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.

 


Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and Use

17 November 2015

Last month we published Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and Use by Agnieszka Otwinowska. In this post, Agnieszka tells us a bit more about cognate vocabulary and explains the background to the cover image of her book.

Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and UseMy research interests lie in the broad area of bilingualism and multilingualism, defined functionally as the use of several languages for different purposes. The topic that I found particularly fascinating is the ways in which individual multilingualism (i.e. using several languages by one person) affects noticing and using crosslinguistic similarity. Such similarities in the area of lexis are known as cognate vocabulary (i.e. words that are formally and semantically very similar or even identical across different languages). We tend to notice them mostly in languages which are typologically close, and it is assumed that cognate words had a common ancestor word that they originated from (Lat. cognatus = blood relative). However, cognates also exist in typologically unrelated languages, such as Polish and English due to the historical processes of language contact and borrowing.

At a certain moment of my research and teaching career, I was quite amazed by the ‘discovery’ of cognates, which led me to studying the topic of crosslinguistic similarity and its role in multilingual language acquisition. I decided to investigate how cognateness ‘works’ across languages, because it is assumed that the existence of cognates should be helpful in learning. As a methodologist of language teaching, I was interested in finding out which factors influence noticing and using cognates, and whether sensitivity to crosslinguistic similarity, present in multilinguals, can be trained in other language learners.

I mainly focused on Polish and English because Polish is my native language, while teaching English is my main area of research. Thus, my entire research deals with the role of crosslinguistic lexical similarity and multilingualism with English as a part of a language constellation. My book Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and Use summarises my research on cognate Polish-English vocabulary, and on training vocabulary learning strategies, coupled with raising awareness of such words.

So, why is this book different from other books on multilingualism? I believe it is the focus on cognates and the scope of this work. Although cognates have been studied from various perspectives, there are also vast differences in methodological approaches, and even in the ways of defining a cognate, depending on the domain. Approaches to cognates differ in historical and applied linguistics, in psycholinguistics and in contact linguistics. My aim was to present those diverse perspectives in one volume and make use of the knowledge stemming from those different domains in my research.

The result is a unique monograph, which brings together linguistic, sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic and educational perspectives on the phenomenon of cognate vocabulary across languages. It predominantly deals with Polish-English cognates and their use by bilingual and multilingual Polish learners/users of English. However, since it discusses the universal processes of language contact in the macro scale (at the societal level) and the micro scale (crosslinguistic influences in the mind of an individual), the volume should appeal to international readers of numerous language backgrounds. Hopefully, the research presented here can also serve as an example for other language pairs and groups.

And just the final word about the image on the cover of the book. Aneta Pavlenko congratulated me on the choice, saying that there is a clear link between cognates and the photograph. Indeed, cognates are very much about certain repetitiveness of patterns (like the poles on the beach), and also about ‘giving a helping hand,’ in language learning (like the children). The photo was taken on holiday at the Polish seaside (actually not my favourite destination, as I prefer hiking in the mountains). Two of the children in the photo are mine, and they are rather proud to be featured on the book cover! All three kids are quite grown-up by now, and they all attend the same secondary school near Warsaw.

If you would like more ifnromation about this book please see our website. You might also be interested in New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning.


Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community

19 July 2013

Earlier this month we published Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community edited by David Singleton, Vera Regan and Ewelina Debaene. We asked the editors of the book to tell us a little about the background to the book and how it came together.

Ireland has not been used to people coming to live on its shores. Irish people on the contrary have been more used traditionally to outward migration. Today however, it is noticeable that people from many parts of the world live in Ireland. The Polish community is the largest of the many non-Irish groups in Ireland today. We often meet Polish people in the course of our daily lives in Ireland, and Polish has become a language that we often hear in the street and see featured on public signs in the urban and rural landscape.

Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant CommunityThis volume is the result of a project largely funded by the Irish Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, on language and the Polish community in Ireland, France and Austria. The project first originated in a conversation some of us had at the Sociolinguistics Symposium in Limerick in 2006. Its aim was to focus multiple perspectives on the relationship between language, culture and the lives of Polish migrants settling into a new country. The story of the Polish diaspora in different countries, ‘old’ migration countries (Austria and France) and a ‘new’ one (Ireland), is told in the interviews with the Polish participants in all three.

Contributors to the volume are established researchers as well as early-stage scholars. The composition of the research group was multidisciplinary as well as interdisciplinary, resulting in a rich exchange of ideas at project meetings. The group was also multilingual, comprising English L1 speakers as well as Polish L1 speakers and a Czech L1 speaker, who also all speak other languages. The English and Czech L1 speakers all learnt Polish throughout the period of the research project. This meant that the richness of the linguistic situation under investigation was always present to everyone’s mind. Psycholinguistic as well as sociolinguistic aspects were investigated in order to arrive at as full a picture as possible of the lives of the participants, their views of their current lives and their future, and their process of acquiring the language of their new context, whether in Ireland, France or Austria. The interviews with the Polish participants out of which the book first sprang, give us insights into language use as well into people’s lives and the events relating to their experience of migration.

For more information on this book click here. You can also find out more about our Second Language Acquisition series on our website.


Jezyk Polski – Polish, our “Language of the Month”

30 May 2012

Polish flag

After a hiatus due to our busy conference season, we have resurrected our office “Language of the Month” scheme.  Today, Kasia, a Polish colleague of Sarah’s sister, was roped in to give us an hour of Polish over lunch.  We were particularly interested in learning Polish as we shall be hearing a lot about it over the next few months what with the European football championships taking place in Poland and Ukraine in June, and EUROSLA being hosted by the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznán in September.

Kasia started the session teaching us common everyday phrases as “Dziekuje” (“Thank you”) and “Jak sie masz?” (“How are you?”) as well as numbers and some useful questions.  Unsurprisingly, particular challenges for us were mastering sounds which we don’t have in English and trying to work out how things might be pronounced by looking at the spellings.

Joanna Nijakowska’s book

We then were able to ask Kasia how we should pronounce our many Polish authors names correctly.  We often find names such as Piotr Kuhiwczak and Adam Wojtaskez especially difficult to get right, so we are pleased to know how to say them properly now.  I am very much looking forward to attending EUROSLA in Poznán and will be doing my best to attempt to speak a bit of Polish while I’m there.

Kasia also gave us some helpful tips for visiting Poland, such as not waiting for people to form an orderly queue and not being surprised if we get a full health history when asking “How are you?”!


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