Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A linguistic trio ...

In the last few weeks I've been lucky to attend the lectures of three specialists in the field of language, bilingualism and mother tongue.  Before I forget the salient points of their presentations I thought I'd write it up and do a little compare and contrast and provide some links for further investigation and thought.

Does this have much / anything to do with the library? Well yes in the sense that language and literacy is at the core of what we provide. Particularly if we're operating in a multi-lingual environment I believe it is our responsibility to have a background understanding of the current thinking on language and learning and education.  However I had to invite myself to two of the talks and was invited by a teacher to attend the third which was held at another international school ... perhaps we are more marginal to the bigger picture than we'd like to imagine.

The three lectures were by: Virginia Rojas, Eowyn Crisfield,  and Bruno della Chiesa.

Since each posting will be fairly lengthy I've split them so that this post doesn't not get made as it's too long in the making!

Here are the links:



Della Chiesa (coming soon)

A linguistic trio - Part 1 - Rojas

Virginia Rojas

Before I embark on my summary, here are a couple of links written by other people quoting her, from Patana, the Telegraph,  and some very useful myth busting on language (worth a read).

Rojas commenced her talk by going through the common myths on children and language (see myth busting above). She then explained the 5 types of bilinguals (for more you can read this summary)
  • Compound bilingual / Dominant Bilingual (A person being more proficient in one of the two languages).
  • Co-ordinate bilingual (person develops two parallel linguistic systems, usually when the two parents have different mother tongues and each parent speaks only his or her own mother tongue to the child. In response, the person constructs two separate linguistic systems and can handle each of them easily.)
  • Balanced bilingual (people who are more or less equally proficient in both languages, but will not necessarily pass for a native speaker in both languages).
  • Ambi-bilingual / Equilingual (person who passes in any situation in both languages for a native speaker, i.e. he or she is indistinguishable from a native speaker). 
  • Passive Bilingual (A person who is a native speaker in one and is capable of understanding but not speaking another language.)
  • Semi-bilingual (not strong in either language)
and explained that with the exception of semi-bilingual (not desirable at all), each the type of bilingualism your children ended up with was a matter of choice and planning for the families and children concerned depending on circumstances and goals.

At school

She went on to explain that every teacher is a language teacher - not just language teachers as language comes with content, and pointed to research done at Stanford University on language and literacy learning in the content areas.  A positive learning environment for bilinguals is one where the home language and culture is regarded as an asset, instruction is adapted to meet different needs, children are "immersed but not submersed", progression is seen from speaking to reading and writing and the child is monitored to ensure growth and progress.  In a later session for teachers she went into detail about "being nice with high expectations" for students who were learning English, and distinguished between the three kinds of vocabulary: basic (T1); high frequency, multiple meaning, cross disciplinary (T2) and low frequency discipline specific (T3).  The most important were the T2 words, which were necessary for bilingualism and achievement and were transferable and allowed for connections (e.g. describe, observe, explain, illustrate, on the other hand, contrast, compare, similar, like, prove etc.). Strategies should include distinguishing between shades of meaning among verbs differing in manner and adjectives differing in intensity. T1 words were the domain of language teachers and T3 of subject specific teachers.

At home

Parents should work on maintaining and improving the home language and not leave this to the school (even if the school provides the language).  Children should be given a "wait-time" of 5-7 years for language to develop, allowing each child it's own time and way of achieving bilingualism. Parents need to be informed and act accordingly, and to plan their childrens' bilingualism. In her opinion at least 3 hours a week had to be spend on formal lessons in the home language including reading and writing with additional time during the summer vacation.  Texts and materials should be provided in the home language at home.

In the library

I asked her separately about the library and what role it could play. She reiterated the need for books in other languages to be visible, to have text books in mother tongue available, and to integrate (non-fiction) books into the collection.

Practically for us it wouldn't make sense to integrate the non-fiction books as we've concentrated on fiction except for the odd donated book. It would probably be a good idea to try and get a used text-book donation drive to add to our collection.

Monday, 23 February 2015

A linguistic Trio - part 2 Crisfield

Crisfield (Blog)

Like Rojas, Crisfield began by dispelling some of the common "mummy myths" around language, particularly that it was easier to learn for children - she said something that every parent with older children will have personal experience of - "no it's still hard, but they're just too small to complain". Although they are more phonetically sensitive and therefore more likely to speak other languages without an accent. She emphasized that the role of parents was to ensure that we make our children's language journeys as easy as possible, and to do this we have 6 tasks:

1. Learn the theory
2. Set Goals
3. Plan to achieve the goals
4. Communicate with our children
5. Communicate with others
6. Know when to get help.

Learn the theory

We commenced with a little bit of jargon, what is mother tongue, L1, home language etc. (see my glossary here for a complete vocabulary).

One of the most important things she touched on is how we need to take care of the messages (verbal, non-verbal and behavioural) we give our children about the relative importance of our mother tongue and our attitudes towards it, particularly in the case of languages with a lower status.

Set Goals

This was a discussion on what level of mastery of language (communicative and literary) was aimed for and why.  It was important to think the whole language journey through (or at least while they were students). While it was possible to impose our language expectations on our children while they were younger, we would need to be able to communicate a valid good reason for continuing the regime as they matured and formed their own opinions. In the case of multiple languages we needed to order our priorities and give reasons for them.

In setting goals, we should ensure we have the necessary knowledge and support network to support those goals and that the goals are realistic (I've written more on this here in theory, and as it relates to my family situation).

Plan to achieve the goals

Here the concept of a COP (community of practise) was introduced - i.e. is there a linguistic community around you that you can get help from.  The smaller the COP, the more planning and logistics were required.

The most fundamental issue was planning for enough language input.  According to Crisfield, research showed that for bi/tri-lingualism children needed around 30-35% of their linguistic input to be in the target language. (You will note I've said bi/tri-lingualism rather than multi-lingualism, which is what I used to say ... I'd not heard the 30-35% statistic before and need to follow up on this). She stated that if language input was only say 20%, the child would understand the language but would most likely become a passive bilingual.  The 30-35% targeted input suggests that three languages are the most realistic option initially - with the caveat that this could change as the child got older.

In the case of language, it appeared that "less is more" should be our motto to ensure our time and effort is focused and is not spread too thinly.

It was also paramount to plan for multiple literacy, so that the language would not be lost over time and children could continue to resource their language maintenance on their own through reading and writing.  Once again, the reminder that BICS (conversational) language takes 1-2 years while CALP was a 3-9 year process (I've heard 5-7 years more commonly used).  She also cautioned that problems in other subjects may be masking a problem in language or a learning difficulty.

And in our globally mobile environment - we needed to think about a future in different countries or environments and how this would impact our plan and resourcing.  Language acquisition and sustainability was a long term process that couldn't rely on one school or community if this was not likely to be permanent.

Communicate with our children

As mentioned earlier, at a certain point we will need to justify our choices to our children and to ensure that they are part of the discussion / conversation around language, and who speaks what and why in the family.  Choices are valid, but they should be properly communicated.

Communicate with others

One should communicate language goals, expectations and intentions with people around you. Like grandparents and other family, babysitters and others in the community to ensure their actions and language they speak are aligned. School teachers and administrators need to be kept in the loop about what is happening linguistically at home.

Know when to get help

If children are exhibiting delays in speech and language, or learning issues it's important to look at all languages globally and not just at the dominant language. Any therapist, professional or doctor needs to understand the developmental and educational issues around bilingualism so that a proper assessment can be made. It is not good practise for a professional to suggest that one language should be stopped (e.g. to stop the home language to encourage the school language).

5 further issues were also discussed, literacy, content, cognitive development, confidence and social development.


Children were learning to read and write in two or more languages.  In doing so, they could use translanguaging, which is where one language is used to help or scaffold the other, languages are used together and used strategically. This did not imply mixing languages or inserting words or sentences of one language into conversations randomly, but rather a strategic use in order to bridge gaps.

In order to become literate, children needed to go beyond merely being able to read in both languages to comprehending and understanding the content. Parents needed to check for understanding after reading to children or when children read to them.  This may require the reading of a story in both languages to ensure that meaning is conveyed, or reading the story more than once.  Reading to children in all languages was fundamental.  And, ironically children could often write before they could read, if they know letter formation and are left to creative phonetic spelling without correction.  Experience rather than accuracy should be emphasized.

Literacy in both languages could be simultaneous (at the same time) or sequential (where reading and writing of one language is started with and then the next added). In the case of a third language it is usually advisable to give children a mental break before adding the literacy of a third language.

Talk about the second language in the MT, compare and contrast and mediate in order to clarify similarities and differences.


If the school language is different to the home language, one should support content at home using the home language with the help of websites or textbooks (in the home language). Conversations at home should include what is being learnt at school so that children gain vocabulary in the home language and make links between the school language and home language. This will enhance the quality of conversation in the home language as well.

Cognitive Development

Research has show that achievement in the school language is dependant on keeping up literacy in the mother tongue, and that if children are incapable of doing things in the mother tongue, they may struggle to do it in any language. It is the mother tongue that pulls all other languages up and if MT is not maintained there will be gaps in cognitive development and difficulties in conceptual thought and conversation.


The use of MT encourages confidence in self and in one's cultural identity.  It encourages cognitive growth and learning and allows children to experience competence at home and at school.  Children are not as resilient as we'd like to think they are, and we need to help them in their language journeys so it is not a case of sink or swim. 

Social development

Encourage using the MT socially, during holidays and with family.

In conclusion this was a talk with a lot of very practical advice and tips for families around bringing up children in a bilingual environment, whether the result of two parents speaking different languages, or a child going to school with a non-home language, or even where three languages (mother, father and school) were involved.

Language - Glossary, Definitions and Abbreviations

Active learners: students who take control of their own learning by monitoring their understanding and seeking out additional information and support if needed

Additive bilingualism:  the second language is learnt in addition to, and does not replace, the first language, and there are also cognitive and metalinguistic advantages.

Appropriate individualized learning environments: environments that support each individual student’s learning needs

Assessments: tools that measure the degree to which students have met learning outcomes

Audit: to take a course in which no grade is given. In order to receive credit, the course must be taken again and a passing grade must be earned

Authentic contexts: academic settings and practical situations in which language learning takes place

BICS: Basic interpersonal communication skills conversational fluency

Bilingual education: Use of two languages for literacy and instruction - Ideally, literacy and learning begin with the learner’s first language, and a second language is introduced gradually

Bilingual Individual: Ability to speak/understand (and sometimes read/ write) two languages

Bilingual Society: Presence of at least two language groups

CALL: Computer-assisted language learning

CALP: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency - language needed to succeed academically. Academic language is often formal and abstract with technical vocabulary related to a discipline

CEFR: Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning - teaching subjects such as science, history and geography to students through a foreign language. 

Cognitive ability: ability to perceive meaning, think critically, and reason logically

Compensation strategies: ways students can make up for their own weaknesses

Complementary classes: Language classes outside of the school curriculum not managed or paid for by the school

Content support: support in understanding the content or subject area concepts

Conversational fluency: basic language level necessary to make a person’s needs and wants known and communicate in familiar face-to-face situations

Core courses: grade level courses that students are required to take in MS and HS

Critical thinking: thinking that is beyond simple comprehension level, involving questioning, analyzing

Cross-cultural studies: the knowledge of how values, history, literature, religion and languages influence the interaction among diverse peoples

Dialect: Manner of speaking a language that varies according to region or social group (see also variety)

Differentiated instruction: instruction based on identifying different needs of the students and utilizing different strategies and adjusting the level of support

Dominant language: Language spoken by the dominant social group, or language that is seen as the main language of a country May have official or national language status even if it is not spoken by a numerical majority of the national population

EAL: English additional language

ELL: English Language Learning

English language proficiency: the overall ability to use English

ESL: English Second Language

ESL and content teacher collaboration: developing curricula and planning instruction of content and language together

Fluency of speech: the ease and facility with which a speaker uses the English language

Foreign language: Language that is not spoken in the immediate environment of the learner

Grade level outcomes: knowledge, skills and understandings students are expected to acquire or demonstrate at each grade level

Heritage language: Language of a person’s ancestors or ethnolinguistic group

High needs students: Students who need extra support in the classroom because of limited language proficiency, identified learning disabilities and/or social/behavioural issues

Home language: Language spoken in the home (see also L1, mother tongue), some people have more than one home language

Identity texts: positive statements that students make about themselves in the context of language and/or culture - these products can be written, spoken, visual, musical, dramatic, or multimodal combinations.

In-class ESL support: varied practices used by the ESL teacher to support student language and content learning, as well as student performance, in the content classroom

Interactive, communicative approach (to language learning): a method which focuses on speaking and listening skills, exchanging or sharing feelings, thoughts, or information with others

Key words: words that are essential to understanding a piece of writing or speech

L1: First language, native language (see also mother tongue, home language, local language). Refers to language or languages learned from birth

L2: Second language, non-native language, language of wider communication, or foreign language.  Often refers to contexts where the language is spoken in the wider society outside the home; in bilingual education, refers to second (official, foreign) language introduced after the L1

Language functions: the different purposes for which people use language

Language implications: the language demands of a unit of study inclusive of language functions, text types, language features, topic-specific/-complementary vocabulary, and cultural understandings

Language mastery: a stage at which an individual has acquired the ability to read, write, speak and listen on level with a native English speaker

Language of instruction: Language used for teaching and learning the school curriculum, also called medium of instruction

Language skills: skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing

Language support: support in developing language skills

Learning styles: The ways and conditions that best promote individual student learning

Levels of language ability: stages of language proficiency

Lingua franca: Widely spoken language used for communication between ethnolinguistic groups – for example: Tok Pisin in PNG

Literacy skills: skills needed to read and write

Local language: Language spoken in the immediate community. (May refer to languages that are not yet fully developed in written form).d

Mainstream classes: classes other than ESL classes

Majority language: spoken by the majority of people in a region/country

Metalinguistic awareness: one’s thinking about how languages work

MI: Medium of Instruction

Minority language: spoken by a social and/or ethnic minority group (Sometimes used to refer to the language of a numerically large group that is not dominant)

Modified homework: homework that has been changed to suit a student’s language abilities and/or language learning needs

Mother tongue (MT): First language, native language (see also L1, home language, local language) Language that a person: (a) has learnt first; (b) identifies with or is identified as a native speaker of by others; (c) knows best; or (d) uses most

Multilingual Individual: Ability to speak/understand (and sometimes read/ write) more than two languages

National language: considered to be an important, widely-spoken language in a country; sometimes also an official language - Example: India recognizes two official and 22 national languages

Non-verbal cues: ways of communicating without language such as gestures, facial expressions and body language

Official language: Language adopted by a country for public administrative and institutional use, often including schools. Example: India has Hindi and English as official languages of the country and a number of different official state languages

Outcomes: the learning goals for a course

Pass: an alternative grade given in place of a letter grade to show a student has met course requirements

Peer competitiveness: the ability of ESL students to keep up and be successful in the mainstream classes without ESL services

Pull-out program: (for ESL learners): a program where ESL students study language intensive subjects in classrooms separate from non-ESL students

Relevant language: language appropriate to specific social and academic settings

Scaffolding: supporting student learning by assessing current levels of understanding and/or ability and determining effective actions to help each individual reach his/her academic and social potential

SIM: Sheltered immersion model

SLIC: Second Language Instructional Competence

SLL: Second Language Learners

Socio-cultural factors: aspects such as cultural values, practices, stereotypes, attitudes and the process of acculturation which can have a positive or negative affect on language learning

Stage of language development: place a child is at, in terms of language proficiency

Subtractive bilingualism: the second language and culture are acquired with pressure to replace or demote the first language, possibly relating to a less positive self-concept, loss of cultural identity, and maybe alienation and the danger of failure in education.

TESOL: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (also name of an official qualification)

Unwritten language: spoken language, but not yet used for reading/writing

Variety: Manner of speaking a language that varies according to region or social group (see also dialect)

(Ball, 2011; Cummins, 1998; ISB, 2005; UNESCO Bangkok, 2007)


Ball, J. (2011). Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years. UNESCO Education Sector.

Cummins, J. (1998). Immersion education for the millennium: What have we learned from 30 years of research on second language immersion? In M. R. Childs & R. M. Bostwick (Eds.), Learning through two languages: Research and practice (pp. 34–47). Katoh Gakuen, Japan.

ISB. (2005). ESL Handbook. International School Bangkok. Retrieved from http://www.isb.ac.th/PDF/ESLhandbook2005.pdf

UNESCO Bangkok. (2007). Advocacy kit for promoting multilingual education: including the excluded. Bangkok: UNESCO.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

New Course

Well another two weeks and I embark on my next course towards my M. Ed (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation). It looks like it's going to be quite a ride!  This week we have a holiday for Chinese New Year, so I've been "printing" out my modules and saving them to Evernote and hopefully I'll have the energy and inclination to get all my readings downloaded and stored as well in anticipation of March.

This time it is INF530 - Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age.

Even my blog(s) header(s) have been updated with a pretty picture I took in Myanmar.

Yup, we're moving house AGAIN.  I've stopped even counting local moves and just count the trans-continental ones these days. It was the usual landlord games of wanting to hike up the rent in a falling market - between the landlord trying to increase the rent (no go, I just found a place at the same price - which was 30% cheaper than the advertised price), the school increasing school fees, and CSU increasing the university fees (46% from my MIS if you please ...) without any salary increase and bonus freezes, it's going to be a tight year.  But that leaves me with having to pack up, sort out and declutter before mid March - oh, and did I mention my inlaws arrive just after the move?  Luckily my MIL is an ace at helping me get sorted.

But decluttering is good. And necessary.  And even after 2 years we've accumulated stuff that can go.  So that's what I'll be doing in between getting my study life sorted.  

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Professional Development

I'm really bad at keeping my professional development clocked, so decided to use this post to just put pretty pictures of my certificates in, so they're all in one place when I need to refer to them!

Librarian's Knowledge Sharing Workshop (LKSW)
FEBRUARY 6-7  2015
Shrewsbury International School
Presentation: Information Literacy - Beyond Search and Cite.

IL Seminar 2015 – We are teaching but are they learning?
JANUARY 29  2015
Singapore Management University (SMU)

Master in Information Studies
Charles Sturt University

The South East Asian School Librarian Connection
Sharing for learning, come and be in the room
NOVEMBER 21-22 2014
Renaissance College Library
Ma On Shan
Hong Kong
Presentation: Digital Storytelling.

Information Literacy Job Alike Workshop (JAW)
NOVEMBER 7-8,  2014
Tanglin Trust School

Librarian's Knowledge Sharing Workshop (LKSW)
FEBRUARY 21-22 2014
Juradong International School

LKSW Brunei February 2014

Follett Workshop
DECEMBER 7, 2013

Follett Workshop December 2013
Certificate in French June 2012

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Information literacy - Beyond Search and Cite

Here is the presentation I gave at the Bangkok Librarian workshare last weekend.  Basically my argument is we shouldn't start our conversations on information literacy with the choice of which model we'll employ, but should take a step back to what our philosophy of learning is, and choose an IL philosophy accordingly.  This would then inform our standards and benchmarks (S&B) which need to take cognisance of the latest thought in the Threshold Concepts as they relate to IL so that we can incorporate these in our S&B and then, we can think about models and delivery.  Otherwise we get stuck with students who can go through the motions but will not be able to transfer concepts and practises between disciplines and from the school to the home / work / life setting.

Appreciate comments.