Opinion Pieces

Rethinking Multiculturalism
     by Professor Tony Liddicoat

Recently some media commentators have argued that Australia needs to do away with multiculturalism because it has failed, among them a recent article by Janet Albrechtsen (2016). These comments are a rather alarming critique of something that has widely been held up internationally as a success. One thing that is notable about the critics of multiculturalism is that they all speak from the Australian mainstream. When one speaks to members of Australia’s linguistic and cultural minorities, however, one hears a very different take on Australia’s multiculturalism. Multiculturalism does indeed have problems, and one of the key problems is that mainstream Australians have come to consider that multiculturalism is a concession made by them to immigrant minorities and for which they expect to be rewarded. This misses the entire point that multiculturalism is a feature of Australian society not of some groups within the society. Such thinking is itself a dividing up of society in which multiculturalism is seen a s being for immigrants and unrelated to the lives of the English-speaking mainstream, with Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in a strange limbo in which they are sometimes included in multiculturalism and sometimes absent from it, as in the case of the recent Scanlon Foundation (2016) discussion paper on multiculturalism.

All Australians live and work in a society that is characterised by linguistic and cultural diversity and a truly multicultural society is one in which all members of society participate in diversity in constructive ways and each person takes responsibility for his or her own contribution to a multicultural society. This means that all Australians need the capability to participate in, interpret and reflect on the meaningfulness and significance of the linguistic and cultural differences they encounter every day. It also means being able to communicate across languages and cultures and to recognise what is involved in communicating in a multilingual environment. Such capabilities are not only important within Australia, but for participation in the linguistic and cultural diversity of the wider world.

David Graddoll (2004), a leading academic in the field of English language teaching, has argued that “Monolingual speakers of any variety of English … will experience increasing difficulty in employment and political life, and are likely to become bewildered by many aspects of society and culture around them”. Australia needs recognise that linguistic and cultural diversity is the reality of the contemporary world that we to engage much more deeply with linguistic and cultural diversity both at home and overseas and developed the intercultural and interlinguistic capabilities of all Australians if we are to find our place in that world.

Albrechtsen, J. (2016, 24 February). Multiculturalism has proven divisive, not coalescent, so let's ditch it, The Australian. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/janet-albrechtsen/multiculturalism-has-proven-divisive-not-coalescent-so-lets-ditch-it/news-story/f29ed6f5fa55a20c90972af13e7d8589

Graddol, D. (2004). The future of language. Science & Education, 303, 1329-1331.

Scanlon Foundation. (2016). Multiculturalism discussion paper. Carlton Vic: Scanlon Foundation.

March 2016

Translanguaging’- contextualising the value of a pedagogical principle within education systems experiencing increasing diversity
     by Associate Professor Kathleen Heugh 

 ‘Translanguaging’ is a term that has recently been introduced to an already substantial history and body of work on bilingualism and multilingualism, and the education of bilingual and multilingual students. At UniSA, we use principles of bilingual and multilingual education as these have been practiced in contexts where people experience high levels of linguistic diversity on a daily basis. These principles and practices are ones that are currently included in what is being called ‘translanguaging’ in recent literature. The purpose here is to offer a perspective of translanguaging which contextualises this concept in relation to an ongoing body of work, in relation to how it is being interpreted in the literature, and in relation to how we understand its potential in education more generally.

Cen Williams, first used the term, ' trawsieithu’, in 1994 to refer to how students in Welsh-English bilingual schools alternate their spoken and written use of both languages. This practice was similar to one of a number of different ways in which bilingual education has been practised in South African schools since the late 19th century. More recently, Williams, together with Welsh colleagues, Glyn Lewis, Bryn Jones and Colin Baker use an English translation of this term, ‘translanguaging’, with a focus on the functional use of bilingual expertise and cognitive processes which achieve this. The way they use translanguaging has similarities with the way that ‘functional multilingualism’ has been used in South Africa since 1992. In the context of ongoing research on bilingual education and the multilingual practices of people outside of formal education, socio- and applied linguists, have come to recognise that multilingualism and multilingual practices evolve out of specific contexts, they are multi-dimensional, and multi-scaled. In the South African context, for example, we recognise both the inclusive nature of horizontal multilingualism and the exclusive nature of the vertical multilingualism. By vertical, we understand that certain forms of written language (academic, legal, political, administrative, and economic registers) have been used for instrumental purposes to structure racial and social inequalities. In the context of stark socio-economic, political and racial divides in South Africa, some linguists and educators have been working towards a practice-based theory of multilingualism to eliminate inequalities of access to meaningful education. The focus here is squarely on the student, the student’s linguistic repertoire, and ways to expand this repertoire for horizontal communicative purposes. It is also to ensure equitable access to the gate-keeping language varieties and forms that have been used for exclusion.

Recently, in their recent 2014 volume, Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education, García and Li Wei have re-inscribed the Welsh use of ‘translanguaging’ with new meaning. They claim that translanguaging represents a theoretical break in the body of research and practice of bilingualism and multilingualism and bilingual/multilingual education. Whereas Williams, Lewis, Jones and Baker regard translanguaging as an aspect of bilingual education, García and Li Wei suggest that earlier research and discussions of bilingual education, particularly immersion and two-way immersion programs, and also practices of translation and ‘code-switching’ are deficient. They argue this on the basis that these programs and practices are based on the idea that languages are separate entities rather than linguistic continua. Like several other sociolinguists (Monica Heller in Canada, Sinfree Makoni in the US, and Alistair Pennycook in Australia) they reject the notion of language as fixed and bounded. This view coincides with the horizontal view of multilingualism discussed above. For these scholars, one either accepts the view that language is unbounded or one is locked into the view that language is bounded. They do not acknowledge a third view, one in which language and its use are multidimensional, i.e. with both unbounded (horizontal) and bounded (vertical) dimensions, depending upon context. García and Li Wei, nevertheless admit that they find it difficult to understand how their theorisation of translanguaging can be applied in the classroom. This is because they are unsure of how to reconcile the curricular (gate-keeping) demands for students to read and produce written texts in standardised bounded forms of language within a theory that denies the existence of such language forms.

At UniSA, we have been working with the view that translanguaging, as it has been discussed in the Welsh context, is part of the broader field of bilingual and multilingual education. We understand it as a useful umbrella term that includes code-mixing, code-switching, translation and interpreting. We accept that multilingualism has both horizontal and vertical dimensions and that there are different scales of linguistic exclusion and inclusion across the world. We include translanguaging as a pedagogical process in the teaching of English as an Additional Language mostly to international students and also recently arrived Australians from varied language backgrounds. Our approach is one that is student-centred, reflexive and progressive. In other words, we try to strengthen the approach in dialogue with students and in relation to ongoing diagnostic and reflective tracking of student learning in English, in their home language, and of how they make use of various kinds of translanguaging practices. We are constantly searching for and finding ways to accommodate each student’s linguistic repertoire, so it is a ‘work in progress’. The principles we use draw from our engagement with research and practices that have evolved and are continuing to evolve in the South African, wider African and also South Asian contexts. We also draw from the growing body of literature on translanguaging, in its different iterations in Europe and North America. We also recognise the proximity of linguistic, cultural and epistemic knowledge and expertise, so we search for opportunities to enrich the intercultural and epistemological dimensions of language teaching and learning.

It is in this context, one which recognises a historical journey undertaken by linguists all over the world and the possibilities of collaboration and reciprocity, that we see the potential of translanguaging as a pedagogy of the future. It is part of a quest to contribute towards transformative learning that offers marginalised and vulnerable students the best opportunities for future advancement and participation in the globalised world. Translanguaging also has the potential to offer students from mainstream and more powerful communities the opportunity to expand their capabilities in a world that demands increasing expertise in linguistic, cultural and epistemological diversities.

October 2015

Chat and language learning
     by Dr Enza Tudini

Language learners need opportunities to engage in interaction if they are to become participants in communities of use and develop their capacity to communicate in and through the target language. Given the familiarity and ubiquitousness of social media, L2 learners worldwide have unprecedented opportunities for social interaction and participation using a range of technological tools. While online intercultural interaction may occur informally, language teachers and researchers have also formalized these opportunities by integrating regular social interaction with expert speakers into language programs, especially in countries that are geographically distant from the target language and culture. Given the relative novelty and ongoing development of Web 2.0 social media platforms, research on these online interactions in unique interactional configurations is still in its infancy. Further investigation is required, to “understand and explicate how language is used as it is being acquired through interaction” (Firth &Wagner, 1997, p. 768), and gain insights into affordances for language learning of a variety of technological tools, as features of the technology shape interaction and language learning. Written interaction, whether synchronous or asynchronous, is a prevalent form of social interaction, as Facebook continues to be the leading social media platform globally. 

Apart from being a widespread form of social interaction, especially among young social media users, synchronous online text chat provides a particularly useful vehicle for language learning for the following reasons:

  • it is a form of communication in which participants must communicate in real-time, as occurs in face-to-face talk;
  • it is written, which allows greater opportunities for planning the communication than spoken language interactions;
  • its readability and “visual saliency” promote review of conversation;
  • its multimodality supports meaning-making and contextualisation through emoticons, hyperlinks to photos, films and other online realia;
  • learner access to age-peer native speakers is motivating and promotes intercultural learning;

Chat therefore has the potential to promote both linguistic and intercultural learning. It supports linguistic learning because of the nature of the interaction – written form, visual saliency, real-time interaction with age-peers in another country. When integrated appropriately in language programs, it supports intercultural learning by providing a direct experience of cultural practices between participants from different cultures. This requires recognition of cultural difference, mediation between cultures, identification and resolution of problems and negotiation of meaning through use of the target language.

The use of dyadic (one-to-one) rather than group (multiparty) chat in particular has been found to be conducive to the learning of foreign languages because it provides learners with private and exclusive access to an expert in the target language. It has thus been described as a bridge to conversation because it provides learners with the opportunity to practice and develop conversational language in a less threatening environment than the classroom. Dyadic chat also minimizes turn-taking problems and multiple conversation threads which typify group chat and are likely to interfere with less proficient language learners’ meaning-making and co-construction of conversation. Furthermore, dyadic chat appears to have some advantages over classroom interaction, given that language learners have more opportunities to take turns and hold the floor. This has contributed to the reputation of online chat as an ‘equalizer’, as the teacher or more linguistically competent student do not dominate interaction. The following is an example of a corrective feedback sequence from a recent study, where the interweaving of social and learning behaviours is evident:

Excerpt 4 Piacere and prepositions

NS: ti piace quindi lItalia

‘so you like Italy then’ 

L: Si, mi piace molto! Mi sono piaciuta Verona e Venezia ma non ho passato tanto tempo alle queste citta`. Vorrei vedere Verona e Venezia un'altra volta anche le altre citta` in Italia 

‘Yes, I like it a lot! I liked Verona and Venice but I didn’t spend a lot of time at these cities. I’d like to see Verona and Venice again also the other cities in Italy’

NS: piaciute


NS: in queste città

‘in these cities’

L: ah, si, grazie.

‘oh, yes, thanks’

From Tudini, V. (2013). Form-focused social repertoires in an online language learning partnership. Journal of Pragmatics 50, no. 1: 187-202

The verb piacere is one of the most challenging aspects of Italian and other Romance language grammar which here receives spontaneous attention during written conversation. Yellow highlighting was applied by the language learner after the exchange was completed, probably to enhance and assist in documenting the learning process.

In summary, as well as promoting language learning partnerships and new friendships across the globe, chat is an accessible, naturalistic complement to classroom based interaction which provides students with opportunities for regular target language use and intercultural learning.

 October 2015

Action Now: Classroom ready teachers
     by Associate Professor Angela Scarino

The Australian Government recently released the report prepared by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group on how initial teacher education in Australia could be improved. My interest is in considering the report primarily from the perspective of the initial preparation of teachers of languages. Being focussed on teacher education in general, little attention is directed specifically to teacher education. Recommendation 18 asks ‘higher education providers (to) equip all primary pre-service teachers with at least one subject specialisation prioritising science, maths or a language’. Even though this is a useful lever for change, much more than this recommendation will be needed to create a useful strategy for the initial preparation of teachers of languages. In responding to the report I have raised a number of issues, including the following:

  • There are many issues related to languages in particular which need urgent attention (notably issues such as generic language vs language-specific teacher preparation, the changing overall orientation to the teaching of languages, the complex issue of catering for diverse learner groups, those with or without a home background in the language being learnt, among many more!)
  • The issue of teacher knowledge is under-represented in the report.  By this I mean not only the knowledge of learning areas or the knowledge base for teaching but also what is known as ‘pedagogical content knowledge’, that is, the way in which teachers make knowledge/concepts accessible to diverse learners.
  • Notwithstanding Recommendation 18, mentioned above, the report does not address the issue of specialist areas in the context of primary schools, in Australia, that are essentially structured as generalist learning environments. This structure has a major impact for teachers of languages.
  • There is a notable absence in relation to learner diversity. The report does not capture the crucial area of developing intending teachers’ capabilities to teach in a context of increasing social, linguistic and cultural diversity of students. This is a crucial area because learners’ social, linguistic and cultural profiles mediate their learning, both in terms of how students learn and their success in learning. Teachers need to learn how to work with and engender learning for all in the context of diversity.
  • The report focuses on ‘quality’ as a principle and describes a mechanism for monitoring it (i.e. regulation through a re-constituted AITSL) but it does not offer principles that might represent ‘quality’. What matters is how this notion of ‘quality’ is characterised. In addition, specifically in relation to languages learning, many school principals have indicated that they don’t know what to look for in appraising the teaching of languages in their school. In these circumstances they revert to their own personal experience which is inevitably very different from what is needed in contemporary times. Generalised standards and principles, as proposed in the report, are not sufficient.

It will be important for both teachers and teacher educators of teachers of languages draw attention to issues such as these as the recommendations of this report begin to be addressed.

16 March 2015

Areas of study and research

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