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

Multilingualism: a viable strategy to forge national harmony and social cohesion?

Multilingualism: A Viable Strategy to Forge National Harmony and Social Cohesion? A Sri Lankan Case - Thaiyamuthu Thanaraj, Chandra Gunawardena and M.B.Ekanayake at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015


Given Sri Lanka’s tangled (and now hopefully resolved) history of ethnic friction, it’s easy to see why a multilingual approach is essential. Throughout the conference, bilingual and trilingual policies had been discussed (including, in the Day 2 plenary, what looks very much like a monolingual policy in the United Kingdom) but it’s easy to forget that when countries embark on these policies, it’s not just a matter of legal implementation but also raising the multilingual language proficiency of government employees.

This session described just such a project as in Sri Lanka, although bilingualism may be quite frequent in the street, it is not in government offices. Government personnel speaking Singhala and Tamil learnt each other’s languages and although their final proficiency was limited, the experience was motivating, led to more social contact and an interest in each other’s cultures, probably emphasising that there is more to language learning than just a final score. A final thought, and an intriguing question raised by the speaker: if you teach A B’s language and B A’s language, which language do they converse in when they meet?

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

Share via email

The African Storybook Project

The African Storybook Project and its impact in Nepal and the Global Community - Bonny Norton and Mary McKenna at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Bonny Norton is a Professor in the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Research Advisor to the African Storybook Project. Mary McKenna is Director of the Nepal Education Support Trust.

From left to right: Bonny Norton is a Professor in the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Research Advisor to the African Storybook Project. Mary McKenna is Director of the Nepal Education Support Trust

Despite Grandmother’s warnings, the child went ahead on trying to find out how bananas ripen, with rather disastrous consequences: just one of over four hundred stories collected together for use with learners by the African Storybook project. The project emphasised the need to reflect aspects of children’s real lives and to enable them to construct meaning in supporting developing reading skills in less literate societies (although just as true, I guess, in literate societies too). The aim of the project throughout is to be child-centred and a vital focus of engagement.

Stored digitally, the stories (accompanied by some fantastic illustrations) were initially translated into over fifty African languages but the project has now expanded globally to include languages such as Arabic and Cantonese. For once, it’s Africa which is contributing to the flow of ideas rather than being the recipient of them.

The audience questions were as thought-provoking as the presentation. We discussed the cultural references in the illustrations, how the resources could be integrated into mainstream teaching, how the resource will be received in cultures print is and how the project could be monitored and evaluated. All tough questions in an increasingly multilingual, digital world…….

Watch Bonny and Mary’s session here:

Watch the interview with Bonny Norton here:

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

Share via email

Language and inequality: English for all or enabling a multilingual economy?

Language and Inequality in India: English for All or Empowerment of Indian Languages? - Anuradha Kanniganti at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

 

In the midst of debates around medium of instruction, concerns about disappearance of multilingual languages, ineffective language policies, and dealing with inequalities arising from multilingualism by promoting ‘a’ common language, Anuradha Kanniganti focused on a pragmatic approach that focuses on establishing links between languages and economic development. This approach could not only enable the revival of local languages but also narrow the gap between English and opportunities.

Anuradha proposes a shift in focus from ‘English for all’ to empowering local languages for better economic performance. She pressed on the fact that economic dimension of language is a relatively neglected aspect in language advocacy. Hence it is important that research is conducted to explore the link between languages and socio economic development, and find out opportunities available in different languages for people to look forward to. If we enhance the capacity of local languages to perform various aspects in economic development, we are better likely to deal with the ‘Language catastrophe’ that we are facing and linguistic diversity can then turn into an asset rather than a liability.

She expressed that politicians traditionally have been least interested in promoting local languages. Hence we need to present solid fact based and figure based arguments to push politicians to consider the language catastrophe seriously The governments are more likely to be convinced about creating opportunities in multi languages if we talk to them in terms of ‘cost benefits’ rather than in the sense of ‘rights’. Also the organizations need to be more ‘enlightened’ in accepting the reality and make arrangements to accommodate the presence of multilingualism. Language should not become a barrier when it comes to contributing to the economic growth of a country and an attitude of ‘We somehow manage’ should change. Role of local languages should be seen in terms of technical functions and industrial use rather than mere ‘Cultural tag’.

The stimulating presentation was followed by equally stimulating responses and questions from the audience. The discussion highlighted the need for making the courses, curriculum, and assessment available in local languages, informing the people about their linguistic rights and fighting for the same and the role of governments in contributing to changing the gloomy scenario. The audience seemed to be echoing Anuradha’s sentiments that discrimination due to languages is as ridiculous as caste discrimination. People need to come together to bring a language revolution.

 

Post by: Manisha Dak
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in North India

Share via email

Book launch: language and social cohesion in the developing world

The book ‘Language and Social Cohesion in the Developing World’ – edited by Hywel Coelman and published in Colombo jointly by GIZ and the British Council was formally launched at an event during the 11th Language & Development Conference in New Delhi on the 18th of November. The book launch was followed by a panel discussion highlighting issues around language and social cohesion in various contexts from various perspectives and describing strategies to deal with some of these issues. The panel consisted of some of the distinguished authors, Sasanka Perera, Thaiyamuthu Thanaraj, Hywel Coleman, Francis Thevanesan Croos, and Bonny Norton.

From left to right: Bonny Norton, Thaiyamuthu Thanaraj and Hywel Coleman

From left to right: Bonny Norton, Thaiyamuthu Thanaraj and Hywel Coleman

Hywel Coleman, the editor of the book focused on the importance of social cohesion and education in the current context. He highlighted that freedom to become educated in one’s own language is a human right but that the existence of legislation in favour of language rights guarantees nothing. He stressed the importance of involving the people concerned while forming language policies.

Bonny Norton, the reviewer of the book appreciated how the book deals with most of the issues around language and social cohesion in various contexts that we are currently trying to address.

From left to right: Session chair Debanjan Chakrabarti with Francis Thevanesan Croos, Sasanka Perera

From left to right: Session chair Debanjan Chakrabarti with Francis Thevanesan Croos, Sasanka Perera

How English has created two nations in the country of Sri Lanka was effectively brought forth by Professor Thanaraj, sharing the results of a recently conducted survey. According to the survey results, one of the key factors that plays a key role in learning a language is self-motivation. Mere parental force does not go a long way. In addition, Sasanka Perera highlighted that people are encouraged to learn English not out of ‘emotional interest’ but economic interest.

When asked by one of the members of the audience whether the learners can own the language, Bonny Norton interestingly portrayed how it would help democratise English if we freed it as being defined as a language owned by native speakers. English is a part of global and cosmopolitan identity. Teachers need to help learners realise that language can be used creatively in different contexts and does not need to be standard English all the time. She suggested that a hybrid model would work better, wherein learners are encouraged to see for themselves where the different forms of English can be appropriately used.

The recording of the the book launch can be viewed below:

The book can be downloaded from the Language and Development conference website for free.

Post by: Manisha Dak
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in North India

Share via email

Languages and their different roles in multilingual Africa

Multilingualism, Marginalisation and Empowerment in Africa with Special Reference to Southern Africa: Dynamics, Good Practices and Paradoxes - Sozinho Francisco Matsinhe at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Sozinho Francisco Matsinhe is Executive Secretary of the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), a body of the African Union Commission

Sozinho Francisco Matsinhe is Executive Secretary of the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), a body of the African Union Commission

16 of the 20 most linguistically diverse countries in the world are in Africa and so it is fitting that many of the talks at this 11th Language and Development Conference are discussing issues relating to multilingualism and development on this huge continent. Sozinho’s talk aimed to do two things: make statements about what we know and secondly look at how we can push the frontiers of research related to multilingualism, marginalisation and empowerment, focusing primarily on Southern Africa. He highlighted the use of language as a window to culture and its function for building bridges between people and communities – especially important given the broad mosaic of languages in Africa. He challenged the notion that colonial languages dominant communication, indicating that there are multiple other languages of much greater importance to people’s day to day lives – the languages people use to dream, to cry, to share stories and to tell jokes. However, he also recognised that these colonial languages dominate official discourse, and so therefore do lead to exclusion. Sozinho’s talk will be available to watch soon on our YouTube channel.

The recording of the the his session can be viewed below:

Featured speaker Sozinho Francisco Matsinhe’s interview is available below:

Post by: Amy Lightfoot
The writer is the Assistant Director English Partnerships – Academic Quality Assurance at British Council India

Share via email

Empowering non-dominant languages and cultures through multilingual curriculum development

Empowering non-dominant languages and cultures through multilingual curriculum development - Carol Benson at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Carol Benson is Associate Professor, International and Comparative Education (Language focus) at Teachers’ College, Columbia University, New York, USA.

Carol Benson is Associate Professor, International and Comparative Education (Language focus) at Teachers’ College, Columbia University, New York, USA

Carol began by stressing that the emphasis on using languages that learners understand dates all the back to the 1950s but dominant languages are still seen by the powerful as modernisation delivered through mass education. She described the monolingual habitus or a self-conception that makes people blind to multicultural lifeways – for example, literacy rates are reported without mentioning which language they refer to.  How can we reflect this in syllabus and curriculum design? How can we determine competencies, decide on language specific aims and appropriate methods and assessment?  We cannot for example plan for student fluency if teachers are not fluent – and this will involve decisions about teacher training and teacher placement.

Carol described the Basque experiment in Spain where systematic simultaneous teaching of non-dominant Basque, dominant Spanish, English and French is proposed at entry point – one audience member added that students learning in Basque rather than Spanish might even achieve higher results. In Mozambique, demand for multicultural education exceeds supply. We need decisions about the match between languages and content: which languages are to be used for which topics? We need to help publishers see that simply putting a non-dominant language in print reinforces its status.

Watch the recording of featured speaker Carol’s session here:

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

Share via email

‘Communicative vulnerability’ in healthcare delivery

Mind the Gap: ‘Communicative Vulnerability’ and the Mediation of Linguistic/ Cultural Diversity in Healthcare Delivery – plenary by Professor Srikant Sarangi at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

The conference so far has discussed multilingualism in education systems, but Professor Srikant Sarangi session helped us to broaden this discussion to other domains – from the classroom to the clinic.

Srikant Sarangi, Professor in Humanities and Medicine and Director of the Danish Institute of Humanities and Medicine (DIHM) at Aalborg University, Denmark

Srikant Sarangi, Professor in Humanities and Medicine and Director of the Danish Institute of Humanities and Medicine (DIHM) at Aalborg University, Denmark

Professor Sarangi started by acknowledging the relevance of discussions around multilingualism beyond education in the areas of healthcare and the current refugee crisis. The linguistic and cultural diversity has cost implications for health care professionals. He stressed that in ‘super diverse societies’, the objective is to maximise access without the help of formal or informal mediators.

Sarangi then talked about how in the European context, healthcare given by a ‘foreigner’ is perceived as poor quality and as substituting ‘mainstream’ healthcare. He identified these scenarios as evidence of the need for multi-cultural and multilingual communication research and training.

Sarangi discussed the ethical vulnerability of healthcare professionals and how mediation can sometimes leading to negative consequences. He acknowledges racism and discrimination among overseas healthcare professionals and states that legal action and judicial reviews have started to emerge against European mainstream health care bodies. Language clearly has a role to play in the construction and mediation of these situations.

Sarangi concluded by recommending questioning, training and assessments rather than stereotyping differences. He highlighted the need to raise awareness about inter-cultural interaction and stressed the importance of research in clinical practice. He also was clear that there is much that we know about learner-centred teaching which can be translated and transferred to the healthcare context.

Watch plenary speaker Srikant Sarangi’s session here:

Plenary speaker Srikant Sarangi’s interview can be viewed here:
Post by: Radhika Gholkar
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in West India

Share via email

Language and learning: the challenges of primary education in India

Language and learning: The Challenges of Primary Education in India – Plenary by Dr Rukmini Banerjee at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Dr Rukmini Banerjee, Pratham Education Foundation

Dr Rukmini Banerjee, Pratham Education Foundation

Personally my favourite session of the conference, although I would have to admit to a degree of bias as many of the locations mentioned in the presentation including Bihar and the North East are precisely those areas where the British Council East India projects I’m involved with are working: however, I think it was clear from the audience reaction that this was a very highly-valued session. 

Dr Banerjee provided a range of examples which were microcosms of interaction with language and our often stumbling educational interventions to deal with them. They included her account of language breakdown between visitor and children in a Jharkhand school, children in the slums of Mumbai ‘navigating language continuums’ where mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters might all speak different languages and contexts where the printed word documents become highly valued, frozen and never used. Most memorable to me was her description of the visitor to an Assamese school unable to speak any of the children’s languages who was escorted to the river by the kids and taught to fish – with follow up work in the classroom in visuals and multilingual writing. A brilliant way to conclude such an interesting conference…….

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

Share via email

Multilingualism in Africa: marginalisation and empowerment

Multilingualism in Africa: Marginalisation and Empowerment - Plenary by Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne, University of Oslo

Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne, University of Oslo

So why EMI? And, finally for the day, a speaker who feel strongly that EMI Is not appropriate for Africa – and nor is it good for English. Professor Dr. Birgit Brock-Utne expressively articulated many concepts of which I’d been not very articulately aware when working in East Africa: that Africa is not ‘English-speaking’ or ‘French-speaking’ (the extent to which it is has much to do with missionary work), that English is only to a limited extent a medium of instruction and policies are often complex and the idea of L1 and L2 in Africa doesn’t make much sense. Three quarters of economic activity in Africa requires African languages.

I was fascinated by the discussion of two North Namibian languages which are basically the same but are transliterated in different ways because of the influence of Finnish and German missionaries. The sheer scale of Africa means ignoring its diversity is a big mistake – although I was surprised that twelve to fifteen African languages would be enough for communication across Africa to take place. But Africa also presents many examples of how not to impose English and how it’s owned by the ‘English knowing caste’ and the need to increase the status of national languages.

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

Share via email

Translanguaging in the contact zone

Translanguaging in the Contact Zone: Language Use in Superdiverse Urban Areas – Plenary by James Simpson at the 11th Language and Development Conference, 2015

James Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Language Education in the University of Leeds

James Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Language Education in the University of Leeds

Let’s translanguage: I’d come across the term before but never quite understood what it meant and I’d never heard of superdiversity. James Simpson clarified both terms and presented a study which was literally close to home for me: the study has looked at one specific superdiverse inner-city area in the North of England (Leeds), investigating evidence of language including the kind of conversations you hear and street signs you see in areas such as these. James showed how traditional waves of migration in the past have now been replaced by a tremendously varied, complex mosaic of different languages, a situation in which L1 and L2 no longer have any real meaning. It’s something I’d dimly noticed on my last trips back to the UK but without quite understanding what was happening on my own doorstep. The session showed how speakers of different languages translanguage using words from whichever language is the most convenient to communicate so that those languages are no longer anchored in one particular background. I’ll definitely be far more aware of translanguaging the next time I’m eavesdropping on fascinating, multilingual conversations on Yorkshire buses – as James said, the more you look, the more you find!

Watch plenary by James Simpson here:

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

Share via email