and be aware that a bilingual child faces a tougher task than one learning only a single language.
  2. It is very important that both languages serve a functional purpose. Language is, after all, a tool for communication. If the child does not need to use the other language, they will probably stop using it. So, it is important to consistently place the child in situations that necessitate the use of both languages, and ideally with a variety of speakers.
    Doing so will develop robust speech categories in each language and ensure that they learn to process speech efficiently – which will aid both listening and talking.
  3. Many parents worry about the issue of balance, meaning whether a child knows both languages equally well. In the past, it was thought that in order to be truly bilingual you needed to have an equal command of both languages.
    I conducted a series of studies on very proficient bilinguals and observed time and again that even fluent bilinguals have a dominant language. So, there is little point stressing about a child not having a perfectly equal command of each language because the truth is almost no one does.
  4. Parents commonly become concerned when bilingual children mix their languages. Do not worry. This is a normal part of bilingual language development and not a sign of confusion. Even proficient bilinguals mix their languages.
  5. If you are concerned about your child’s language development, you should have your child assessed by a doctor and, if necessary, a speech-language pathologist. Bilingual children may present with language delays, just like any other children. If your child has a language delay, early intervention may be required to help them learn their languages.

The Conversation

Mark Antoniou, ARC Research Fellow, MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University

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