Digital Spaces for Teaching Multilingual Writing

We recently published Creating Digital Literacy Spaces for Multilingual Writers by Joel Bloch. In this post the author explains what we can expect from the book.

As the internet has developed from a place to exchange photos of cute cats to one for new forms of literacy and new ways of sharing them, the design of digital spaces for teaching multilingual writing has increased in importance. My book discusses not just technology but literacy as well, based on my years of teaching writing. I address many of the controversies in literacy, the use of technology, writing pedagogies, and teacher training.

The book first discusses the connections between technology and literacy pedagogies and then provides a chapter on blogging, reflecting on the impact of technology and its evolution for teaching writing. The chapter on MOOCs and flipped learning addresses not only technological issues but also pedagogical concerns that teachers address whether they use technology or not, on the design of the classroom and the roles of teachers and students. The chapter on multimodality and digital storytelling addresses some of the issues existing throughout the field of multilingual writing, particularly in academic writing classrooms. Digital stories can be incorporated into these courses, individually or collaboratively created, depending upon the pedagogical goals of the teachers.

This book is teacher-centric, placing teachers at the center of the questions of design as well as providing a way to respond to controversies in teaching writing, such as translingualism, since they support using language varieties, stories, and the rhetorical forms and artifacts that students bring to the classroom. In my experiences as a teacher, reviewer, and editor, I have seen the disruptive roles of technology on all levels of teaching. Publishing incorporates almost every opportunity and controversy in the field of teaching writing: where to publish and in what language, as well as issues related to choices of English, writer identity, and knowledge creation in the publishing space. The internet has supported expanding places to publish and the connections between writers and readers as well as the issues regarding open access and associated copyright and intellectual property issues. Such openness also has created problems regarding the so-called “predatory” journals and forcing writers to decide on appropriate places to publish.

Most of the book was written before the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it addresses many of the issues the pandemic raised. The chapters on MOOCs and flipped learning discuss both positive and negative concerns with technology and online education. Publishing has been greatly impacted by the need to publish related to the pandemic. Personally, it has greatly expanded my access to professional development. I have participated or listened in on meetings held where I could never physically attend.

Teachers incur the same issues with technology that society faces: privacy, access, inclusivity. One of the messages of the book is that the process will inevitably be messy. When we switched to online teaching, I tried adapting flipped learning to my publishing class, but my end of semester evaluations indicated I had left out some of the social factors that I had written about. The end of the pandemic will not mean that digital literacies will fade. Here in the United States we don’t know what the “new normal” will mean.

William Gibson, the science fiction writer, once said that the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed. Students and teachers both face disruption from traditional and newer technologies and the growing anxieties that all disruptions bring. Another book on digital literacy may look very different; it may not even be a book. However, this book still discusses the concerns and anxieties teachers and students may face with new technologies that have disrupted teaching and learning to write.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Writing Instruction in Global Contexts edited by Lisya Seloni and Sarah Henderson Lee.

How Does Literacy Work in a Multilingual Context?

We recently published Multilingual Literacy edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam. In this post the editors explain the inspiration behind the book.

When we met at one of the first meetings of the COST project on Strengthening Europeans’ capabilities by establishing the European literacy network, we soon realised the importance of research on multilingual literacy – even more so when we had to communicate with each other in our common foreign language English especially in writing, via different media. We experienced first-hand that writing in the foreign language presented us with some challenges. There are so many aspects which one needs to keep in mind! The search for words and for the correct spelling can interfere with your wanting to express yourself, which in turn can have a negative (and sometimes) demotivating effect on communicating with each other. However, at the same time these challenges to establish common ground presented opportunities to learn from the process and from each other. This interesting dynamic in itself was the stimulus and incentive to collect papers that shed light on multilingual literacy from different perspectives.

However, it is not only for us four that foreign language reading and writing has become ever more important: In the 21st century, we are living in a world in which multilinguality has become the standard rather than the exception. Many people have grown up with more than one language, or they have moved to countries in which their first language is not the common language. We are expected to speak fluent English, although it is a foreign language to us, not only in academic but also in many other contexts – and we also often do so in written form, either as the recipients or as the producers thereof.

Reading and writing in foreign languages has thus become the norm – but this does not make the processes easier. It is because of this that it has become crucial for people from many different contexts to explore how literacy works in a multilingual context, and to look for answers to the following questions:

  • What do we already know about multilingual literacy?
  • How do linguistic and social diversity interact?
  • How does multilinguality shape identity?
  • What is the impact of new literacy technologies on multilingual communication?
  • How can we support multilingual literacy?
  • And more generally: What can we learn from each other?

The chapters in the book address these and many other questions and we enjoyed reading them. We are sure you will too!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis.

How to Teach Adult Second Language Learners with Limited Literacy

This month we published Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten.

Adult education for learners of a new language has always been an extremely diverse sector, with classes taught in different contexts, from universities and community/further education colleges to community and faith-based organizations. Adults also have many different life situations along with varying goals, aspirations, and needs. Most diverse are adult immigrants with respect to their home language as well as educational background and literacy skills. Their diversity presents challenges for teacher training and professional development, challenges which are greatest for full-time teachers as well as part-time teachers and volunteer tutors who work with adults with limited formal education and literacy.

A practitioner survey was conducted by the 2010-2018 EU-Speak Project. Results revealed that limited opportunities exist in most countries for dedicated training or professional development to impart the knowledge and develop the skills needed for effective work with these learners, and it was on this basis that EU-Speak designed six online modules in five languages. These modules continue to be offered by a post-EU-Speak project team and are self-standing and independent of the volume emerging from the project, Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education, which provides readers with more in-depth coverage of module topics, particularly in terms of relevant research. Readers of the volume will discover that there is a dearth of research on these immigrant adults’ language acquisition and, to a somewhat lesser extent, their literacy development. An expectation of the editors and chapter authors is that the volume will inspire readers to contribute to this research base. Accordingly, the online modules facilitate contact with chapter authors, who are also module designers and lead modules when they are delivered.

When all six modules were offered twice from 2015 to 2018, feedback from practitioners was as the EU-Speak team had hoped. Module participants reported that they felt “compelled to explore and research each of the topics” and “happy with the possibility of sharing the resources I found and that some people liked”. They found the content that addresses “the phonological components of language and the books for pleasure reading” especially useful. And they noted they feel much better prepared for their work and have more confidence and more tools.

The project ended in August 2018 and, since then, the EU-Speak team has continued to deliver modules. Most recently (winter 2019), the team delivered ‘Acquisition and Assessment of Morphosyntax,’ adding a sixth language, Italian. Egle Mocciaro, who recently completed her PhD on the Italian morphosyntax of immigrants with limited literacy, helped lead the module with chapter authors and module designers Martha Young-Scholten and Rola Naeb. From May to July 2020, ‘Reading in a LESLLA Context’ is being delivered, led by chapter author and module designer Marcin Sosinski, assisted by Enas Filimban (whose recent PhD addresses immigrant adults’ early reading development in English) and Martha Young-Scholten. Fall 2020 will see ‘Bilingualism and Multilingualism,’ led by chapter author and module designer Belma Haznedar; and in winter 2021, ‘Vocabulary Acquisition’ will be offered, led by chapter author and designer Andreas Rohde with his team in Cologne.

Larry Condelli says about the book, “While there is voluminous research on how children learn to read in their native language, [research on] the learning process for adult second language learners with limited literacy is sparse. [… ] Those who work with adult migrants, to improve their literacy and language skills and integrate them in their new countries, need research-based knowledge to understand how to teach these learners and help them improve their lives. The chapters of this book provide current and insightful research on the reading development process for adult migrants with limited literacy. Each chapter brings to light new research and unique insights into the reading process and fills a void in previously unexamined areas for migrant adults with unique characteristics.”

Martha Young-Scholten, Newcastle University, martha.young-scholten@newcastle.ac.uk

Joy Kreeft Peyton, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC, joy@peytons.us

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Reframing Literacy on the Periphery

This month we published Grassroots Literacy and the Written Record by John Trimbur. In this post the author explains how the book came about.

Grassroots Literacy and the Written Record tells the story of the Asbestos Interest Group (AIG), a village-based network of asbestos activists in post-apartheid South Africa. The book is set in the Kuruman district, a former mining center on the Cape Asbestos Belt, a landscape of retrenched mines and mills and derelict tailing dumps, where the ubiquitous presence of asbestos causes deadly asbestos-related diseases. The storyline runs from the AIG’s founding in 2001 to 2015, tracing the AIG’s participation in grassroots research, in a mass drive to register claimants in a legal case against the Gencor mining company, and in its work helping ex-mineworkers and surviving family members negotiate the paperwork of the state compensation system and the trust fund that resulted from an out-of-court settlement with Gencor.

The book is a personal one in the sense that it grew out of my involvement with the AIG for over ten years as an academic activist. During that time, I drew on my academic background in rhetoric and writing studies but not from a scholarly angle. Rather I did things like working on a pamphlet about asbestos and asbestos-related diseases for villagers, led grassroots research workshops for AIG activists, and helped the AIG office create the paper trails of organizational record keeping.

The impetus for the book came, perhaps ironically, when I was engaged in this type of activist work, putting together a timeline of the AIG’s first decade as a basic document to include in grant applications and use for publicity purposes.  In retrospect, it now seems obvious that the central motive of the book – of not wanting the AIG’s work to be forgotten – was already present. A logical step from the timeline was to make sure the AIG’s grassroots activism entered the historical record, where its meanings and legacy could be examined.

This shift from activism to a scholarly research project converged with a conceptual shift in writing studies that gives Grassroots Literacy and the Written Record its interpretive framework. The rejection of monolithic theories of literacy and the pluralization of literate practices were already well-established ideas in writing studies. More recently, however, there has been a reframing of literacy based on the further recognition that literacies are not just different: they are also arranged hierarchically, in relations of inequality, by the uneven dissemination of semiotic resources, the stratified acknowledgement of the right to be heard, and the differential capacity across social locations to participate in public forums of deliberation and decision-making.

In the case of the AIG, this asymmetry expressed the fraught relations between periphery and center, the geohistorical fate of villagers living in what the anthropologist Charles Piot calls “remotely global” locations in the far south, where non-elite literacies are partially plugged into and partially by-passed by the modalities of mainstream literacies. Grassroots Literacy and the Written Record is an attempt to understand how this semiotic distance between the periphery and the center was produced in the Kuruman district and how the AIG was able (or not) to deploy the paperwork of the center to move the interests of villagers translocally, from the grassroots level to institutions of power and influence in the metropolis.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Scripts of Servitude by Beatriz P. Lorente.

Exciting New Multilingual Matters Titles for 2020

We can’t believe the first month of 2020 is almost over! It seems like only yesterday we were decorating the office and singing along to our Christmas playlist. However, if January has seemed like a very long month to you, we have plenty of exciting new titles coming up to fend off the winter blues. Here’s a selection of what we’ve got in store for you this spring…

Global TESOL for the 21st Century by Heath Rose, Mona Syrbe, Anuchaya Montakantiwong and Natsuno Funada

This book explores the impact of the spread of English on language teaching and learning. It provides a framework for change in the way English is taught to better reflect global realities and to embrace current research. The book is essential reading for postgraduate researchers, teachers and teacher trainers in TESOL.

Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman

This book introduces readers to basic concepts of sociolinguistics with a focus on Spanish in the US. The coverage goes beyond linguistics to examine the history and politics of Spanish in the US, the relationship of language to Latinx identities, and how language ideologies and policies reflect and shape societal views of Spanish and its speakers.

Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten

This book aims to empower teachers working with adult migrants who have had little or no prior formal schooling, and give them the information and skills that they need to reach the highest possible levels of literacy in their new languages.

Essays on Conference Interpreting by James Nolan

This book, drawing on the author’s 30-year career, seeks to define what constitutes good interpreting and how to develop the skills and abilities that are conducive to it. It places interpretation in its historical context and examines the uses and limitations of modern technology for interpreting.

 

The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett

This book contributes new perspectives from the Global South on the ways in which linguistic and discursive boundaries shape inequalities in educational contexts, ranging from Amazonian missions to Mongolian universities, using critical ethnographic and sociolinguistic analyses.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching edited by Christina Gkonou, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Jim King

This book focuses on the emotional complexity of language teaching and how the diverse emotions that teachers experience are shaped and function. The book covers a range of emotion-related topics on both positive and negative emotions, including emotional labour, burnout, emotion regulation, resilience, emotional intelligence and wellbeing.

 

Seen something you like? All these titles are available to pre-order on our website and you can get 50% off this month when you enter the code JANSALE at the checkout!

International Literacy Day 2018

8th September is International Literacy Day, a day which is celebrated annually worldwide as an occasion to promote literacy for both children and adults and highlight its importance to individuals, communities and societies. To mark it, we reflect on our own memories of learning to read…

Laura

Growing up, bedtime stories were a highlight of every evening. My sister and I had very different tastes in books and so had a complicated rota for whose turn it was to choose the story and in whose bed the story would be read! I don’t really remember when we started reading ourselves rather than being read to but I do have clear memories of having the chicken pox when I was 7 and working my way through every single Famous Five book!

Flo

Before I could actually read, I memorised Peter Rabbit and would recite the whole thing, turning the pages in a pretty convincing imitation of reading! The first books I properly read on my own were the Josie Smith books by Magdalen Nabb. I loved these so much that my mum wrote a letter to the author and actually received a handwritten reply! Magdalen was particularly taken with my name as she was living in Florence at the time – “The City of Flowers”, which she lamented was increasingly more populated by cars than flowers…

Elinor

I don’t remember the first book that I read completely on my own but I do remember the first books that I read together with my parents. We had several books from the Puddle Lane series which had a simple sentence on one page for me to read and then a more detailed paragraph on the opposite page for my mum or dad to read. They were great as I felt like I was reading on my own but still getting a full story. I also enjoyed reading books by Shirley Hughes, particularly the Alfie stories and the book Dogger. Another favourite was Burglar Bill, which I can still quote lines from now and which I look forward to reading with my son when he’s a bit older. I loved reading books (or being read to) from a young age and always looked forward to bedtime stories.

Anna

I have always loved books, but one of my main motivations when learning to read was so I could decipher the very glamorous – and not very feminist – women’s magazines that were stuffed down the legs of my mum’s leather boots in the wardrobe in my parent’s bedroom, all red lipstick and impossibly large hair. In fact I always wanted to read things I probably shouldn’t: I can remember being fascinated by Shirley Conran’s Super Woman for quite some time; most of the text meant very little to me, but here was a book entirely about grown-up, real knowledge, to be read when no-one was looking.

Tommi

Reading has always been a very important part of family life for me, and the house I grew up in and my grandparents’ house were always full of books with shelves occupying most available wall space. We would have books regularly sent over from Finland for birthday and Christmas presents, and Mum, Dad, Naini, Mummi and Vaari, along with anyone else that could be cajoled, would read to us at bedtime. Our summer holidays driving across Europe to Finland always started a week or so before departure with a visit to George’s bookshop in Bristol, so we could select the books to keep us occupied in the back seat. I’ve written about Muumipeikko ja Pyrstötähti (Comet in Moominland) being one of the first books I remember reading on my own for a post on World Book Day so I won’t say any more about that here. The first book that I remember getting in “trouble” for reading was JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It was the classic story of a young child not realising that his parents could see the hunched shape and the torchlight visible through the blanket that seems so funny in hindsight. Dad later admitted that he would always let me “get away with it” for half an hour or so before telling me it was really time for lights out… I cannot imagine a life without the pleasure of reading, and a love of books must surely be one of the greatest gifts you can give any child.

Find out more about International Literacy Day on UNESCO’s website.

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.

 

Literacy Theories for the Digital Age

This month we published Kathy Mills’ new book Literacy Theories for the Digital Age. Here’s a post about the book from the author.

Don’t Read

this Blog!

 

You little rebel. I like you.

Let me tell you a few stories from ‘behind the scenes” of my new book: Literacy Theories for the Digital Age: Social, Critical, Multimodal, Spatial, Material and Sensory Lenses. Printed just in time for Christmas 2015, this book will encourage education academics, PhD students, teachers and other curious readers to see literacy differently.

The distinguished Professor Allan Luke once said to me, “You know, Kathy, there is always one person in the world who will read your book”.

He continued, “…your mum”.

It’s true. My mum, Marie Seltenrych, who is also an author, has always been my biggest fan.

The book navigates a vital collection of theories that have transformed conventional notions of alphabetic literacy.

Drawing from fields that include social theory, cultural geography, cultural anthropology and philosophy, I demonstrate how literacy is much more than the human behaviours of reading and writing of words.

There are six essential theories, but I’ll jump here to my favourite, the sixth – sensory literacies.

The hierarchisation of the senses in Western cultures has privileged visual conceptions of literacy, when in fact, humans communicate through multiple sensorium of the body.

From the ancient cuneiform of Sumarians in Mesopotamia to the weaving of “talking knots” by quipu, from the Inca Empire literacy, literacy is a richly sensorial practice (See David Howes preface to the book).

From tablet touch screens, to motion-sensing video games, I argue that literacy involves the engagement of the whole body, breath, haptics, and even locomotion.

We have a plethora of digital technologies that accentuate this principle.

Literacy Theories for the Digital AgeIt was actually during the writing of the “Sensory Literacies” chapter of the new book– which is essentially about the entanglement of the body and the senses in literacy practices – that I started to notice how much I need to eat when I write. It helps my brain.

I eat to avoid writer’s block – yes, the block that morphs into a delicious block of chocolate on the desk. Some of my writer’s block fragments into dozens of stray chocolate particles that reappear across the surface of the keyboard for days afterwards (along with the ants).

I also consumed an awful lot of caffeine. No coffee = no workee.

People say that academics need to “brand themselves”. What is my brand? How does my book reflect my brand?

Apparently, your brand name should be the colour of your pants, plus what you last ate. In my case, my brand would have to be “Denim Blue Cookies and Cream Protein Bar – Australian made”.

Lucky it’s morning tea time, as a few hours ago, my brand would have been “Red scrambled eggs”. Meh.

The hardest thing about writing this book was the editing. Why? Well, let me tell you, when present, past and future walk into a book, boy, it gets tense.

You might wonder about why I chose such a long title of my book: Literacy Theories for the Digital Age: Social, Critical, Multimodal, Spatial, Material and Sensory Lenses.

It’s a long title, but it’s better than short book titles. For example, what about Stop Arguing by Xavier Breath, or I Hit the Wall by Isadore There. My book title is a whole lot better than Geology by Roxanne Minerals.

I chose the title because even though it’s so long that I have to “google it” to remember it:

  1. What you see is what you get – you don’t need to read the contents page, saving energy for the reader.
  2. Search engine strategy – all the key words are in the title – can’t miss it.
  3. Because everyone says “choose a short and memorable title”.

Like you, I’m a rebel.

Literacy Theories for the Digital AgeIf you would like more information please see our website. You might also be interested in Kathy’s previous book The Multiliteracies Classroom.

Local Languaging: Challenges Existing Definitions of ‘Language’ and ‘Literacy’

Last month we published Local Languaging, Literacy and Multilingualism in a West African Society by Kasper Juffermans. The book challenges existing definitions of ‘language’ and ‘literacy’ in The Gambia. In this post, Kasper gives us a bit more background to the ideas discussed in his book.

Local Languaging, Literacy and Multilingualism in a West African SocietyHow many languages do you speak? If we think a bit longer about this rather common question, it is not the same kind of question as How often have you been to Africa? or How many children do you have? Generally, travels and children are rather easy to count and remember. With language that’s not quite the case. Languages are difficult to count not because people often speak such a large number of them – usually they don’t – but because it’s hard to tell where one language begins and another ends, as well as what counts as speaking it.

As a student of African studies at a Belgian university I began carrying out field research in The Gambia, Africa’s smallest mainland country. The Gambia gained independence from the UK in 1965 and like many African states it has maintained its colonial language as official language. This includes use as a medium of instruction throughout the public education system and almost exclusive use in the written media and the public space.

I began my research in a modern multi-ethnic village in the southwest of the country. The village comprised people of Mandinka, Jola, Fula, Wolof and Manjago ethnic groups living together. It was a very encouraging environment to learn Mandinka with numerous people around me with the patience and the interest to teach me, and enough (elderly) persons who did not, or pretended not to, speak any English. The more time I spent in the village, the better my Mandinka became. Before long my communicative skills were enough to engage in small talk with neighbours, fellow passengers, street vendors, etc. But then people would challenge me and ask me if I could, or why I didn’t, speak their language. This way I learned to recognise and greet in Wolof, Jola, and Fula too. Not only did I have to learn the local language, I had to learn to language locally, to respond adequately in greeting sequences involving Arabic, the interlocutors’ ethnic language and the lingua franca of the situation. I had to learn to choose the right moment to switch, and get the cultural pragmatics of turn-taking and back-channelling right. All of this is not learning different languages, but rather learning local languaging.

In my research I learned to look beyond languages in the plural to understand multilingualism and literacy in Gambian society. I discovered that I had entered the field with a rather European conception of language and that this was different from African ways of understanding language. In the linguistic landscape – i.e., the public space as marked by linguistic objects – I could hardly see any language other than English. There were only very few occasions of local language, and then usually only in Wolof. What did this mean? Are African languages somehow not written languages? Is Wolof more vital than other Gambian languages? And how do we read the prolific use of images complementing text in the public space? My book attempts to address these questions.

The Gambian government prepared an education policy for 2004-2015 that announced the introduction of the five most commonly used local languages as subjects throughout the education system and as medium of instruction in the first three years of basic education. But why can’t we see any evidence of this policy in the school I investigated? Could the problem be situated in the fluidity of local language practices and the fixity (and eurocentrism?) of such a policy document? Community members declared their support for the introduction of moo fing kango (‘black people’s language’) in their school, but refused to make a choice about which of the local languages should be introduced. The book argues that such voices need to be taken into account and attempts to proceed from there in understanding language in education and society at large.

During my fieldwork I gradually unlearned to conceptualise language in the plural, and to understand language rather as a verb. The present book contributes to the languaging turn in sociolinguistics by emphasising the dynamics and fluidity of language as practiced locally in a globalising world. Whereas English and literacy have in the past strategically been pluralised to emphasise diversity in practices across cultural contexts (Englishes, literacies), it is now time to singularise them again and think of language and literacy as material nouns. This book can be read not only as a sociolinguistic monograph of one West African society, but also as an exercise to unpluralise language.

For more information about this book please see our website.

Celebrating 40 volumes in the New Perspectives on Language and Education series

The Multilingual Turn in Languages EducationThe publication of The Multilingual Turn in Languages Education edited by Jean Conteh and Gabriela Meier this month marks the 40th volume of our New Perspectives on Language and Education series. Here, the series editor Viv Edwards writes about how the series has evolved over the years.

The titles that form part of the New Perspectives on Language and Education series tend to cluster around three main themes – English as an international language, modern language teaching and multilingual education, with a host of other issues hovering around the edges that refuse to be pigeonholed in this way.

Identifying and disseminating new perspectives on ‘big’ topics like these requires Janus-like qualities. On the one hand, you need to recognize proposals which, while resonating with issues that you know are trending, hold the promise of taking things a few steps forward, not simply being more of the same. On the other hand, you need to be prepared to take risks: is this something new and original with the potential to make people rethink long-held assumptions? As Multilingual Matters prepares to publish the 40th title in the series, this seems a good time to offer my own particular take as editor.

NPLE coversHot topics

Looking first at the new and original, NPLE has a proud record. In terms of ‘hot topics’, Testing the Untestable in Language Education, edited by Amos Paran and Lies Sercu, and Joel Bloch’s book on Plagiarism, Intellectual Property and the Teaching of L2 Writing have made important contributions to debates in two fiercely contested areas, while Andrey Rosowsky’s Heavenly Readings focuses on literacy practices associated with Islam, an issue which has received remarkably little attention to date. The quality of the contribution made by any individual title lies, in my opinion, in its power to challenge readers to revisit and even reconsider deeply held beliefs. An excellent example is Jean-Jacques Weber’s Flexible Multilingual Education, which controversially places the needs and interests of children above the more customary approach which focuses on individual languages.

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In the case of topics such as English as an international language, it is possible to argue that the impact of NPLE titles is cumulative. Let’s take some recent additions to the list that specifically set out to bridge the gap between theoretical discussion and practical concerns: Aya Matsuda’s edited collection Principles and Practices of Teaching English as an International Language and Julia Hüttner and colleagues’ Theory and Practice in EFL Teacher Education. In the case of Julia Menard Warwick’s English Language Teachers on the Discursive Faultlines the focus is on different constituencies and stakeholders as she compares controversies around English as a global language with similar tensions surrounding programmes for immigrants.

 

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Another interesting cluster of titles concerns innovations in pedagogy and the management of multilingual classrooms. Take, for instance, Managing Diversity in Education, edited by David Little and colleagues; Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms where Jennifer Miller and colleagues explore new dilemmas for teachers; and Kathy Mills’ The Multiliteracies Classroom. The 40th and most recent addition to the NPLE list, Jean Conteh and Gabriela Meier’s The Multilingual Turn in Languages Education is a welcome addition to a strand of scholarship helping to develop a clearer understanding of classroom challenges.

Politics

Books such as these are underpinned by important political questions. In other examples, however, the political theme is even more clearly foregrounded. Particular personal favourites include The Politics of Language Education, edited by Charles Alderson which, with the value of hindsight, looks at the institutional manoeuvres that shape projects charged with innovation and change; Maryam Borjian’s English in Post-Revolutionary Iran, which chronicles the changing attitudes to English teaching and qualifies as the only academic book I have ever read which could be described as a page turner; and Desiring TESOL and International Education by Raqib Chowdhury and Phan Le Ha, which raises uncomfortable issues of market abuse and exploitation.

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Innovative methods

Innovations covered by NPLE authors go beyond pedagogy and policy to include new approaches to data analysis. Roger Barnard and colleagues have been responsible for a trilogy of highly original edited collections: Creating Classroom Communities of Learning, Codeswitching in University English-Medium Classes and Researching Language Teacher Cognition and Practice. Each of these edited collections aims to promote dialogue around a particular theme by inviting a second researcher to interpret the same data, or to comment on the approach of the first author.

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Updating classics

Occasionally we have the opportunity of updating important works by major international authors. A case in point is the second edition of Gordon Wells’ ground breaking The Meaning Makers which sets the findings of the original study of language and literacy development at home and school in the context of recent research in the sociocultural tradition, also drawing on new examples of effective teaching from the author’s collaborative research with teachers. Another good example is Sociolinguistics and Language Education, edited by Nancy Hornberger and Sandra Lee McKay, a state-of-the-art overview of changes in the global situation and the continuing evolution of the field.NPLE covers 7

Think globally, act locally

While decisions about what to take forward have to be commercially sound, Multilingual Matters values coverage not only of global interest but also takes pride in showcasing more local issues. Obvious examples of this include Lynda Pritchard Newcombe’s case study of Social Context and Fluency in L2 Learners in Wales; Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Lars Holm’s edited volume on Literacy Practices in Transition, which showcases perspectives from the Nordic counties; and Minority Populations in Canadian Second Language Education edited by Katy Arnett and Callie Mady.

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A personal coda

As someone who has worked for longer than I care to remember with both large international publishing houses and Multilingual Matters, one of the last of a vanishing breed of small independents, it seems fitting to end on a personal note. Many readers of this blog will be aware that it is now just over a year since the death of Mike Grover, who together with his wife Marjukka, founded Multilingual Matters over three decades ago. Their finest legacy, embodied in their son Tommi and his current team, is the company’s continued openness to the new, the innovative and even, very occasionally, the quirky. Those of us privileged to work as editors and authors with Multilingual Matters appreciate the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with knowledgeable and committed individuals rather than anonymous, corporate players. Long may this last!