The Multilingual Nature of Higher Education

21 March 2017

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.

 


Translanguaging in Higher Education

24 November 2016

This month we are publishing Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll. In this post, Catherine describes how the book came together.

Translanguaging in Higher EducationOver the last several years the term translanguaging has gained traction in academia, particularly in the field of bilingual education. When I first encountered the term I was looking for a way to describe the bilingual classroom practices that were a taken-for-granted part of content learning at my university (the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez). It seemed to me that ‘code-switching’ just didn’t cover the complex, layered use of Spanish talk around English text, the use of diagrams labeled in English during a formal presentation in Spanish, or the common practice of using scientific keywords in English while defining them in Spanish. I became interested in understanding these practices as bilingualism, rather than dismissing them with a deficit perspective which treated them as simply strategies for coping with a lack of English skills.

Understanding the role of English as a real force in higher education globally, my colleague Kevin S. Carroll and I began to think about the ways that English in particular, and other colonial languages in general, must be inserting themselves into higher education classrooms around the world. We could imagine that some of the same translanguaging practices that we were seeing in our classrooms must be occurring in other socio-cultural contexts. We also knew that other practices may be taking place that were different from those we were seeing, and so might contribute to our understanding of translanguaging as a theory.

With this in mind, the idea for our book, Translanguaging in Higher Education: Beyond Monolingual Ideologies, was born. We envisioned it as a large cross-case analysis that would incorporate perspectives from diverse socio-cultural contexts around the world. By including chapters about South Africa, Denmark, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, India, the United Arab Emirates, and the Basque Country, we hope we have accomplished this goal.

We also sought to contribute to the current academic conversation around translanguaging, which has tended to focus on K-12 education. As we attended conferences and presented our work, we kept hearing questions about translanguaging itself. What does it mean exactly? Is it really new? Isn’t it just code-switching?

In the book, I attempt to answer the question, ‘What is translanguaging?’ And here’s my answer from the book’s introduction:

(1) Translanguaging is a language ideology that takes bilingualism as the norm.

(2) Translanguaging is a theory of bilingualism based on lived bilingual experiences. As such, it posits that bilinguals do not separate their ‘languages’ into discrete systems, but rather possess one integrated repertoire of languaging practices from which they draw as they navigate their everyday bilingual worlds.

(3) Translanguaging is a pedagogical stance that teachers and students take on that allows them to draw on all of their linguistic and semiotic resources as they teach and learn both language and content material in classrooms.

(4) Translanguaging is a set of practices that are still being researched and described. It is not limited to what is traditionally known as ‘code-switching’, but rather seeks to include any practices that draw on an individual’s linguistic and semiotic repertoires (including reading in one language and discussing the reading in another, and many other practices that will be described in this book).

(5) As such, translanguaging is transformational. It changes the world as it continually invents and reinvents languaging practices in a perpetual process of meaning-making. The acceptance of these practices – of the creative, adaptable, resourceful inventions of bilinguals – transforms not only our traditional notions of ‘languages’, but also the lives of bilinguals themselves as they remake the world through language.

If you are interested in translanguaging as a developing construct, in bilingualism and bilingual education, in multilingual higher education, in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), the internationalization of higher education, educational language policy, or languaging across diverse socio-cultural contexts in general, I think you will find this book of interest. Kevin and I accept questions, concerns, and comments here on this post or by email at the addresses below.

Catherine M. Mazak catherine.mazak@upr.edu
Website: www.cathymazak.com 

Kevin S. Carroll kevin.carroll@upr.edu
Website: http://kevincarroll.weebly.com

For further information about this book, please contact the authors at the addresses above or see our website


The Debate on Brexit and the Potential Impact on Academic Publishing

1 November 2016

Alongside the meetings and stalls at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which Tommi and I attended last week, there were also talks and discussions on topics of general interest to publishers. One that caught our eye on the Publishing Perspectives stage was entitled “Debate on Brexit and the Potential Impact on Academic Publishing” and I went along to hear the discussion. The panel comprised Richard Fisher, an academic policy correspondent, Richard Mollet from the RELX group and Andy Robinson from the publisher Wiley.

The general feeling among academic publishers is that the UK’s vote to leave the European Union is troubling and of great concern so the panel began with the discussants being asked if it is all doom and gloom as we suspect, or if there are in fact some silver linings to the situation. The panellists managed to come up with 4 positives, such as the short term currency gains which publishers with high exports are enjoying, potential beneficial changes in VAT laws, a renewed focus on emerging markets and UK research possibly being able to reposition and rebuild itself – particularly in some areas of science research, such as clinical trials, where the UK’s formerly strong output has fallen apart. We were also reminded that there were pockets of support for Brexit among some UK academics and that we need to respond to and work for the 52% who voted for the UK to leave the EU.

The panel on the Publishing Perspectives stage

The panel on the Publishing Perspectives stage

The above positives aside, the discussants identified several major concerns of Brexit for the publishing industry which were grouped into 3 main areas: people, funding and regulations.

The UK publishing workforce has a higher than national average percentage of workers from abroad and we do not know what the implications of Brexit will be for employment. The same goes for researchers at UK institutions and EU students, who bring growth for our economy as well as numerous other societal benefits. The panel mentioned anecdotal evidence of academics now refusing positions at UK universities and UK academics being taken off grant applications or side-lined within existing projects. Furthermore, the UK will now be relegated to the position of an observer rather than a participant on discussions around matters such as Open Access in academia.

Regarding the concern of funding, the panel felt that the sector needs to make a clear case to the government for research funding to be maintained and provided, especially as the terms of Brexit are negotiated and we are in a state of flux. Universities shouldn’t resort to pleading and requesting a special case, but rather they need to stress to the government the importance of the industry to our society and economy.

Finally, on the topic of regulation, the conversation moved to areas such as copyright law, data protection and medical trials, all of which are currently governed to some extent by EU law but which need not be in the future. We were reminded that the UK has traditionally had a good research reputation but, where Britain now goes the world won’t follow. Our decreased voice on topics of international concern is troubling.

The session was wrapped up with an optimistic view that British publishing is international in scope and outlook and that that is unlikely to change, especially in the humanities where relations are as much transatlantic and global as they are European. Brexit will no doubt have an impact on the industry but perhaps not as much as other concerns of 21st century publishing, such as mass piracy and green open access, but those are topics for discussion another time!

Laura


Language Policy in Higher Education

16 December 2014

English is becoming more and more common as the language of instruction in universities all over the world. However, in many countries efforts are being made to preserve indigenous languages. In this post, F. Xavier Vila and Vanessa Bretxa, the editors of our recent book Language Policy in Higher Education outline the recent debates within language policy that form the basis of their book.

In 2012, the leading Italian public university Politecnico di Milano attracted headlines from all over the world when it announced it would move to all-English instruction. The announcement stirred the growing debate going on all over Europe about the convenience of increasing the role of English as the vehicular language in non-English-speaking countries. One year later, it was France’s turn to discuss the issue of the Franglais row: Is the English language conquering France?, to the extent that the national government had to make a decision about the role of English in French universities. Simultaneously, on the other side of the ocean, in the now economically booming Bolivia, the first promotion of students from the three recently created indigenous universities were preparing their graduation theses neither in Spanish or English, but rather in the indigenous Aymara, Quechua and Guarani languages. Their graduation in August 2014 was welcome as a crucial step in order to promote social cohesion and wealth redistribution and overcome centuries of external and internal colonialism.

What’s going on in the field of language policies in higher education? Once the realm of Latin, in the 19th and 20th centuries universities adopted massively the national and colonial languages following the heyday of the Western nation states. Universities formed the intellectual elites that led the cultural and scientific progress of the last century, and produced the leaders and the cadres that ruled the world. But globalization and the commodification of knowledge are transforming the environment for higher education also in its linguistic dimension. English-medium courses are proliferating all over the world, sometimes due to the genuine desire to attract international talent, partly also as a strategy to obtain resources from abroad. But is the development of English-medium education just part of a more complex story?

Language Policy in Higher EducationIn a context where the major languages are said to be succumbing to the urge of English, what are the prospects of medium-sized languages that have achieved the status of lingua academica to retain it? Will they find a place in the new world of higher education, or will they rather be reduced to the status of mere vernaculars in a near future? And what about those that have still not made it? Is it still sound to spend time and money to raise their status or would it be more adequate to try to content their speakers with a reasonably stable functional distribution of languages? Is it still worth increasing the number of linguae academicae?

These and other related questions are tackled in the volume Language Policy in Higher Education: The Case of Medium-Sized Languages by a team of well-renowned specialists in language policy. Based on the close examination of a number of medium-sized languages from Finland to South Africa and from Israel to Catalonia, the volume compares the trajectories of languages that have made it in higher education and others that didn’t, analyses their current state, and seeks to extract lessons of general applicability. And while their results may be read from different perspectives, one of them seems to be clear: in the era of globalization, there seems to be ample room for multilingualism in academia, but it will probably never be the way it used to be.

Survival and Development of Language CommunitiesFor more information on this book please see our website. You might also be interested in Survival and Development of Language Communities edited by F. Xavier Vila.


Multilingual Universities in South Africa

8 April 2014

This month we are publishing Multilingual Universities in South Africa edited by Liesel Hibbert and Christa van der Walt. Here, one of Liesel’s colleagues, Carol Christie from the Department of Applied Language Studies, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, gives us her view on the book as well as a bit of background on the complications of language and identity in South Africa.

Hibbert and Van der Walt have dedicated their book, to be released in April 2014, to Neville Alexander who believed that languages other than those of the original colonisers should be given power and status in South Africa and Africa more broadly. The reality that most of us who teach in South Africa experience, however, is one in which the Constitution provides for the equal status of eleven official languages but business and teaching is done in English (or, to a limited extent, Afrikaans). The parents of our students choose, when they can afford to do so, to send their children to English-medium schools, and most of our students tell us that they prefer to study in English because ‘it is the universal language’, ‘it will give me access to the job market’, ‘I have always studied in English’ or ‘Xhosa is just too difficult’.

Much has been written about the potential detriment to students of not being given the opportunity to develop literacies in their home language before being expected to study in a second or third language. However, those of us who teach in contemporary South Africa also know that terms such as ‘mother tongue’, ‘first language’ and ‘home language’ no longer mean the same thing (if they ever did) and cannot be used to allocate students to uncomplicated categories. A young person in South Africa may very easily have had a Xhosa-speaking mother but consider English to be her home language because it was the main language spoken in the home and Afrikaans to be a first language because she studied it at ‘first language’ level at school. And we all have students who consider themselves to be ethnically Xhosa (or Afrikaans or Venda or Zulu or Pedi etc.) while the primary language they use is English. We cannot return to apartheid-era ethnic and race categories which define us as having a particular ethnicity and therefore having to be taught a particular curriculum in a particular language.

The strength of the book is that it provides examples of how languages other than English can be used in university teaching in South Africa and can help students to learn even when the only language that all have in common is English. The book showcases current multilingual teaching and learning innovations in higher education in South Africa. Although language-in-education policies for multilingual contexts have been in place for some years, and have been discussed and critiqued, there is no overview which highlights the processes and success stories and the case studies conducted. This book fills this gap, by showcasing work done ‘on the ground’ by higher education practitioners and by examining how they develop ways of drawing on all available discourses and languages for strategic and systemically supported multilingual and biliteracy development in the formal tertiary education sector. The case studies presented by the next generation of up-and-coming mainstream academics are extremely valuable in terms of the blueprints they offer and in terms of the range of exemplary practices modelled. A very wide international audience is envisioned for this book, as similar contexts currently occur everywhere, due to global migration. In terms of the African continent, the book clearly testifies that the continent is inventing its own practices on an ongoing basis and that these are highly informative for language practitioners located anywhere.

The reality is that almost all of us are multilingual (or at least bilingual) and it is in this context that the editors’ use of the term ‘multilingual’ in the title must be considered. What is a multilingual university and are any universities in South Africa (as distinct from their teachers and students) truly multilingual? Hibbert is based at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, where the management acknowledges Xhosa and Afrikaans, in addition to English, as the predominant languages in the area while almost all business and teaching is done in English and students will only submit work in Xhosa or Afrikaans in courses to do with these languages and their literatures. Van der Walt is based at the University of Stellenbosch, long considered the intellectual home of Afrikanerdom, where the taaldebat (language policy debate) continues and many staff, students and alumni continue to be anxious about it moving away from being an Afrikaans-medium university.

Bilingual education, at least in Afrikaans and English, has a long history in South Africa but the point is that it has only been done extensively in English and Afrikaans and not in the other South African languages. The status of Afrikaans was also an important aspect of Afrikaaner nationalism and it is arguably in this context that those in the taaldebat who bemoan a perceived move away from Afrikaans are campaigning for the rights of Afrikaans as a minority language. In contrast, however, most black South Africans, in spite of an often-asserted ethnic identity, do not appear to be asserting their right to be taught in ‘their own’ language. It is in this complicated context that Hibbert and Van der Walt present a number of case studies which describe and discuss attempts at and strategies for the use of multilingualism in university courses and classrooms in South Africa and this is a particular strength of the book: it provides examples of strategies that we can all consider using in our teaching.

Although, of course, being able to read and write in one or more languages does not necessarily make one critically literate. For instance, in the chapter titled “An exemplary astronomical lesson that could potentially show the benefits of multilingual content and language in higher education,” what is meant by an “astronomical lesson” (as opposed to an astronomy one) when it’s at home and surely if something “could” do something then it already has the potential to do so? This type of criticism from someone whose mother tongue, home language, first language and primary language of study have always been the same is, however, perhaps exactly what the authors and editors of this book are addressing: we gain much more from the use of a variety of languages and literacies (even if that use is nonstandard in semantics, syntax, register and idiom) than we stand to lose from the universal use of English. Multilingual Higher Education

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like Christa van der Walt’s previous book Multilingual Higher Education.


CLIL in Higher Education

30 April 2013

CLIL in Higher EducationEarlier this month we published CLIL in Higher Education by Inmaculada Fortanet-Gómez and we asked her to tell us a little about how she came to write the book and how it contributes to the field of research into multilingual education.

The first idea to write a book like CLIL in Higher Education: Towards a Multilingual Language Policy was due to the fact that almost everything that had been published up to that moment, four years ago, was related to primary and secondary education and it lacked a solid theoretical basis. I observed that the research on CLIL in Higher Education starting at that moment was focused on practical experiences and the literature reviews were often confusing and misleading. They were based on research carried out in North America or Canada, or on the few theory based studies on CLIL in pre-university education.

In Spain, however, CLIL is having a great influence at the moment in all stages of education although  most research is focused on secondary school experiences.

Thirdly, the intention of this book was to gather all the perspectives CLIL has taken in recent years especially around language as medium and as object of instruction, pedagogy and language policy. I think nobody up to this moment has taken such a wide perspective in a single authored volume.

This book tries to review what multilingualism and multilingual education means in several parts of the world, in order to provide a context to the situation of a bilingual community in Spain. Secondly, it provides the theoretical background for the several perspectives of CLIL: language, pedagogy and participants, and socio-historical context. Thirdly, it provides some proposals for a multilingual language policy for a university, Universitat Jaume I, taking into account all the factors described.

I hope this volume is of interest to students, researchers and policy makers interested in multilingualism in higher education from the perspective of the integration of language and content.

Multilingual Higher EducationIf you liked this book you might also like Multilingual Higher Education by Christa van der Walt.


Multilingual Higher Education: Beyond English Medium Orientations

23 April 2013

This month we published Multilingual Higher Education by Christa van der Walt. Here, the author tells us how she came to write the book and the importance of research in this area.

Multilingual Higher EducationThe idea for this book was born when I first read Ofelia García’s impressive Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective (2009). My impression was that much had been published on bilingual education at primary school level, much less at secondary school level and virtually nothing at higher education level. From my own work at school level and then in higher education, I knew that multilingual teaching and learning strategies are generally regarded with suspicion. Furthermore, I also knew that the status attached to higher education would militate against marginalised languages in its classrooms.

In my own multilingual context, the use of other languages in classrooms is ubiquitous (although not necessarily acknowledged!) but I really started to research higher education classrooms after my involvement with language policy development at Stellenbosch University in 2002. A research project in 2004 on bilingual universities worldwide, initiated by Prof Chris Brink who was then the rector of Stellenbosch University, made me realise that policy-level research says nothing about what is happening in multilingual classrooms. This impression was confirmed at various international conferences and in discussions with colleagues from European bi/multilingual universities, notably Michael Langner from the University of Fribourg, Ana Virkunnen-Vollenwider (now retired) from the University of Helsinki and Gudrun Ziegler from the University of Luxemburg. A sabbatical in Germany in 2010 led to discussions with Annelie Knapp of the University of Siegen and Hartmut Haberland at Roskilde University and these conversations increased my awareness of the problems of transnationally mobile students. The pervasive assumption that the use of English would solve all these problems made me connect the role of language in South African (and African) higher education institutions to efforts in Europe to establish English as a language of learning and teaching. The recent book CLIL in Higher Education by Fortanet-Gómez (2013) on the introduction of CLIL in European higher education institutions is a further valuable source in this regard.

Although higher education institutions differ widely, they seem to share the challenge of increasing student participation and throughput locally while managing the pressure to compete globally. It is self-evident that language is central to both efforts and in my book I try to show how it is possible to include more languages in the classroom, while acknowledging the role and status of English. I am not particularly interested in how multilingual language practices can be accommodated at policy level. For me there is a bigger issue at stake and that is the training of higher education practitioners. The fact that disciplinary specialisation is often the only qualification that academics require to become lecturers is, to my mind, the main reason why teaching and learning does not result in improved student success. In-service education and training of academic staff is needed because there is a level at which the proposed strategies that I mention constitute good teaching practice, whether we connect them to multilingual education or not. Mobilising students’ resources, including the languages that they use to support and develop learning, seems self-evident as part of a higher education pedagogy.  I can only agree with García (2009:11, her emphasis) when she says that “some form of bilingual education is good for all education, and therefore good for all children, as well as good for all adult learners”. This statement must be kept in mind in view of the increased introduction of CLIL, particularly in Europe, as Fortanet-Gómez (2013) shows.

I hope that this book will inspire more classroom-based research so that we can elaborate on these first steps towards a multilingual higher education pedagogy.       

References
Fortanet-Gómez, I. (2013) CLIL in Higher Education: Towards a Multilingual Language Policy. Bristol: Multilingual Matters
García, O. (2009) Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell

Also available:

CLIL in Higher EducationCLIL in Higher Education by Inmaculada Fortanet-Gómez


Understanding Language in the Classroom

18 April 2013
Susan Behrens

Susan J. Behrens

An author of one of our forthcoming books, Susan J. Behrens from Marymount Manhattan College, USA, tells us here about how she came to write her book Understanding Language in the Classroom.

This book combines my training in both linguistics and pedagogy to create a manual for those in higher education who want to gain a better control of academic English.

My 2010 book Grammar: A Pocket Guide supplied a user-friendly guide to English grammar for those curious about what lies behind their linguistic intuitions. This new book extends the mission of Grammar by explaining in detail how language works in writing assignments, college-level texts, oral presentations, and class discussion. It also supplies lessons for classroom activities. Understanding Language in the Classroom clearly details the specific nature of language as used in higher education, by disciplines, modalities, and even by generation (professors and students don’t always have the same sense of how language works).

The first half of this book explores the nature of academic discourse and its central role in college success. The second half of the book is a series of conversations. These consist of questions about language that I have culled from the numerous interviews and focus groups I have run with students and teachers about their perceptions of “college level English,” matched with answers that supply a linguistic explanation and context. For example, teachers ask why students use the passive voice. I supply a discussion of voice vs. tense, the uses of the passive, and why students tend to rely on it. Another example: students ask how to avoid using run-on sentences or fragments. I supply the explanation and tips. The appendix supplies tons of worksheets for teachers to use with students or for students to use on their own.

Look out for more information on when this book will be published on Twitter @Multi_Ling_Mat or email info@multilingual-matters.com to register your interest and we’ll email you once it’s published.


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