North America’s native languages get higher education boost

December 15th, 2016 by Among the many institutions in North America that memorialise the native population is Miami University in Ohio, named after the Miami tribe that once spread from the state across vast sections of what is now the United States. It is an ironic tribute considering the treatment of the Miami people, who were attacked by whites as the frontier pushed west, and whose lands were also taken. Now, universities including Miami are in the vanguard of work to restore one of the principal cultural relics of indigenous tribes: their languages. The efforts are made amid high-profile modern-day battles, from the contentious dispute over the names of professional sports teams, such as the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, that many consider offensive, to the fight involving the Sioux tribe over the $3.8 billion (£3 billion) Dakota Access oil pipeline. “There’s a heightened awareness and things are changing on the national level, especially with the recognition of the global loss of small minority languages and what that means to society as a whole,” said Daryl Baldwin, director of Miami University’s Myaamia Center, which offers courses on native culture and language. Read more: Times Higher Education

Study shows children learning Cherokee are part of ongoing language renewal

December 8th, 2016 by Cherokee has been one of a number of endangered Native American languages to see a renaissance in recent history. A group of University of Kansas researchers has co-authored a study demonstrating that the ways children learn and speak the language in a Cherokee immersion school are an ongoing process of renewal rather than a return to an idealized notion of "speakerhood." Researchers gathered data on students' Cherokee in oral, listening, reading and writing skills at Tsalagi Dideloquasdi, a Cherokee language immersion school in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, that is a core part of Cherokee Nation's revitalization efforts. They found the school to be a "quintessential translanguaging space," in which students' competencies are formed by the students, teachers, parents and members of the community, as well as the historical fluidity of Cherokee-English bilingualism. In other words, as their language skills develop, the students communicate in an innovative hybrid form of Cherokee rather than adhering to rigid language rules. "We've looked meticulously at how they're piecing together this complex morphology of the Cherokee language, which is very different from English," said Lizette Peter, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching. "We view these students as language boundary crossers. They don't see English and Cherokee as two distinct, separate languages. They're creating linguistic possibilities never before seen in the acquisition of Cherokee." Read more:

Chance to save ancient language

December 7th, 2016 by In a village in northern Cyprus, a community struggling to save its ancient language has seen a glimmer of hope in intensified efforts to reunify the divided island. Kormakitis was once the hub of Cyprus’s Maronite minority, descendants of Syrian and Lebanese Christians who spoke Sanna, a unique dialect of Arabic influenced by the Aramaic spoken by Jesus. The language is now severely endangered, according to UNESCO. Uprooted by the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, many Maronites assimilated into Greek-Cypriot communities where they sought shelter. They have seen fresh hope in recent months as the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders intensified their efforts to reunite the island. Talks in Switzerland ended on November 21 with no breakthrough, but the leaders have since agreed to resume negotiations and are due to meet again in Geneva in January. The Maronites hope a deal could eventually encourage the community to return to live in northern Cyprus. That could help revive Sanna, which is in decline despite years of classes, the efforts of NGOs and an annual summer school in the village. Read more: Kathimerini English Edition

6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education

November 29th, 2016 by Brains, brains, brains. One thing we've learned at NPR Ed is that people are fascinated by brain research. And yet it can be hard to point to places where our education system is really making use of the latest neuroscience findings. But there is one happy nexus where research is meeting practice: Bilingual education. "In the last 20 years or so, there's been a virtual explosion of research on bilingualism," says Judith Kroll, a professor at the University of California, Riverside. Again and again, researchers have found, "bilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime," in the words of Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. At the same time, one of the hottest trends in public schooling is what's often called dual-language or two-way immersion programs. Read more: NPR

Language matters in science and mathematics – here’s why

November 18th, 2016 by What do you get when you cross a mafia mobster with a sociologist? An offer you can’t understand. It’s an old joke, and you could substitute “sociologist” with just about any other “ologist” - the broader point being that professions use language in ways that make it hard for outsiders to understand. So, do sociologists, mathematicians, scientists and lawyers use language to be elitist and exclusive? Or is the language necessary to describe the specifics of their field? And what role does school play in initiating students into the language of these different disciplines? Read more: The Conversation

School uses robot to revive ancient language

November 13th, 2016 by A conference held last month, called the Australian Conference for Computers in Education, unveiled research into the impact of humanoid robots on students’ computational thinking. The aim of the study was to understand the impact of humanoid NAO robots on student learning, the integration of the robots into the curriculum and the pedagogical approaches that enhance and extend student learning. NAO robots, developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French robotics company, have been used for research and education purposes in schools and universities worldwide. As of 2015, over 5,000 NAO robots are in use in over 50 countries. One of these robots, called ‘Pink’, is part of a collaborative research project between the University of Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology, Swinburne University in Melbourne and the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA). The students and teachers at Maitland Lutheran School have been using Pink to embed the language of the traditional owners of the land – the Narungga people, into the school’s new Digital Technologies subject. About 23% of the school’s students are Aboriginal. Read more: The Educator

The Debate Over Bilingual Education In California

October 31st, 2016 by Alice Callaghan has spent decades working with mostly Mexican and Guatemalan families out of a tiny office near Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. It doubles as a school for a few dozen 4- and 5-year-olds. After the Pledge of Allegiance, children scamper to their seats to work on phonics exercises, blended words, vocabulary and reciting classroom rules. Not a word in Spanish is spoken, heard or written on the posters and word puzzles hanging on the walls, and many of the children's names have been anglicized. It has been nearly two decades since California imposed significant restrictions on bilingual education and mandated English-only instruction for the state's 1.4 million English-language learners (ELLs). But on this year's ballot, Proposition 58 will give voters a chance to lift those restrictions and make it easier for parents to choose. Proponents of bilingual instruction say the change is long overdue, but opponents are convinced it will be a huge mistake. Here in downtown Los Angeles, Callaghan — a former nun and self-described liberal — is proud to call this an English-only school. "Almost all of our children are at the beginning level," she says. "When they leave first grade, they're at the advanced level." Callaghan and critics of bilingual instruction say it delays kids' ability to read, write and speak proper English. Read more: NPR

Lakota institute brings language to life

June 6th, 2016 by It is estimated that only 2,000 people continue to speak the Lakota language, down from 6,000 since 2005. Yet one growing organization is doing its part to keep their heritage alive. The Lakota Language Consortium will host its 10th annual Lakota Summer Institute from June 6 to June 24 at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, N.D. The three-week program is offered to three groups of people: fluent Lakota speakers who come to learn how to build their language skills, language teachers brushing up on methodology courses, and second-language learners who come to learn how to speak Lakota. The program attracts more than 100 participants every year, quite a jump from an initial group of 18 language teacher participants when it started. "Over the years we've grown in a number of ways," said Jan Ullrich, linguistic director of LLC. "We not only train teachers in methodology, but offer those classes to non-teachers, anyone learning to teach them how to be active learners and self-teachers." Read more: Rapid City Journal

Robot language tutors to get kids up to speed before school

January 17th, 2016 by Life is hard for immigrant children – new place, new friends, new language. Starting from next January, 4 and 5-year-olds in four cities across Europe will be getting a helping hand, by testing out robot tutors to help them get up to speed in the local language. The project, called L2TOR, is run by linguists and roboticists from a consortium of universities across Europe. It aims to help young children gain the language skills they need when they enter the school system. The pilot will see children working with robots to boost their Dutch in the cities of Tilburg and Utrecht and German in Bielefeld, while kids in Istanbul in Turkey will get help with English. L2TOR will have children work through a language course on a tablet computer under the watchful eye of a NAO robot. These bots are made by French firm Aldebaran Robotics and are often used in classrooms. Before starting the lesson, the robot will explain what the child is going to learn, then, once the lesson is under way, it will observe the child’s body language and assist them when they get stuck. “We want to help these children improve their language skills through one-to-one interaction with a robot, to help them catch up,” says Paul Vogt of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who works on L2TOR. Robots have some advantages that humans do not – like infinite patience Read more: New Scientist‎

Hardwiring languages in the brain

December 9th, 2015 by The first language you hear as a baby, even if only for a very brief period, seems to “hardwire” your brain. New research from McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute shows that traces of early speech recognition patterns remain even many years later. Fred Genesee (PhD) is professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal and a co-author of the new study. The study entitled ”Past Experience Shapes Ongoing Neural Patterns for Language” was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications. This newest study builds on an earlier one in which Chinese-sounding words were tested on Chinese children who had been adopted from China as babies by French-speaking Quebec couples. The children had not heard Chinese spoken since the adoption and had then grown up as monolingual French speakers. In that study they were compared with fluently bilingual Canadian-born children of Chinese descent who learned to speak Chinese and then French. That study showed the adoptees’ brains, even though having no knowledge of Chinese, reacted similarly to the Chinese sounding words as those of the bilingual children. Read more: Radio Canada International‎

Ancient Sanskrit to be used to teach medicine and law in India

November 24th, 2015 by Sanskrit will be used to teach science, medicine and law at schools and universities across India under the latest bid to revive the ancient language by the country’s Hindu nationalist government. A new committee has been charged with promoting the use of the classical language, which was once spoken across the Indian subcontinent but today has just 14,000 native speakers. The committee has been asked to “recommend measures to integrate the study of the ancient language with other disciplines such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, medical science and law”, according to a report in the Indian Express newspaper. Read more: The Telegraph

Linguistics study reveals our growing obsession with education

September 10th, 2015 by As children around the country go back to school, a new comparative study of spoken English reveals that we talk about education nearly twice as much as we did twenty years ago. The study, which compares spoken English today with recordings from the 1990s, allows researchers at Cambridge University Press and Lancaster University to examine how the language we use indicates our changing attitudes to education. They found that the topic of education is far more salient in conversations now, with the word cropping up 42 times per million words, compared with only 26 times per million in the 1990s dataset. As well as talking about education more, there has also been a noticeable shift in the terms we use to describe it. Twenty years ago, the public used fact-based terms to talk about education, most often describing it as either full-time, or part-time. Read more: