‘Exclusive inclusivity’? The clash of policy and reality for multilingual pupils in monolingual education


Pupils of differing language backgrounds in a Dutch-language Brussels school experience many difficulties in the face of monolingual policy, which may be both eased and compounded by the use of a home language, a study has found.

In spite of a nominally strict monolingual policy, with students often penalised for using their home language, certain teachers tried to foster a more relaxed and less pressured environment, where students could use languages other than Dutch in certain situations.

Jürgen Jaspers observed a mixed-sex class with lower-middle and working class students aged 13 to 16. The students were of various ethnicities and spoke languages other than Dutch in their homes.

Their Dutch skills were limited and they faced linguistic challenges daily, never truly relaxed in the face of the school’s frequently unrealistic language expectations.

One teacher, called Mr. S in the study, attempted to incorporate the myriad of languages of the pupils into his classes. He sang a multilingual welcoming song before his classes, used fragments of pupils’ home languages for humour and was willing to turn a blind eye to the infringement of school rules on language.

His approach was deemed by Jaspers to be encouraging for several students, helping to ease their feelings of linguistic incompetence.

Although Mr. S seemed to take a relaxed approach to the school’s policy, he was, in fact, the strictest when it came to imposing Dutch on the students. He embodied the clash between school policy and reality.

A pattern emerged in the way in which multilingual “bridges” occurred, in between classes and when social trouble arose. Jaspers posits that pupils were socialized into recognizing what types of language were acceptable, when and by whom – recognizing Dutch as the more “serious” language and their home language as more marginal.

Though the linguistic mixing of Mr. S may in some ways be seen to perpetuate the social disadvantage faced by many of these pupils, his successful fostering of a positive learning climate demonstrates the importance of negotiating such a socially and linguistically complex environment.

Andrew Leahy and Camilla Egan

Jaspers, Jurgen (2015) Modelling linguistic diversity at school: the excluding impact of inclusive multilingualism. Language Policy 14: 109–129. DOI 10.1007/s10993-014-9332-0


Speech recognition and communicative software for elderly people

It has been reported that PaeLife, a collaborative international project designed to aid elderly people in assisted living, has made significant improvements in speech recognition technology for elderly people in various European languages, following a study involving over 3,000 participants.

Since the speech of elderly people tends to be slower and quieter than the speech of most young people, elderly people are often at a disadvantage when working with audio-operated technology designed for younger, clearer voices.

PaeLife selected speakers from Universities of the Third Age, various care institutions, associations and social clubs for the elderly from across Poland, Hungary and France. Previously, data for Portuguese speakers had been collected and transcribed by the Living Usability Lab and the Smart-Phones for Seniors projects.

To ensure a variety of accents, the 3,000 speakers were selected from different regions of the four countries. In total, over 640 hours of speech recordings were collected in the four languages, thus ensuring that the process of optimising elderly speech recognition software could proceed to the next stage.

One of the main goals for the PaeLife project is to make the software understand what is being said without misinterpreting false-starts, mispronounced words, pauses, coughing and the sound of doors opening and closing. To counteract this, the recordings were marked in the transcribing process to research further how these issues could interfere with understanding what is being said.

Harry Phipps and Esther Galdo

  Hämäläinen, Annika, António Teixeirac, Nuno Almeidac, Hugo Meinedoa, TiborFegyó, Miguel Sales Diasa (2015) Multilingual speech recognition for the elderly: The AALFred personal life assistant. Procedia Computer Science 67: 283-292.



Multilingual children’s drawings reveal their linguistic self-perceptions

The pictures that young children draw about their relationships with different languages reveal an interesting range of self-perceptions, a study of children from migrant families has shown.

Children in Germany, studying Portuguese in heritage language (PHL) classes, were asked, in Portuguese, to draw themselves speaking the languages they knew, with no other instructions. A total of 956 drawings were done in seven federal states in Germany, all from children between the ages of 6 and 12. About 77% (737) of these drawings were considered for the study.

Five distinct tendencies were found which but do not  necessarily relate to different psychological states.

5.7% of all the drawings used in the study demonstrated a tendency to depict one or multiple selves with multiple languages, such as can be seen in Drawing A.









Drawing A: The multilingual self (I.P., 12 years old, Blaubeuren).

The second tendency, found in 22% of the drawings demonstrated a reproduction of the same message separately, displaying the languages known to the individual child, such as in Drawing B.


Drawing B: The same content in different languages (J.M., 12 years old, Baiersbronn).

5.8% of the drawings  displayed the tendency to convey different meanings ‘using different linguistic items from different languages’. This is quite similar to the second tendency, however, each speech bubble has a different meaning, rather than  a reproduction of the same message.


Drawing C:Different content in different languages (L.J., 12 years old, Gelsenkirchen).

The most common tendency, apparent in 45% of the children’s drawings used, is, ‘the representation of multilingual repertoires through flags or names of different languages, in different speech bubbles’. An example of this tendency can be seen in Drawing D.


Drawing D: Different flags in different bubbles (D., s/id., Baiersbronn).

The last tendency is, ‘the child identifying the multilingual repertoires in only one speech bubble, but juxtaposing different flags and bits of languages’. This was found in 21.6% of the drawings with the child identifying all the languages he/she can speak, but together in one speech bubble. Each language was represented in these pictures by flags, or words from those languages, such as in Drawing E, conveying a multilingual individual where the languages are not separated.


Drawing E: Different flags in a unique bubble (M., 10 years, Hannover).

These tendencies reflect academic and political challenges that Portuguese in Heritage Language classes in Germany face and illustrate the need to cross compare between languages. The study suggests that it is important not only to assess the students’ knowledge in the language they are learning, but also how they compare between the language and their mother tongue, as well as knowing how foreign languages are learned.

Kieva McLaughlin and Esth Galdo

Melo-Pfeifer, Sílvia (2015) Multilingual awareness and heritage language education: children’s multimodal representations of their multilingualism, Language Awareness, 24:3, 197-215, DOI: 10.1080/09658416.2015.1072208 Access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09658416.2015.1072208


Consumers learning English associated with materialism and cosmopolitanism

Millions of consumers are learning and using English as a second (or third, etc.) language, according to a recent study published by the Journal of Business Research.

This new research suggests that the number of people who speak English as a second language is much greater than the number of people who speak English as a mother tongue. The findings also show an apparent association between speaking English and increased materialism and cosmopolitanism.

As language is a carrier of culture and a shaper of consumer behaviour, researchers conducted this study to find out how English influences the consumption values and behaviours of immigrant consumers in the English-speaking world.

Just over 2,000 people from eight countries (Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Mexico, Chile, Canada, Korea and India) were surveyed regarding their consumption habits. For each language researched, media and social relations were connected to ethnic identity, global acculturation, consumer dispositions (cosmopolitanism, consumer ethnocentrism, and materialism) and food consumption.

Researchers used snowball sampling, where study subjects choose future subjects from personal acquaintances. Respondents to these surveys were born in their country, over 18 and fluent in English. Additionally, 52% were female and 66% of the respondents were aged between 20-29. Full- and part-time students made up approximately 63% of those surveyed, with most of the remainder of the respondents in part- or full-time employment. The majority of respondents were middle-class consumers.

Compared with 48% of respondents who could speak fewer than three languages, 39% of those surveyed could speak three or more languages and 13% were fluent in four or more languages.

Researchers examined low- and high- context languages along with bilingual and multilingual consumers.  In their results, the role of language as a cultural component and predictor of behaviour was clear, with materialism and cosmopolitanism associated positively with speaking English.

 Aisling Harnett and Cláudia Buttura

 Cleveland, M., Laroche, M. and Papadopoulos, N. (2014) You are what you speak? Globalization, multilingualism, consumer dispositions and consumption. Journal of Business Research, 68, 542-552. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2014.09.0080148-2963 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0148296314002914?



Treating multilingual aphasia sufferers in one language can improve other languages   



A recent case study has shown that targeted treatment of one particular language in a quadrilingual sufferer of aphasia, the brain-injury-related speech and language disorder, resulted in improvement in some of a patient’s other languages.

The Norwegian study, which focused on a Japanese woman with four languages, found that targeted therapy in her fourth, late-acquired language improved ability in some of her other languages.

The 59-year-old subject grew up in Japan speaking Japanese, and learned English, German and Norwegian throughout the later years of her life through immersion and formal study. She suffered a stroke seven months prior to the start of the study, resulting in moderate non fluent aphasia.

Non fluent aphasia is a condition caused by brain injury which results in either partial or total loss of the ability to communicate verbally or using written words. It differs from other stroke-induced aphasia as it has a slow onset, causing language to deteriorate over time.

The study used Semantic Feature Analysis, a therapeutic technique used for the treatment of loss of words which occurs with aphasia, to target verbs. Semantic Feature Analysis has been shown to teach the individual with aphasia a process for accessing semantic networks.

Previous studies have focused on the noun, however this study focuses on the verb to determine if activating one area of the brain can help activate other areas. This method has previously been used to help people with aphasia by targeting their first language. The focus of this study is the effect of treatment of the fourth language on the other languages.

Semantic Feature Analysis was conducted intensively for 10 hours a week over two and a half weeks. The treatment focused on the production of verbs in sentence contexts.

A series of tests conducted afterwards showed Semantic Feature Analysis treatment in a  late-acquired language can lead to gains in the treated language and also transfer to some of the other languages, with different patterns for the various languages. The participant showed an improvement in English and German. Transfer to Japanese was not present which could be as a result of her post-stroke proficiency in the language. The subject’s trained verbs improved significantly with further improvements in narrative production, syntax and discourse.

This indicates that Semantic Feature Analysis treatment in a late-acquired language may be a promising method for treating multilingual speakers with aphasia, and the authors further advocate the use of narratives as an assessment tool.

 Yasmin Leonard-Murray and Chung Kam Kwok

 Knoph, Monica I.N., Marianne Lind & Hanne Gram Simonsen (2015) Semantic feature analysis targeting verbs in a quadrilingual speaker with aphasia, Aphasiology 29:12, 1473-1496. DOI: 10.1080/02687038.2015.1049583




Scholars probe multilingual benefit in language learning study


Multilinguals appear to be more adaptable than monolinguals when it comes to acquiring the speech sounds of another language, a recent study suggests.

The study looks at whether being bi- or multilingual is advantageous when acquiring another language and, in particular, whether phonological and phonetic bilingual benefits exist. The terms ‘phonological’ and ‘phonetic’ focus on sounds and how they are organised and used in a language.

The study, at the University of Florida, was undertaken using three groups of 20 people. Monolinguals who speak American English were chosen for the control group and Bengali-English speakers and Spanish-English speakers made up the two bilingual groups.

The Malayalam language of southern India was selected as the test language for all three groups to learn as there are no phonetic or phonological similarities with English, Spanish or Bengali.

Learners undertook a variety of tests before and after a limited period of training in the language. The tests focused on sound and pronunciation. There was also a perceptual assimilation test, where learners were asked to describe the extent to which they felt that different Malayalam sounds compared with sounds in their native language. This was used to indicate learner development of new phonetic categories.

By putting bilinguals in one group and comparing them with the monolingual group, significant differences in performance in the various tasks were observed.

The results of the testing indicate that multilingual benefit is apparent when learning relatively difficult novel contrasts within a certain amount of time.

The overall conclusion of the study was that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the multilingual benefit, believed to apply in the general process of language acquisition, may also apply in the specific instance of processing and acquiring the speech sounds of a new language. However, a larger sample size would be needed in order to obtain more robust results.

Lily Joyce and Ciarán O Braonáin

 Gogoi, Divya Verma, James D. Harnsberger and Caroline Wiltshire (2015) Perceptual Training of Novel Speech Contrasts in L3 Acquisition: The Effect of Multilingual Benefit. In  De Angelis, G., Jessner, U., Kresić, M. (eds) Crosslinguistic Influence and Crosslinguistic Interaction in Multilingual Language Learning. Oxford: Bloomsbury, pp 133-161.



Australian government pushes towards monolingual literacy policies


The more multilingual Australia has become, the more monolingual its language and literacy policies, a new study suggests.

According to the authors of a recent study into the successive educational policies in Australia, ‘Australia is a country of high linguistic diversity, with more than 300 languages spoken. Today, 19% of the population aged over 5 years speak a language other than English at home.’

The study identifies the evolution of policy over the last 30 years, starting with an initial policy that promoted multiculturalism and multilingualism. It aimed to make community languages part of the Australian education system. However this failed due to lack of ongoing review and funding by state governments, and lack of training for primary school teachers.

The policy did not yield the improved literacy results that the government had hoped for and so the policy was replaced.  A second policy was introduced with very different goals and principles. Literacy in English was the main aim of this second policy, to ensure all Australians could participate in Australian society, thus bringing the notion of assimilation to the fore.

The policies presented over the last 30 years have reflected a trend in narrowing both the objectives regarding language and literacy and the areas of interest alongside the values these policies represent.

The central Australian state has gone from supporting many languages to supporting only one national language, which is English. The authors argue that in order to ‘enhance literacy outcomes more generally, this orientation needs to be reversed. The approach to literacy and language policies needs to embrace the multilingual and multicultural society of Australia through the promotion and maintenance of home languages and to support literacy acquisition in these languages’.

 Sarah Ruane and Irma Bochorishvili

Schalley, A.C., Guillemin, D. and Eisenchlas, S.A. (2015) ‘Multilingualism and assimilationism in Australia’s literacy-related educational policies’, International Journal of Multilingualism, 12(2), pp. 162–177. doi: 10.1080/14790718.2015.1009372.



South Africa’s universities challenged with saving indigenous languages

The study of indigenous languages in South African universities has experienced an alarming decline since the turn of the millennium, a new study has shown.

The statistical analyses – compiled by Venitha Pillay and Ke Yu – point to a continually decreasing tendency of students in South African universities to study one or more of the country’s nine official indigenous languages. One of the most notable findings highlights how African students comprise the single largest English-studying population.

The number of students studying English and/or Afrikaans has continuously risen. This is attributed, in part, to a combination of future employability for English speakers, as well as the ease of access and familiarity for students choosing Afrikaans at third level. Afrikaans is already the compulsory second language in most schools across the country.

With regards to the continued learning of indigenous languages, African students also represent the largest group enrolled in courses covering any of the nine official tongues. There has been a minor increase in enrolment from white and Indian students but it is considered too marginal to be considered meaningful.

The authors found that the rise in popularity of English and Afrikaans may come at the expense of the official indigenous languages of South Africa.

Venitha Pillay and Ke Yu make reference to universities such as the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which has made isiZulu a compulsory subject for all non-African language speaking students. They concede in their paper, however, that ‘response to the policy has been controversial and contradictory’.

Rhodes University is cited as an institution whose efforts to encourage indigenous language competence should be commended, with the university integrating the study of isiXhosa into a number of professional degrees. Venitha Pillay and Ke Yu argue for ‘a concerted implementation plan for the promotion of indigenous languages’ across South African higher education institutions.

Dermot O’Shea and Ning Yiang

Pillay, Venitha & Ke Yu (2015) Multilingualism at South African universities: a quiet storm, Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 33:4, 439-452, DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2015.1108852


Negative attitudes to language and stereotypes correlate with decline

Hokkien speakers have a better attitude towards their ethnic language than Foochow speakers, according to a new study among speakers of the two Malaysian languages.

The study used a matched guise test which is a technique used to determine the feelings of a person or group towards a particular language. Age, gender and socio-economic status were the biggest influences in the perception of the speakers.

The test showed Foochow speakers had more negative stereotypes towards their ethnic language than Hokkien participants. This may explain why Chinese Mandarin, the ‘standard’ version of spoken Chinese, is becoming their preferred language.

Participants were found through Facebook messaging, social contacts and visiting food courts and shops in Kuching, Malaysia.

A total of two hundred and forty people took part in the study, all of whom were Malaysian Chinese living in Kuching, the capital of the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. All participants were Mandarin speakers, and half of the participants spoke Hokkien as a first language and the other half were speakers of Foochow.

The results showed positive attitudes towards Mandarin on all of the 15 traits analysed in the matched guise test. Significant differences between male and female attitudes in relation to gender, age and socio-economic background were found.

According to the study, attitudes were related to perceptions of the relatively high status of Mandarin speakers, alongside feelings of solidarity toward speakers of one’s own ethnic language.

Colm Phelan and Parween Arkawazi

Yann-Yann Puah & Su-Hie Ting (2015) Malaysian Chinese speakers’ attitudes towards Foochow, Hokkien and Mandarin, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 36:5, 451-467, DOI: 10.1080/01434632.2014.936875


Multilingualism central to identity of ‘Third Culture Kids’



Multilingualism plays a key role in the formation of identity among Third Culture Kids (TCK), a recent study suggests.

A TCK is defined as someone who has ‘lived abroad before adolescence, and in at least three different countries during their developmental years’.  People who are TCK were interviewed as part of a study, in which interview participants spoke about what language(s) mean to them. Participants stated that languages are more to them than simply a form of expression and communication.

For the purpose of the study, a web-based survey of 87 participants and eight in-depth interviews, with people who qualify as a TCK, were carried out.


Table: Interviewees and languages spoken

The eight people interviewed all saw being multilingual as a positive attribute and felt that multilingualism has become a meaningful aspect of their own identity.

Sean, who is a speaker of Finnish, English, Dari and Urdu, spoke about how each language makes up a different part of his identity. ‘The different languages, in a way, bring out a sort of different me and different memories every time I use them … mostly they just define a certain part of me,’ Sean said.

Matt, who speaks Chinese and English, outlined the importance that language has on his world as a whole. ‘If one language were taken away from me, that would mean a world was taken away from me,’ he explained.

While both Sean and Matt talk about how languages make up a core part of who they are, others within the study expressed how they use language(s) for other purposes.

Marie, a participant who speaks five languages, noted that due to the fact she changes friends often, she ‘definitely use(s) language as a shield, as a protection’.

Interviewees also spoke about cultural influences relating to their languages. ‘Every language brings out a different culture,’ Eva said. Like I have a lot of cultures in me.’

 John Smith and Yui Fujita

Tannenbaum, M. and Tseng, J. (2015). Which one is Ithaca? Multilingualism and sense of identity among Third Culture Kids. International Journal of Multilingualism, 12(3), pp.276-297. DOI:10.1080/14790718.2014.996154


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