#FLmultilingua 3: everyone is a language learner

Week 3 of #FLmultilingua had two foci:

  • language learning as creative art
  • creative arts in language learning

The creative arts section was not for me, although the theory of migratory aesthetics looks worth a closer look (see Essays | an essay | 2006 exhibition). The rest of the week was theory heavy; notes follow.

The capabilities approach: the freedom to achieve potential

Developed by Sen & Nussbaum, an evaluative framework to assess individuals’ well-being. Aims to develop an environment that promotes ‘humanly rich goals’ (Nussbaum, 2006).

The term well-being is interpreted in terms of the freedom to live the life that an individual has reason to value. The notion of reason to value is important, as individuals must be able to choose their own values and objectives upon reflection.

The notion of capabilities refers to the freedoms to achieve what individuals are actually able to do and to be, in other words their potential. The actual achievement, the practical realisation of one’s chosen way of life is defined as functioning. The conversion of capabilities into functioning is determined by agency, which is the ability of people to act and bring about change according to one’s own values and objectives (Sen, 1999).

Individuals’ agency, freedoms and achieved functionings are not perceived in isolation as they strengthen society and, at the same time, are affected by socio-political-economic-environmental and cultural constraints. Development is conceptualized as enhancing freedom and removing obstacles in order to foster human flourishing.

Sen leaves his approach deliberately open, without specifying what capabilities should count as valuable, as he believes that this process needs public consultation and public reasoning. Conversely, Nussbaum argues for a list of universal capabilities, to be underwritten by constitutions and underpinned by the question “What does a life worthy of human dignity require?” (Nussbaum, 2000: 14). She develops a provisional list consisting of ten capabilities, based on two overarching capabilities: practical reason and affiliation.

Education is considered a meta-capability as it enables individuals to nurture all the other capabilities they value. Nussbaum  advocates three main capabilities for human development: critical examinationaffiliation and narrative imagination.

Three central capabilities for education:

  • critical examination: linked to the capacity to reflective thinking and self-reflection; Socratic dialogue as a central tool to guide critical thinking logically
  • affiliation: the ability to perceive oneself as a member of a local group, but also as bond to all other human beings, tied to them by recognition, love and compassion
  • narrative imagination: a combination of the first two capabilities; the ability to take the perspective of others, both consciously and compassionately; this capability of empathy is cultivated through literature and the arts (Von Wright, 2002: 410)

The celebration of heterogeneity and diversity is central to the capability approach. Sen encourages intercultural dialogue that “celebrates the multiplicity of identities” (Crosbie, 2014: 92) and warns us against plural monoculturalism which poses obstacles to real intercultural dialogue.

The capabilities approach encourages educators to perceive language education beyond competency and skilled-based models, ie beyond the acquisition of skills to a more intercultural language education: “Skills and learning outcomes serve an instrumental dimension of education that follows neoliberal imperatives”.

Crosbie identifies 12 capabilities for language and intercultural studies (the capability L2 literacy and communication consists of the traditional language skills and sub-skills):

Multilingual and multimodal literacies in the classroom

What are the implications of linguistic diversity for educational practices? There followed a summary of Burcu et al (2014). Snippets:

  • until recently, children’s home languages have been at best overlooked or ignored; at worst, they have been treated as an impediment to the acquisition of the dominant language, something to be actively discouraged (the tosproget issue in Denmark)
  • in most western countries, linguistic diversity is increasingly the norm; greater mobility means that more and more pupils are in contact with a wide range of linguistic backgrounds, and may have hybrid, multiple and dynamic forms of identity
  • while the explicit role of education is to allow children to fully develop their potential, this does not usually extend to the wealth represented by the linguistic repertoires so many children have access to
  • the barriers created by an educational system that privileges the dominant language(s) while disregarding others can result in loss of the home language, disengagement and poor literacy outcomes

Non-verbal meaning-making strategies

Most of our everyday communication is translingual – we draw on a diversity of codes, not just language, inc body language, visuals… We use images, symbols and icons to make meaning in conversations and understand the world around us. We call these semiotic codes. In addition to that, our conversations never happen in an ‘empty space’. They are always embedded in a context (the environment, the speakers’ agenda etc) which provides meaning also.

How useful and ‘effective’ are such non-verbal meaning-making strategies? Do images easily translate cross-culturally or are visual strategies, like language, a more complicated medium of communication than we initially consider it to be?

Final thoughts

The thrust of the MOOC can be found in Alison’s statement at the end of her TED talk: “One language cannot explain the whole world”. Is anyone saying it can? And this is my issue: it’s all very lovely and well-meaning, another stick for white liberals to beat themselves with, but it’s felt increasingly one-sided as the weeks went on. Things are rather more complex than presented, and the migrant (as in refugee) narrative finally took over.

Updates: International Mother Language Day was in the UK largely another exercise in guilt (Bilingualism Matters’ Refugee languages welcome!) and in DK a chance to celebrate the dansk; news stories on the day included the Social Democrats’ proposal to remove the right to benefits from citizens who don’t speak Danish and the proposed banning of teaching in Arabic in private Muslim schools (both redacted as too depressing). See The Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World (no Danish translation when I looked).

#FLmultilingua 2: language and power

Week 2 of #FLmultilingua:

  • explored what it means to speak ‘good English’ and to have one’s language scrutinised for observance of rules of sound and grammar
  • looked at the power that lies behind the authority to decide whether a language is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and to impose some standards over others
  • reflected on the concepts of ‘language deficit’ and ‘language plenty’, and about the ways in which language policies work to establish which languages have value, and which don’t

Learning to live in a multilingual world

Exploring language and power in the context of globalisation: the expectation to speak ‘good English’ has the power to institutionally re-define an individual’s affective relationship with the language of their family and ancestors.

Verbal hygiene: can or should we clean up language?

‘Verbal hygiene’ is a term coined by sociolinguist Deborah Cameron in the first edition of her book, published in 1995.

As Cameron (2012) defines it, verbal hygiene refers to the “[…] motley collection of discourses and practices through which people attempt to ‘clean up’ language and make its structure or its use conform more closely to their ideals of beauty, truth, efficiency, logic, correctness and civility”(p. vii). Central to Cameron’s discussion is the idea that, behind the ostensible desire to regulate language and ensure standards, verbal hygiene practices hide a range of deeper social, moral and political anxieties.

All very emotive, but the rest of the step was unrelated to these issues, making instead the case against state monolingualism (or societal language; just substitute Danish for English):

Speaking English has become a touchstone in discussions of what it now referred to as social ‘cohesion’, ‘integration’ or ‘inclusion’. Essentially these terms are code for ‘assimilation’: both new immigrants and settled minorities must demonstrate their allegiance to British culture and values.

More verbal hygiene: book | vid | article.

Quiz intro: “Language is the site of power struggles. Verbal hygiene may be an unavoidable component of our capacity to reflect on language and is not necessarily always negative. However, the imposition of norms and rules hides power relations and should not just be taken at face value. Questions about who has the right to prescribe, for whom, what they prescribe and for what purpose can be asked to expose these power relations…Many of the answers you give here will be correct. This is another way to demonstrate the nuanced aspects of verbal hygiene. While there are subtle differences in understandings, consider which of these definitions you prefer for your situation.”

  1. Verbal hygiene is…a set of practices that aim to prescribe specific grammar rules | newspapers’ style guides and ‘politically correct’ language | requests for migrants to learn the language of the country where they now live
  2. People engage in verbal hygiene practices because…they worry about a language disappearing or becoming impoverished | they are concerned that some words or phrases may be offensive or inaccurate | they wish to ensure that people can communicate effectively and understand each other
  3. Verbal hygiene practices are not simply about language. They also…stand for anxieties about social change and become more widespread at times of economic or political insecurity | are symbolic of demands for assimilation made of particular groups of people and of anxiety or fear about the ‘alien other’ | express unequal power relations between those who can prescribe forms of linguistic conformity and those who have to adapt to this (or resist it).

What is the danger in letting some languages die?

Are there any dangers in adopting fewer languages worldwide? Like ecosystems and biodiversity, are languages something that should be actively protected?

The Unesco Atlas of world languages in danger estimates that today there are as many as 2465 languages with varying degrees of vulnerability. This…raises important questions about their future, the cultures which they represent, the cultural identity of their speakers, diversity of ideas and the linguistic diversity in the world.

Language, especially our mother tongue, is something we very often take for granted. We acquire it at a very early stage in our life and imitate linguistic behaviours, eg politeness or directness of people in our surroundings. These concepts, which usually have been taken for granted, become less obvious when we start learning another language and new cultural norms…

[David Crystal] compares a language system to an ecosystem in which, what is important, is not the individual unit but the interdependence of its various elements and their harmonious functioning. Similarly to biological species, languages do not function in isolation but develop by contact with others. If one of them were to die, this might have serious consequences on other languages in the same ecosystem. Diversity, he adds, is important for the survival of mankind. If we have a look at the natural ecosystem, evolution is what makes species stronger and guarantees their survival. The greater the variety, the stronger the ecosystem is…

Language is also an important part of one’s identity. This is a tool which connects and identifies us with other members of the same language community. Losing a language could therefore mean a loss of who we are.

From Being human at Language Fest:

We don’t all have one language in common. Without ‘naturally’ shared cultures and languages but with the desire to communicate and connect, we are at each other’s mercy. Falling back into English, a ‘foreign’ language to us all, and one that most people in the room are only just learning, is not an option. There is no ‘neutral’, no ‘pure’ way to communicate. We can’t easily cloak our communicative difficulties with a (supposed) lingua franca. There is no easy way to artificially smooth the sharp linguistic edges of our intercultural communication. Insisting on English now could mean silencing this group’s self-expression, dismiss their Lebenswelt and suppress those unexpected encounters that might be potentially meaningful to us all. But how then to connect when all we can bring is good will and our linguistic vulnerability?

On languaging

Swain defines languaging as a (2006: 98) “process of making meaning and shaping knowledge and experience through language”, with language learning a process rather than a definable outcome, a journey taken by language learners through which they have an opportunity to explore and discover new meanings, learn and internalise new knowledge and expand their range of experiences.

Example: French immersion programmes in Canada in which students were tasked with writing a story in French; students carrying out the exercise required used both French and English; English to negotiate meaning and mediate differences between the languages, to help students to organise their ideas, negotiate the differences in meaning between French and English as well as to internalise new meanings.

Their research supports Vygotsky’s view that the language learner ‘uses…the native language as a mediator between the world of objects and the new language’ (Vygotsky, 1986: 161). Learners very often build their new linguistic identity and their newly acquired understanding of the country (or countries) where the language is spoken through the experiences and knowledge of their mother tongue.

While our mother tongues are necessary to negotiate new meanings, it is a newly acquired language that expands our knowledge and self-understanding in a profound way. Mikhail Bakhtin observed that ‘language is a social event’ and as such profoundly affects the learners’ understanding of the world around. The more languages one speaks, the more alternative modes of knowledge one can create and, consequently, comprehend.

From the quiz:

  • languaging…can be defined as having a go, trying a new language…a process in which one creates new experiences through language…does not concern itself only with learning a language
  • learning a new language involves…using one’s mother tongue as a mediator between two languages…creating a new identity through analysing our first language…expanding our knowledge and self-understanding

Alison Phipps (2014) in her TED talk ‘ Learning to live in multilingual worlds’ looks at languaging as ‘having a go,’ ‘trying a new language and learning to live in a multilingual world.’ This means that one needs to leave a zone of linguistic comfort and perfect articulation of their mother tongue in order to embark on a bumpy journey of discovering a new linguistic and cultural world; “one language cannot fully explain all the meanings encapsulated in the world”. She calls for a more ethically-oriented way of conceiving the value of languages:

I think it’s really important we learn the languages which have shaped the histories of the places where we grow up and where we live. So within Scotland, those would be the languages that have shaped our religion, but which have also lived amongst us. It would be important here for us to really understand Gaelic, and Scots alongside English, but also to understand ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin, languages which have shaped the culture, the buildings, you see roundabout us, being part of the projects of making a land and a country.

But equally, at this moment in time, it’s really important that we learn the language of our neighbours, that we ask the question, what is it the languages of our neighbours are, and how might we meet one another and greet one another in some of those different languages? It’s important that we learn to speak the language of trade, but also of humanitarian aid.

#FLmultilingua 1: language riches

Multilingual learning for a globalised world, FutureLearn MOOC, three weeks from 16 October, from the University of Glasgow.

Spotted this one during #FLemi, and was sorry to have missed it – I even watched the hangouts on YouTube – but it’s on again! And I’m contributing to discussions. Note: all quotes edited.

This course offers you the opportunity to explore multilingual education and how it can impact and improve education and even wider society. We will discuss why languages matter, and consider how languages challenge the way we live, every day.

Our languages are an essential part of who we are as human beings. They are instruments of communication and are often a source of dignity and of human pride. Our life experiences and views of the world are bound up in our languages. Our sense of self might be strengthened by our ability to speak the language we choose or curtailed by our inability to understand the language that speaks to us. Some scholars even say that the right to speak one’s languages should be established as an essential part of the right to be oneself. They suggest that this language right should be honoured in all forms of communication.

English is the language of worldwide communication. Should this change? Should people’s personal language practices influence the way we communicate on a global scale? How might the claim for people’s language rights challenge the language arrangements in our societies? What is gained and what is lost from speaking just one language?

In this course you will explore how people’s language practice, and the personal connection people have to the language(s) they speak, provoke important philosophical and pedagogical questions around the ways we form personal relationships, engage in business relations and even view the world around us.

You will:

  • be introduced to different multilingual environments, consider what these mean for learning languages, and encounter some of the latest research in researching for working multilingually
  • experience and critically evaluate the idea of active citizenship, discovering ways in which language minorities can be empowered through the equal treatment of all languages and cultures
  • deepen your understanding of other languages and cultures through consideration of language rights, and films and workshops developed through their practices
  • address the ways in which the creative and performing arts can help translate meanings and enhance understandings in multilingual environments

Should we all just speak one language?

Glasgow as a multicultural city with inhabitants hailing from across the globe

Week 1 approached the question above historically, ethically and aesthetically, celebrated the language riches in our learning community and reflected on the sensory qualities of languages and the value of exposing oneself to unfamiliar language sounds. The terms monolingualism and multilingualism were clarified and pressing ethical questions surrounding some forms of structural monolingualism were explored.

Consider the language riches you bring to the course from all over the world

Being able to speak your language is an emotional and ‘embodied’ affair. It can evoke memories and even bodily sensations. Happiness hormones might arise when you hear somebody address you in your mother tongue, especially when you are far away from home and feeling a bit low or depressed. Languages are an essential part of who we are as human beings. They unfold their beauty best when they are (it sounds so simple) performed.

Did you ever wish to ‘go native’ in another language and abandon your language roots? – “I would discover new parts of myself, parts of myself that belong with that language” vs your’ language is “the language with which I communicate with myself…it defines who I am”. But you can, of course, have more than one, depending on both time and place. Can you have more than one at the same time? Do the languages you ‘have’ make up your identity?

Do you take on another persona when you speak another language? “language being so tightly interwoven with culture so you have to conform to different social and cultural norms when you speak in another language”. See Aneta Pavlenko on emotions and multilingualism and the bilingual mind.

Jan Čulík highlights the strategic importance of language-based study of foreign cultures, arguing that the west is making the mistake of interpreting non-English speaking cultures incorrectly, exclusively on the basis of its own cultural experience. The impact of this is global destabilisation.

It’s all about context, both in your persona when you speak another language and when “everyone speaks English”, where it’s easy to think everyone is using a shared cultural lens. Interpreters still needed!

Monolingualism and multilingualism in today’s world

David Gramling (Researching Multilingually) and The invention of monolingualism (2016):

Monolingualism became a thinkable structure for imagining the multiply-languaged world round about the late 17th century…the word is gaining new political power, and symbolically de-competencing people not perceived to be sufficiently cosmopolitan, communicative, or competent in matters of global relevance.

Reactionary multilingualism: becoming multilingual in an orderly way will solve all kinds of social frictions, socioeconomic divides, cultural misunderstandings, and apparently, irreconcilable religious commitments between Islam and Christian secularism.

Until the mid 2000s British politicians were relatively uninterested in what language citizens or residents chose to speak. Many conservatives saw any pressure upon people to speak a certain language, in a certain way, as an invasion of the kind of privacy protected as far back as the Magna Carta. Only recently has it become a common assumption that civic and community life is at its best when it happens through many cultures, but in one shared language.

Real monolingualism lies not with individual speakers, and the way they communicate or don’t communicate with the world, but with a new technological and technocratic effort in the last quarter century to make all of the world’s languages do similar things, and work in the same general symbolic direction.

Computer scientists are hard at work at erasing the problem of language diversity, such that, eventually, it will be unnecessary for us to learn each other’s languages the hard way. This process requires reducing each language to the common denominator of meaning that all other languages have. And this urge to make languages themselves translatable, similar, and manageable is what I call monolingualism.

(The technological drive for the universal transposability of meaning has given us the GILT industry, which promises to instantaneously transpose and distribute monetized content into scores of linguistic markets, peopled by imaginary end-user monolinguals…monolingualism is a much more modest and therefore effective vessel for (re)organizing meaning than slogans like Monolingualism can be cured! tend to convey.)

Resisting monolingualism may mean deepening into our own local meanings. Delighting and growing through those meanings, honouring the historical and social richness of our language repertoires, and expecting that others do the same. So becoming willing to engage in difficult, human, and often rudimentary dialogue with others about those meanings, constitutes true multilingualism. And no online translator can do that for us.

See Simon Jenkins: no point in learning languages (riposte | Mary Beard). Hmm…substituting cultural for lingual has parallels, but not a direct ‘translation’. On language-based study of cultures, GCSE French is about as instructive as a city break.

From revolutionary monolingualism to reactionary multilingualism: Monolingualism: a user’s guide  (19pp) | The wager of critical monolingualism studiesHard and soft multilingualism | Alison Phipps: What does it mean to be languaged in today’s world?

Linguistic imperialism (see British Council): ‘a world, a culture’ attached to each language can paradoxically empower and disempower its speakers depending on political and personal circumstances:

linguistic adjustment to the world around us can be a complex and deeply penetrating process. The process is full of losses, gains and paradoxes. Whether we live all our lives in one country, whether we migrate, become displaced or travel we need languages and sooner or later we’ll come across the power of a dominant language. How we deal with this power and whether we uphold it or subvert it, whether we use it or abuse it depends mostly on us. Let us hope that no matter how we face this challenge, our humanity comes out of it intact.

-> is it necessary for everyone living in the same territory to speak the same language? language as a tool (if you use a tool the wrong way you may have problems), as social capital; but it is more than communication and goes beyond the linguistic – part of one’s identity, involving all the senses, emotions, body language…

-> it’s about identity and culture; when English is used as a lingua franca it’s lost its context: is this then linguistic imperialism?; usage can cause issues for native speakers, from misuse of words (tights are not y fronts) through misunderstandings to not being able to express yourself properly and giving up: “The language situation prevents us from doing certain things, like making jokes.” (Sherry Simon)

-> the “everyone speaks English” mantra masks cultural differences

And at #edfringe17 (more)…