The Truth About Arabic

There’s no doubt that the people from the Middle East are very proud people. They are proud of their country, of their history and of their language. Except when speaking English… many of those I speak to wish to lose all traces of the  markers that identify them as being from the region. But that’s a story for another time. Today we talk about Arabic itself. What are the differences between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and the colloquial or vernacular varieties? Which is intrinsically the best Arabic to learn? The answer seems to be…. all of them! No matter which country the person comes from that I speak with. Whenever I tell them that I have an interest in Arabic and wish to study it in the future, they all tell me to learn their variety of Arabic; whether it is Saudi Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Jordanian Arabic, Lebanese Arabic… or take your pick from any of the Gulf states. And why should I learn X variety? Well, because, as I’m reliably informed (irrespective of where that speaker comes from)… X Arabic is the closest to MSA. It’s amazing right… so many different varieties that are reported to be somewhat unintelligible to one another, and yet, they all the closest to MSA. My question to you… as a learner of Arabic, and not as an L1 speaker of Arabic… which Arabic vernacular is actually the most practical for the learner to attempt to acquire, keeping in mind that the vast majority of Arabic materials reflect MSA and not the...

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Bilingual Children and Literacy

As a follow-up to the Multilingual Children post a while back, this is a question we’ve been pondering lately… How do you develop and maintain literacy in the home language without formal instruction? The obvious way as we are both teachers is to actively teach our son how to write and give him written tasks as he progresses… but that’s unrealistic. The last thing we want to do is have Leon resenting English when we’re in Korea (where English will be the home language). Sure, he’ll be exposed to English in the education system or should we choose, a private institute… but since his English level is likely to be higher than his peers, that’s also kind of unrealistic. We have no issues when it comes to taking care of the other skills – listening, speaking and reading – and their development as to take care of them is obvious. Read and talk, just like any parent does. Meta-linguistic transfer should take place to assist with reading skills across the board. The only concern is the writing as it’s a different alphabet, and a direct transfer cannot take place. So our dilemna is purely related to English writing skills that are going to be comparable to his development in the community language, or Korean. I’ll be interested to hear from others that have been raised bilingually (or are raising kids bilingually) and have successfully developed written literacy in their home...

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Which Pronunciation?

I’m sure as language teachers that this thought goes through our head a fair bit. It’s not a difficult decision for most languages since there is the standard. And yes, while there are varying dialects and accents, there is typically the one golden standard that we can revert to. Let our students fall back on if they want to work their new tongue in a familiar and intelligible style. The problem here is that English doesn’t have this golden standard. There are just too many standards to count. The powerhouses are British English (BE) and General American English (GAE), with some others gaining popularity and credibility – Canadian English, Australian English, Irish English, and so on. On top of these we also have the concept of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) that has some momentum thanks to linguists. I believe that in the international community with international communication being the main objective that ELF is a fantastic notion, but there are still problems with it in design and implementation. Basically, ELF looks at removing those phonological features that if omitted don’t hamper intelligibility. Great right? Well, here’s the catch… do the students really want to learn this reduced variety of English? In a recent study I conducted (with Koreans as my focus group), I tried to find out from a sample of learners just what they wanted… The result? Overwhelmingly GAE for pronunciation. Next challenge… ‘Native’ models of English are supposedly difficult to understand… hence ELF being a notion of importance. However, what happened in this study? GAE was found to be the most intelligible to this sample as well. So.. a unanimous decision from my Korean sample. Irish English was the biggest surprise for me since it received quite high ratings for pronunciation desirability. Intelligibility was on par with BE and Korean English, which wasn’t so bad considering the majority of participants informed me that it was a totally unfamiliar sound to them. Something they had not heard before (or too often). But this poses the question… Since GAE is what is most familiar to English learners in Korea, then did it only return the number one position due to this familiarity? If given more exposure, will Irish English be the global standard of...

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Multilingual Children
Oct02

Multilingual Children

As Nayoung and I have just had our first baby boy – Leon Jaewoo – I may as well do a write up on multilingual children and the common methods surrounding the raising of them. Obviously, we would love for our boy to grow up as a coordinate bilingual of English and Korean… but how are we going to do it? The most popular way parents achieve this goal is either the one parent, one language (OPOL) policy or the minority language at home (MH@H) policy. OPOL was our initial plan… but even a week into it, it’s pretty difficult to maintain. We code-switch a lot in our relationship and this is likely to transfer over to our parenting. On top of this, our situation is a little twisted in the sense that we are only likely to be in Australia for another 10 months or so before returning to Korea…. where our OPOL attempts may needs to switch to ML@H – minority language in that instance being English. To lessen the impact of drastic switching between OPOL and ML@H we are considering situational languages to incorporate our code-switching… Think of our overall approach as an inverted ML@H at the moment; meaning, we speak English at home (inverted minority since we are in Australia) and Korean outside of the home as this will replicate the circumstances one we return to Korea next year. The complications with this are possibly that when he realises we both speak both languages, he may take the easier route and reject English as Korean will be the majority language at the time…. Which brings up back to OPOL. At the end of the day, I doubt there is too much to worry about… Leon will work out what is going on in due course… And we will work out what is going on at about the same time 😉 If anyone has any ideas or experience raising a child with more than one language… please drop a comment letting us know how it went! Methods for raising multilingual children One Parent, One Language As the name suggests, one parent speaks one language, the other parent speaks another. This is sometimes called “One Person, One Language”, which allows you to utilise au pairs, etc. Basically, if mum speaks English, then dad speaks Spanish… and this is the way it stays. The child becomes aware that they must use a certain language with a certain person. Minority Language At Home This is where the home language is not the community language and is very common with immigrants. For instance, an Polish family in England would speak...

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Pronunciation Models

What are the aims in the classroom when we teach pronunciation? Or more importantly, what should the aims be? Many a school policy is designed to teach the “native” model of pronunciation, but is this a realistic notion? Not only does research suggest that the so-called “native” models of English are amongst the least intelligible but the model itself is often unattainable. English itself has so many varieties around the globe that there is no one standard and that’s one of the reasons why the “native” model is typically unattainable. We have people from parts of USA that have difficulties communicating with people from parts of England… They are both L1 speakers and use a “native” model, but in an international setting it’s just unrealistic. There has been a push in recent years toward English as a Lingua Franca [ELF] (and English as an International Language [EIL]) where certain phonological features have been deemed redundant for successful communication. If this is the new thing and it actually assists communication as well as offering an attainable model of pronunciation for students, then why isn’t it being promoted in the ELT world more aggressively? There are a few possible reasons for this… Perhaps the biggest of these being the ELT industry itself would implode if the English “native” became redundant. Imagine the chaos if the acceptable model of pronunciation was a “non-native” variety. There would be a total uproar… I mean, afterall… which English is dominant? L2 speakers of English already outnumber L1 speakers by quite a way… But seriously, aren’t we as teachers supposed to be helping our students to communicate effectively? And if ELF is the way to do this, why isn’t it gaining recognition in the larger markets of North-East Asia (Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan)? …Are the institutions to blame? Is it we teachers? …And what do students really want – a “native” accent or communicative...

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