Category Archives: Multilingual education and English Medium Instruction (EMI)

Multiple perspectives on multilingualism

Seventeen of the scheduled languages are featured on Indian rupee banknotes

India boasts one of the largest number of languages for any country on earth, with 22 languages awarded official status and referred to as ‘scheduled languages’. English is termed an ‘associate official language’. Depending on how they are counted (and who is doing the counting) there are as many as 6600 other languages spoken and used across the country – some by very small percentages of the population which can still equate to large numbers in a country of 1.2 billion people.

The British Council is well-known for its work relating to the English language, including working with teachers to improve the way that it is taught within education systems. Our position is to support the development of English as a skill alongside the development of learners’ mother tongues and other national languages. To this end, we actively support research into multilingualism and English as a medium of instruction in order to facilitate a shared understanding of what works in practice and where there are significant challenges. This has been realised in several ways in India, including by hosting a roundtable event on multilingualism in 2014, hosting the Language and Development Conference in Delhi in 2015 on the theme of multilingualism and development and most recently through a partnership on a research project initiated by the University of Cambridge and the University of Reading in the UK.

This project, Multilingualism and multiliteracy: raising learning outcomes in challenging contexts in primary schools across India was recently launched through a consultation event at British Council Delhi. Alongside the team from the two UK universities, led by Professor Ianthi Tsimpli and including Professor Jeanine Treffers-Daller and Professor Theodoros Marinis, co-investigators from key institutions in India, Dr Survana Alladi from Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences and Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay from the English and Foreign Languages University Hyderabad, and representatives of other partner organisations also attended. This breadth of representation from different sectors, cultures and organisations led to a rich discussion on the issues surrounding multilingualism in India and the impact that this can have on learning.

These questions will continue to be explored through the research study, focusing on young learners in Bihar, Hyderabad and Delhi. In particular, the project seeks to contribute to the body of knowledge around how different mediums of instruction can impact on literacy, numeracy and higher level cognitive skills. The study will also examine the extent to which geographic and socioeconomic factors affect development in these areas. Furthermore, the research project includes a strong focus on capacity building for all involved – including a network of research assistants and PhD students – and seeks to drive impact through a range of dissemination events and channels as the research gets underway. The project will run from 2016–2020.

Watch this space for further updates.

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.  Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.
Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)
Also present but not pictured: Dr Vasanta Duggirala (retired from Osmania University, Hyderabad); Dr Dhir Jhingran (Language and Learning Foundation); Dr Suvarna Alladi (Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences), Debanjan Chakrabarti and Amy Lightfoot (British Council India).

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11th LangDev Conference in India: Done but not quite dusted

British Council India played host to the 11th International Language & Development Conference in New Delhi from 18-20 November, the first time this prestigious biennial event was held in this country. The event was the largest and the most diverse of the conference series thus far, attracting 266 registered participants and with a programme of more than 60 sessions. Nearly 30 countries were represented, from Afghanistan to South Africa, Bhutan to New Zealand. Feedback from across the board suggests that the conference was a resounding success, bringing together researchers, policy-makers and practitioners from a wide variety of contexts.

Partner insitutions light the lamp to declare the conference open

Partner insitutions light the lamp to declare the conference open

Learning from diversity, learning through languages
Learning from leading a diverse team from across India, with generous inputs from colleagues in the wider South Asia region (such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was one of my own substantive take-aways from the project as the senior manager responsible for planning and delivery of the conference. Just the core conference team of six of us had over a dozen languages amongst us. A colleague has documented how meticulously we planned for and dealt with various Equality, Diversity and Inclusiveness (EDI) challenges, including providing for simultaneous translation in Hindi, Mandarin and Amharic for presenters.

Some key members of the British Council India staff who organised the conference

Some key members of the British Council India staff who organised the conference

Chairing the session where we launched the conference proceedings from Sri Lanka and discussed multilingualism from the perspectives of social cohesion and national narratives resonated at a deep personal level. My parents were born in country that no longer exists (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh; the trigger for the conflict being a language-related issue) and I was raised in a province in India that is now carved into another one (south Bihar has become Jharkhand). I grew up with Bengali as a home language, Hindi as the language of the playground and school. Like most middle class aspirational households (that too of ‘refugees’ who had clawed their way back to a life of dignity on the back of educational and professional success) English was a constant presence at home, and also in school. These issues of being caught out in narratives of displacement and political reconfiguration came back to me vividly as the discussants from Sri Lanka discussed the role languages played in the conflict and then reconciliation in the island nation.

Partnering for success
The conference was supported by the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushalya Yojana of the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India; UNESCO South Asia cluster office based in New Delhi; Research Councils UK; Jawaharlal Nehru University’s National Multilingual Education Resource Consortium and the Digital Empowerment Foundation.

An intellectual feast
The main theme of the conference was Multilingualism and Development and the three broad sub-themes were Multilingualism and the Metropolis; Language, Technology, Multi-literacies; and Multilingualism, Marginalisation, Empowerment. These issues not only reflect the rapidly changing reality of India and the wider South Asian area, but almost every other developing country and, in some cases, even the so-called developed countries.

Presentations included plenary addresses by Indian and international experts, workshops, a book launch, a debate and a ministerial panel discussion. Around 30 of the presentations were by international speakers, discussing their work in a total of 20 different countries, from Sierra Leone to China, from Myanmar to Denmark and from Pakistan to South Africa.

Primetime coverage on national TV
An interesting highlight of the conference was an in-studio panel discussion on NDTV, one of India’s premier television channels, with three plenary speakers at the conference – Ajit Mohanty, James Simpson, Osama Manzar and Alison Barrett – on the issue of linguistic diversity in India and its role in education. The half an hour show was aired on Friday 20 November at 6.30 pm, a prime-time slot, and is now available on for viewing on this link: http://social.ndtv.com/mindspace/permalink/309816

Expanding the conference reach through digital and social media
The plenary sessions and many parallel session were webcasted and recorded. These recordings are now available to view on YouTube.

Through Facebook posts, re-posts and comments, the conference reached out to approximately 700,000 and #LangDev2015 trended on Twitter for the duration of the conference, with over 2000 tweets and re-tweets with approximately 600,000 impressions. The involvement of Digital Empowerment Foundation as partners and a well-thought out internal social media plan meant huge boost for the conference in the social media world. Several colleagues took turns to blog live from the conference sessions and these blogs can be accessed here.

Feedback
Initial feedback from participants has been uniformly positive, with 95.5 per cent of feedback survey respondents reporting that they believed it was a high quality event and that they acquired new knowledge and skills from taking part. Eighty three per cent of participants indicated that they believe the discussions from the conference will directly impact on future research in the area of language and development. We will continue to track the conference’s impact over the coming months.

We have had numerous emails of support following the event, including the comments below.

“Thank you for the great Conference with a galaxy of intellectuals and scholars. I am looking forward to future action.” Justice Sonam Tobgye, former Chief Justice, Chairman of Royal Research Council, Bhutan; Delegate.

 

“I wanted to thank you all once again for a most wonderful conference. I learnt a lot, met a great many stimulating people, and came away with inspirations.” Dr Anuradha Kanniganti, Lecturer, National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, Paris, France; Speaker.

“It was really a remarkable event where we learnt some in-depth research on MLE, education, language preservation and promotion, development, digital media and the endangered languages, English as Medium of Instruction and some good case studies round the world.” Mr Zubair Torwali, Executive Director, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi IBT, Pakistan; Speaker.

“Thank you for hosting an excellent conference. I, for one, benefitted immensely from the discussions, the plenaries, the presentations and the feedback I received on my own presentation. I look forward to furthering the conversations and discussing possible areas of collaboration with the British Council in the coming days.” Dr Padmini Boruah, Associate Professor in ELT, Gauhati University, Assam, India; Speaker.

“My thanks again for an outstanding conference, which did indeed foster and strengthen important collaborations. Warmest congratulations to you and your team for a memorable and important event.” Dr. Bonny Norton, Professor, Dept Language & Literacy Education, University of British Columbia, Canada; Speaker.

 ”Thanks for a great conference, great learning for all of us. We may explore possibilities of launching a large scale research on how multilingualism operates in Asian and African contexts.” Dr Ramanujam Meganathan, Department of Education in Languages, NCERT, New Delhi, India; Speaker.

“[The conference] was simply awesome. Debates, discussions, ideas, energy, willingness, and most of all hope – all were visible. In fact some of our colleagues just did not want to miss any moment :) Osama Manzar, CEO, Digital Empowerment Foundation, India. Plenary speaker and one of the conference partners.

Legacy programme
The conference was just the beginning of a wider conversation we intend to have with all our partners. We envision an ongoing programme of engagement led by partners and participants as a result of the discussions and debates that took place during the three days. Our conversations on multilingualism and its role in development have just begun. Watch this space.

Resources and blogs
1. Recordings of sessions and interviews: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUwf3cy5FZzgBPbUCLKj_KGy9ezdXwKRy
2. Blogs on the British Council India website: http://blog.britishcouncil.org.in/category/language-development-conference-2015/

Post by Debanjan Chakrabarti
The author heads British Council India’s English language policy, research and publications work and was the lead manager for the 11th Language & Development Conference in New Delhi. He can be reached at debanjan.chakrabarti@britishcouncil.org and his twitter handle is @dcfrombc

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Language is organic!

Every environment offers to us multiple linguistic possibilities. Every day we chose to communicate in a certain language. This decision, consciously or subconsciously taken, subtly or aggressively deliberated upon, is a decision that shapes us as citizens of a civilised world.

What then is the importance of language in our political, economic and social world? I, for one, am unable to answer this question in any holistic fashion. Our language choices are so embedded in our lived realities that it takes us some time to dig them up from our collective conscious.

The 11th International Language and Development Conference provided just the space required to fuel this thinking. With speakers coming from every part of the world, it is only natural that the confluence of ideas was as varied as it was uni-directional, all moving towards the development of language as one whole, as a part of our identity as leaving, speaking and talking beings.

Language has been fragmented to the extent that it has ceased to appear substantial. The conference was one way to reclaim the priority of language and award to it the status it deserves-that of an essential part of our development and growth.

The conference highlighted the one essential idea that the world had seemed to forget -
Language is not an appendage to growth, an inconsequential outcome of our education and upbringing; instead, it is the core of who we are. The language in which we express is the language of who we are and wish to be. So be it in schools, colleges, or even our own homes, language cannot be taught.

It is organic.

Post by: Radhika Sunger
The writer is the Project Manager for the 11th Language and Development Conference.

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Excluded linguistic communities and production of an inclusive multi-lingual digital language infrastructure

Excluded linguistic communities and production of an inclusive multi-lingual digital language infrastructure - Martin Benjamin at the 11th language and Development Conference, 2015

This presentation provided a fascinating insight into the issues and processes of creating a digital multilingual dictionary. Through examples, the complexities and ambiguities of organising a digital multilingual resource were explored, and the links between language and concept highlighted. Martin outlined the challenges faced by the Kamusi Project in collecting data to populate the multilingual dictionary, and how they were attempting to use crowd sourcing, Facebook initiatives and mobile phone apps to collect translations and also to further check translations. An interesting issue highlighted in the talk and through the questions is how to get input on more minority languages, as users of these languages tend to use their language mainly orally and also are often not computer literate or have access to ICT.

Post by: Simon Etherton
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in South India

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Panel Discussion: Multilingualism in India – Where are we now?

Session Chair: Ajit Mohanty
Panellists: Minati Panda, Giridhar Rao and DP Pattanayak


Chaired by Ajit Mohanty, the panel explored the issue of multilingualism in India and the impact on education. In conclusion, and in answer to the panel discussion question “Multilingualism in India: where are we now?” Ajit stated simply “Confused”, which seemed to sum up succinctly and accurately the mood of the panellists and audience.

The discussion had been far ranging, exploring issues such as the need to address multilingualism for all in India, not just tribal communities, the importance of bio cultural diversity and the efforts being undertaken to preserve this, the view that multilinguality is ideological as well as practical and the difference between plurilingualism and multilingualism (the former is additive while the latter is across languages). The historical element was also much discussed, but unfortunately little was offered for a clear way forward. There was very much a sense of defining the problems, but little in the way of proffering strategies to go forward. So in a sense, this discussion really did identify where things are now.

Post by: Simon Etherton
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in South India

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Moving from monolingual models to plurilingual practices in African classrooms

Moving from monolingual models to plurilingual practices in African classrooms – John Simpson and Exploring the Potential for Language Supportive Learning in English: A Rwandan Case Study - Lizzi O. Milligan at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

John Simpson is Senior Adviser, English for Education Systems Sub-Saharan Africa, with the British Council

John Simpson is Senior Adviser, English for Education Systems Sub-Saharan Africa, with the British Council

This dual presentation addressed the issue of moving from monolingual to plurilingual African classrooms. John Simpson set the context and outlined the background to educational practices in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) and the linguistic diversity of SSA (2,100 different languages, of which 100 cross borders). Lizzie O. Milligan then presented findings from a Rwandan case study research exploring the potential for improvement in teacher classroom practice through the use of bi-lingual textbooks and language supportive pedagogy.

John explored the idea of ‘early exit’, which is the more common policy where children move from being educated through MT to an L2 medium of education (usually English or French) early in their schooling, as opposed to ‘late exit’ where this shift happens at the end of the primary cycle (only really evidenced in Ethiopia and Tanzania). Research presented shows that early exit has a negative impact on the general education of children and little benefit to their L2 language proficiency. Further issues identified were the lack of proper transition, no clear policy on code switching or ways of providing scaffolded support. The conclusion was the need for advocating extended use of MT and a more gradual transition to L2 medium eduction, empowering teachers to use MT and L2 strategically and in an informed way.

Lizzi O.Milligan is a Lecturer at the University of Bath, UK

Lizzi O.Milligan is a Lecturer at the University of Bath, UK

This was all interesting background information. Lizzie then presented research looking at how far there has been an improvement in teacher classroom practice in use of textbooks and language supportive pedagogy as a result of a revised textbook intervention. Research findings from this Rwandan case study clearly identified improvement in confidence of both learners and teachers as a result of introducing bilingual text into the subject textbooks. More information about what work was done to improve teachers’ classroom practices through this intervention would have been interesting, especially the issue of strategic code-switching to support learning.

 

 

 

Watch John and Lizzie’s session at the conference:

Post by: Simon Etherton
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in South India

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Multilingual education and language-in-education in Southeast Asia

The Multilingual Education Working Group and Recent Language-in-Education Policy Developments in Southeast Asia – Kirk R.Person at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Kirk is a Thailand-based linguist focused on minority language issues. He is associated with SIL International and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, Thailand

Kirk is a Thailand-based linguist focused on minority language issues. He is associated with SIL International and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University,
Thailand

What is Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE)? Speaker Kirk R. Person associated with SIL International and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, Thailand, explains that it is an education system where learners’ mother tongue is used in the classroom as a bridge in learning L1 and L2.

Person talks about the sandwich method of teaching and cites an example from Thai classroom:

  • Layer 1: A teacher briefs the learners about the aims of the lesson and explains key concepts in mother tongue
  • Layer 2: The lesson progresses in Thai
  • Layer 3: The teacher engages the students in discussion in mother tongue.

He also spoke about how communities can frame curriculums for their children and that a gradual shift from L1 to L2 can be achieved by a progressive syllabus where L2 is taught in a similar way to L1. He talked about exposing learners to L2 first by making them listen, following by speaking and finally by reading and writing. This is contrary to the more traditional style where children are taught the alphabet before they are able to understand or use the oral language.

Person says that research has shown not only that learners in MLE schools achieve more than in mono-lingual schools, but also that this could be a way towards reaching an inclusive environment in classrooms and bringing about social harmony. Communities can become more integrated and empowered within the wider civil society. Despite globalisation and the onslaught of English, several East Asian countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand have recently developed language in education policies which are supportive of the right of children to receive early education in their mother tongue.

Watch his session at the 11th Language & Development Conference here:

Also watch his interview

Post by: Ruchi Jain
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Medium of instruction, literacy and educational equity in Almaty high school students

Medium of Instruction, Literacy and Educational Equity: Survey of Almaty High School Students – Juldyz Smagulova at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Juldyz Smagulova is an Assistant Professor at KIMEP University, Kazakhstan

Juldyz Smagulova is an Assistant Professor at KIMEP University, Kazakhstan

Anyone who grew up speaking a language at home which was different from the national language of the country, which was not the same as the regional language of the state and which certainly not was the medium of instruction in their school, can identify with the issues faced by learners in Almaty.

In the 11th Language and Development Conference, presenter Juldyz Smagulova spoke about the challenges faced by learners in Kazakhstan. She showed a world which hoped to shake off the shackles of Russian domination in the former capital city of Almaty by making Kazakh compulsory and introducing English in school.

In her research, she and her colleague Elise Ahn surveyed 2,954 students in 29 state schools attempting to explore the relationship between language of instruction and students’ aspiration. She is hoping that empirical data will help to inform the policy making process in her country.

In a city where Russian-medium school learners are faring better than Kazakh-medium school learners, the government aspires to have 25 per cent of its citizens as fluent speakers of English – this leads to issues of equity, quality and accessibility in education in Kazakhstan.

Judlyn also stressed that teacher-training was an important area that the policy makers need to pay closer attention to. She said “we have the resources but we need know how to teach”. In an anecdote that she shared with the audience, she relayed that a Russian-speaking friend of hers wanted to learn Kazakh and after spending a week with a private tutor she claimed that she still had not made any progress. The tutor replied, “Kazakh is sitting inside you, it will wake up soon”.

Watch her session at the 11th Language & Development Conference here:

Post by: Ruchi Jain
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Women, English and empowerment: voices from rural Bangladesh

Women, English and Empowerment: Voices from Rural Bangladesh - Sayeedur Rahman at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Sayeedur Rahman is Associate Professor and Teacher-in-Charge of English language in the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Sayeedur Rahman is Associate Professor and Teacher-in-Charge of English language in the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

“English allows me to be powerful.”

In a monolingual country, the women in rural village, 40 Km away from the capital city of Dhaka, want to learn English because it makes her confident and enables her to voice her opinion in family. This belief stands in tall where sometimes a husband does not allow his wife to access computer in their home.

The session by Sayeedur Rahman from Bangladesh, told tales of five women in a village called Dhamarai. The ethnographic study revealed stories of women who work in garment factories, schools and Small and Medium Enterprises.

The study revealed perception and beliefs of these women about English and its impact on their lives. It was found that in the microcosm where English is little used, the urge to learn English is strong because it is felt that it would enable them to get better jobs and communicate with people from across the world and participate in world economy.

The issue that could possibly be deeply looked into would be the interpretation of the concept of empowerment by these rural voices.

Post by: Ruchi Jain
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Debate: ‘EMI does not bring the benefits that people expect’

Debate: The motion for debate is ‘EMI does not bring the benefits that people expect’ at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

From left to right: Hywel Coleman, Baela Jamil, John Knagg, Lizzi Milligan and Nigussie Negash Yadete

Debating team included (from left to right) Hywel Coleman, Baela Jamil, John Knagg, Lizzi Milligan and Nigussie Negash Yadete

So why EMI? Four speakers with experience of different countries argued for against the motion. Baela Jamil stressed the degree developmental growth and the delights of aesthetics in regions such as South Asia have been accomplished through regional languages – not English. Hywel Coleman gave examples of how the imposed use of English as a medium in subjects including mathematics and chemistry may limit student creative expression, dumb down content and lead to complete incomprehension by students The children’s eyes sparkle when their language is used………….but use of English has huge negative impact. The audience provided a number of examples of stigmatisation resulting from imposition of EMI.

Maybe we need to separate the English medium and educational issues. To Lizzi Milligan, in many EMI contexts, teachers are not trained, textbooks assume proficiency above student levels and curricula are overloaded. But this is not the problem of EMI but are wider quality issues which we need to tackle. Negussie Negash from Ethiopia, a country with English as a medium of instruction since 1944 emphasised the inherent usefulness of English: art has its own language but how do you sell your art to the speaking world?

And a final vote? A resounding draw.

You can watch the debate here:

Post by: Andy Keedwell
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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