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

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.

 

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.

It Takes a Village to Write a Book: Mastering Idiomatic Expressions

This month we published Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language by Monica Karlsson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book and talks us through the thinking behind each chapter.

Some years ago I was teaching a proficiency class, when my student teachers and I came across some idiomatic expressions in a text that one of my students had brought with her. Her intention was to use the text in one of her own teaching sessions as it dealt with a topic relevant to a particular lesson, but she had problems understanding a few sections of it. Quite a long discussion ensued which, to begin with, was concerned with meaning only, but, when meaning had been resolved, came to be more about how exciting it would be to deal with such vocabulary on a more regular basis. This discussion with my students was the very first step in an extended process that has now resulted in the book Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language.

Setting to work, the first thing I did was to explore differences between comprehension in a first and second language, so that I would get a better understanding of problems related to second language acquisition specifically. In this respect, the research literature clearly shows that there are four main facilitators: age, context, transparency and frequency, and so the second chapter came to deal with these basic concepts, as well as exploring L1 and L2 quantitative and qualitative differences.

Next I wanted to investigate how I could teach these kinds of items in a way that would promote both comprehension and retention, as well as give an understanding of how my students could approach these kinds of expressions in their own L2 classrooms in the future. Chapter 3 is therefore concerned with multimodal and visualization techniques that may help L2 learners of different ages and proficiency levels.

One of the idioms found while searching for suitable scenes from various TV shows to be incorporated in the multimodal tests implemented in the third chapter was paint the town beige. During testing, I realized that this type of manipulated idiom warranted its own chapter, as it caused students to experience quite a few additional problems. The fifth chapter hence deals only with L2 learners’ comprehension of these twisted relatives.

While testing groups of informants, I also noticed that even if many of the expressions were understood and remembered with the help of multimodal and visualization techniques, many more idioms regrettably remained very difficult to grasp, and so, to enhance learning further, it also felt important to deal with persisting ignorance and various types of misinterpretations in a structured way. Chapter 4 is thus dedicated entirely to these tokens.

Presenting my results on L1 and L2 idiom comprehension to a group of other researchers, the last part of a discussion with them came to be about idiom production, at which point I felt I had more to learn. Reading up on the research literature, I found that while sentence completion tasks have been comparatively frequently researched, very little has been done in connection with free composition writing. The sixth chapter therefore focuses entirely on an analysis of L2 learners’ use of idiomatic expressions when writing essays, often considered one of the last frontiers of L2 mastery.

Lastly, it is usually said that it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the above, I now realize that the same can be said about writing a book, during the process of which comments, ideas and input from students, colleagues and friends certainly help decide what would be important parts of a book on a specific topic. I sincerely hope that you will find this book as interesting to read as I found it interesting to write.

Monica Karlsson
monica.karlsson@hh.se

For more information about this book please see our website

New Year, New Books!

Happy New Year! We’re starting 2019 as we mean to go on with a whole host of exciting new books coming out in January and February! Here are the new titles you can look forward to…

January

Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition

This book examines which factors lead to success in foreign language learning at an early age in instructional settings. The studies investigate learners aged between three and ten, their parents and teachers, and focus on the development of speaking and reading skills and how attitudes and motivation impact on the teaching and learning process.

Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language

The comprehension, retention and production of idiomatic expressions is one of the most difficult areas of the lexicon for second language learners to master. This book investigates this under-researched and interesting aspect of language acquisition, shedding light on conventional uses of idiomatic expressions as well as creative variant forms.

Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning

This book provides a unique longitudinal account of content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Giving voice to both learners and teachers, it offers insights into language learning outcomes, learner motivation among CLIL and non-CLIL students, effects of extramural exposure to English, issues in relation to assessment in CLIL and much more.

English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation

This book offers new insights into the language gains of adult learners enrolled in an English-medium instruction degree programme. It provides longitudinal evidence of the phonological gains of the learners and investigates whether increased exposure to the target language leads to incidental learning of second language pronunciation.

Critical Reflections on Research Methods

This book explores the challenges involved in conducting research with members of minoritized communities. Through reflective accounts, contributors explore community-based collaborative work, and suggest important implications for applied linguistics, educational research and anthropological investigations of language, literacy and culture.

 

February

Early Language Learning and Teacher Education

This book investigates both the theoretical and practical aspects of teacher education for early language teachers. It focuses on the complexity of teacher learning, innovations in mentoring and teacher supervision, strategies in programme development and perceptions, and knowledge and assessment in early language learning teacher education.

Aspiring to be Global

This book makes a novel contribution to the sociolinguistics of globalization by examining language and social change in the tourism destination of West Street, Yangshuo, China. It explores the contingencies and tensions in the creation of a ‘global village’ and reveals ambivalent struggles inherent in this ongoing process of social change.

Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization

This book seeks to examine the notions of ‘linguistic diversity’ and ‘hybridity’ using new critical theoretical frameworks embedded within the broader discussion of the sociolinguistics of globalization. The research took place in contexts that include linguistic landscapes, schools, classrooms, neighborhoods and virtual spaces around the world.

Conversation Analytic Perspectives on English Language Learning, Teaching and Testing in Global Contexts

This book contains 10 empirical studies of English language learning, teaching and testing where English is an additional language. Focusing on English-as-a-Foreign-Language contexts, they involve varied learner populations, from children to young adults to adults, in different learning environments around the world.

Perspectives on Language as Action

This edited volume has been compiled in honour of Professor Merrill Swain who, for over four decades, has been one of the most prominent scholars in the field of second language acquisition and second language education. The range of topics covered in the book reflects the breadth and depth of Swain’s contributions, expertise and interests.

 

For more information about any of these titles or to place an order, please visit our website.

The Motivations of Adult Language Learners in Continuing Education Settings

We recently published Identity Trajectories of Adult Second Language Learners by Cristiana Palmieri. In this post the author explains what inspired her to conduct this research.

The reasons I became interested in conducting the study presented in my book are connected to both my professional and personal life. Having an academic background in social sciences with a specific interest in the nexus between languages and cultures, I have always been very interested in the relation between L2 language learning and processes of identity development, to better understand how languages influence the way we think and interact with other people. My interest in this area has been compounded by my personal experience as a second language speaker and my professional practice as a teacher. In my role as an educator I have taught a variety of subjects, including Italian language and culture, both in Italy and Australia. When I started teaching Italian as a second language in Australia I realised that the Australian sociocultural context presented specific characteristics connected to the history of Italian migration to this country. I was surprised to discover that my native language is one of the most widely-studied languages in Australia, in spite of the large geographical distance that separates the two countries. What makes this finding particularly remarkable is the fact that Italian is spoken by a relatively small percentage of the world population, about 64 million speakers in Italy and in a few other countries in Europe and Africa, which equates to less than 1% of the world population. Moreover, it is not considered a language of business, and its command it is not an essential requisite for Australian travellers visiting Italy.

Having been myself a second language learner, I am very well aware of the fact that strong motivation is needed in order to sustain the effort and to cope with the frustration that the learning process sometimes brings about. In my case, my motivation was relatively easy to frame: I wanted to learn English, a global language, to be able to live and work in English-speaking countries, and to travel the world with an international language as a passport at my disposal. While teaching Italian to adult learners in Australia, looking at my students, highly committed individuals striving to master a second language which is not an international language, I could not stop wondering about the factors sustaining their motivation.

This book explores the motivations of adult second language learners in continuing education settings. It focuses on their learning trajectories and related dynamics of identity development triggered by the learning process. By presenting an in-depth analysis of motivational drives and their interconnectedness with the sociocultural settings in which the learning process occurs, the book contributes to boosting our understanding of adult second language learning, a rapidly expanding field of research of language and identity in multicultural contexts. In a nutshell, this book is about the fascinating experience of learning another language and understanding another culture.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teaching and the Older Adult by Danya Ramírez Gómez.

Plant a Seed and Hope it Grows: The Best Way to Help Your Child Become Bilingual

This month we published Household Perspectives on Minority Language Maintenance and Loss by Isabel Velázquez. In this post the author talks about her research on bilingual household dynamics in Latino families. 

¿Qué no haría uno por sus hijos? – What wouldn’t you do for your kids? This rhetorical question often comes up in conversations with Latino families in the community in which I live and conduct research. Regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, the narrative of parental self-sacrifice runs deep. In conversations with my university colleagues and other middle-class professionals, it often takes on the shiny packaging of meritocracy. In the kitchens and living rooms of the first-generation working-class families that have afforded me the privilege of learning about their experience, it comes with stories of geographical, social, and economic dislocation. Many of their themes are shared with those of other immigrant and refugee households in our city.

Separate one’s family, leave one’s country, learn a new language, start again, risk life and limb, work three jobs, brave the Nebraska cold at 5:00 am, deform the tendons in one’s right hand from the repetitive motion of cutting meat in an industrial line, make ends meet, make do, find a way. I want them to have an education. I want them to have more opportunities. I want them to get ahead in life.

Because I’m interested in how a minority language is lost or maintained in communities with low ethnolinguistic vitality for that language, most of the conversations I have with other Latino parents eventually arrive at the topic of intergenerational transmission of Spanish. Over the course of the past decade, I’ve yet to find a Latino mother or father who does not hold positive attitudes about their children’s development of bilingual skills.

And yet, in this, like in many other communities, positive attitudes toward Spanish are necessary, but insufficient to guarantee children’s development of their family language. Neither are parents’ level of education or economic standing.

In professional presentations and informal interactions, I am often approached by parents interested in finding the best resource to help their children become bilingual. A CD? An app? A book? A television series? A video game? As it happens, the best device to transmit language is an adult in possession of that ever-scarce commodity: attention. Attachment, nurturing, belonging, such are the fundamental ingredients of intergenerational transmission.

In my ideal world, every newborn would come with a four-word instruction: Forgive yourself; try again. Like all other dimensions of raising a healthy human, transmission of a family language happens at the messy junctions of everyday parenting.

Despite different circumstances and life experiences, analysis of bilingual household dynamics has allowed us to learn that families that are able to transmit Spanish to their children share three features: Quality and amount of exposure to the family language, opportunities for use, and relevance – the management, planning, and evaluation of the first two, it must be said, overwhelmingly falling on the mother.

No gardener plants once and expects results. Relevance of the family language for our children will only bloom years later, once they’ve formed their own networks away from the household. As parents, we plant, we weed, we water, and wait. We do not know if the seed of linguistic transmission will bear fruit. Do we ever?

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingual Childcare by Victoria Benz.

Bilingualism Matters: The East of England Branch

Bilingualism Matters East of England is the newest UK addition to the Bilingualism Matters team and is based at the LaDeLi research centre at the University of Essex in Colchester. 

Bilingualism Matters is an international network of centres and information services run by experts on bilingualism and language learning. It was originally established at University of Edinburgh in 2008 by Professor Antonella Sorace and is now an official Centre in the school of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences. Since then, more than 20 branches have opened in 13 different countries, including several EU member states, Israel, USA, and Norway.

The East of England branch, one of the three UK-based branches of Bilingualism Matters, was founded in March 2018 as a part of the Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi) at the University of Essex. This branch particularly focuses on promoting bilingualism across the lifespan, educating and encouraging the wider public to make informed decisions on bilingualism and language learning, and providing advice, consultancy, and information sessions about bilingual development for parents, teachers, nursery staff, and speech language therapists. Its outreach work is mainly set in East Anglia and London.

One of the most recent events organised by the branch was We are what we speak, an interactive workshop for children and adults held on 3rd November in Colchester as a part of the nationwide Festival of Social Science hosted by ESRC. Its purpose was to allow people to discover more about language and identity through a series of games and short talks hosted by lecturers and researchers in the field of language development from the University of Essex.

Dr Ella Jeffries at We are what we speak

Another recent event BM East of England was present at was the Language Show at the Olympia exhibition centre in London, where the branch staff promoted Bilingualism Matters as one of the language services offered at the University of Essex and in the region of East of England as a whole.

Karla Drpić (left) and Dr Coralie Hervé (right) from BM East of England with Professor Antonella Sorace (middle) from Bilingualism Matters’ Edinburgh headquarters

The staff at Bilingualism Matters East of England believe that bilingualism is for everyone, not just those who grew up in bilingual households, and that investing in language learning at school or nursery is a great chance to give children the best possible future. Therefore, they are open to providing accessible and informative talks about bilingualism and second language learning with community groups and parents’ associations, state-run primary and secondary schools, nurseries and early years centres, and private schools, colleges or venues based in London and East of England (Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk etc.). You can follow or contact them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or e-mail.

10 Things You Might Not Have Known About Multilingualism

We recently published Twelve Lectures on Multilingualism edited by David Singleton and Larissa Aronin. In this post the editors reveal 10 things you might not have known about multilingualism…

  1. Are dogs multilingual?

    Multilingualism is a specifically human feature. Other species generally use only their own communication systems. Interesting exceptions are domesticated animals which learn to understand human instructions like sit, stay and whoa, as well as apes who have been taught the rudiments of sign language!

  1. The use of two or more languages by individuals almost certainly goes back to the very beginnings of humans’ experience of language and in today’s world is a feature of the profile of a majority of the world’s population.
  1. This latter fact is unsurprising when we consider the number of human languages in the world. Despite the yearly extinction of languages, estimations of this number typically revolve around 6,000 but dramatically increase as soon as we take into account non-standardized language varieties popularly known as “dialects”.
  1. “Thank you!” in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish

    Sometimes you do not even need to have learnt a language in order to understand it! “Receptive multilingualism” is a phenomenon which is common among speakers, of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, where mutual understanding is assured by the closeness of the languages in question. Within other language families too the phenomenon of language proximity facilitating understanding is fairly widespread.

  1. Very often, everyday communication and language-based reflection depend largely on neither one single language nor a person’s entire language repertoire. Instead, small sets of languages (two, three or four), labelled as “Dominant Language Constellations”, provide the principal resources for language use and mainly underlie patterns of language use.
  1. A multilingual may either acquire his/her languages together from infancy or may acquire them sequentially at different ages. A common cliché is that languages learnt beyond childhood will inevitably be condemned to remain at a low level of proficiency, but the reality is that very many adolescent and adult learners of additional languages do so well that they routinely pass for a native speakers of the languages in question.
  1. On the question of age and language acquisition it is also necessary to say that such acquisition also does not stop at any point in life. Our capacity to go on learning languages, including learning aspects of our native language, continues until the very end of our lives.
  1. Bilingualism and multilingualism (three +) are close, overlapping in many ways, but also seem to be significantly different from each other. There is little doubt that, with more experience in multilingual learning, additional language mechanisms develop that would not otherwise be there. These are important not only in language acquisition and teaching, but also in relation to dealing with multilingual communities.
  1. Multilinguals who (because of e.g. stroke or brain surgery) lose their languages have various patterns of recovering them. Recovery patterns in bilingual speakers can be parallel (when all languages improve at similar rates), differential (when one of the languages shows recovery but the others show less recovery or none at all), or selective (when the recovery of some languages comes before the recovery of others). There is also sometimes an incidence of blended recovery – when speakers lose control of their ability to keep their languages apart, and unintentional mixing of elements from their languages ensues. Finally, in antagonistic recovery, the language most available to the patient may change every few days.
  1. The question of whether there is – in a general sense – a “multilingual advantage” is a fraught one. It has been pointed out that the impressive linguistic skills possessed by polyglots sometimes coexist with inadequacies in other areas of life. It may be objected that such observations apply to a very small category of multilingual individuals. A better understanding of such cases may, however, contribute to a fuller and perhaps more broadly applicable sense of individual multilingual possibilities.

 

For more information about Twelve Lectures on Multilingualism please see our website.

What Does Language Learning Outside the Classroom Look Like?

This month we published Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba. In this post the author explains what inspired this study and how she carried out her research.

I first became interested in out-of-class language learning more than 10 years ago when I had just started my career as a teacher of Japanese at a university in Sweden. I vividly remember how in my very first week at the university, some of my students told me about their favourite Japanese pop culture, such as anime (Japanese cartoons), manga (Japanese comic books) and movies. It was shocking to me at that time – I wondered how they could know Japanese pop culture better than me even though they were on the opposite side of the planet. I was also surprised by the fact that they could speak Japanese even before completing beginner level. It all started from there.

I then started asking my students what they had done in Japanese outside the classroom and realised that almost all do something extra in Japanese alongside their classroom-based study. At the same time, I started wondering what I could do to support their study as a teacher of Japanese. This question motivated (and still motivates) me to dig into out-of-class language learning for my research.

One big challenge when conducting this research was to decide which data collection methods to use. Out-of-class literacy practices are usually ‘hidden’ from teachers, and students undertake such activities irregularly. The very nature of out-of-class language learning might make the research on this topic complicated. However, when considering the different data collection methods available, I came across the ‘diary study with photos’ method in several papers in the field of literacy studies. Visual information is crucial to be included because one feature of literacy in this digital age is its multimodality.

In the end, I decided to employ this diary study with photo method alongside interviews, and asked the participants to include visual information as much as possible, for example, screenshots of websites and photos of books that they had read. I also asked them to bring paper-based materials to class (e.g. their books and essays for the Japanese classes) if possible. In the interviews, I used such visual materials to trigger the students’ memory when they engaged in particular literacy activities in their diaries. They sometimes even used my computer to demonstrate how they utilised online tools and websites. I think this method enabled me to collect rich data in a less intrusive way than either observations or video recordings and also helped me to understand the contexts of their literacy practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.