UNESCO’s free advocacy kit for promoting multilingual education

October 24, 2012

UNESCO multilingualism Sarah Elaine Eaton blogUNESCO has a number of initiatives on the go to promote multilingual, bilingual and mother-tongue education. They have come out with a new advocacy kit designed to help raise awareness about the importance of multilingual education. The toolkit is for:

  • education practitioners (teachers)
  • education specialists (learning leaders)
  • policy makers

The kit is a 109-page free, downloadable .pdf. It is very cool. Get yours here.

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Learning to Talk Like Jesus: How TV shows in Sweden support the Aramaic revival in the Middle East

May 29, 2012

Sarah Elaine Eaton blog - Languages, Literacy and Leadership

Sweden is providing a new twist on learning an old language, for  young learners of Aramaic in the two villages in the Holy Land’s small Christian community, in Beit Jala, Palestine and Jish, Israel.

In the Beit Jala Mar Afram school, run by the Syrian Orthodox church, priests have taught over 320 students Aramaic over the past five years.

In Jish approximately 80 elementary school children are taking Aramaic as a voluntary option in school.

The elementary school children who take part in the Aramaic language learning program learn to speak, listen, write Aramaic script and read the language.

Dia Hadid of the Associated Press reports that:

“The dialect taught in Jish and Beit Jala is “Syriac,” which was spoken by their Christian forefathers and resembles the Galilean dialect that Jesus would have used, according to Steven Fassberg, an Aramaic expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

The language classes have been met with criticisms from some parents and community members, some of whom are worried that having students learn Aramaic may be an attempt to convert them to Christianity or may be a threat to their Arabic identity.

According to the Associated Press, some members of the Christian community in the region still chant their liturgy in Aramaic, but few people understand the prayers.

Enter Sweden. Swedish officials estimate that anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 Aramaic speakers reside in that country. The Aramaic community is strong there and includes an Aramaic soccer team, “Syrianska FC” in the Swedish top division from the town of Sodertalje.

Aramaic speakers in Sweden publish a newspaper called “Bahro Suryoyo”, as well as pamphlets and children’s books, including The Little Prince. But what really helps the students learn the language is Soryoyosat, a satellite television station maintained by the Swedish Aramaic community. For some members of these two villages in the holy land, watching Aramaic programming from Swedish TV station provided the first opportunity in decades for them to hear the language spoken outside church. The Associated Press reports that “Hearing it in a modern context inspired them to try revive the language among their communities.”

This is one case, where technology and television are benefitting language learners both in terms of making learning more accessible and in increasing their motivation. These kids are “kickin’ it old school”, using new technology. Aramaic may be saved, yet.

Related post:

Can TV can help you learn another language?

https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/can-t-help-you-learn-another-language/

References

Associated Press. (2012, May 28). Pair of villages in Holy Land teaching Aramaic in effort to revive language that Jesus spoke: New focus comes with help from modern technology. NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/pair-villages-holy-land-teaching-aramaic-effort-revive-language-jesus-spoke-article-1.1085728

Hadid, D. (2012, May 28). Aramaic: Efforts To Revive Jesus’ Language In Christian Villages Beit Jala, Jish In Holy Land, Sweden. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/aramaic-holy-land-jesus_n_1550507.html

Hadid, D. (2012, May 29). Revival of Jesus’ language attempted in two Holy Land villages. Southeast Missourian. Retrieved from http://www.semissourian.com/story/1854012.html

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EU Warns that Britain’s growing trend towards monolingualism is a problem

September 15, 2011

According to a recent article from Public Service Europe European Commission warns that Britain risks losing influence in the European Union if the nosedive in foreign language skills is not redressed. Over the past decade, enrollments in language courses in the UK have plummeted by a whopping 45%. So, when the rest of Europe is embracing and promoting multilingualism, Britain seems to be pushing the notion that English is the lingua franca of business.

While French used to be the language of diplomacy, certain French diplomats have horrified high-level politicians such as former French President, Jacques Chirac, with use of English in major EU gatherings.

The article goes on to talk about the growth of two seemingly opposing movements: one towards the accepting of English as a universal language of business and another movement that seeks to elevate the status of regional languages such as Catalan and Basque.

This strikes me as fascinating, given that in the U.S. there also seen to be two opposing movements: one towards accepting Spanish as an unofficial second language, an idea that is vehemently countered by the growing English-only movement.

While proponents of multilingualism can present study after study on the benefits of learning additional languages including cognitive benefits, increased problem solving skills and even a deeper sense of compassion towards others, those in favour of English as a lingua franca talk about reducing costs for translation, decreasing the risk of legal implications of bad translations and unifying global communications, but I wonder if there are any studies that scientifically prove the benefits to the individual learner of being monolingual? I’ve yet to find one myself…

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Stroke robs man of multilingual abilities

August 10, 2011

Here’s an interesting (and heart wrenching) article about a multilingual Edmonton man who lost all of his languages after a stroke. In the Globe and Mail article, Abdul Kamal reports that, “In the aftermath of the stroke, I lost all the languages I knew – English, French, German, Urdu and Bengali. I could neither read and write nor speak and comprehend.”

Kamal is a retired professor of physics at the University of Alberta who enjoyed physics, writing, travelling, sports, theatre before his stroke, but has been unable to take part in his favorite activities.

Determined to get his speech back, he reports, “Undaunted, I rounded up my own children’s books along with picture and alphabet cards and launched an uphill battle against my formidable foe – aphasia. David drove me to the Glenrose Hospital twice a week to learn English under the tutelage of a speech pathologist.” That was ten years ago, he states. From there, he progressed from working with a speech pathologist to group language learning sessions for aphasics (people who have lost their speech due to a stroke), and working with graduate students at the University of Alberta who were working with aphasics as part of their research and academic training.

Now, at age 75, Kamal offers a message of hope to others who have lost their speech due to a stroke:

After I had the stroke, a speech pathologist told me that I would show improvements in all my mental faculties over the following year and a half. However, at 75, I’m still learning. My speech, comprehension of spoken language and syntax are still improving, albeit slowly. The message is that if you challenge the brain, it will respond. Although at a certain age our memory bank starts to deplete, I’m sanguine about the future.

Kamal’s story reminds us to value the abilities we have to speak one, two or more languages. And when self-doubt or feelings of inadequacies fill us that we are not doing enough, not good enough or not as fluent or as perfect as we would like to be, we are reminded to celebrate the abilities that we have today and commit to the lifelong process of learning, no matter where we may fall on the continuum of proficiency.

Thank you, professor Kamal, for the inspiration.

Read the whole article.

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10 Steps to Raising a Multilingual Child

August 9, 2011

The Multilingual Children’s Association has a great list of 10 steps to raising a multilingual child:

  1. Agree on multilingualism
  2. Know what to expect and when
  3. How many languages — what is practical?
  4. Decide which language system works for you
  5. Don’t wait — now is the perfect time!
  6. Declare your intentions
  7. Establish a support network
  8. Get relevant materials
  9. Set your goals, but remain flexible
  10. Have patience and keep going

I loved what they have to say. Check out the full article here: 10 Steps to Raising a Multilingual Child http://bit.ly/n357oH

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Multilingual superheroes

June 24, 2011

I’m not really into superhero movies. I mean, they’re OK, but I’d rather watch a drama or something that really makes me think deeply about life. But every now and again, when your other half says, “It’s Friday night. Let’s go to a movie!” You just say yes. He loves superhero movies about as much as I love languages. He knows all the stories, all the heroes, all the villains, when the movies came out, who did the sound tracks, how the special effects were done. Really, it’s stunning how much useless information he can carry around in that brain.

But then again, he thinks that all the stuff I carry around in my brain about grammar, sentence structure, etymology and verbs is pretty useless.

Though part of me would like to scoff and say “WhatEVAH!” I also know which one of us has better conversations at dinner parties where the guests aren’t all linguists or language teachers.

But tonight, we both won. I had no idea there was such a thing as a multilingual superhero movie. Let alone a multilingual comic book superhero movie. Until tonight.

French, Spanish, German, Russian and English. X-men is a veritable smorgasbord of modern languages.

Good guys. Bad guys. Drama. Love. Action… and multilingualism. Now that’s a good Friday night.

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