Closing the Language Gap

What if we talked about monolingual Anglo-Celtic children the same way we talked about the children of immigrants? Here’s an hilarious but oh-so-true satire article to that effect. It’s intended for an American audience, but read around that, it’s still applicable.

I don’t know how to reblog properly, so I’m going to copy-paste. Click on the title for the link to the original.

What if we talked about monolingual White children the way we talk about low-income children of color?

It is a well-documented fact that by the age of 5 monolingual White children will have heard 30 million fewer words in languages other than English than bilingual children of color. In addition, they will have had a complete lack of exposure to the richness of non-standardized varieties of English that characterize the homes of many children of color. This language gap increases the longer these children are in school. The question is what causes this language gap and what can be done to address it?

The major cause of this language gap is the failure of monolingual White communities to successfully assimilate into the multilingual and multidialectal mainstream. The continued existence of White ethnic enclaves persists despite concerted efforts to integrate White communities into the multiracial mainstream since the 1960s. In these linguistically isolated enclaves it is possible to go for days without interacting with anybody who does not speak Standardized American English providing little incentive for their inhabitants to adapt to the multilingual and multidialectal nature of  US society.

This linguistic isolation has a detrimental effect on the cognitive development of monolingual White children. This is because linguistically isolated households lack the rich translanguaging practices that are found in bilingual households and the elaborate style-shifting that occurs in bidialectal households. This leaves monolingual White children without a strong metalinguistic basis for language learning. As a result, many of these monolingual White children lack the school-readiness skills needed for foreign language learning and graduate from school having mastered nothing but Standardized American English leaving them ill-equipped to engage in intercultural communication.

“Multilingual Talks” is a new project that seeks to address this language gap between monolingual White children and bilingual and bidialectal children of color. It seems to do this by offering monolingual White parents metalinguistic training that is intended to provide them a foundation in different languages and language varieties. These parents will also be provided with a “language pedometer” that helps them keep track of the number of times that they use a language or language variety other than Standardized American English when speaking with their children. They will also be providing with a library of multilingual and multidialectal books and coached on how to effectively read them with their children to ensure strong metalinguistic development.

Multilingual Talks has recently received a 5 million dollar grant to pilot their approach in a White community that has struggled to eradicate monolingualism. The initial findings have been positive. Home coaches have reported an increased use of languages other than English as well as metalinguistic discussions related to different varieties of English by parents in their interactions with children. The project is currently moving into phase 2 where home coaching will be decreased and the parents will be expected to keep a daily log of their language use to ensure that they continue to talk to their children in languages other than English and expose their children to non-standardized varieties of English. These daily logs will be shared with home coaches on a monthly basis. The goal will be to track the students once they begin school to track their continued language development.

Multilingual Talks is one of many such projects that have emerged in recent years to address the language gap. What unites all of these projects is the idea of addressing the problem where it begins–in the linguistic isolation of the homes of monolingual White children. The hope is that by training monolingual White parents to interact with their children in ways that develop the metalinguistic awareness needed for language learning success, these children will come in better prepared to learn new languages and become successful members of the multilingual and multidialectal US mainstream.

That’s all from me today, a cheat post. But the article above is brilliant. I’m probably one of those “poor monolingual White children” who emerged from primary school “ill-prepared to learn new languages and become a successful member of the multidialectal and multilingual mainstream”… at least I’ve gained metalinguistic awareness and integrated better now!

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Scots into Strine

Over the weekend, I was off being taught how to teach English. It was a bit exhausting, admittedly, because it was a 20-hour course, but it was fun and I learnt a lot and got to “teach” a few lessons to the class.

One of the activities we did, though, was aimed at getting us to understand what it’s like to be an intermediate learner reading a text and understanding most, but not all, of the text. In order to simulate this, there were about ten Scots words interspersed throughout the text.

(I could already understand about 80% of them, but that’s not the point. Actually, I have a slight problem with Scots in that I can read and understand it just fine, and know a lot of the words and phrasing quirks, but sound like an idiot when I try to speak it. Maybe I just can’t get the accent right. But let’s not talk about that now…)

But, funniness of a text with random Scots words aside (I chortled to myself the whole way through the first time – I wasn’t expecting it), what was even more hilarious was the list of translations/definitions my class came up with:

Birled roon – spun around
Blether – chinwag
Braw – bonza
Crabbit – cranky
Fankle (in a) – tizzy, tiz
Gallus – cocky
Richt (+ adjective) – dinky-di
Skiver – bludger
Teuchter – country bogan
Wabbit – dead beat
Wheesht – oy, listen up!

Sigh. Australians. What do you do with them? Who else would translate one set of dialect words into another dialect?

Just as a final note, some of these translations happened once we got a bit silly. By that, I mean “dinky-di” and “bonza”. A lot of the other words, such as “cranky”, “tizzy”, and “bludger”, really were the first translation the class thought of – although, personally, I said that “skive” is the same here and the translation of “blether” is “blather”. Apparently that’s just me, though.