Tony Gurr

Archive for the ‘Bilingualism’ Category

The Way We WERE ….before “allthingstechnology”

In Bilingualism, Classroom Teaching, Technology on 05/09/2011 at 12:03 pm

OK – bit of fun!

I just had to re-blog this – forwarded to me by my dear friend Suzan!


If you were like me, you probably learned the alphabet like thisthe version I saw was on a slate:

BUT, today…we see this new type of alphabet:

…on bloody i-Pads, no doubt!


I was born in the wrong decade…Ahhh…allthingstechnology!

Waiting for KRASHEN…still!

In Bilingualism, Conferences, ELT and ELL on 18/05/2011 at 2:33 pm

If I get one more bloody e-mail from my so-called “friends” telling me how wonderful Stephen Krashen’s drop-in keynote (in Istanbul last week) was, I’ll ……………

As many of you know, a few weeks ago I did a short post on the “Grand Master of Language Learning and told you all how I would move heaven and earth to be there.

“Work” happened to me – again! I “missed” it…


But, I have friends in “low-places” (with photocopy machines and PDF software) – and they sent me my crib-notes.

So, for those of you like me…here’s a few highlights.

Krashen did manage to highlight his “new theory” – read, be bi-lingual and drink coffee! While I am not quite sure if these recommendations will be as big as “hit” as his earlier work:

  • Natural Order Hypothesis
  • Acquisition/ Learning Hypothesis
  • Monitor Hypothesis
  • Input Hypothesis
  • Affective Filter Hypothesis

Now, if I had come up with just “one” of these…

…he clearly made an “impact” on lots of participants with the first of his “new ELL trinity” – everyone ran home all-geared up to begin new “reading” programmes with their students.



The coffee bit is “easy” – also MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Mmmm, not so sure about being “bi-lingual” – bit more difficult than making a cuppa-java! But at least all our non-native English teachers now recognise that they have something over their less-linguistically-endowed “native colleagues” – time to pay them more!


However, in looking over the notes I found a really interesting reference to the work of Ashley Hastings and HIS “7 Myths” (in an earlier version of this post I actually used “her” – see, this is what happens when you do NOT go to a conference. Ashley, was forgiving and humourous enough to point this out but he also sent me a full set of links to his FOCUS SKILLS page – take a look).

You know me and my love of “conspiracy theories” and “urban myths” but I’d come across some of these before (not in such a comprehensive manner) and wondered how many of them would have the same “impact” as Krashen’s recommendation that we all do more “silent reading” in class (isn’t that how most of us read anyways – how many people out-there actually use “reading aloud” as a classroom technique).

I wanted to list them for you all:

Myth #1: “The four basic language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) must be introduced and taught together.”

Myth #2: “Grammar and vocabulary must be explicitly taught.”

Myth #3: “Instruction must be based on structured textbooks.”

Myth #4: “Teacher talk should be kept to a minimum.”

Myth #5: Reading skills must be explicitly taught.”

Myth #6: “Students’ written errors must be marked, and students must correct them.”

Myth #7: “Students must be required to speak as much as possible.”


Now, I’m not sure if I would agree with all of them (esp. “Myth #7” – speaking is a great way to “co-create” and “learn” language, IMHO).

But, Ashley / Stephen – do you know what you are suggesting here?

No grammar teaching…No textbooks – OMG!


Love you both…when are you coming back?

Think I need another…

When TWO TRIBES go to “war” – Thoughts on the “Digital Divide”.

In Bilingualism, Classroom Teaching, Technology on 11/04/2011 at 1:10 pm

To get the best from today’s post, you really need to play a certain Frankie Goes To Hollywood track in the background, as you read…and there I go showing my “age” again!

But, I would choose an MP4 version – just to show my “big, little girl” that her daddy is “cool”, too!

Marc Prenski first introduced us to the “Digital Native” (and her “older” counterpart – the “Digital Immigrant”) in 2001 – but it is probably Josh Spear’s “born digital” and Ian Jukes’ notion of kids “speaking DFL” (digital-as-a-first-language) that are responsible for much of the current “buzz” about the “digital divide” in education and the potential for “tribal warfare” between the “youth of today” and the “oldies”.

There is more than a word of truth in this divide – how many of you (reading this) have:

  • Read a book this week?
  • Used an iPad to access the web or “Keynote” this week?
  • Sent an e-mail today?
  • Tweeted about “what happenin” in your life today?

I’m sure there would be a different “pattern” in the response curves from kids under the age of 16 – and those of us that are, shall we say, more experienced in “allthingslife”…

It is true that there are differences in the “languages” our two tribes speak – more and more kids are speaking DFL (Digital as a First Language) and we “oldies” (more often than not) still speak DSL (Digital as a Second Language).

This difference accounts for our “accents” and all the “inappropriate collocations” that make our kids “giggle” at us.

But, is it really about “age”?

The problem with the debate on the “two tribes” is that many people have picked up on the “hype” and the sexy words used to describe (or differentiate between) members of the tribes – without doing a lot of thinking about what the concept of the “digital native” means for how we do business in education (in practice).

Zur and Zur (2011) have recently produced one of the most comprehensive descriptions of the differences between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants – this builds on the earlier work of Feeney (2010) and Toledo (2007).

However, the key to understanding these differences is not to think in terms of “kiddies” and “oldies” – but rather in terms of the “relationships”  and “connections” we have to the digital world, in addition to what we value and believe about the place of technology in our lives and work.

Neither “Natives” nor “Immigrants” are created equally – and we can place individuals in both “tribes” along a continuum  that is remarkably similar for both groups:

Contrary to many of the stories we read in the popular press (and “horror stories” shared by parents), there are not that many “addicts” – seriously, just another “myth” to scare us all silly!

Also, there are plenty of Digital Immigrants who are “totally tech-savvy”; and quite a few Digital Natives who are amazingly comfortable using Facebook, Twitter and iPads but are “totally clueless” when it comes to fixing html code on a web page or even managing subscribers on a community blog.

So, why do we even bother talking about the two tribes?

Well, the key point behind this approach relates to the relative size of the communities within each tribe and where they “live” on the continuum – the digital natives have the bigger army of “enthusiasts”, while the digital immigrants have more “reserves” in the “minimalist camp”.

More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that this differential in “military personnel” flags an even more serious problem – for educators and teachers especially. Students and teachers may speak either DFL or DSL – but there is a more fundamental language barrier.

When we look at what students “do” with their digital language, habits and attitudes – we recognise that they are, in fact, bi-lingual.

We see they are also “speaking LFL” (Learning as a First Language):

Teachers, many of whom are “immigrants” themselves, still speak TFL (Teaching as a First Language). In fact, this is the language of choice for educational establishments and the industries/sectors that “circle the skies” above them.

We see this distinction more sharply when we look at how our little digital natives prefer to do the “business of learning” – in both their “virtual” and “real” worlds:

If many teachers reflected on the “learning styles” demonstrated by most LFL speakers (and were honest about how they “do business” in their classrooms), they would probably see something of a mis-match with their own regional variety of TFL.

Like Latin – TFL is not “spoken” by many outside the walls of our school yards and univeritiesand very few digital natives see the value of learning it.

As Zur and Zur note:

The longer immigrants take to understand the natives they parent, teach and manage, the bigger the digital divide will get. Eventually, when immigrants grow older, retire and die off and only natives are left, this will not be an issue. But until then, it is time to do some cultural anthropology and appropriate adjustment.

Now, I’m not sure about you – but I, for one, am not planning on retiring or dying off anytime soon! Perhaps, we all best get our thinking caps on and chew over the type of anthropology we need to do and adjustments we could make to narrow the divide…

“Mother-Tongue-Plus-Two” – Doable in Turkey?

In Bilingualism, ELT and ELL on 08/03/2011 at 6:04 am
This is a bit of a re-post. I got in touch with the guys who look after the Eurobarometer surveys only to learn that the 2010-11 survey has been cancelled – something to do with an economic crisis! 

The good news is that they are just putting the finishing touches to another survey on European language competencies for school children – should be ready by February 2012.

The benefits of knowing more than one language have long been recognised across Europe, even despite the worries about political and economic integration in member states of the EU. The EU developed its “mother-tongue-plus-two strategy” in 2002 – and the European “project” to foster large-scale plurilingualism went mainstream.

The EU does recognise that English has emerged as the most widely spoken language in Europe, but wants to make sure this does not become, over time, a factor limiting linguistic diversity within its frontiers.

The success of this EU initiative is highlighted in the regular Eurobarometer surveys. One of these surveys asks EU citizens (and “candidate countries” such as Turkey) about their beliefs and attitudes towards foreign languages.

In the last of these (in 2006):

  • The vast majority of Europeans (83%) believe that knowing foreign languages is or could be useful for them personally. In fact, over half (53%) of the respondents perceive language skills to be very useful.
  • 9 out of 29 countries covered in the survey indicated that over half of EU Citizens can hold a conversation at least in two foreign languages.
  • 56% of EU citizens are able to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue and 28% state that they master two languages along with their native language.
  • 73% of EU citizens indicate better job opportunities as the main reason for the young to gain knowledge of other languages other than their mother tongue.
  • Practically no one (0.4%) considers that it is not important for young people to acquire language skills.

And, with regards English:

  • English is perceived by Europeans to be by far the most useful language to know (68%). French (25%) and German (22%) follow next (Spanish ranks fourth with 16%).
  • English remains the most widely-spoken foreign language throughout Europe. 38% of EU citizens state that they have sufficient skills in English to have a conversation.
  • 77% of Europeans consider English to be the language that children should learn.

Of course, such survey data can hide considerable variation between countries:

  • 92% of citizens in Luxembourg  report that they can speak at least two languages apart from their native tongue
  • 75% of respondents in the Netherlands report the same
  • 44% of Europeans admit to not knowing any other language than their mother tongue.
  • 67% of Turkish citizens report that they cannot speak another language than Turkish.

Let’s take a closer look at what Turkish citizens said in the same survey.

What do Turkish citizens say? 

From the Eurobarometer survey of 2006:

  • 79% of Turkish citizens agreed with the statement that everyone in the EU should be able to speak one language in addition to their mother tongue
  • 63% agreed with the statement that everyone in the EU should be able to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue
  • 33% are able to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue (this was the lowest of all participating countries)
  • 5% are able to speak at least 2 languages
  • only 1% are able to speak at least 3 languages
  • 95% believe that knowing foreign languages is or could be useful for them personally
  • 72% consider English to be the language that children should learn
  • When asked about the best age to start learning a first language apart from the mother tongue,71% said ages 6 to 12
  • 9% report that they have improved their language skills at primary school

  • 49% agreed with the statement language teaching should be a political priority

The “count” on whether language should be a political priority is not as strong as the result in the last referendum (!) – but it tells us a lot.

A few universities across Turkey have been trying to get their students to learn another foreign language (over and above English) – without much success!

Perhaps, we’d have more success if we started kids off earlier.

Linguists, Neuroscientists and Geneticians – three heads are better than one!

In Bilingualism on 21/02/2011 at 7:56 am

In my last post – The New Orthodoxy and the Rehabilitation of Bilingualism – I said 2004 was a landmark year for language learning professionals and supporters of bilingualism – as well as for experts in Alzheimer’s.

I also mentioned the impact of such work into the neurobiology of bilingualism and other studies into genetic research – and how this helped get bilingual education back on the “what’s-hot-list”!


Perhaps the first ground-breaking study – into brain plasticity and density – that helped Krashen and his pals in California – was conducted by Mechelli and her colleagues at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience (London/Oxford) and the Fondazione Santa Lucia (Rome).

This work demonstrated that knowing a foreign language can actually change the brain’s anatomy by “adding” gray matter. Mechelli et al, using newer brain scanning technologies, produced some of the earliest findings that clearly showed that brain density is changed by being bilingual or highly proficient in a second language – yeah, it’s  true most non-native ELT teachers are smarter!

Although language is thought to be mediated by functional changes in the brain, Mechelli suggested that structure of the human brain is, in fact, also altered by the experience of acquiring a second language. Their work was of great interest to supporters of bilingual education because the study showed that the effect was strongest in people who had learned a second language before the age of 5.

The findings also demonstrated that adult learners could also benefit from similar structural reorganization of the left inferior parietal cortex – what the hell (ineks)? They studied native Italian speakers who had learned English as a second language between ages 2 and 34. Their findings suggested that while it appeared easier to develop fluency and linguistic competence as a child, similar processes occurred in adults.

The findings of Dr Ellen Bialystok and colleagues at York University built on earlier studies that had demonstrated keeping the brain active (through reading, doing crosswords, playing board games, playing musical instruments and dancing) can protect against senile dementia.

However, their research into bilingual speakers showed that language skills also have a “protective effect” on cognitive abilities – not only were bilingual speakers able to respond to cognitive tests faster than those who were fluent in just English, they were also less likely to suffer from the mental decline associated with old age. The suggestion that bilingualism helps to offset age-related losses was a huge shot in the arm for supporters of bilingual education but also encouraged more researchers to investigate the possibility that earlier development of second language may improve cognitive functioning in higher levels of schooling and later life.

The work of Bialystok et al (2004) also demonstrated (through tests that measured how quickly they could perform while distracted) that bilingual speakers from Canada, India and Hong Kong are better able to deal with distractions than are monolingual speakers. Such research suggested that the ability of bilingual speakers (of Cantonese and English, Tamil and English or French and English) to hold two languages in the mind at the same time, without allowing words and grammar from one to slip into the other, accounted for their greater control over task performance and stay focussed.


These studies have led to a range of other research projects into the neurobiology of bilingualism. Although scientists do not yet know the answers to all our questions about the relationships between bilingualism and cognitive development, they are gaining better understandings of how the brain organises speech and communication tasks on a day-to-day basis – yeah, go science-buffs!

Brain-based research is also being supported by advances in our understanding of the genetic web that also underlies human language. Scientists have long puzzled over the origins of the amazing human ability to organise vocal sounds into words and words into meaningful sentences.

Genetic research in the field of speech and language disorders is also providing us with more insights into the genetic basis of the evolution of speech and the biological basis of language problems, in addition to offering potential treatments for speech and communication disorders – many believe it is a matter of time before we discover the “language pill”boo, science-buffs (what about our jobs)?

This work first began with a team of British geneticists looking into the severe language and speech difficulties faced by a unique three-generation family with a rare monogenic condition. Members of family were found to carry a mutation in a gene on chromosome 7 known as FOXP2 (Lai, et al, 2001 and Fisher, et al, 2003) and this discovery marked the first time a single gene had been directly linked to language and speech.

Further research quickly uncovered that Fisher and his teams had not discovered the “gene for language” – FOXP2 is not the gene that makes language happen (yeah, our jobs are safe)!

However, it was shown that genes like FOXP2 are critical in creating a “language-ready brain” – and unequivocally established the importance of genetic factors in the acquisition of speech and language.

More recent studies have shown that mice with a “partly humanised form” of FOXP2 show greater synaptic plasticity than normal mice – and have demonstrated the interconnections with genetic and brain-based studies into language (Kunder, et al, 2009).

A great deal more about language and genes is yet to be discovered but the FOXP2 studies have proved a valuable starting point for pursuing the genetics of that very human talent – language!

Hey, Stuart Little – it belongs to us!

you stay away from our language!


Sevgili İnekler – here you go!

  • Bialystok, E and Martin, M. M. (2004). “Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: evidence from the dimensional change card sort task”. Developmental Science, vol 7(no.03). pp. 325-339 (June 2004).
  • Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control:  Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and Aging, Vol. 19 (no.2). pp. 290-303.
  • Fisher, S.E., Lai, C.S., and Monaco, A.P. (2003). Deciphering the genetic basis of speech and language disorders. Annual Review of Neuroscience. 26. Pp.57-80.
  • Grigorenko, E. L. (2009). Speaking genes or genes for speaking? Deciphering the genetics of speech and language. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2009 Jan; 50(1-2):116-25.
  • Kunder, S. (et al). (2009). A Humanized Version of Foxp2 Affects Cortico-Basal Ganglia Circuits in Mice. Cell. Vol 03 (41).
  • Lai, C.S., Fisher, S.E., Hurst, J.A., Vargha-Khadem., F and Monaco, A.P. (2001). A forkhead-domain gene is mutated in a severe speech and language disorder. Nature. 2001 Oct 4;413(6855):519-23.
  • Mechelli, A., Crinion, J. T., Noppeney, U., O’Doherty, J., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S., and Price, C. J. (2004). Neurolinguistics:  Structural plasticity in the bilingual brain. Nature, 431 (757), 14 October 2004. Published online 13 October 2004
  • Newbury, D. F. and Monaco, A. P. (2010). Genetic advances in the study of speech and language disorders. Neuron. 2010 Oct 21;68(2):309-20.
  • Vernes, S. C., Newbury, D. F., Abrahams, B. S., Winchester, L., Nicod, J., Groszer, M., Alarcón, M., Oliver, P. L., Davies, K. E., Geschwind, D. H., Monaco, A.P. and Fisher, S. E. (2008). A functional genetic link between distinct developmental language disorders.  New England Journal of Medicine. 2008 Nov 27; 359(22):2337-45.

The New Orthodoxy and the Rehabilitation of Bilingualism – in the US (too)!

In Bilingualism, ELT and ELL on 21/02/2011 at 12:39 am


Humans have a unique talent to learn more than one languagefact!

Polyglots outnumber monoglots in the world’s populationfact!


Studies and research findings from a wide variety countries and educational systems suggest that not only is the development of multiple language proficiency possible – it is highly desirable, especially for children.

In an earlier post (What do Turkish citizens say about language learning?) I talked about how Europe is embracing its “mother-tongue-plus-two strategy”. Then, in The “New Orthodoxy” of ELT I suggested that we all think about Graddol’s comment that our world is becoming “bilingual”.

A friend of mine mentioned that the issue of a “bilingual world” didn’t have much to do with what was happening in the EU – he told me that what was happening in the US was far more important and that Americans will fight bilingualism to the “death”.

It’s true – there are some Americans who agree with the oft-quoted “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me!” (a US senator actually said this) or might say “I’ll give you my monolingual English-to-English dictionary, when you take it from my cold, dead hands!


BUT, there are others!

  • Bilingualism is very common in the United States. Census data reports that just over 18 percent of Americans speak a language other than English at home and that three-quarters of these American citizens report that they speak English “well” or “very well”.
  • Some observers note that more and more Americans are welcoming the fact that mono-lingualism in the States is on the decline (Peckham, 2010) and it appears that Americans are finally heeding the advice that “the knowledge of two languages is greater than the sum of its parts”.
  • More and more Americans also recognise that bilingualism has significant economic advantages: bilinguals tend to earn more than monoglots.

To be honest, the issue of bilingualism (or pluralism) in economic life has never faced serious challenges in the US.

The controversy over bilingualism has been most visible in discussions on educational policy, when it becomes wrapped up in wider political and cultural issues – and, many would claim, xenophobia and racism. These tensions are best highlighted by the heated debates that surrounded “Proposition 227” (an anti-bilingual education law in California) in 1998 and the more recent 2009 US Supreme Court decision in the case of Home vs. Flores.

One of the “others” is –  Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California. Krashen has been a key figure in the debates over bilingual education in the US since the late-1970s – and is probably known by every single language teaching professional around the globe. In recent years he has become more radical in his support of bilingual education. He claims his more activist response has been conditioned by the increased hostility to bilingualism in the United States.

Krashen has made laudable and repeated attempts to demystify the political discourse surrounding bilingualism and silence critics of bilingual education. In his writing over the late-90s, he effectively demonstrated that the research used to make the case against bilingualism did, in fact, not prove that it did not work and had made false claims about the numbers of parents who were “against” bilingual education.

However, it was not until researchers looking into the functional plasticity of the human brain and brain density (in 2004) started to release their findings that bilingualism in US education started to make its long-awaited return.

The impact of such work into the neurobiology of bilingualism and other studies into genetic research in the field of speech and language disorders has helped to reignite interest in bilingual education in the US and also increased attention to other educational research that has shown the positive effects of language learning on test scores, intelligence and achievement.

Today, across the States, there is a growing recognition that “foreign languages” are an essential component of the educational experience for all learners and need to be given recognition on the “core curriculum”. Just as is the case in the EU – and most of Asia!

For example, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in the unparalleled success of US schools in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

While it is true that this had a great deal to do with the President’s Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies describing the America’s linguistic incompetence as “scandalous”, it is also a testament to the way “community engagement” (combined with a “communication-oriented curriculum” and student participation in challenging exchange programmes) can make a real difference to the language learning of children – without millions of federal dollars.


P.S: Krashen will be in Istanbul at the Bahçeşehir University Preparatory School 3rd International ELT Conference on May 14th.


P.P.S: A few references to keep all the “ineks” happy (you know who you are)!

Bialystok, E and Hakuta, K. (1994). In Other Words: The science and psychology of second-language acquisition. New York: BasicBooks.

Hakuta, K. (1986). Mirror of Language: The debate on bilingualism. New York: Basic Books.

Krashen, S. D. (1996). Under Attack: The Case Against Bilingual Education. Culver City: Language Education Associates.

Krashen, S. D. (1999). Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments against Bilingual Education. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press

Krashen, S. D. (2010). Keep Your Brain Young: Read, Be Bilingual, Drink Coffee. Language Magazine (October, 2010).

Peckham, R. D. (2010). Getting Down to the Core with Foreign Language Advocacy. Language Association Journal, Vol 61 (02), 2010.

Tucker, G. R. (1999). A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. ERIC Digest (EDO-FL-99-04). August, 1999.