Learning to be Literate: Multilingual Perspectives

Learning to be Literate: Multilingual Perspectives

by Viv Edwards


$60.20 $64.95 Save 7% Current price is $60.2, Original price is $64.95. You Save 7%.


This textbook brings together research on literacy and multilingualism from a variety of settings: the learning of English in migrant destinations, immersion and bilingual education, and the maintenance of heritage languages. Designed to be accessible to students from a wide range of disciplines, the book explores multilingualism as a global phenomenon at both the individual and societal level, and literacy learning in a wide variety of contexts. It uses both these discussions to explore the theoretical and policy issues which are behind current educational practice, and points to possible ways forward. Students are introduced to examples of innovative and best practice from a range of international contexts, and discussion points and suggested activities encourage them to build on their own experiences as language learners. This is an ideal introductory text for students on courses where a critical understanding of language in education is necessary, as well as being a useful summary of the field and its future directions for researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847690616
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 02/15/2009
Series: MM Textbooks Series , #3
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Viv Edwards is Professor of Language in Education at the University of Reading where she is also Director of the National Centre for Language and Literacy. She is editor of the international journal Language and Education and has researched and published widely in the areas of multilingualism and education. Her book on Multilingualism in the English-speaking World received the 2005 British Association for Applied Linguistics book award. She is also a fellow of the Royal Society for Arts.

Read an Excerpt


Reading the word, reading the world

* This brief introductory chapter describes some of the many different ways in which children learn to be literate in two or more languages and invites you to think of other examples from your own experience.

* It draws attention to the fragmented research on literacy in multilingual settings as disparate, for instance, as rural Zimbabwe and inner city England. While recognizing that the experiences of teachers and children can be very different, it makes a case for a more integrated approach that builds on commonalities between these various settings.

* It discusses the scope and organization of the book.

Many routes to literacy

The scope and organization of this book

Many routes to literacy

The title of this chapter comes from a book by Donaldo Macedo and Paulo Freire which makes links between literacy and politics: reading is not only about decoding the word from the page; it is also about the ways in which literacy can be used to empower and disempower people. This link is a recurring theme in the present book, too. The wordplay which underpins it is particularly appropriate in the context of the children in many different parts of the world who are learning read in more than one language. Let's look at some examples.

Redlands Primary School serves a highly diverse population in an inner city area of a town in southern England. Over 30 different languages are spoken. Many of the children have a parent who is studying at the university or working in the hospital nearby. The largest group, though, consists of children whose parents and grandparents arrived in the UK from Pakistan in the 1960s. The language of the home is Panjabi. Many of the children, however, are learning to read and write in Urdu, the language of literature and high culture in Pakistan, in a lunchtime club taught by one of the Redlands teachers. The introduction of an Urdu word-processing program was greeted with considerable enthusiasm by parents and children who use it for writing bilingual stories and captions for classroom displays (seeFigure 1.1). These activities also attracted the attention of non-Pakistani children, several of whom started to attend the Urdu club.

Ikastola Errobi is a small four-class school in Cambo-les-Bains in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the northern Basque country. The teachers' salaries are paid by the French government, but the buildings and other resources are funded by a cooperative of parents, some of whom speak only French but who are anxious for their children to reclaim their Basque heritage. As part of work on narrative, children were asked to produce their own bilingual, multimedia stories in Basque – introducing the characters, setting a problem, saying what happened, providing a resolution and giving the tale a twist. They read each other's stories, voted for the best draft – Zaunka ari zen gatua (The cat that barked) – and then worked together on improving it. Once the Basque version was complete, the story was sent to another class, where it was translated into French. The story was then read by a class of six-year-olds with less-developed Basque language skills who drew the illustrations (see Figure 1.2).

The Vulindlela Reading Club meets in Langa, a residential area established to segregate Black Africans from other racial groups in Cape Town during the apartheid era in South Africa. The club, launched in response to a request from a community organization, welcomes up to 200 children from Grades 2 to 6 from 10 to 12 on Saturday mornings. The sessions start with circle games and the singing of the Reading Club song, Education is fun, in English and isiXhosa. The children then divide into three different age groups to listen to stories and stretch out or cuddle up with a book. The sessions usually finish with a story telling session (See Figure 1.3). English and isiXhosa are used in the Reading Club on alternate weeks.

Play English (see Figure 1.4) in Monza, Italy, started as a playgroup for children aged three to five. The demand was such that soon there were two separate activities, a preschool day program and an after-school program. As the first Play English pupils approached elementary school age, parents, delighted with their children's progress, exerted pressure for provision to continue. The school now covers all the elementary grades and is beginning to extend to the Middle School years. Approximately equal amounts of time are given to literacy learning in English and Italian. The academic outcomes for the children, most of whom come from Italian-speaking homes, are comparable to those of their peers attending Italian schools. But, in addition, they are able to understand, speak, read and write in English at levels far superior to children in the Italian system.

The Chinese School in Reading in the south of England meets in a local primary school on Sunday mornings. It has two sections. One serves the predominantly Cantonese-speaking community that arrived in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. The other teaches, through the medium of Mandarin or Putonghua, the official language of the People's Republic of China. Most of the children in this section are from sojourner families who stay in the UK for three or four years for study or work; they need to maintain high levels of literacy in Chinese for their return to China. Others are the children of longer-term residents from the People's Republic, whose parents are keen for them to either learn or maintain Chinese literacy skills. A smaller group consists of Cantonese speakers wishing to develop Mandarin in recognition of the importance of China on the world stage. A wall chart sets out the different stokes that make up Chinese characters. Great attention to detail is required: the strokes need to be written in a set order and the right proportions maintained (Figure 1.5).

Alexandra d'Onofrio is a citizen of the world. Born in London to a Greek mother and Italian father, she spent the first eight years of her life in England, attending first an Italian nursery and then the Greek Embassy School before transferring to an English primary school. The family moved briefly to Greece where Alexandra attended an Italian language-medium school before settling permanently in Italy. Throughout this time, her mother nurtured reading and writing in all three of her first languages, placing more emphasis, for instance, on Italian and English when they were in Greece, and more emphasis on English and Greek in Italy. In the early stages, she read stories and used post-its to label household objects – fridge, kettle, cupboard, table – in one language on one day, and another on the next. Alexandra returned to the UK for her higher education where she graduated with a degree in Social Anthropology and Hindi (see Figure 1.6). She later traveled to Cuba and Mexico where she learned Spanish, and spent six months in Brazil working on a Theatre of the Oppressed project where she learned Portuguese.

Pakistani and Chinese children in the south of England, Basque children in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the Vulindlela Reading Club in Cape Town, children learning in Italian and English in northern Italy, Alexandra d'Onofrio – these are all examples from my personal experience of children learning to be literate in more than one language. Readers of this book will no doubt be able to add many more examples of their own.

The scope and organization of this book

Research on literacy learning in multilingual settings has tended to be fragmentary. The catalyst for much of this work has been the large numbers of minority language-speaking children in important migrant destinations – the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. While many researchers have been concerned with the learning of English, others have focused on the opportunities for learning through other languages in 'immersion' and bilingual education programs. Still others have looked at the voluntary efforts of minority communities to maintain their heritage languages. Although most research is concentrated in the developed world, important exceptions include the growing numbers of studies of literacy learning in South America and Africa. There are clearly differences between these various settings, but there are also many commonalities. My aim, then, is to integrate the insights from these various strands.

It may be helpful to explain the limits at the outset. This book is not about the considerable progress made by cognitive and developmental psychologists in exploring the literacy acquisition in bilingual children. While this research is making an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the human brain, it is often unclear how these findings can be translated into classroom practice. Nor is this a practical handbook for teachers. The focus is rather on exploring theoretical and policy issues which explain current educational practice and point to possible ways forward. As such, the book will be of interest to a wide range of people – policy-makers, researchers and practitioners – concerned with language in education.

How this book is organized

The book has three main foci: multilingualism, literacy and the management of change.

Chapters 2 and 3 explore multilingualism, the first of these three foci. Chapter 2 considers the wide range of reasons why people move from one location to another, bringing with them different languages and cultures. We examine the various accommodations made when people speaking different languages come into contact – the use of lingua francas, pidgins and creoles and the shift from one language to another. We also look at nation-building and the power relations between the majority and minority languages created in the process. Multilingualism is considered from two main perspectives: the wider society and the individual. From the perspective of the individual, we discuss the intellectual, social and economic benefits associated with speaking two or more languages. From the broader societal perspective, we challenge the assumption that multilingualism leads to division and strife and look at efforts to embrace diversity in India, South Africa and the European Union.

Chapter 3 considers how different education systems accommodate linguistically diverse populations. It does this through the lens of colonization, imperialism, nationalism and globalization, four historical processes which have each shaped the fate of diverse groups of people and their languages. It considers the educational responses to speakers of nonstandard varieties, such as Black English, considered to be inferior to the standard language, and sign languages which, until recent years, were not even considered to be languages. And, finally, it examines the benefits for speakers of majority languages who elect for their children to be educated through minority languages.

The next four chapters address the second focus of the book: literacy. Chapter 4 introduces the main models developed to explain our interactions with the written word and explores the highly complex interactions between multilingualism and literacy. Drawing on the theories of Jim Cummins, it considers the conditions most likely to lead to successful literacy learning in two or more languages.

Chapter 5 looks at how literacy is taught at present and reviews the findings of research of greatest relevance for teachers. Using the example of the ongoing debate around phonics, it cautions that decisions about best practice are sometimes driven more by politics than the evidence of research; it also argues that the pedagogical implications of research in cognitive and developmental psychology are not always clear.

Chapter 6, in contrast, considers ways in which teaching might look in the future. It starts by challenging the assumption that school-based literacy is the only legitimate way to engage with the written word and shows how the children in families that share the norms and values of the school experience far less disjuncture and achieve better educational outcomes. It considers both the ways in which minorities have reacted to their marginalization in schools and children's attempts to negotiate the different approaches to literacy in school, at home and in the community. Most importantly, it explores approaches which empower students to question dominant beliefs and practices.

Chapter 7 draws attention to the shortage of reading materials suitable for use in multilingual settings and describes a range of innovations which address this need. It also focuses on the economics of minority language publishing and ways in which centralized support and co-publishing initiatives can increase the flow of materials.

Having explored possible ways forward, the final focus is on people. Although school systems are littered with failed attempts to implement change, promising models of professional development are beginning to emerge. This chapter argues for a model which addresses the what, why and how of changing teacher practice and underlines the importance of involving all stakeholders – administrators, principals, parents, teachers and children – over an extended period of time.

Each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading and lists key websites. Many of us have personal experience of learning to read and write in a second language; most of us have access to friends, family or neighbors who have developed these skills as children. For this reason, discussion points and activities offer opportunities for readers to share their own experiences and learn from fellow students.



* This chapter unpicks some of the complexities of multilingualism by asking key questions:

* What is a language?

* Why, on a global level, do most people speak two or more languages? We explore the environmental, scientific, economic and political developments which give rise to multilingualism.

* When groups of people speaking different languages come into contact, how do they communicate? We look at the use of lingua francas, pidgins and creoles and the decisions which lead people to shift from one language to another.

* Why are some languages more powerful than others? We examine the role which language has played in nation-building.

* What are the advantages of multilingualism for the individual? We discuss the intellectual, social and economic benefits of speaking two or more languages.

* And, finally, what are the advantages of multilingualism for the wider society? We challenge the idea that multilingualism is socially divisive and economically unviable, using examples of the ways in which governments have responded to linguistic diversity.

Language and migration

Languages in contact

Languages and nation-building

What is a language anyway?

Multilingualism and the individual

Multilingualism and society

Key points

Activities and discussion points

Further reading

Language and migration

Anyone who happens to live in a predominantly English-speaking country might be forgiven for assuming that monolingualism is the normal condition. They would be wrong. In most parts of the world and for most people, multilingualism is the everyday reality. Why, then, is multilingualism so common? The answer lies in the wide range of reasons that people move from one location to another.

Environmental factors have played a part in population movement since prehistoric times. Groups in search of new grazing lands moved south and west as pastureland in Central Asia expanded or contracted with climate change (Manning, 2005). The most probable explanation for the spread of the Bantu peoples from western to central and eastern Africa is the drying of the Sahara. In modern times, a million deaths in the Irish potato starvation years of 1846–50 was an important catalyst for emigration to Britain, Australia and the USA (Kinealy, 1995).

Scientific change also drives population movement. New agricultural techniques may well have made it possible for the Bantu peoples to expand still further from central and eastern into southern Africa (Hoerder, 2002; Manning, 2005). Developments in transport allowed 50 million European migrants to move to the Americas and Australia between 1846 and 1940 and for a further 80 million to migrate across East and South Asia (McKeown, 2004).


Excerpted from "Learning to be Literate"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Viv Edwards.
Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Reading the word, reading the world2. Multilingualism3. Education in multilingual societies4. Multiliteracies5. The politics and practice of literacy teaching6. Language, literacy and culture7. Resources for learning8. Making change in multilingual classrooms

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Learning to be Literate: Multilingual Perspectives 0 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 0 reviews.