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Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Dr Jorge Knijnik 

“Who says this accent or this way of thinking is the cultivated one?” Paulo Freire’s inspiring words[ii] came back to my thoughts last month, as I was approached by a very kind man just after my Conference paper presentation in Canberra. His accent told me that he was not from an English speaking country. Next to the regular introductory conversation, he went straight to his point and asked: “Do your students pick on you about your accent?” When I smiled, he felt comfortable enough to tell me his experience, which was somewhat similar to my own one: he was a fresh migrant who had come at the end of last year to Australia from a Middle-East country to take up a position as a lecturer in an Australian university. After his first semester, he received the students’ feedback on his course. He said the evaluations were sound; however he was really worried as a few students criticized his “strong accent”.

The Conference was great. In addition to presenting my paper, I had listened to very thought-provoking academic sections, where I had learnt loads of new things within one of my research fields – physical education and sports history. As the Conference was held in different locations along the week, I was able to visit different parts of the Capital city, such as the Australian Institute of Sport and the War Memorial. However, I have no doubt that the most insightful moment during the Conference was my short talk with this extraordinary man. That small conversation has opened my eyes – and my ears – to a definitely central topic in today’s education: the need for those of us involved in teaching and learning to keep our minds open and aware of the role that local cultural identities play in contemporary society and in our lives[iii].

I remember one of my favourite John Le Carre novels, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. In his 1963 acclaimed book, the master of espionage literature tells about a British spy who spends several months in a hidden language school to polish his even now perfect German. As secret agents could not have any accent the secret service expected him to speak as a native German, and he sets about making every effort to refine his already high-level language skills. The time passes by and fifty years later, the same writer tells us a different history: in A Delicate Truth, launched in 2013, John le Carre accounts for a top-secret overseas mission where the protagonist, a British public employee elevated to a secret agent condition, amuses himself by picking up his undercover partners’ nationalities  according to their accents: there are British spies involved in the clandestine operation, but there are also South-African and Welsh spies, Scottish and even Australian secret agents! 

Le Carre has seen the obvious. In the 2013 world, nobody lives inside their bubble anymore. There is a need for everyone to build tools to further communicate with people from different realms and backgrounds. That comprises a more realistic and contemporary approach to language-skills, which includes verbal conversation. The good thing for me is that I have chosen to be an educator, not a spy. Educators, unlike spies, are to enlighten people. They are to open venues for knowledge and understanding. They are to set up fire in their students’ bodies and brains – and bodies and brains travel everywhere in today’s world, including inside schools and classrooms. As has been pointed out by Reid, Collin and Singh in their most recent book[iv], having a teaching degree is currently a passport for an international career: Australia already faces an intensification of international teachers inside its schools, providing us with new exciting challenges for the way we deal with a range of different cultural identities – including the charming new accents that we listen to every day.

Youngsters and grown-ups have the right to use their linguistic configurations. It is undoubtedly important to teach, learn and be fluent in the prevailing form (Freire – cultivated pattern) and at the same time, to be democratic and accepting, to make clear that the way individuals speak can be as beautiful as the form we have come to accept as the cultivated pattern[v].

A few times I have overheard academic colleagues complaining how exhausting lecturing is. I agree: standing in front of 400 students week after week for 2 hours and trying to make your content clear and attractive is a hard and tiring task. Can you imagine doing this in a language that is not your native one? That is why I am appalled when confronted with the following situation: a migrant (like me) making all efforts to talk in a second language, and the listener making zero efforts to understand the one who is speaking – the worst scenario is when someone reacts to you with an unpleasant and arrogant response: “this is not English”.  I always keep calm as I think of Crocodile Dundee walking on New York streets without understanding anyone, and grouching that everyone there had a weird accent!

In my first language, the word “push” (“puxe”) means “pull. There are countless opportunities when I got stuck in front of a door, just pulling it as its written push on that door. Every time I see someone stuck in front of a door, pulling it when she or he should be pushing it, I laugh and say: “There is a Brazilian”. We can’t do anything. It’s just an automatic reaction. Like our accent, this is embedded in ourselves. Of course there is always room for improvement. We always have something to share and to learn – but we learn in the social experience. We learn from other people’s cultural identities. The possibilities of teaching do exist because of the learning generated in rich social experiences – as Freire says, it was learning in the social space that made human beings realize that they could teach. Social experiences include a variety of accents that challenge our listening every time we are provoked by them.

That was my conversation with my immigrant colleague in that Conference. I said to him that we need to learn to have fun with our own mistakes – including linguistic ones. However, our own presence in the lecture theatres will certainly expose our students to different ways of seeing and being in the world, perhaps inspiring them to better appreciate a diverse cultural identity – isn’t that  one of the most valuable lessons that a teacher can aspire to teach?[vi]


 Dr. Jorge Knijnik is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney . He has recently launched, with Miriam Adelman, the book Gender and Equestrian Sport  (by Springer).

[ii] Freire an interesting conversation

[iii] Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity. The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

[iv] Reid, Carol; Collins, Jock; Singh, Michael.  Global Teachers, Australian Perspectives: Goodbye Mr Chips, Hello Ms Banerjee, 2013.

[v] Freire an interesting conversation

[vi] With special thanks to Dr. Jacqui Duarte for providing insightful ideas to this article


Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education.
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Dr Jacqueline D’warte

Last week Bill someone not connected to academia or education asked me what I was researching. I explained that most recently, I had been working with students and teachers in two primary and two high school classrooms and we were studying the way students were reading, writing, talking listening and viewing outside of school and in their homes and wider communities. His response was: “Well if those kids speak another language (other than English) they don’t need any help, they are clever, they are smarter than Australian kids who only speak English, they will learn English really quickly”

I have continued to think about Bill’s comment and the assurance that being bilingual or working towards bilingualism provided obvious cognitive benefits. Unfortunately, evidence from my own research reveals that most bilingual students do not recognize or see the inherent value in the understandings, experiences and practices they possess. This was the case for the 5 classes in which I have recently worked, despite the fact that these students spoke 31 different languages and dialects and engaged in wide ranging multimodal activity. Speaking two languages is clever? Is the incredulous question I received from many students as we discussed how they used language/s in their everyday lives. I guess this is not surprising considering this is not something they talk about in school.

Australia’s significant history and ongoing presence of Indigenous languages is enhanced by the inclusion of people from countries from around the world. In 2011, Australian Census data report that 23.2% of people nationally and 40.1% of people in NSW speak a language other than English. Australians speak over 200 different languages. Ongoing scholarship across disciplines has made us increasingly aware that language is inextricably linked to students’ identities, experiences and most importantly, opportunities to learn. While recent editorial and new research into language learning with bilingual adults continues to provide evidence of the cognitive benefit of bilingualism, our National English literacy testing program (NAPLAN) provides little space for recognizing the linguistic diversity inherent in Australian educational environments.

While language and literacy-based practices are central to all school learning, and how language meets our academic needs is a key focus of English curriculum across school, few opportunities exist to explore the ways students use language every day in their homes and wider community. Recent work (Hull & Schultz, 2002; Lee, 2007; Compton-Lily, 2008; Orellana & Reynolds, 2008; Moje, et al., 2004) suggests that there are increasing connections between home and school language and learning experiences. A dichotomised view of language use at school and home may be a false one and new ways of thinking about variations across contexts are continually emerging.

What was most surprising about this recent work that engaged students in exploring their ‘repertoires of linguistic practice’ (Gumperz, 1964; Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003 Rymes, 2010; Zentella, 1997), was the multilingual nature of the everyday practices of all students both monolingual and bilingual. Monolingual and bilingual students were engaging in wide ranging online activity in multiple languages.  Students were speaking and translating in multiple languages and across modes but also skyping, playing online video games, downloading song lyrics and reading and viewing a wide range of audio-visual programs and texts in multiple languages. It seems that our classrooms are becoming truly global communities of multilingual, multicultural learners, whose linguistic and cultural resources and understandings are for the most part untapped in many classrooms.

Teachers are under enormous pressure to manage an already overloaded school curriculum, and meet ongoing assessment benchmarks, but they see students’ linguistic repertoires in particular as valuable cultural resources and funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) that can be built on in school. Despite teachers’ best intentions, recognizing and building on the language, literacy, and cultural competencies that students develop in their everyday lives in service of classroom learning, can be a vast challenge. This research attempted to consider the broad language resources students already possess as a starting point in studying English.

Engaging students in studying their linguistic repertoires, enabled the students, teachers and me to see the value, complexity and power of everyday language practices. We could draw on them to listen, learn, think, and make meaning; we could build on them to further develop understandings and academic competencies. We moved beyond thinking about bilingualism as the process that only helps students learn and/or improve English.

Evidence from this work suggests students’ emerging awareness of their linguistic dexterity continued to have a powerful influence on achievement, self-efficacy and identity. Identifying and recognizing all students’ full linguistic skills and capabilities, ensures we both utilize a rich learning resource and underpin students’ academic language development with their foundational linguistic knowledge. It may also promote intercultural competencies and offer us new insights and understandings about how the world works. Then like Bill we may all come to realize that being bilingual is truly clever.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Cultural diversity in Australia. Reflecting a nation: Stories from 2011 Census. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features902012-2013

Compton-Lilly, C. (Ed.). (2008). Breaking the silence: Recognizing the social and cultural resources students bring to the classroom. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Gumperz, J. J. (1972). Introduction. In J. J. Gumperz & D. Hymes (Eds.), Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication (pp.1-25). Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Gutiérrez, K. D., & Rogoff, B. (2003). Cultural ways of learning: Individual traits and repertoires of practice. Educational Researcher, 32(5) 19-25.

Hull, G., & Schultz, K. (Eds.) (2002). School’s out! Bridging out-of-school literacies with classroom practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lee, C. D. (2007). Culture, literacy, & learning: Taking bloom in the midst of the whirlwind. New York: Teachers College Press.

Moje, E. B., Ciechanowski, K.M., Kramer, K., Ellis, L., Carrillo, R., & Collazo, T. (2004). “Working towards third space in content area literacy: An examination of everyday funds of knowledge and discourse”. Reading Research Quarterly 39(1) 38-70.

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., and Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classroom. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.

Orellana, M. F., & Reynolds, J. (2008). Cultural modeling: leveraging bilingual skills for school paraphrasing tasks. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(1), 48-65.

Rymes, B. (2010). Classroom discourse analysis: A focus on communicative repertoires. In N. H. Hornberger, & S. L. McKay (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language education (pp. 528–546). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Zentella, A. C. (2005). Building on strength: Language and literacy in Latino families and communities. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dr Jacqueline D’warte is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

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