Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Computer Geek / Geek Computri

An inspiring new research report has just arrived from the UK about two schoolchildren translators. It's by Raymonde Sneddon, a researcher at the University of East London and a schoolteacher with more than 30 years of experience (see photo). The full reference is below.

The first part describes the surprising status and situation of multilingualism in English schools:
"London is the most multilingual city in the world, with over 230 languages... spoken by the children in its schools... it is not uncommon for individual primary schools to have 40 different languages spoken, with secondary schools having many more. In spite of the long history of migration, the English education system is profoundly ambivalent about its pupils’ bilingualism It is only fairly recently that the language skills of young children of migrant origin have begun to be considered as a resource rather than a problem and the benefits of bilingualism recognised. The curriculum remains resolutely monolingual and monocultural and while there is some teaching of community languages in both primary and secondary schools, this is very limited and frequently held after hours. Bilingual education is not currently available in mainstream schools. Many children lose active use of the language of their families once they start school, as a result of lack of status and recognition of the language and lack of opportunity for learning it."
However, the part that concerns this blog is the case study of how two girls, Magda and Albana, born in England to Albanian immigrant parents, used translation. Their mothers wanted them to maintain a link with their families' culture by learning and using Albanian. Note that this is not a case of language brokering. The motivation was cultural, and not practical daily needs.
"Both girls spoke only Albanian when they started in the nursery, but rapidly became dominant in English, causing their parents anxiety as their use of Albanian declined. The study revealed the strategies used by the mothers and their daughters. The women taught the Albanian letter-sound correspondence and the girls decoded text carefully... They then re-read the text more fluently for understanding, asking and answering questions and negotiating meanings with their mothers (whose knowledge of English was still developing). They used the English text to verify meanings. Their knowledge of the whole context of the story, as well as the illustrations, helped them to understand when a word was unfamiliar in both languages. They retold the stories in their own words in both languages."
At this early stage, therefore, the girls were already translating by 'aligning' two texts mentally and retelling the stories in both languages.

Thus the girls' main tool for language learning was dual language books. These are children's books that present the material aligned in two languages, typically on facing pages. There's nothing new in this format of course; what's new is the application to children's needs and so-called heritage languages, especially in the UK.

A further important development was to turn the children from readers into writers by getting them to compose dual language books themselves by means of translating.
"For students who are fairly fluent in their heritage language, Cummins [Jim Cummins, an authority on bilingual education] specifically recommends the, ‘creation of student-authored dual language books by means of translation from the initial language of writing to L2’ (Cummins 1999, 589). Such a strategy offers pupils an opportunity to explore and analyse the similarities and differences between their languages; working with different syntactic structures and the very different range of meanings that equivalent words have in different languages can develop metalinguistic skills and critical literacy. Students involved in such activities have reported the benefit to their English language skills, and this is very much what has been noted regarding the children in the present study using translation to teach themselves to write in Albanian."
Actually Albana and Magda went through an intermediate stage in which they composed bilingual holiday diaries. But
"By the time they were in Year 5, aged 10, Magda and Albana were keen to follow the success of their holiday books by writing together a work of fiction. Their teacher provided time for them to work collaboratively. This provided me, as the researcher, with an opportunity to follow their progress."
The "work of fiction" turned out to be a story called The Computer Geek / Geek computri.

To be continued.

Dual language books for children are by no means only to be found in the UK. Here in Valencia there's a trilingual series in Valencian, Spanish and Arabic, beautifully illustrated (see References). Why Arabic? Doubtless for the many North African immigrants in the Valencia region.

Raymonde Sneddon. Telling the story of the Computer Geek: children becoming authors and translators. Language and Education, pp. 1-16, 2012. My thanks to the author for so promptly providing me with a full copy. To link to an abstract, click here.

Jim Cummins. Biliteracy, empowerment, and transformative pedagogy. In J. V. Tinajero and R. A. DeVillar (eds.), The Power of Two Languages: 2000, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1999, pp. 9–19. Click here for the text.

Anna Molins. Joha i l'home de la ciutat / juhaa warajul al-madiynah / Yoha y el hombre de la ciudad. (Minaret series, 2.) Arabic translation by Tànit Assaf Muntané. Illustrated by Lluïsa Jover. Valencia: Tandem, 2005. There are several others in the series.

Source: University of Waikato

1 comment:

  1. The triple language book published in Valencia sounds like a modern day Rosetta Stone! :-)

    Very interesting post. I can fully understand the Albanian mothers' concern. After all, even if their daughters will never feel fully Albanian for not having lived there, they will always feel partly Albanian through experiencing the culture linguistically. I've been in a similar situation.

    Recently discovered your blog. Thoroughly enjoying the insights it provides!