Learning in one’s mother tongue promotes a deep conceptual understanding of a subject say Mapelo Tlowane, Abram Mashatole, Sibongile Bopape, Mafeye Morapedi

Todays post looks at four students view of bilingualism on completion of their multilingual degree. Some real food for thought here for all educators. Just tracking their learning helps us understand more what younger children go through when trying to learn another language.


These students admit themselves that they were unsure what course to take and it feels as though they choose this more as a default that an active choice but at the end you see they have got so much from it including a clear understanding of their learing and their academic learning side by side.

Many people see the promotion of multilingualism as representing a choice between an African language and English, but the BA contemporary English and multilingual studies degree demonstrates that students need to have a strong foundation for academics in their own language on which competence in an additional language can be confidently built. In other words, both one’s own language and the language of global communication have to be promoted to implement bi- or multilingualism effectively.

In our first year at university we struggled to make sense of lectures in English and the scholarly academic texts. It was difficult to write our own ideas in English and in most cases we would simply cut and paste excerpts from texts for our assignments.

How honest and lets face it what many monolinguists do when being assessed in their own language, but also when used properly a tool to help build on sentence structure, context, word and sentence level syntax and correct sentence structuring with respect to punctuation and formation.

As they progress you can see their minds developing also as they realise the benefits of their mother tongue in relation to their new language learning.

The freedom of our own language
But in the lectures in Sepedi we did not struggle because it was the language that we used every day. We could focus on the meaning and the content and with the freedom to use our own language we gained a deeper understanding of new ideas and concepts of multilingualism.

Then as they progress they eventually meet the current thinking, of all who promote the benefits of bilingualism, multilingualism and the retention of a learners mother tongue, that there is a discourse between the practical application and language learning in schools and the policies made.

We began to understand why such a huge gap existed between our much celebrated language policies and their implementation. But, much more empoweringly, we learned how we, as fluent and committed bilingual people, could play a role in bridging this gap.

We have given presentations at conferences, spoken to young school-leavers and are conducting research into the problems of rural and township schools. We have interviewed advocates of mother tongue-based bilingual education (such as Kathleen Heugh, Nancy Hornberger and the late Neville Alexander) and have come to understand the de-vastating economic effect of English-only or English-mainly education, especially on impoverished communities.

They then discuss that when learnt unconscious transference goes on and thinking about it when I read Welsh signs I just read the Welsh and instantly know what it means there is no back and for translation in my head.

We are finding that competencies learned in one language can be readily and almost unconsciously transferred to another language, provided these competencies are related to higher-order thinking, such as hypothesising, predicting, analysing and synthesising.

They discuss Vygotsky and his view of learning and can ably show their biliteral skills are well-developed and are now making them useful for their working life.

The ideas of Lev Vygotsky, especially the value he attached to mediation and the view that learning (instruction) leads development, permeate all our modules. In one of them, “language and cognition”, we specifically focused on his ideas and conducted research into private speech and fantasy play in our own communities.

We rejoice over the newly acquired biliteracy competencies the degree developed in us. Our external examiners commented on the fact that we write with engagement in both our languages and show deep conceptual understanding. We move across our two worlds with ease and confidence and have experienced our university education as transformative, empowering and very fulfilling.

All four of us have chosen to be researchers in bilingual education. One of us is a tutor in the BA contemporary English and multilingual studies programme and three of us are pursuing master’s degrees in a project the National Research Foundation has funded.

More than that, we feel specially advantaged to have had a unique education that makes us eligible for careers as bilingual teachers, translators, interpreters, liaison officers, researchers, writers, bilingual journalists, communication officers and language specialists.

Good luck to them and I look forward to seeing more of their learning as they follow their bilingual/multilingual journey.

While the government deliberates language learning at KS2 research indicates that the real question should be When will we be implementing language learning at KS1

Check out this Ted talk by Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies.


She shows us at 3.14 that before the first birthday the children are already beginning to screen out sounds that they do not need to communicate with their parents.  At one point they are equal but for example two months later they are taking statistics on what they hear.  English has a lot of r and L’s but Japanese have more intermediate sounds and the brains change to recognise their mother tongue.

She then explains more about the babies brains and how the brain responds and a machine that can track this. Great pics of the children’s brains working.

It makes me wonder why the Government are considering whether we should have compulsory language learning at KS2 when they should be saying when will be implementing language learning at KS1.

Samoa students ask for bilingual lessons

This seems to be breaking news all the reading that I have done and sharing in this blog about bilingual education has not before thrown up Samoan and bilingual in the same sentence. From this story it seems that in order to save the language the young people themselves feel that they should have bilingual lessons to keep their language alive. Presently most teaching and learning is done via the medium of English because there are not enough Samoan teachers to deliver a bilingual curriculum.

This just shows again how language no matter how strong in an area, place or country if it is not used in the end a stronger one takes over, so I believe to ensure continuity and the ability to be a global as well as a community citizen the use of two languages is a must, or more languages will be lost.



Welsh and English become official languages of Assembly as AMs pass historic Bill

Welsh will become officially bilingual with Welsh and English being equal.

Eileen Beasley would have been very pleased I think.

3 October 2012

The National Assembly for Wales has passed the Official Languages (Wales) Bill into law.

In recognising Welsh and English as the official languages once it receives Royal Assent, the Bill will place a statutory duty on the National Assembly for Wales and the Assembly Commission to treat both languages on the basis of equality.

“This is an historic day in the history of devolution and of Wales,” said the Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler AM.

“Both Welsh and English will now be considered official languages in Assembly proceedings. The Bill places a statutory duty to put them both on an equal footing in the delivery of the services the Commission provides to the Assembly and the public.

“We are committed to delivering exemplar bilingual services. This Bill outlines the principles that will underpin the Commission’s approach to deliver even better bilingual services. Our commitment to the Welsh language can no longer be questioned.

The Commissioner with responsibility for the Welsh Language and the passage of the Bill, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM said:

“The Bill sets an example for organisations working across Wales within both the public and private sectors about how to approach bilingualism.

“As the Member in charge of the Bill, and on behalf of the Commission, I would like to thank Assembly Members and the public for working together with us on its development. We have listened, and are confident that this legislation makes our responsibilities and our commitment clear for all to see.”

The Bill places a duty on the Assembly Commission to draw up a Welsh Language Scheme to ensure the equal status of both languages.

The scheme:

  1. ·states clearly that Welsh and English are the official languages of the Assembly and should be treated equally;
  2. ·outlines the practical arrangements to enable the Assembly to operate bilingually;
  3. ·guarantees the right of anyone who takes part in Assembly proceedings (witnesses and officials as well as Members) to do so in either of the Assembly’s official languages;
  4. ·outlines how the Assembly will provide bilingual services to the public;
  5. ·outlines how the Assembly’s corporate arrangements enable and support its ambitions to deliver bilingual services; and
  6. ·explains the Assembly’s procedure for dealing with complaints of non-compliance with the scheme, whether made by Members or by the public.

“Our Scheme will demonstrate an innovative and pragmatic approach to the development of bilingual services and build on the high quality exemplar services we currently provide,” Mr Glyn Thomas added.

8 Year campaign led to legal proceedings and bailiffs removal of wedding presents until the council relented.

Sometimes I think it is important to remember what went before.  In Wales bilingualism and letters etc available in both languages in now commonplace but it wasnt that long ago that it wasnt the case as can be seen by this blog.

The blog recounts the steps Eileen Beasley and her husband went to ensure that they received letters in Welsh their first language.


The Rosa Parks of the Welsh language movement

The Rosa Parks of the language movement in Wales was a polite but steel-willed housewife who, with her husband, refused to pay rates on their house in Llangennech, Carmarthenshire, while Llanelli Rural District Council issued demands in English only.

In this Eileen and Trefor Beasley had, at first, the support of nobody but themselves. They reasoned that as they lived their lives through the Welsh language, and their village was Welsh-speaking, as were the majority of Council members, it was reasonable that they should be able to use the language in their dealings with officialdom.

But the Council, like most others in Wales in the 1950s, had never thought of providing services in Welsh. They flatly refused to comply with the Beasleys’ request, continuing to communicate with them in English only. In this they greatly underestimated the couple’s strong wills.

Bailiffs began calling at their home and removing household goods such as chairs and tables, and then the family’s piano, the carpets, the bookcases and even food from the larder, distraining goods to the value of the rates that remained unpaid.

Having bailiffs in the house was, for the law-abiding Beasleys, a distressing experience, especially as they would arrive without warning and, without consultation, take items of furniture that had been wedding presents.

Legal proceedings for the non-payment of rates were taken against the Beasleys on twelve occasions but still they would not accept demands in English. They could hardly afford to pay the fines, especially as they lived on a coal-miner’s wage and had two small children, and they stoutly refused to do so as a matter of principle.

The campaign that had begun in 1952 came to an end in 1960 when the Council grudgingly issued a Welsh form and the Beasleys promptly paid their rates. In 1958 Eileen was elected as a Plaid Cymru member of the same District Council, where she continued to press for a degree of official status for the language.

In 1962 their determination proved a stimulus to the activities of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society), especially as Saunders Lewis, in his famous radio broadcast of that year, Tynged yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language), singled out the Beasleys for praise and urged supporters to emulate their civil disobedience.

His aim was to persuade Plaid Cymru to adopt ‘direct action’ techniques which would win for Welsh the legal status it had enjoyed before the loss of political independence, a condition he considered essential if the language was to be saved from extinction. But Plaid Cymru felt unable to contemplate unconstitutional methods, preferring to use electoral methods only. Lewis’s other aim was to make the governance of Wales impossible while the authorities, both local and central, refused to employ Welsh for public purposes.

The challenge was taken up instead by the Cymdeithas which, over the last half-century, has played a leading role in the achievement of many important goals in such areas as broadcasting, education, the law, and local government, while Plaid Cymru has been left free to concentrate on its political agenda. Today the language is much more visible and used in an ever-increasing variety of contexts.

The Beasleys’ stand inspired a generation of young Welsh nationalists to challenge the law, for which many were fined and some imprisoned, and they remained heroes of the movement ever after. Trefor spent a week in prison for refusing to acknowledge an English-only fine for the non-payment of road-tax.

Like her husband, who was the very type of a cultured miner, widely read, politically aware and radically inclined, Eileen was highly literate; she published a selection of her short stories as Yr Eithin Pigog (The prickly gorse) in 1997.

At this year’s National Eisteddfod in the Vale of Glamorgan there was an empty stall, representing the Beasleys’ living-room stripped of its furniture, which was meant to be a tribute to the courage and dignity of a couple who were well-liked and generally admired. It was a poignant reminder of what sometimes has to be done to persuade officialdom on a point of principle whenever it is a question of the public use of the Welsh language.

Cutting foreign language opportunities in school and downplaying the importance of proficiency in a foreign language greatly diminishes America’s ability to operate in the modern, fast-paced, globalized world.

I think I have said before that the world is shrinking as people move around.  Today rather than town to town they move country to country and not necessarily to the nearest country to themselves it can often be at the opposite side of the world. This news article discusses one persons feeling about this and the role that languages play in communication.

The statements below can apply to the UK and similar countries as well as the USA

It has been a source of pride and a political point for many that English is the “official” language of the United States and those who come to our borders should learn the language. But as a country that wants to continue to be a world leader, we will need to be very serious about pushing our students to be proficient if not fluent in at least two languages.

It is not un-American to be bilingual and it is not a sign of defeat to have bilingual signs. If anything, it makes us stronger as a nation. After neglecting this issue for generations, it is time to turn our educational system around and place learning a foreign language as one of the most important aspects of an education. Learning a foreign language in the United States needs to move out of the “elective” realm and into the realm of “core subject.

To become truly global citizens then language has to have a place in school curriculums and current discussion should be looking at the sort and types of languages that should be supported in schools.  For me the choice is easy support everyone who arrives with a language other than English to keep their previous languages and learn English. For all learners learn at least one language although from my experience the nearer languages are together the better for the learner to realise that each is not something totally new but  connect with each other.

I was lucky in school to learn French, German and Latin which I loved.  The Latin was great because it helped me understand English more. Recently I have done a lot of work in Italian, with an Italian translator, and can immediately see the benefits of learning both languages together and I think it would make learning a  langauge less scary. We should look globally at the languages most needed by global citizens and then find a way of supporting this via school curriculums.

As Adam Hogue says quite succinctly

America is in constant transition. With higher populations of minority groups becoming more dominant in the American landscape, we as a country should be a land of many national languages, not just one. Schools should be moving towards bilingual education in all subjects and students should be able to pursue an education in a variety of languages. Language has the power to change the perception of a person as well as a nation. This should not be forgotten as America continues to define our place in the global landscape.

As I study Hanguel, I am really trying to make up for lost time. I want to pick up a second language with more proficiency than I have in French, a language in which I can only rattle off a few verbs. It is up to the Millennial generation to place foreign language as the centerpiece of American education in the 21st century. Making that change will change other countries’ perception of America and l make America a better place to conduct business and study. Whether it be Mandarin, Vietnamese, French, Spanish,

Hanguel or Indonesian; a foreign language is key in our rapidly globalizing world.


Minority bilingual children from low-income families demonstrate important strengths in other cognitive domains

Many research papers so far have looked at bilingual middle class children and the benefits bilingualism brings. This is interesting as it focuses on low-income families and suggests that:

The researchers believe that the findings could inform efforts to reduce the  achievement gap between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds. “Our  study suggests that intervention programs  that are based on second language teaching are a fruitful avenue for future  research,” says Engel de Abreu.

“Teaching a foreign language does not involve costly equipment, it  widens children’s linguistic and cultural horizons, and it fosters the healthy  development of executive control.”

They created tests that tested knowledge, memory and their ability to focus when there were distractions.

A total of 80 second graders from low-income families participated in the  study. Half of the children were first or second generation immigrants to  Luxembourg, originally from Northern Portugal, who spoke both Luxembourgish and  Portuguese on a daily basis. The other half of the children lived in Northern  Portugal and spoke only Portuguese.


The researchers first tested the children’s vocabularies by asking them to  name items presented in pictures. Both groups completed the task in Portuguese  and the bilingual children also completed the task in Luxembourgish.


To examine how the children represented knowledge in memory, the researchers  asked them to find a missing piece that would complete a specific geometric shape. The researchers also measured the  children’s memory, using two different tasks to see how much visual information  the children could keep in mind at a given time.


To examine how the children represented knowledge in memory, the researchers  asked them to find a missing piece that would complete a specific geometric shape. The researchers also measured the  children’s memory, using two different tasks to see how much visual information  the children could keep in mind at a given time.


The children then participated in two tasks that looked at their ability to  direct and focus their attention when distractions were present. In the first  task, they had to find and match 20 pairs of spacecrafts as quickly as possible,  a task that depended on their ability to ignore all the non-matching  spacecrafts. In the second task, the children were presented with a row of  yellow fish on a computer screen and they  had to press a button to indicate which direction the fish in the center was  facing. The other fish either pointed in the same or opposite direction of the  fish in the middle.


Although the bilingual children knew fewer words than their monolingual  peers, and did not show an advantage for representation tasks, they performed  better on the control tasks than did the monolingual children, just as the  researchers hypothesized.

This is all good, beneficial research and something that no doubt will become a greater research area as more research finds benefits in bilingual education.

It is really interesting reading and can be found at: http://scienceblog.com/56290/speaking-two-languages-also-benefits-low-income-children/#ID4t583mCmoIY3P5.99




Bilingual poetry – Tamil/English

Writing poetry is difficult but bilingualising it is another all together. With this in mind it is no wonder that the writer almost started negatively as the poetry of the original is so well-known. The news item starts of by saying that:

Reading a bi-lingual edition of a work-in-translation is akin to living on the border between two friendly nations. You can hop from source text to translated text, making up your mind along the way about several things at once.

Translated by Usha Rajagopalan, this special bilingual edition of the Tamil poet Subramania Bharati’s poems carries that lovely promise.

It is such a shame that the emphasis was not more on that now everyone can have some experience of the original poets words, or that people who have spoken Tamil previously but now speak more English, can get access to the text now rather than the emphasis on the poetry not having the same feel when literally translated. it is such a  shame because from what I read I got some song and drama…so maybe it’s in the mind of the reader and whether you come to it with a positive or negative place.

The writer does relent a little later and says that:

In a small subset of her translations, however, Usha really lets go and thereby almost gets Bharati’s voice. “To the Sun” is one such example:

O Sun! What have you done to darkness?

Driven it away? Killed it? Swallowed it?

Have you smothered it with your embrace,

Hidden it with your light ray hands?

Other translations which do reasonably well are “To the Wind” and “Clarity of mind”. “Kannamma, My Beloved” very nearly works, marred only by the “alas! alas!” of the closing lines.

I for one are happy that these poems have been opened up for me, as I love poetry and I am sure many others will as well.  Lets face it how often do story tellers complain that things have been taken out of context by their peers or it’s not true to the original when all involved speak the same language so I say Bravo and well Done.


There is also another more positive story which can be found below.