New ‘Lines of Flight’ for Language Education

We recently published the 2nd edition of Learning English at School by Kelleen Toohey. In this post the author reflects on the 1st edition of the book and reveals what we can expect from the new one.

I published Learning English at School: Identity, Social Relations and Classroom Practice in 2000, reporting on three years of participant observation of children beginning to learn English at school. My son and daughter were entering kindergarten at about the same time I began my fieldwork in another kindergarten, and it was fascinating to me to observe something of what starting school is like for children and teachers. With this revision of Learning English at School, I am revisiting not only the experiences of the children I observed but also the childhoods of my own children. Together, these re-visitings have elicited mixed emotions of sadness, joy, regret, surprise and nostalgia. The sociocultural theory I used in the 2000 edition was relatively new in second language education literature at the time, and it provided me with a way to think about language learning that resonated more with my previous education in social science than psycholinguistic approaches had done.

With the 2nd edition of the book, I have worked with a new (to me) approach (new materialisms) that draws on my even-farther-back experience of majoring in philosophy in my undergraduate years. The book’s revised subtitle, Identity, Socio-material Relations and Classroom Practice reflects my interest in these ideas and my conviction that material humans, material symbolic systems, and the material world are bound together inextricably (entangled) and act together. The 2nd edition’s cover photo of flying birds was stimulated by ideas of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychotherapist Félix Guattari, who urged finding ways to take ‘lines of flight’ in our thinking. Looking for new ways to understand things, discourses and humans seemed an exciting way for me to rethink my observations from 20 years ago.

Deleuze has also reminded us that scholarship doesn’t advance because we wholly reject what has come before, and that scholars should adopt attitudes of ‘and, and, and’. For these reasons, in the 2nd edition, I re-present my initial observations and my sociocultural analyses, but I also discuss, where relevant, how a new materialism perspective might document and analyse these events somewhat differently, and how such a view might lead language education in new and challenging directions (‘lines of flight’). In those sections of chapters in which I present new materialist interpretations, I discuss additional possible ways of understanding what was going on. I hope the comments I make about new materialism and new ways of telling classroom stories, stimulate other researchers to aim their lenses at matters in addition to the human interactions in their research sites.

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.

When Second Language Competence is Not Enough: The Case of Minority Languages

This month we published Immersion Education by Pádraig Ó Duibhir, which examines the success of young immersion learners of Irish in becoming competent speakers of the minority language. In this post the author explains why further efforts need to be made to promote the wider use of Irish outside Irish-medium education.

We devote a great deal of time and effort in second language teaching to ensure that learners reach the highest level of competence possible in the second language. Sometimes, however, competence is not enough, as in the case of Irish, a minority language in contact with English – one of the world’s major languages.

I have spent most of my career either teaching or researching Irish-medium education. In general, students who graduate from Irish-medium schools have developed excellent oral communication skills in Irish despite some grammatical inaccuracies. One might expect these young adults to contribute to the wider use of Irish in society. Unfortunately, this is not always the case despite government policy in this area. While some do use more Irish than their counterparts who went to English-medium schools, the level of use is disappointing.

As a parent who raised three children, now in their late 20s, through the medium of Irish, I can attest to the lack of opportunities to use the language outside the home and school contexts. None of my adult children work in a job that brings them into contact with Irish and apart from their communication with me, they have very few opportunities to speak Irish. When the children were younger, they attended Irish-medium schools. When their friends from school visited our house, however, I was always struck by the fact that their conversation was in English. If I engaged them in conversation they would happily speak Irish to me but return to conversing in English once I had left. Speaking Irish to me appeared to be normal, perhaps because they saw me as an authority figure or knew that Irish was the language of our home. But speaking Irish among themselves outside of school was not normal.

So much of the Irish government’s efforts to promote the wider use of Irish are invested in the education system. We know from experience, however, that transferring minority language learning from school to society is extremely difficult. How then might we create safe spaces where it is normal to speak Irish? Could we build Irish-speaking networks around Irish-medium schools? What can we learn from other minority language contexts? The advent of pop-up Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking social events is a very positive development. How might we capitalise on and expand this concept where participants have a clear desire to speak Irish? In the absence of greater opportunities and a desire to speak Irish, competence alone is not enough.

For more information about this book please see our website

AAAL and TESOL in the Windy City

Last month I headed off to Chicago with Anna and Tommi for my first international trip with MM – a week of back to back conferences, starting with AAAL and ending with TESOL. After a nice, relaxing flight over, I arrived in Chicago ready to dive straight into the first day of AAAL the following morning.

On the walk to the conference hotel on the first morning, I truly understood how Chicago got its “Windy City” nickname. It was absolutely freezing! No matter which way you turned, hoping the next block would offer some shelter, the gusts coming off the lake seemed to find you. It was a relief to arrive and hunker down in basement where the exhibit hall was located.

Tommi, Anna and Flo at AAAL

After a fairly relaxed start, it was quite the baptism of fire when the first coffee break brought a flurry of people downstairs to the exhibit hall, and every subsequent break continued in the same vein, with all three of us scrabbling for pens, order forms and books at once. Still, it was great to see so much enthusiasm for our books and it was a really successful conference in terms of sales, with Jan Blommaert’s new book, Dialogues with Ethnography, and Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll proving particularly popular.

Dinner with Wayne Wright

It was also a really good opportunity for me to finally meet so many of the people I’ve been emailing back and forth with over the past three and a half years, and put faces to names. We were even able to spend time with a couple of our authors after the conference over dinner and had lovely meals out with Wayne Wright, and Maggie Hawkins and her son, Sam. I particularly enjoyed sampling the culinary delights Chicago has to offer, including deep dish pizza, steak and the best Brussels sprouts I have ever encountered in my life!

With AAAL over and Anna on a flight back to the UK, Tommi and I headed straight off to the convention centre where this year’s TESOL was being held. It was a totally different experience for me, having never exhibited in a convention centre before, and I couldn’t believe the sheer scale of the place. After a quiet start, our stand got busier and busier, and by the time Tommi left for home on the penultimate day, I was rushed off my feet! Again, sales were good and it was particularly pleasing to take so many preorders of Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry’s forthcoming book, Educating Refugee-background Students, due out in May.

It being my first time in Chicago, I took the opportunity wherever possible to see some of the sights at the end of each day at the conference. I ventured off to Millennium Park to see the famous Bean sculpture there, visited the Art Institute (where the highlight, aside from the collections of famous paintings, were the incredible Thorne Miniature Rooms) and waited in what felt like the world’s longest queue to go up the Willis Tower and try out “The Ledge”, a glass balcony that extends four feet outside the 103rd floor!

Flo

 

Laura’s trip to the National Association of Bilingual Education conference

Earlier this month, I attended the annual American National Association of Bilingual Education conference, which this year took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is a conference we attend each year as it gives us an opportunity to showcase our books not only to academics researching in the area, but also to readers who might otherwise not discover them so easily, such as professionals working for school districts and in schools.

F. Isabel Campoy, Laura and Alma Flor Ada after the book signing

This year’s conference was particularly exciting as we had organised a launch for the 2nd edition of our book Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües. This book was originally written by Colin Baker in 1995 as a guide for parents and teachers looking for resources to help them raise their children with two languages. The English version has since gone on to a 4th edition (published in 2014); we have sold the rights to other publishers to publish versions in Chinese, Estonian, German, Korean, Swedish and Turkish and we ourselves have published the two editions in Spanish.

The 1st edition in Spanish was published in 2001, so it was long overdue an update. The 2nd edition, written by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, in consultation with Colin Baker, came out last summer and has been really well-received. Ada and Campoy are very well-known, award-winning authors, who have published numerous books and poetry for children, as well as academic works on bilingualism. As such, many delegates were excited to have the opportunity to meet the authors, both at the signing and throughout the conference, and talk about the book and how useful it is for parents and teachers nurturing bilingual children.

Laura at the Sandia Peak

Aside from this book, our books on translanguaging, including Paulsrud et al’s edited collection New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, and assessment, such as Mahoney’s The Assessment of Emergent Bilinguals were popular with the delegates. I am fortunate to have a couple of friends in the city and I spent my day off before travelling home exploring the surrounding area. A personal highlight was going up The Sandia Peak Tramway, the longest aerial tram in the United States. The views from the top of New Mexico were simply stunning!

Laura

Laura’s Trip to the Irish Research Network in Childhood Bilingualism and Multilingualism Meeting

Last month I was invited to give a talk on publishing with Multilingual Matters at the Irish Research Network in Childhood Bilingualism and Multilingualism. The one-day meeting was organised by Francesca La Morgia and took place at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). The research network aims to ‘establish links among researchers, policy makers, teachers, early childhood educators, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and anyone who could benefit from gaining knowledge and sharing experiences that can advance the understanding and improve practices in the area of childhood bilingualism’.

Dr Enlli Thomas introducing her presentation

The day began with a keynote speech from Prof. Enlli Môn Thomas who is the co-editor, together with Ineke Mennen, of our book Advances in the Study of Bilingualism. Enlli talked us through research being undertaken on bilingualism in Wales and discussed what has been done and has, or has not, worked in some areas. It seems that often the attitudes toward Welsh are relatively positive, in that people understand why it’s important and what the benefits of being bilingual are, yet their linguistic behaviour does not always reflect these views.

Laura giving her talk on publishing with Multilingual Matters

The next part of the morning comprised presentations from Prof. Nóirín Hayes from the Children’s Research Network for Ireland and Northern Ireland and Maureen Burgess of TCD who spoke about funding sources and opportunities. Making up that trio of presentations was mine on publishing, which I hope was of interest to those who are looking to publish the outcomes of their work and want to learn more about the publication process and what it entails.

One of the key aims of the network is to connect those working in different spheres but with similar interests or goals, to share knowledge and to think about useful collaborations. As such, the afternoon began with short presentations by delegates so that we could get an idea of who was working in which specific areas. We then split off into workshops and I sat in on one led by Ciara O’Toole on language disorders in bilingual children and bilingual education. In the group were speech language therapists, teachers and researchers and it was interesting to hear everyone pooling their ideas and expertise to come up with some aims for the group and goals to achieve before the next meeting.

The day then drew to a close with each working group reporting back to everyone else and it was nearly time for me to return to Bristol. But not before I took a moment to visit two of TCD’s most famous things: The Book of Kells and Old Library – absolute ‘musts’ for a publisher on a trip to Dublin!

Laura

Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües

This month we are publishing Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües: 2.a edición by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy and Colin Baker, the Spanish edition of Colin Baker’s bestselling book A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. In this post, Alma Flor and Isabel reveal why a Spanish edition of the book was needed.

En nuestro frecuente contacto con padres cuya primera lengua no es el inglés y son residentes de los Estados Unidos, a quienes encontramos en talleres, conferencias, visitas a escuelas o bibliotecas, nos queda a menudo el dolor de comprobar que muchos de ellos se acogen a creencias y prácticas contrarias a lo que beneficiaría a sus hijos, como lo demuestra la experiencia y la investigación.

Alguna de las falsas creencias, en muchos casos totalmente inconscientes, que justifican sus decisiones son que:

  • sus hijos aprenderán inglés más rápidamente y mejor si solo se educan en inglés,
  • sus hijos conservarán el español que aprendieron como niños, incluso cuando solo hablen inglés, y no se haga ningún esfuerzo para practicar o desarrollar su español,
  • sus hijos tendrán más éxito en los Estados Unidos si hablan solo inglés ya que eso les permitirá asimilarse y ser aceptados más fácilmente

Aunque estos padres no prevén inicialmente las dificultades de comunicación entre ellos y sus hijos, sí hemos encontrado a padres que se enfrentaban a la dificultad de no tener un idioma común con sus hijos.

El bilingüismo es un tema complejo que puede manifestarse de muchas formas y los hablantes pueden llegar a diferentes grados de bilingüismo por caminos diversos. Este libro ofrece información e invita a reflexionar a los padres y maestros a tener un claro entendimiento de la alegría y los retos que implica el privilegio de llegar a ser bilingüe.

La necesidad de proporcionar información rigurosa a los padres nos llevó a crear la versión en español de la cuarta edición de Colin Baker, Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües. Alma Flor ya había creado una versión de la primera edición que se ha usado ampliamente. La cuarta edición en inglés, amplió los temas sobre el uso de la tecnología, los resultados recientes de la investigación en psicología y nuevos descubrimientos en educación.

Quizás lo más distintivo de este libro es la forma en que Colin Baker ha organizado los contenidos, a través de una serie de preguntas claras de interés para cualquier persona involucrada en la educación de un niño, en proceso de llegar a ser bilingüe. A través de la lectura del índice cualquiera puede rápidamente identificar lo que más le interesa y así llegar sin dilación a los consejos que busca en el libro. Las respuestas se presentan con claridad y de forma simple y se dirigen al lector de manera personal.

La edición en español añade secciones dirigidas a la integración de la escuela y el hogar, se dan sugerencias para el aprendizaje en el hogar y recomendaciones de literatura infantil en español.

Nos alegra haber dedicado tiempo, en medio de nuestra ocupada vida como autoras de literatura infantil y escritoras de materiales educativos, para crear esta edición en español. Fue una labor satisfactoria y esperamos que muchos padres y maestros encuentren en este libro una valiosa información.

Les invitamos a visitar nuestros portales

www.almaflorada.com

www.isabelcampoy.com

o contactarnos en

almaflor@almaflorada.com

isabel@isabelcampoy.com

For more information about this book, please see our website. Colin Baker’s bestseller, A Parents‘ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (4th edition), on which this book is based, is also available on our website.

Rich Schools, Poor Schools: The Case of Two Cities. Really?

Last month we published English Language Teaching in South America edited by Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Luciana C. de Oliveira. In this post Lía highlights the similarities between some public schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles when it comes to access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In a recently published book, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that the notion of countries as being rich or poor is an outdated one. Instead, they support the idea that there are poor countries with cities or areas that experience great economic growth and social development. Along the same lines, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that rich countries are not homogeneous. Instead, they have pockets of persistent (and often growing, I would add) poverty and inequality. The latter is the case of the United States. For example, in the state of California, which represents the 7th economy of the world, the educational experience of children enrolled in public schools is dependent on the socioeconomic status (or more specifically on the zip code) of the geographical area in which their public school is located.

As a teacher educator at California State University, Los Angeles, I have the opportunity to observe classes taught by student teachers placed in kindergarten through grade 16 in the Los Angeles county. Public K-12 schools in the county, which includes cities with low, middle, and high incomes, are not significantly different from the schools described by Pozzi in her chapter from our new book titled “Examining Teacher Perspectives on Language Policy in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina,”. In particular, there are two themes that are common to public schools both in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles. These are: access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In our book, chapter authors describe several initiatives designed to integrate technology in EFL classrooms in South America. While Argentina has implemented a variety of such policies, particularly in relation to the notion of one laptop per child in K-12 and teacher preparation settings, the success of these programs with low-income children is still a work-in-progress. Specifically, in her chapter, Pozzi explains that in low income public schools in Buenos Aires, children and their parents are not trained in how to take care of their laptops, resulting in dramatic cases like those of parents’ washing  laptops as if they were clothes. Additionally, when children bring the laptops to school, the internet connection is limited (a point also made by Veciño in her chapter). While my experiences in low income schools in Los Angeles have not resulted in the observation of dramatic experiences like those observed for Buenos Aires, the reality is that access to laptops in low-income immigrant Latino areas is very limited. Schools in the Los Angeles county keep laptops locked in secured carts. During the school day, laptops are shared across classes and students have access to them to do school work for two to three hours per week, on average. Much like in the case of low-income schools in Buenos Aires, the internet connection in low-income schools in Los Angeles is often problematic; therefore, negatively limiting the use of the internet for instructional purposes showing educational YouTube videos to students. On the other hand, in general, schools in middle and high income areas tend to provide much more extensive access to laptops in the form of one laptop per child, particularly at the higher elementary grades (4th and 5th grades). This results in the integration of laptops for a variety of purposes, which in turn promotes higher student comfort with technology. Given that starting in 3rd grade, all children in California are required to take a battery of computer-based tests focusing on math, English language arts, and science at the end of the academic year, comfort with computers is critical for the students’ successful performance on the test.

Another similarity between low income schools in Buenos Aires and in Los Angeles, for example, is related to pedagogical materials. Pozzi explains that the EFL materials used to teach low income children in Buenos Aires are irrelevant to the students’ lives. Inner Circle materials, used to teach EFL in Buenos Aires, present a reality that is far from the reality that low-income children face in Buenos Aires. In the case of Los Angeles, the problem with materials is that, other than the pedagogical materials sanctioned by the school district, children have limited access to books, manipulatives, etc., that will help them expand on their learning. In contrast, teachers in middle and high income school classrooms have a wealth of instructional programs, materials, and in particular books, that children use at different times of the day for a variety of purposes.

To conclude, Pozzi’s chapter in our Multilingual Matters volume provides an eye-opening description of the complexities involved in the implementation of English language policies in low, middle and high income schools in Buenos Aires. In this blog entry, I took a quick look at schools in the Los Angeles county. In my analysis, I identified at least two similarities between schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles; therefore, I propose that we avoid blanket generalizations about countries in general and, more specifically, about the status of English language teaching around the world. In this way, more localized descriptions of the implementation of educational policies will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the impact of such policies.

Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, California State University, Los Angeles

References

Pomeraniec, H., & San Martín, R. (2016). ¿Dónde Queda el Primer Mundo? El Nuevo Mapa del Desarrollo y el Bienestar [Where is the First World? The New Landscape of Development and Well Being]. Buenos Aires: Aguilar.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like The Education of Indigenous Citizens in Latin America edited by Regina Cortina. 

Translanguaging: from a little acorn a mighty oak grows

This month we published New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and introduce us to the metaphor of the “translanguaging tree”.

Research on translanguaging has often been centred in superdiverse cities and urban spaces. Thus, Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden, may not have come to mind first when exploring new research in the dynamic field of translanguaging as theory and pedagogy ‒ until now! Dalarna University has proven to be the springboard for a collection of innovative international research on translanguaging. How did this happen?

Let us back up a bit! The four of us editors have all been teaching and researching language in education in the Swedish context for many years, focusing on both policy and practice. With approximately 20% of Sweden’s population comprised of immigrants and at least 140 languages spoken by pupils in the compulsory school system, language use in and out of educational contexts is a stimulating field. Our research led us naturally to the concept of translanguaging.

The Translanguaging conference at Dalarna University

Translanguaging offered a new way to explore language ideologies, policies, and processes. After a study visit by Åsa to Canada, where she spent time with Jim Cummins and Thornwood Primary School in Mississauga, the idea of a small workshop on translanguaging grew. While we first imagined that perhaps a dozen or so Swedish researchers would join us in Falun, we soon realized that the thirst for discussing translanguaging as a theoretical and pedagogical concept was great. That informal workshop developed into an international conference, “Translanguaging – practices, skills and pedagogy”, with more than 150 researchers from around 20 countries as well as numerous in-service teachers. Bryn Jones, in his presentation at the conference, aptly described the spread of translanguaging as a useful concept in education research with the metaphor “from a little acorn a mighty oak grows”.

The editors at a writing workshop

The metaphor of the acorn even describes the momentum which followed the conference in Falun. Inspired by the amazing research taking place in different contexts, we knew that a volume was needed to share this surge in the field. With a fantastic group of scholars from seven countries, the volume took shape in record time. For us editors, the period of time from April, 2015, to the present will always be remembered as a blur of texts to read, long editor meetings, contact with fantastic authors spread across the world, and appreciation of the great efforts made by everyone involved in the book. A highlight was a two-day writing workshop in the wintry countryside outside of Stockholm, where all the authors gathered for two days of peer-reviewing and mingling.

Many branches of the ever-growing ‘translanguaging tree’ are represented in our volume. Here are just a few:

  • agency
  • language ideology
  • language policy
  • social justice
  • translanguaging space
  • transliteracy
  • critical views on translanguaging
  • young learners to young adults
  • sign languages
  • national minority languages

Organizing a conference on translanguaging in the small town of Falun in Sweden highlights the fact that linguistic and cultural diversity is part of everyday lives in most places in the world. With the publication of this timely collection, we have made one contribution to tending the flourishing ‘translanguaging tree.’ We hope that the field will continue to thrive, and that future research will benefit from this first volume dedicated to new perspectives of translanguaging in education.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll.

The Pleasure of Raising Multilingual Children

Last month we published Raising Multilingual Children by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In this post, Jean-Marc discusses his own experience of bringing up a multilingual daughter and explains what inspired him and his co-authors to write the book.  

Parents everywhere in the world want the best for their children. It means looking after their physical and psychological health as well as their education. I remember reading books with my wife when she was pregnant with Livia about the best ways to raise children. We felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information and the occasionally contradictory suggestions on how to be good parents. We were also struck by the strong opinions people had about early multilingualism. Many expressed doubts about it being beneficial for the child “before a first language” settled in: wasn’t there a risk of the child ending up with a “muddled” linguistic system, unable to distinguish between the languages? Others wondered whether growing up with multiple languages might lead to an absence of clear linguistic and cultural roots for the child.

Having read my former PhD supervisor, Hugo Baetens Beardsmore’s (1982) book, Bilingualism: Basic Principles, my wife and I decided that the potential benefits of early multilingualism outweighed the potential drawbacks, and when Livia was born in London in 1996, my wife used Dutch with her, I used French, with English spoken all around us. She picked up Urdu from her Pakistani child-minder, who spoke English and Urdu with the English-speaking children. We were a bit concerned that the introduction of a fourth first language might be too much for Livia, but this fear turned out to be unfounded and her languages developed at a normal pace – though Urdu faded away after the age of two and a half when she moved to an English nursery school. From the moment she started speaking, she was perfectly capable of separating her languages, and switching from one to another effortlessly depending on the linguistic repertoire of her interlocutor. She still sounds like a native speaker in her three languages and consistently got some of the highest marks for English during her primary and secondary education. The brain of a baby is like a sponge: sufficient and regular linguistic input will allow it to absorb the languages in its environment. There is no danger of the brain ‘overheating’ because of exposure to too many languages.

Livia’s case is the first story in the book Raising Multilingual Children that has just come out. It includes Livia’s own view on her multilingualism at the age of ten and sixteen. My co-authors Greg Poarch and Julia Festman tell the story of their trilingual children. Greg’s son, Loïc, speaks two minority languages (English and Dutch) at home and uses German outside of his home. Julia’s daughter and son, Aya and Noam, grew up as trilinguals from birth, with two minority languages (English and Hebrew) at home and German outside. The situation changed when Julia’s husband passed away and the input in Hebrew dried up. Now German is the majority language spoken inside and outside of their home and English is the language used at school. Greg, Julia and I decided to pool our family experiences with three languages to produce a book for the general public informed by the academic research. We adopted an issue-related approach and agreed that we would present tips based on examples from our daily lives to highlight things that worked, and strategies that backfired with our children. The book contains concrete and practical ideas to implement multilingualism in the household.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker, Language Strategies for Trilingual Families by Andreas Braun and Tony Cline, and Xiao-lei Wang’s books, Growing up with Three Languages and Maintaining Three Languages.

 

The Multilingual Nature of Higher Education

This month we published Academic Biliteracies edited by David M. Palfreyman and Christa van der Walt. In this post, David and Christa discuss their experience of coediting the book. 

Christa: There were some initial signs that this book was not meant to be. Firstly, David’s e-mails to me disappeared in cyberspace and it was only when Nancy Hornberger contacted me to enquire very diplomatically whether I had received the e-mails, that we found out his institutional e-mails were not delivered, for some unfathomable reason. Secondly, this was an under-researched topic and we were not sure that we would get any contributions; and thirdly, both of us dealt with serious interruptions of a personal and professional nature. And yet, here we are, three years later, with chapters that showcase the multilingual nature of higher education in all its complexity.

Our first (academic) challenge was to agree on what we understand ‘literacy’ to mean, so that we can evaluate contributions on ‘biliteracy’. Going through our Skype notes, I’m struck by the terminology issues in every conversation. Is there a difference between ‘translanguaging’ and ‘translingual’; between ‘multiliteracies’ and ‘multilingual literacies’? Is ‘translanguaging’ the overarching concept in which ‘biliteracy’ needs to find its place, or should they be seen as separate phenomena in multilingual contexts? We still do not have a definite answer; or maybe it is better to say that we have many answers!

David: Yes, the email bug almost put a subtle end to the project before it started, and I’m very glad that Nancy intervened! I was keen to work with Christa on this book because her previous publications had focused on multilingual higher education in a way that I hadn’t come across before: questioning assumptions about English as the medium of instruction in so many universities worldwide.

Christa: We both wanted a variety of chapters from all corners of the world, but of course we had to be selective within the scope of one book.  We aimed to cover both majority and minority languages in contexts where language is a medium for developing knowledge rather than necessarily a focus of the course; in the end, the chapters highlight the use at university of literacy in Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, isiXhosa and other African languages, Korean, Maori, Polish, Spanish and Welsh.

David: Some of the contributors had already published in the area of biliteracy; some had been working with biliterate students and issues of biliteracy in university courses for some years, but came to engage with the issues in new ways through their involvement in the book. As the book developed, we encouraged contributors to read and comment on each other’s chapters, which brought some mutual adjustments and helped bring out common themes. All of us became aware of new perspectives to understand the experience of students and scholars, and fresh options for working with and for biliteracy. Guillaume Gentil, whose previous work provided inspiration for the book, kindly sprang into action once the rest of the book was complete, contributing a concluding chapter which draws themes together and points out some ways forward for research in academic biliteracies.

I’m grateful to Zayed University (UAE) for their support in travelling to Australia, Jordan and the UK in the course of preparing the book. Among many learning experiences along the way, I remember especially meeting up by coincidence with Christa at the AILA Congress in Brisbane – it was good to have a face to face meeting near the beginning as most of our later work together was by email or Skype. Another unforgettable and educative experience was taking part in a research conference at Cardiff University where most communication was in Welsh or Basque: having to rely on simultaneous interpreters and finding my usual language of academic/social communication suddenly minoritized, I suddenly found myself a ‘lurker’ in academic discussions!

Christa: For me, as a lecturer who code switches and uses two languages when teaching at Stellenbosch University, the active development of biliteracy in academic contexts is an important acknowledgement of the multilingual nature of twenty-first century higher education. Many students arrive at higher education institutions with a fully developed academic language that is not English and it would be a waste to ignore the enormous potential of that resource when making meaning of academic material.

We’ll look forward to hearing from readers of the book about how the issues relate to their own experiences as learners or teachers.

 

David M. Palfreyman: david.palfreyman@zu.ac.ae

Christa van der Walt: cvdwalt@sun.ac.za

 

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Higher Education, which Christa published with us previously.