Use of Language (reading journal)

This morning I began re-reading a book that I read part way through last summer.  It is a book published in the UK about British schools titled, “Use of Language across the Primary Curriculum.”  It it edited by Eve Bearne, but has various authors.  As I read articles/chapters in the book, I’ll note who the authors are.

I bought the book because I am interested in using Language in other subject matter, and in interdisciplinary coursework.  The book offers a different perspective to my own, it being British, and me being American.  Oddly a friend to whom I showed the book, and another I bought which was published in Australia said, “It is amazing how different the American system of Education is even to the British.”
Apparently Education all over the world has changed since we were both in Elementary School.
Anyway, the introduction is enlightening and it gives me the idea that the blessing and curse of Political Correctness has infected British Education as well as American.  The authors go on about the National Curriculum dictating proper usage of Grammar, and how one should not “[suggest] that a child’s own language– and so, by implication the child herself or himself– is intellectually or socially deficient.”(p. 5)
There are so many politically correct aspects to that one sentence that I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes, although the statement itself is correct.  One should not say that children shouldn’t express themselves any way they like, but stringing jargon and acronyms onto the analysis which says that seems a bit over the top to me.
I say the part about acronyms because apparently not only do we have EFL (Engilsh as a Foreign Language) and ESL (English as a Second Language) but additionally and I will give them, probably more accurately since many children learning two languages also learn another simultaneously in our global village, EAL (English as an Additional Language).
The distinctions are very thin between each of them, though they _do_ exist.  EFL is taught in non-English-speaking countries, because English is taught as much as a cultural envoy as a means to survival.  ESL and one supposes EAL are taught in English-speaking countries to help children learn to speak in the common language instead of their “home language.”  The authors apply the term “home language” not only to Bengali or Spanish, but to the non-standard dialects and accents that children may use at home and out of which children may transfer into when they “…take on the role of a weather forcaster or news reader…”(p. 5 again)
Although I get the impression that the authors will be too gentle/politically correct, I like the general direction in which the book is going.  They talk about the constructive nature of language as contrasted with the probatory version, in other words using language to meet three goals:

* children learning to use language;
* children using language to learn;
* children learning about language.  (p. 3)

That is, they think of language use in the classroom to prove knowledge of but also to construct thought patterns.  They say, “If the new emphasis on use of language is to feed vigorous growth, then it needs to offer the fullest understanding of what kind of environment and nourishment will best support healthy development.”( pp. 3-4)  In other words creating a classroom culture where thought is grown, not just fed.

One way which they enunciate very clearly, the most clearly I’ve heard it expressed, is by valuing the strengths of bilingualism:

If a child is learning two languages simultaneously, or even learning a second language during the early years, the cognitive patterning is similar; the repeated experience of matching an already known word or expression to one in another language sets up a mental framework for other kinds of matching– the kind of analogical thinking which helps the development of mathematics, for example.  It can also lead to the ability reflect more analytically on language.  (p. 6)

This was an idea we talked about in the training sessions for the Language Assistant Teachers in Madrid.  They talked about how there are a few models for brain development, and one of the most prevalent and perhaps wrong ones is that one’s brain can only hold so much information at once, and therefore one mustn’t clog it with more than one language until it is developed enough to analyze the grammar and play point to point matching games.  The argument presented in this book, and to us as Bilingual teachers was the opposite, that teaching analogous systems of thought (languages) at the same time will expand the ability to form other kinds of parallel thought.
I tend to think that the latter system is true.  From my own experience learning a third language after mastering two, the study of grammar and the naturalization of fluency have helped me understand and assimilate French much more quickly than I did Spanish.  It does raise the question if the same thing holds true for unrelated languages, like Asian languages which are of no relation to English whatsoever.
But going back hundreds of years, Greek and Latin have been taught in British schools not only because they are Classical, but because children will better understand logic by learning a complex and related grammar.
Another point which the authors made in the Introduction, which to me is very important, is that, “New technologies offer new possibilities to evaluate learning– both for teachers and learners.”  (pp. 6-7)
Given my own forays into the use of multimedia in my smaller classes, and using art and computers directly in the Bilingual School where I taught, this statement makes me think that the rest of the book will probably touch on issues central to my own interests in Education.
(Citation for the book:  Bearne, Eve (editor); Use of Language across the Primary Curriculum; 1998; Routledge, London.)
(Will cite individual authors as I read and discuss the chapters.)

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