Mother Tongue – The Most Beautiful Gift We Have

Today is International Mother Language Day. To celebrate it, we have a blog post from one of the editors of our book, New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, Boglárka Straszer. In this post she reflects on the importance of our mother tongues.

Many years ago, I took the bus every morning to my office at the university in my home town Uppsala. One sunny spring morning I noticed unusual graffiti on the ground in front of my feet at the bus stop. It was a mysterious statement in Swedish: “Jag gav den orden” – “I gave words to it”. I was mesmerized. After that day, I found myself studying this graffiti on the concrete every morning for a long time, enormously fascinated. My thoughts always seemed to roam wildly when I stood there at the bus stop waiting for my bus. What did the scribbler mean? What was he/she thinking? What were the words? A linguistic act was suggested; and it was something that made me reflect on the power of words and language, the strength of this short sentence in front of my feet in this public space. A little graffiti that we can interpret in many ways. Words we give to each other, words we get and take from each other, and words we use are significant. They transform people into thinking and communicating beings.

Language deserves attention and especially today on International Mother Language Day.

30 years ago I got the opportunity to learn Finnish. In this picture I am with my host and good friend Ilpo in Riihimäki, Finland, in July 1992 at the end of my year as Rotary Exchange Student.

Many writers have tried to describe mother tongue with beautiful words and emotional expressions. Therefore, there is no point for me to try to describe mother tongue more exquisitely. Instead, I will simply allow myself to state that for me, the mother tongue is intimate – one of the most beautiful gifts an individual can have, and also the most important tool for communication and the way to the soul. Our mother tongues and languages are our treasures that no one can take away from us, as long as we care about and use them. But, is the mother tongue really the most important tool for communication and the most important key to the soul for everyone and in every circumstance?

I think that there is no one truth about languages and there is no single way to define mother tongue, although in my own case it is quite simple to argue that I have Hungarian as my mother tongue. Hungarian was the only language that my family used during my childhood and it was the only language that everybody used in my surroundings. It was also the majority language in Hungary, even though some other languages were visible in various contexts in Hungarian society.

Today, however, I can and want to add that happily enough I have two other named languages with me in my everyday life as well as in my heart. These two languages, my first second language Finnish and my second second language Swedish, which I learned later on in my life, are as equally close to my mind and heart as my Hungarian. I love them each just as much and they are equally important for me for to be able to express all my thoughts and all my feelings. In some situations it can be easier to choose and use one of my languages. Sometimes I benefit more from using one, while in other situations I benefit more from another one. And this is the joy with multilingualism! Also, these three languages – Hungarian, Finnish and Swedish – are my children’s first languages, which they have been socialized in since birth. I hope with all my heart that they feel that all three languages are their own mother tongue.

Most of the people around the world use more than one named language in their everyday life and many of them have more than one mother tongue, making them all the richer. In my research, I have met, among others, many second generation Hungarians in Finland and Sweden, people who were born and grew up in another country and in another linguistic environment than their parents did. I also have friends with Sámi origin, who speak or have connections with South, North or another Sámi language. All these people have varied attitudes towards languages, defining mother tongue not only as a language they know best in all kinds of situations and not either as the language of their childhood. Instead, many of them argue that Sámi is their mother tongue, regardless if only their parents or grandparents used it and they themselves do not have skills in the language at all. They do so because of strong emotional ties to the language and the associated culture. Their relationships to their parents, relatives and roots play an important role.

Today Boglárka has a multilingual repertoire and is Assistant Professor in Swedish as a Second Language at Dalarna University in Sweden

Roots, however, are not always the most crucial aspect when you define mother tongue, as every individual who has some kind of connection to one or more languages has the right to determine what to call that language or these languages. For example, some years ago I carried out a study where I interviewed elderly Hungarians who had moved to Finland or Sweden as young adults more than 40 years ago. Some of them have a purist view of language and have clear opinions on mother tongue, such as “the mother tongue is the language you are born with” or “the language you use without any obstacles in all domains”. However, these people could also contradict themselves and say that Finnish or Swedish was already or “almost” like their mother tongue – despite the fact that they had not learned these languages since birth nor did they use these languages in every situation. Many of these people do not draw boundaries between their languages. Rather, their languages are natural parts of their life and they use them unhindered in different situations and in different contexts. All of their languages are integrated in their repertoire.

I share the same feelings with them. I want to emphasise that it is wonderful to celebrate mother tongues and every mother tongue today, delighting in the fact that we all have right to determine which languages we want to celebrate as our own mother tongues. I personally do not want to only celebrate my Hungarian, but also my Finnish and my Swedish, too.

Finally, these words are for my beloved, old, and always wise close friend in Finland, who unfortunately does not have much time left to share with us in this life. This is for you who opened a way for me to find new linguistic and cultural spaces and gave me many wonderful years to speak about languages and enjoy the bilingual and, nowadays, multilingual lifestyle. With you, I started to understand the meaning with my mother tongue. And with you, I learned to love both Hungarian and Finnish deep in my heart. With more languages than one mother tongue, I am stronger and have more self-confidence than ever before. This happiness with languages is the most valuable thing individuals can give to each other. Your work, my friend, to give me a new language gives pleasure and joy forever. Mitä lämpimimmät kiitokseni siitä! / Thank you with all my love!

Boglárka Straszer, Uppsala, Sweden

Brexit Update: What are we Doing to Prepare?

On the 29th September 2016, exactly 18 months before the UK was due to leave the European Union, I wrote in a blog post entitled Brexit and its Implications for Channel View Publications & Multilingual Matters: Since the UK referendum result to leave the European Union, I have often been asked what effect this will have on our business. These questions have come from authors, colleagues, interested friends and my mother. The honest answer to all has been “I really do not know”.

We are now only five and a half weeks away from the “Brexit date” of 29th March, and I am afraid to say that my answer has not changed very much. I have had more sleepless nights than normal and lost countless hours of productive work time in the past three months as I’ve tried to gain some understanding of what sort of impact the various different versions of Brexit will have. Many different options are still being talked about and have gained traction, lost popularity, been proposed, negotiated and discarded, but what will actually happen, we still do not know.

Immediately after the Brexit vote in June 2016, I was relatively confident that Brexit would not happen as there was just a very slim chance of the various different factions agreeing what kind of Brexit they wanted. Unfortunately I had not predicted that our government would launch down the road of negotiating a Brexit deal with the European Union before knowing what kind of a deal the UK parliament would accept. The past few months of political intrigue and inaction at Westminster have been entertaining, dispiriting and terrifying in equal measures.

Given that we are now facing a potentially very disruptive no-deal Brexit, we at Channel View Publications have had to take steps to plan for the future. We are actively talking to our European trade customers suggesting that we will support them with a small extra discount and longer payment terms should they feel able to stock up on our titles before the 29th March. We are looking to work with printers outside the UK in order to print directly in our major markets like the USA and Japan. We are talking to our printers and distributors to make sure that we understand the likelihood and scale of any serious delays at the EU/UK customs border, and whether this will have a knock-on effect at our airports. We are making sure that our UK distributor has all of the agreements and IT systems in place to provide efficient information to Customs should they need to. We are tightening our belts and building up an emergency fund so that in the event of a drop in sales, or an increase in production costs, or most likely both, we are able to work through this. Whatever happens, we will do our utmost to ensure that our authors and customers continue to receive the same level of support from us as always.

Our hoped-for outcome at the moment is that the government will come to their senses, realise the very real damage that is being done to our economy, and withdraw Article 50 until such a time as those planning for Brexit can achieve a majority for what sort of a future we want with the EU. If that is agreed, and if Brexit is still what the country wants in the full knowledge of how difficult it might be, then resubmit the letter and negotiate properly with the full backing of parliament. This, I suspect, is rather like hoping for Christmas in March…

Tommi

Understanding the Language of Our Daily Lives

This month we are publishing Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization edited by Tyler Andrew Barrett and Sender Dovchin. In this post the editors talk about what inspired them to put the book together.

The contemporary world is full of different languages. These languages are everywhere: Signage, advertisements, popular culture, social media, streets, classrooms, offices, gossip – you name it. These languages are chaotic, messy, unexpected and cluttered. They are part of our everyday lives, whether you want it or not. They are, in fact, quite ordinary! Many of us, however, seem to simply ignore or disregard the messiness and ordinariness of these diverse languages. Because, they are – “SCRUFFY!” After all, who cares about the scruffy language, right? We somehow tend to take seriously ‘the standard’, ‘the official’ and ‘the formal’, while disregarding the most intimate part of our daily communications. Nonetheless, our book strives to show how developing an intimate relationship with ‘the unconventional’, ‘the scruffiness’, and ‘the messiness’ of our daily language practices may see us realize who we are indeed as human beings, as individuals, and as social members. This very messy side of language is, in fact, part of our identities, selves, natures, and characteristics.

Inspired by research in the debate of ‘sociolinguistics of globalization’ (Blommaert, 2010), we wanted to present a collection of research aimed at addressing this very messy, albeit ordinary, side of language. Since language can be understood from several different perspectives, as it is part of just about everything we do in daily life, this meant that our research would address several academic disciplines that include Linguistics, Sociology, Political Science and even Philosophy. However, these fields are often used to reinforce traditional ideas about ‘the standard’, ‘the official’, and ‘the normal’, which meant that we had a big task ahead of us as we were essentially suggesting, along with Blommaert (2010), that our traditional approaches of understanding the language of our daily lives were at times imprecise and in need of a makeover.

While rethinking our understanding of the language of our daily lives was indeed a challenge, although the data kind of spoke for itself in many ways, our biggest challenge was perhaps tying the interdisciplinary themes together as cohesive contributions to the discussion and debate of the ‘sociolinguistics of globalization’. Although we are often conveniently able to casually discuss the complexities of the debate using idealist and very general descriptions of culture, language, politics, and identity, it was challenging to present cutting-edge research that contributed to knowledge in such a way that it is worthy of publication. We hope we have achieved this aim with this project.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Aspiring to be Global by Shuang Gao.

What’s It Like Growing Up With Three Languages?

Last month we had a work experience student with us from Germany. Loïc grew up speaking three languages (his father is one of our authors and you can read about his multilingual journey in our book Raising Multilingual Children), so we wanted to ask him about his experience of being multilingual.

How many languages do you speak?

Loïc (left) and Laura on a tour of our distributor’s warehouse with our account manager, Matt

I would say that I fluently speak three languages: German, Dutch and English.

Did you grow up learning all those or did you learn any later in life?

The first language I learnt was Dutch, as my mom is a Dutch native speaker. Shortly after that, through my father speaking English with me, I became proficient in English as well. Then lastly by living in a German environment, going to German kindergarten and having mostly German friends, German was the third language I learnt.

Do you think of any one language as your ‘mother tongue’ or do you count them all?

I would count all of them as my ‘mother tongue’ even though I speak some better than others and also feel more comfortable depending on the language I speak.

Do you feel your personality changes depending on the language you’re speaking?

I personally can only refer to me feeling most comfortable whilst speaking English. From my friends and family I have heard that I get annoyed a lot faster, and on account of that, curse a lot more, when I speak German.

Which language do you find most difficult and why?

It is most difficult for me to speak Dutch, because I don’t often have the opportunity to speak it. My mom and I stopped speaking Dutch to each other about five years ago as I usually just responded in German. The reason for that I still haven`t figured out (ultimate act of teenage defiance?) I must say that I do regret that, but if I stay with my Dutch family for more than 3 days I usually get the hang of it again.

Which is your favourite language to speak and why?

Loïc on a visit to Sarah’s new house in Dawlish with Tommi and Laura

My favourite language to speak depends a lot on who I’m talking to – with my friends I feel the best speaking German, with my family English or Dutch (depending on what they would rather speak). Overall I must say though that English is my favourite language and usually that is the language I go with when I am emotional.

You live in Germany – how do you maintain your other languages?

I do live in Germany, yes. Maintaining my German is understandably easy and my English also mainly easy, as I practice in school, with foreign friends, online, with media and with my father most of all. My Dutch on the other hand is somewhat more difficult to maintain, but I recently starting speaking more Dutch with my mom and some of my Dutch friends. Mainly I practice my Dutch though when I am in the Netherlands or in Belgium.

What are the advantages of being multilingual?

The range of people I can speak to is a lot bigger. In general, all the benefits you gain from speaking other languages, just that I didn’t have to undergo the time-consuming process of learning a different language… which is supremely helpful. I think every person who has tried to learn a language knows the frustration of not being able to express yourself correctly in that language, because of a lack of proficiency. So I am very happy and lucky that my parents brought me up to be trilingual.

There are also some disadvantages of being multilingual. These disadvantages for me would be that I often switch words in languages or sometimes forget to address a person in the correct language. Generally speaking though I think the cons are strongly outweighed by the pros.

 

Raising Multilingual Children is available on our website.

What Takes Place Behind the Scenes of Research?

This month we are publishing Critical Reflections on Research Methods edited by Doris S. Warriner and Martha Bigelow. In this post Doris explains how a stolen car and a shut-off notice, amongst other things, led her to reflect on her experiences as a researcher.

In 2001, a participant in my dissertation research study called. She told me that her car had been stolen. She said she had been pulled out of the car and injured before they drove away with it. I was listed as a contact person on the police report, so I was later contacted in the middle of the night to be told that the police had located the damaged car at a local truck stop. I eventually helped to retrieve the damaged car from the impound lot. That same year, another participant needed help talking to the local utility company after receiving a shut-off notice in the mail. I accompanied her to the appointment and helped everyone understand what was going on and what needed to be done in order to avoid having power disrupted.

These are just two of many situations which caused questions and doubts to swirl and bounce around in my head. I wondered whether this constituted research, how to engage, and what else might require quick unplanned responses. As I endeavoured to manage these unexpected circumstances, weigh decisions, and understand the potential consequences of my actions, I was filled with uncertainty.

Over the past 15 years, I have continued to work in research contexts with unexpected twists and turns. I have also tried to mentor graduate students through many situations, relationships, contexts, and challenges that they too could not have anticipated or prepared for. I have looked for answers to questions about ethics, relationships, trust-building and process in my experiences as a researcher, in books on qualitative research methods, and in the work of colleagues also working in complex research contexts.

However, while I found many generic discussions of research ethics (e.g., the need to obtain IRB approval and how important that is), I did not find the honest, first-hand accounts of unresolved questions, misgivings, doubt and uncertainty that seem to characterize my own experiences as a researcher. Hungry for more revealing accounts of what takes place behind the scenes of the situations and scenarios written up in peer-reviewed publications, I began to examine some of the questions, challenges and limits surrounding methods of inquiry, analysis and representation.

In 2014, I organized a session for the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association entitled Critical Reflections on Theory and Method: The Possibilities and Limits of Anthropological Work on/with/for Refugee Communities. In 2015, I organized a session for the American Association for Applied Linguistics on Producing Knowledge about/with/for Vulnerable Populations: Collaborations, Constraints, and Possibilities. Combined, the two sessions brought together junior and senior scholars who had navigated relationships, roles, reciprocity and knowledge production processes in complex multilingual contexts and who had many important insights to share about their personal experiences, questions and accomplishments.

This edited collection showcases work that delves into, explores, and examines the possibilities and limits of our methods, our relationships, our roles and our research stories. I hope it will be of interest and value to researchers working on sensitive issues or in challenging contexts. And I look forward to continued conversations with all of you about the relationship between the methods of inquiry we use, the types of knowledge we help to produce, and our lived experiences as researchers.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry.

Another Busy Conference Season for CVP/MM

As January draws to a close we’re looking forward to the upcoming spring conference season, which is always the busiest time of year for both Channel View and Multilingual Matters.

It all kicks off for Channel View in February with Sarah’s annual trip to the other side of the world for CAUTHE, being held this year in Cairns, Australia. Then March brings the usual flurry of US conferences for the Multilingual Matters contingent – between them Laura, Tommi and Anna will be attending NABE in Florida and AAAL and TESOL in Atlanta, all in the space of a week! As April comes around we’ll be staying a bit closer to home, with Laura heading off again, this time to IATEFL in Liverpool, while Sarah makes her way down south to Bournemouth University for the TTRA Europe conference.

If you’re planning to be at any of these conferences, do make sure you pop by the stand to say hello to us. We love catching up with our authors, having the opportunity to put faces to names and are always very happy to discuss potential projects with you. We’ll also have plenty of interesting titles for you to browse, including a whole host of brand new ones, and they’ll all be on sale at a special conference discount, so you’re bound to find a bargain!

You can keep up with our whereabouts this conference season by following us on social media.

Can Adult Language Learners Acquire a Native-speaker Accent Just by Listening?

This month we published English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation by Karin Richter. In this post the author talks about what led her to study L2 pronunciation in adults and what we can expect to learn from the book.

Do university students who listen to regular lectures with native speakers improve their pronunciation skills?

Can adult language learners pick up a native-speaker accent just by listening? Or is there little hope because they are probably too old for acquiring a native-like accent? This book presents a longitudinal research project exploring exactly these questions. My interest in the topic arose out of my involvement in two core areas of educational linguistics, namely the current spread of English-medium instruction (EMI) at European universities and the development of L2 pronunciation skills in adult learners. Let me tell you how and why I set out on this exciting journey.

Why study adult pronunciation?

In 2003, the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) in Vienna, where I was teaching ESP courses at the time, pioneered a new programme – part of a growing wave across Europe: EMI. The UAS jumped on the bandwagon and was one of the first in the country to offer a bilingual (English/German) Bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship with up to 50% of the classes taught in English mostly by native speakers. In those early days of the EMI movement, it was hoped that the use of English to teach content courses would simultaneously enhance students’ content and language competence, based on the assumption that the learners benefit from ‘two for the price of one’. However, there was – and still is today – little research yet conducted to confirm this hope.

Interestingly, at the time, I was not only teaching a wide range of Business English courses at the UAS but also Practical Phonetics at another educational institution, namely the University of Vienna. Questions began to rise in my mind and I wondered how the EMI students’ increased exposure to English through their native-speaker teachers impacted on their foreign (Austrian) accent in English. I was curious what was going on implicitly, without any specific effort or attention. Essentially want I wanted to find out was: Do the students simply pick up the teacher’s accent without studying pronunciation or is it irrelevant what accent (foreign or native) the teacher has because adult learners at this stage have already passed the critical period for acquiring a native-like accent? As an experienced pronunciation teacher, these questions spurred me to embark on an empirical study in which I monitored the EMI students’ pronunciation for three years, looking in detail to see if they were making any gains or if they were hitting a wall because of their age.

What’s in the book?

The book begins with a comprehensive account of the rise of English-medium instruction in European higher education, examining the role of English as a Lingua Franca and exploring further questions about native-speaker norms. Then it goes on to discuss how languages in general and pronunciation in particular are learned in the EMI classroom and which factors (such as age, gender, musicality, attitude or motivation) influence L2 pronunciation mastery. Each chapter provides a thorough review of the literature, which then serves as the basis for the presentation and interpretation of the findings of my own study of Austrian business students at the UAS, whose pronunciation development I tracked over the entire duration of their Bachelor studies.

What did I find?

  • Do university students who listen to regular lectures with native speakers improve their pronunciation skills?
  • At their age (most of them were in their early 20s) can they make any significant gains with pronunciation at all?
  • Do EMI programmes result in considerable language development despite little to no explicit language instruction?
  • Do additional activities within and outside the programme influence their pronunciation more than just sitting in on lectures with the content area professors?
  • What are the main features of the Austrian learners’ accent in English which they were struggling with the most?

You’ll have to read the book to find out….

What contribution does this book make?

This book goes beyond the context of the particular case here. It addresses the burning issue of linguistic gains in tertiary EMI classrooms and also provides longitudinal data on L2 phonological changes in adult learners. Hence my purpose in embarking on the study and writing this book was to offer a valuable contribution to both the field of bilingual education as well as second language acquisition. I hope that the findings presented in this volume will spark new ideas for future studies in a fascinating field and that researchers as well as programme designers, teachers and students interested in English-medium instruction and second language phonology will find it a worthwhile and inspirational read.

Karin Richter

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like English-Medium Instruction in Japanese Higher Education edited by Annette Bradford and Howard Brown.

 

An Interview with Liss Kerstin Sylvén on her Research on CLIL

This month we published Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning edited by Liss Kerstin Sylvén. In this post we ask her about her research on Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and the process of putting together an edited volume.

How did you first become interested in studying CLIL?

The first time I ever encountered CLIL (which was at a time when I had never even heard of the concept) was when I substituted as an English teacher at a Swedish upper secondary school, and one of the teachers there told me that they were planning to start using English as the medium of instruction in some non-language subjects. I remember my reaction being a big Why? Why should Swedish teachers, at a Swedish school, with Swedish students use English as the medium of instruction? That was the starting point for my interest in studying effects of CLIL, and very soon after this first encounter with CLIL, I wrote my bachelor thesis on the topic.

Why did you feel this was an important book to write?

There are so many uninformed views on CLIL, and often it is seen as only good or only bad. In other words, many people see it as black or white. What is important with this book is that it describes a unique, longitudinal project which has resulted in a huge number of interesting findings. The most important of them are found in this collection, and together they show that CLIL is far from black or white, but rather represents a number of nuances that need to be taken into account in order to fully understand what CLIL is, can be, and can do, in a certain context.

Why is the Swedish context a particularly interesting one to research? What can policymakers in other countries learn from this example?

Every country is interesting in its own right from the perspective of effects of CLIL. Sweden is interesting not least due to the fact that English is so widespread in society and the level of English proficiency is generally high. An interesting question, then, has been what role CLIL can play in our society. The brief answer is that CLIL can play an important role, but it has to be done in the right circumstances. For instance, teachers need to be sufficiently prepared and trained for CLIL teaching, and focus should be on academic language, rather than the everyday language which students encounter in abundance outside of school. Sweden is also interesting as we have seen a significant increase in the number of students with a non-Swedish background in our schools during the last decades. A pertinent question is if CLIL can help bridge barriers between this group of students and those with a Swedish background.

Policymakers in other countries can tailor decisions based on our findings in the Swedish context that may be relevant for their own context. By reading the volume, they will hopefully become aware of the very important role the local context plays, and that decisions need to be based on them, not on results from contexts different from their own.

As you compiled your book, did anything in the research particularly surprise or intrigue you?

What has surprised me throughout the work with the project, on which the book is based, is how positive everybody involved in CLIL seems to be about using English as the medium of instruction part of the time in school. Students, teachers, administrators – all have a very confident view of CLIL, and this, of course, is highly interesting from an educational viewpoint. With a positive mindset, teaching and learning is definitely facilitated.

Putting together any edited volume is a major undertaking. How did you find the process?

I would lie if I were to say that it was an easy process. It was not! Primarily I think the fact that we are as many as fourteen contributors to this volume, played a role in making it quite complicated at times – who had done what? Who needed a reminder? Who was waiting for feedback? Etc. However, the multitude of viewpoints presented by each and every one of us is, of course, also one of the strengths of this book. And, the support given to me as the editor of the book by Multilingual Matters throughout this entire process has been invaluable. I have learnt so much by working with this volume, knowledge that I do not want to be without!

What advice would you offer to an academic writing or editing their first book?

Make sure that the topic is one that you really, really care about! Find a good publisher who is enthusiastic about the idea! Once there is such a topic and such a publisher, just go for it. Yes, it entails a lot of work, but in the end, it is definitely worth it.

You painted the image on your book cover yourself. Have you been painting for long? What was the inspiration behind this piece?

To answer your first question, I have always painted! Some periods more, some less, but it’s always there as my favorite escape from stress and problems of any kind. When I paint, I think good thoughts, and I often unconsciously come up with new ways of looking at things. The motif for the cover of the book came to me very early on in the process. When I realized we were going to get the book published, I started seeing it as it would look on the bookshelf, and I saw it pretty much as it now looks. I have tried to illustrate the move from seeing CLIL as something that is either black or white, to something full of shades of various colors. I couldn’t have been happier than when you all agreed to actually use it for the cover of the book!

What books – either for work or for pleasure – are you reading at the moment?

For pleasure, I’m reading Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker (absolutely fascinating!), and Michelle Obama’s biography Becoming. For work, I am re-reading Identity and Language Learning by Bonny Norton (Multilingual Matters, 2013), and Miho Inaba’s very recent and interesting book on extramural Japanese, Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom (Multilingual Matters, 2019) – pure coincidence with two books from Multilingual Matters 🙂

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual Education edited by Tarja Nikula, Emma Dafouz, Pat Moore and Ute Smit.

How to Give Your Child the Best Chance of Learning a Second Language

This month we published Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition edited by Joanna Rokita-Jaśkow and Melanie Ellis. In this post the editors suggest the best ways to teach your child a foreign language.

Knowing I am an expert in teaching English to young learners, many parents approach me asking, WHEN is it best to start teaching their child a foreign language?

And of course they would like to get a clear-cut answer, which would help them to make the best decision. They are usually very ambitious, conscious parents, often middle-class, who are focused on bringing up children and willing to do their utmost to make the best of their young child’s ‘window of opportunity’ for language learning.

However, the answer to when a child should start is not that simple. First of all, you need to know that if you don’t start teaching your child a foreign language early, it does not mean that your child will miss the learning opportunity. You can compensate for a later start by having more classes more often at a later age, living abroad or by using out-of-class learning opportunities such as the internet. Foreign language (FL) instruction is a part of school curricula in many settings, and if the teaching is high quality, your child will benefit from instruction at school too.

Rather than asking when learning a foreign language should start, if you decide to enrol your child in early FL instruction (which you usually have to pay for), you should rather ask HOW the language should be taught to get the best learning outcomes. Popular demand from parents has seen the rise of numerous private schools which are flourishing, but which do not always offer high quality teaching.

  • First of all, you should aim to give your child as many opportunities to learn the language as possible, remembering that they forget quickly and learn slowly, and need frequent revision and contact with the language. For this reason, choosing a bilingual or immersion type of nursery or school may be the best option, as instruction there takes place most of the time in the foreign language.
  • If this type of schooling is not available in your area or is too costly, do not forget about your own knowledge of the FL and use it as an asset to support your child in foreign language learning. You can revise the FL class material with your child, play simple games in an FL, join them in playing online games or watch cartoons in an FL with them. A parent must be present to keep the child focused on the task and explain words and expressions that they don’t understand.
  • Reading in the FL is the key to speaking in the FL. Reading a picture book together with the child in an FL helps visual and critical literacy to grow along with competence in the FL. Likewise digital books on apps or on websites are freely available and can be used for parent-child reading.
  • It could be a good idea to design an FL corner with self-access material (books, toys, board games, tablet etc.) both in the school/kindergarten and at home. Children could freely reach for FL materials for play, and in this way may act out the FL lesson.
  • Finally, parents need to take an interest in what happens in the language class, not only to keep track of what the children learn, but to be aware how the lessons are taught, particularly in the private sector. The teaching should emphasise play and using the language for communication, but it will only be successful if the teacher is able to control the group of children and at the same time communicate with ease in the FL. So the teacher needs really good managerial, teaching and language skills. Unfortunately, such teachers are difficult to find, which calls into question whether a very early start is the best idea.

Our book looks at these aspects from a research perspective. It outlines critical issues that influence the learning outcomes in young and very young learner classrooms that should be looked into. It will be of interest to teachers, teacher educators, researchers and also parents, who are keen to get more information before making any decision about provision for an early start.

Additionally, it should be remembered that the learning trajectories of early starters vary considerably throughout their lives due to the impact of various social, affective and cognitive factors and go beyond the impact of the starting age. Thus there are many pathways from an early start and not all young learners will reach the same competence in the foreign language.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren.

The World is a Handkerchief: Our Favourite Idioms from Different Languages

Earlier this week we published a post by the author of our new book, Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language, Monica Karlsson. This got us thinking about the idioms we’ve come across in different languages. Here are some of our favourites…

Laura

I like this one from German, which I think means that you’re mad. It is particularly poignant here as we do have all our cups in the cupboard! We must be a very sane office 😊

“Sie hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank.” – She doesn’t have all her cups in the cupboard.

I also like “Être gourmand comme un chat” as it roughly translates as to eat like a pig, but has the added element of having high standards about what you eat, possibly reflecting the more stereotypical French appetite compared with the English one!

 

 

Flo

The French idiom “Poser un lapin à quelqu’un”, literally “To put a rabbit to someone”, or “Stand someone up” has always stuck with me… it makes something mean sound a lot cuter!

I like it when idioms reflect the culture of the country that language is spoken in, like the Russian “Любишь кататься – люби и саночки возить” – “If you like sledging, you’ve got to like pulling the sledge”, the idea that in order to do something we love, we have to do things we don’t – there is no pleasure without pain!

Another one is “Ни пуха, ни пера.” – “К чёрту!” This is like the English “Break a leg” whereby you wish someone bad luck in the hope it will bring them good luck, but in Russian it’s a hunting metaphor – you say “Neither down, nor feather” and they respond “To hell!”

 

Tommi

Finnish is rich with idioms…

Like “Katosi kuin pieru saharassa” – “Disappeared like a fart in the Sahara”…. Most recently used by film director Aki Kaurismäki to describe the leaders of the Brexit leave campaign who, when faced with any real responsibility, “disappeared like a fart in the Sahara”….

Or “Ei oo kaikki muumit laaksossa” – “To not have all the Moomins in the valley” – i.e. “One can short of a six pack”

Or “Juosta pää kolmantena jalkana” – “To run with your head as a third leg” – or to be in a massive rush but not really be very effective at it…

 

Rose

My favourite Somalian phrase, which I feel is my life’s motto:

“Canjeelo siday u kala korreyso ayaa loo cunaa” – As the pancakes are piled, so they should be eaten.

 

Elinor

My favourite Spanish idiom is: “El mundo es un pañuelo” which literally means “The world is a handkerchief” meaning “It’s a small world”.

In German, I like the phrase: “Man kann nicht auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen” which literally means “You can’t dance at two weddings” or “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

 

 

 

For more information about Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language please see our website.