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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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

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Free fonts for everyone – in many languages

July 30, 2012

These sites offer a plethora of free fonts, not only for teachers, but for everyone. I have downloaded fonts from all of these sites. Sometimes the fonts are a little glitchy to install and sometimes they work very easily. For me (on a Mac) all these sites have been virus and spyware free, but as usual… take precautions when downloading anything from the Internet. What I like best about these sites is the variety. I especially like that you can download fonts for movies and TV shows such as the Disney, Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 fonts:

Fonts2u.com

This site has fonts in English from styles ranging from ancient to futuristic. This is a multilingual site that offers fonts in Arabic, Hebrew and Thai, just to name a few

Fonts2u.com

Highfonts.com

This site offers over 300o free fonts, plus 25,000 more fonts for sale. This was the site that has the Disney font.

Highfonts.com - Sarah Eaton blog educator

FFonts.net

This site offers fonts in English and Arabic. They have both free and for-fee fonts in styles ranging from military to movies.

Ffonts Sarah Eaton blog educator

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

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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Call for papers: Multidisciplinary Approaches in Language Policy and Planning Conference 2012

April 15, 2012

University of CalgaryAre you interested in language policy and related research? I’m on the organizing committee for this upcoming conference in Calgary and promised I’d share this call for papers. We’d love to have you submit a proposal!

Multidisciplinary Approaches in Language Policy and Planning Conference 2012

September 6 – 8, 2012

University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Plenary Speakers

  • Francois Grin, University of Geneva
  • Elana Shohamy, Tel Aviv University
  • Peter Ives, University of Winnipeg

Call for papers

This international conference will be held at the University of Calgary, Canada.  We invite papers that approach language policy from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, and in a variety of contexts, from the local/institutional to national/global.  We invite abstracts (500 words maximum) for papers in any of the following areas:

  • Language policy and political theory
  • Official language policies
  • Language policy and lingua franca
  • Heritage language policies
  • Language policy and globalization
  • Ideologies and language policies
  • Language policies in school settings
  • National identities and language policies
  • Language policy and the economics of the workplace
  • Non-official languages in mainstream classrooms
  • Language policies and social mobility
  • Language attrition, language revitalization and language policies
  • Language policies and transnational communities

Abstracts should be 500 words maximum including all references. The deadline for submissions is June 1, 2012.

Abstracts will be reviewed anonymously by at least two experts in the field. Final decisions will be sent to authors by June 15, 2012.

Each paper presentation should be 20 minutes, with 10 minutes for discussion. You can submit a maximum of two contributions, one as author and one as co-author or discussant.

Principal conference organizers: Dr. Tom Ricento and Dr. Mary O’Brien.

Go here to submit your proposal: http://www.educ.ucalgary.ca/lpp/call-for-papers

Conference website: http://www.educ.ucalgary.ca/lpp/

Click here for a downloadable poster for the conference.

Conference Twitter hashtag: #malpp

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

February 11, 2012

There comes a point in every teacher’s career where he or she is faced with a decision that could alter a student’s future.

Last week I shared a story about Zaina, the first deaf student I taught. A few years later, another deaf student showed up in my course. Kyle was a business student. Like Zaina, Kyle was focussed and determined, with exceptional people skills. Unlike Zaina, he was not multilingual. In fact, he did not know American Sign Language.

Kyle had been sent to an oral/aural school for the deaf. He explained to me that the type of education he had received had focussed on lip-reading, using contextual clues to understand spoken language, capitalizing on any residual hearing abilities and integrating students into mainstream education. Sign language is not used in this approach.

A fourth year business student, Kyle was not excited about the prospect of taking Spanish. It was a requirement of his program and he needed the course in order to graduate. This was not uncommon for students enrolled in certain programs outside the humanities. The difference was, of course, that Kyle was deaf.

He openly confessed that his English grammar knowledge was minimal and that he struggled with concepts around language such as grammar and syntax. He was also open about the fact that he didn’t spell well.

But you could tell, Kyle was sharp. He arrived to class every day dressed like a business student. He lived and breathed business. He had excellent interpersonal skills and a keen sense of how to manage his time and his priorities. He sat at the front of the class and despite his trepidation, he was determined to succeed.

Standing by as a student sinks

Every week he would visit my office during my posted office hours to review his homework and ask questions. He stayed after class to ask for clarification on points he did not understand. He arrived at class early every day, having made an honest, sincere attempt at his homework. Kyle was the epitome of an engaged, interested student. The reality was, he struggled. He struggled so desperately, it was pitiful to watch…

He found it almost impossible to form the sounds of Spanish words. His lack of knowledge about grammar made it hard for him to figure out the mechanics of language. His spelling was worse in Spanish than it was in English. His self-confidence plummeted. Yet, he persevered.

Kyle was a straight-A student whose performance on the first Spanish test of the semester was an undeniable failure. I asked him if he had an advisor in his program who might be able to make an exception for him in terms of the second language requirement of his program.

He shook his head, “I tried,” he said. “They said no. Every student has to meet all the requirements. I even asked if I could take sign language instead, because I thought it would be really useful to me to know it. But they refused that, too. Sign language is a continuing education course, not a credit course. They said that I could take it, but it would not count towards my degree. I still had to take another language that was part of the undergraduate program.”

I sighed and nodded my head. The university was strict about its rigorous program requirements. I thought to myself, “This is lunacy.” Here was a brilliant, engaged, focussed student who, despite his most sincere and eager efforts, was unlikely to pass my course.

If that happened, he would not graduate that year. He would need to repeat the course or try a new language in order to make the language requirement of his program. If that did not work, he would need to transfer into a program with no second language requirement.

It reminded me of the helpless feeling I had as I watched my mother die a few years earlier. Then, there was nothing I could do to prevent her passing. But Kyle was still struggling and still hanging on, if only barely. He still had a chance. I felt compelled to help.

I picked up the phone and made an appointment to speak with the head of program that Kyle was registered in.

When reason falls on deaf ears

Sarah Eaton literacy education keynote speaker Canada Calgary AlbertaAfter shaking hands with the program head, I said, “I’m here about Kyle Smith”.

“He’s one of our best students,” she replied. “… A shining example of what we wish every student would be.”

“I know,” I replied. “But this second language requirement is killing him.”

She nodded. “Yes, I remember that he came to us asking if he could take sign language instead, but there is no credit course in sign language.”

I advocated on his behalf. “It is not like he isn’t trying. This kid comes to class better prepared than any other student in the class. He does all his homework. He even pre-reads the entire chapter before we start it. It is not that he is incapable of learning. He’s smart. It is that the amount of time it would take him to get all this stuff is probably ten times longer than we have in our course. Is there anything we can do about this?”

She shook her head, “I am sorry. The program requirements are very strict. We can not make exceptions for a student just because he or she is disabled. This is a business program and it is our job to prepare students for the real world. The real world does not pander to people who can’t keep up. If he wants to graduate with a business degree, he needs a minimum of a C- in this course. End of story.”

The real world does not pander to people who can’t keep up?” I asked myself. Forcing a deaf student to take a second language when he has no background in languages and questionable affinity for the subject area is hardly a reliable benchmark for his overall success in life.

I thanked the program head for her time and left, angry. I realized that this was more about the program directors choosing to stick to their bureaucratic guns than it was about ensuring the success of their students. If there had been no other indicators of success, I might have agreed with her. But here was a straight-A student, with experience working in business, with great people skills, and that keen sense of determination and focus that is hard to actually teach anyone.

By that point, I had taught over 1000 students in my career. For me, there was no question in my mind that Kyle was going to be a success in life.

Paying it forward

I returned to my office and sat down to process what had just happened.

My mind was taken back a few years to my last semester of my undergraduate program, when I had been hit by a car. I missed the first month of the semester as I recovered from the accident. I returned to classes, determined to do whatever was necessary to graduate.

The words of my Spanish professor rang in my head, “You will get through this. I’ll do what I can to help you. Don’t worry about the grades. Just work hard,” she said.

She believed in me and my abilities at a time when my self-confidence was failing and my future was still uncertain. Her confidence in me lowered my anxiety and propelled me to work harder than I had worked before. At a time in my life when I needed it most, a teacher believed in me.

In that moment, I understood what she was really saying. The sub-text was, “You are safe here. Trust me. I am not leaving your side. You will succeed. I won’t let you fail.”

I sat back in my chair. Almost fifteen years had gone by since that conversation. I had never forgotten it. I knew that it was time to pay it forward.

Doing the right thing

I understood that the situation with Kyle was different from the situation when I was a student. This time would involve a bigger risk on my part. I did something that I had never done before, and have never done since. I adjusted the rules, in order to do the right thing.

Leadership and business guru, Peter F. Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Assigning grades is one of the management or leadership functions of a teacher. We assess, evaluate and ultimately assign a number or letter grade to each student that goes on his or her permanent record as an indicator of performance.

I already had permission from my own department head to make Kyle exempt from the listening exams. I had permission to re-organize the percentage of marks for the remainder of his work so that they would add up to 100% for his final mark. We reconfigured the percentage so that writing counted towards his final grade.

Since I already had permission to adjust the distribution of marks for the work he did, I made one other adjustment that I knew would ensure his success.

This was a subjective element of grading that allowed us as instructors to award marks based on class participation. It was our way of preventing students who were not really engaged from getting an A if they never came to class. If a student never showed up to class and only came to write the tests, got 100% on all the tests, but got a zero for participation in the course, the best grade he or she could end up with would be a B+.

The saying goes that 80% of success is showing up in life. So, if a student never showed up, it was impossible to get 100% in the course. It may seem sneaky, but that’s how it was.

Kyle demonstrated evidence of “showing up” in every possible manner. He had perfect attendance at class. He showed up having made a sincere stab at completing his homework. He stayed after class to ask intelligent clarifying questions. He came my office hours every week religious for extra help. At one point, he had hired a tutor to help him, but the tutor had no idea of how to help a deaf person learn a language and it didn’t work out.

Kyle did everything within his power to “show up”.

Since there were no grades awarded for discipline, focus or homework completion, I made a strategic decision to increase the percentage of his participation mark.

Risky business

There are rules and regulations in institutions for a reason. They set the standards that guide our professional behaviour. We are obliged to act in ethical ways that demonstrate an understanding and respect for the traditions and honour of our profession. Individual faculty members are required to abide by the rules established by the institution.

But what happens when the rules do not fit the situation? We have a choice. We can play by the rules or we can break them. (Yes, re-writing the rules can count as breaking them.) If you break the rules, you can be fired. That is part of “the real world” that my colleague in the business program was talking about.

Was I willing to risk it all for one student, whom I had known for a semester? The thought of it left a big knot in my stomach. I wanted to vomit. I could lose my career over this. It was like playing Russian roulette with my own future.

Inspired insight: Use deep reflection and analytical thinking to drive a tough decision

I reflected more deeply. Would I want to look myself in the mirror every day, knowing that I had upheld the bureaucratic rules, knowing that Kyle was all but doomed to fail my course and that was very likely to change the trajectory of his career? (Do things right, according to the rules).

Or did I want to take a chance on a student who was almost guaranteed to succeed in business and in life, but possibly risk my own career to do it? (Do the right thing).

I had a deep sense of not wanting to look in the mirror years later and ask “What if?”

I firmly believe that when we are faced with the impossible choice between doing things right, and doing the right thing that ultimately, it is more honorable to do the right thing. The price you might pay for doing so is ultimately less than the price you pay, in terms of your self-respect, ethics and integrity, for not doing so.

I had significant evidence that Kyle was going to make it. He had a solid track record of stellar grades, he showed up in every possible way and he had those intangible qualities such as people skills and determination, that never officially get factored into students’ grades. My own deep reflection, coupled with the evidence of success that this student had already demonstrated, ultimately led me to analyze the risk and decide that it was worth it.

Kyle received a passing grade in Spanish. And he worked harder than any other student in the class for what would turn out to be the only C- on his transcript. The grade broke his straight-A record, but we both knew how much it was really worth. He graduated from his program and has gone on to work for major multi-national companies.

Looking back, I could say that it wasn’t just Kyle who was deaf, it was also the institutional bureaucracy…. a system that did not care to listen to or take into account all the possible factors that contributes to a student’s success.

Peter F. Drucker also said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it”. As teachers, we have the opportunity to help our or hinder our students in the creation of their own futures. There are times though, when doing so is risky business.

When have you been faced with the choice between “doing things right” and “doing the right thing”? What struggles did you face? What did you ultimately decide, and more importantly, why?

Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #4: How teaching Spanish to a deaf multilingual student opened my eyes

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights

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Share or Tweet this post: A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears http://wp.me/pNAh3-1ei

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


A year of inspired insights #4: How teaching Spanish to a deaf multilingual student opened my eyes

February 2, 2012

It was two days before the semester began. I was sitting in my office preparing for class when the phone rang. I looked at the call display and saw that it was the department head calling me.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Hi, Sarah. I just wanted to give you the head’s up that you have a student with a disability in your class this semester.”

We get at least one student with either a physical or learning disability every semester, so this was nothing new. As instructors we were used to working with the disability resource centre on campus to help accommodate students with “learning needs”, as they were called.

“OK…?” I queried, wondering why this situation warranted a phone call.

The department head hesitated and said, “She’s deaf.”

I had taught a blind student once, but never a deaf student. I was a bit baffled. There are four primary skills in language learning: reading, writing, speaking and listening. I wondered how I was going to handle the latter two with this student.

The department head continued, “She would like to come to see you today if that is OK?”

“Sure,” I said. “Thanks for letting me know.” I went back to my course preparation, wondering how in the world I was going to teach a deaf student Spanish.

Little did I know at the time that Zaina would be the first of two deaf students I would encounter in my career and that experience later lead to project work in the area of Deaf  Literacy.

But at the time, I was apprehensive and unsure of what to do.

First contact

An hour later, Zaina showed up at the door, accompanied by her cousin, Hiba. She beamed a smile and waved hello. I smiled, waived back and motioned for them both to come into the office and sit down.

My first surprise was that Zaina was multilingual. Her native language was Arabic and she was also fluent in English, French and American Sign Language (ASL). Spanish would be her fifth language, she said, but it would be her first time taking a language course as part of her post-secondary education. She was very focused on doing well in school and so, had asked Hiba to enroll in the course with her.

Hiba, who was also multilingual and fluent in ASL was as interested in learning Spanish as she was in helping her cousin succeed.

Zaina, explained that she had been born deaf and had a cochlear implant, which allowed her to hear to some extent. She said if she did not understand something that Hiba could translate it from English in to ASL for her.

I said that since it was a second language class, that most of the class was to be taught in Spanish, though I began to understand that I would need to change things up a bit for this situation.

Learning from my student

I confessed that I had never taught a deaf student before and that I would rely on her to tell me what she needed.

She asked for 3 things. “First,” she said. “We’d like to sit at the front of the room so I have a clear view of you and can watch you as you are teaching. Would that be OK?”

A student asking to sit at the front of the class? Heck, yeah! That would be easy.

“Second,” she said. “It will help if I can see you while you are talking.” She said that she found it difficult when teachers would write on the board and speak at the same time.

I replied, “Well, that’s just bad teaching, regardless of whether your students are deaf or not.” She nodded in agreement.

“Lastly, it will help if I can ask you about things I do not understand. Would that be OK?”

Again, this seemed like a no-brainer to me. Zaina explained though, that she had previously had teachers who got impatient if she asked for clarification during the class. I replied that it would be helpful, in fact, if she did ask questions as we went along.

Within a few moments I figured out that Zaina was very much in charge of her own learning. She demonstrated self-awareness, discipline, high levels of interest and engagement and self-regulation. She knew what she needed and was not shy about asking for it.

Adapted learning (and teaching)

As a result of Zaina’s being in my class, here are actions I took:

More “prepared” visual aids. Previous to that point, I had incorporated visual notes and explanations spontaneously into the class. With Zaina there, I prepared more PowerPoints so that the visuals could stand alone as an explanation. It turned out that other students loved them, too.

I stopped moving around the classroom. I used to circulate around the classroom during  a lesson, talking as I went. Sometimes, I even taught for a few minutes from the back of the room. With Zaina in my class, I made sure to remain in her range of vision at all times.

I paid more attention to what I was saying. As a trained speaker and Toastmaster, I learned to become aware of the “um”s and “ah”s in my speech. With a deaf student I focussed on using precise, concise language.

I asked her what made sense for her. I knew that I was venturing into uncharted territory. I asked her to help me, help her. The end result was a collaborative approach to learning that proved successful.

I opened myself up to trying new things. I knew I had some teaching techniques that worked well, regardless of the group. At the same time, I was not so stuck on what had worked in the past that I was not willing to risk trying something new as we went along.

Inspired insight

Working with Zaina made me realize that no matter how hard I tried and how much I prepared, I would never know exactly how to teach every single student 100% of the time. There are some teachers who are deeply convinced that their techniques are superior to others’ techniques. They will say with seductive (if not a little dogmatic) charisma that their methods are really amazing.

In the early years of my teaching career, I listened to a few teachers like that. I even tried to be like a couple of them. They were so convinced of their methods that it was nearly impossible not to be seduced by their unwavering belief in themselves.

Working with Zaina, and other students I have had since then, showed me that it is impossible for a teacher have all the answers. In fact, thinking that you do have all the answers means that you necessarily are not willing to consider other ways of doing things. Being a leader or a teacher or a role model does not mean figuring out the one right way to do things and then convincing others that your way is right. For me, at least, it means a constant and unrelenting search to learn more techniques and strategies and adopting the practice of “resilient adaptability” in my professional practice. That means being resilient enough to deal with unexpected challenges and adaptable enough to figure out new solutions as you go along.

How about you? How have people you have worked with prompted you to try things differently, open yourself up to new ways of doing things and improve your own professional practice? What worked? What didn’t?

Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights

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Share or Tweet this post: A year of inspired insights #4: How teaching Spanish to a deaf multilingual student opened my eyes http://wp.me/pNAh3-1do

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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