Guest post: Teaching our Languages #TeachingOurLanguages (by Graham Noble)

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 9.39.52 PMGraham Noble is a Grade 4-6 ESL teacher at Delia School of Canada but will be starting an English-Humanities position at Han Academy, Hong Kong, in the fall of 2019. Graham completed an MA in International Education from the University of Bath. He writes about language, literacy, teaching and bilingualism on his blog. You can follow him on Twitter @grahamwnoble.

I want to thank Adam for this opportunity to share about a project I started recently where I have invited ELLs (English Language Learners) and other multilingual elementary students around the world to teach phrases of their first languages using Flipgrid. I’ll explain how it works further down, but first I want to share a little about the rationale behind the project.

Why?

Language is perhaps not a technology in a traditional sense. However, the way it sets us apart from animals is significant. And other more clearly invention-like technologies, such as writing, the printing press, and even the internet, were built on the foundation laid by language.

More than 6000 languages are used on Earth. Almost all children can pick up the spoken or signed languages of their communities with full fluency. And once language is acquired in early childhood, we continue to use it almost instinctively for the rest of our lives, barely aware of how we hear words and put together sentences. This awesomeness and strangeness of language are often taken for granted.

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In most international schools, the language of instruction is English. This is largely because English is the most convenient language in terms of its global access. While many, if not most of the world are either multilingual or able to speak several dialects, Anglophones (English speakers) are notoriously poor at learning other languages. However, this is mostly a consequence of not needing to. A variation on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” line of thinking. If I don’t need to learn, I won’t. But this is changing. English is no longer the normal, but an important normal.

The majority of students in international schools, and many of the students in urban public education school systems in the Anglo West, are learning English as an additional language. Many of them have the foundation for bilingualism, but sadly many lose this in the pursuit of English. And yet bilingualism, all shades and grades of it, is the common experience of the majority of people. This is the norm we should aspire to for everyone.

We operate according to our paradigms. And I’m passionate about changing the paradigm that English is the language of international education. To change the script from English, and a certain kind of English at that, being the normal to one where English is seen as important, useful, and empowering, but just one language of many. This project is an outgrowth of this desire.

The power of Flipgrid

I love Flipgrid. It’s one of the few technologies that has only been possible within the last number of years. With its inherent social, language, and formative assessment elements, Flipgrid has application across all content areas in the classroom. To find out more, revisit Adam’s blog post on this.

Flipgrid is already connecting students with each other and their teachers using video recording technology and the power of a shared language. How much more could it unite students from around the world? And if Flipgrid could harness the power of technology, why could it not also harness the power of the global lingua franca English while giving voice to the hundreds and thousands of languages spoken by children the world over?

How Teaching our Languages works

Teaching our Languages gets English Language Learners and other multilingual students to record short phrases of their first languages. The languages are organized according to the grid and titled according to the phrase being taught. Students can then create reply videos trying to say the phrases that were being taught.

Below are the steps to take to get you and your students involved.

Step 1: Request a login

In order to provide a little privacy and protection to this Flipgrid, elementary teachers will need to request a login to be used on the Teaching our Languages Flipgrid, which can be found at this address: www.flipgrid.com/teachingourlanguages. You can message me on Twitter @grahamwnoble or send a request via the form at the bottom of www.teachingourlanguages.org.

Step 2: Browse the languages

Once you have the password, you can browse the grid and then share the password with your students. There are a number of grids already created. If you have a student that speaks a language that you don’t see listed, message me, and I’ll add it. In the meantime, your student can place the recording in the “Unlisted Languages” grid.

Step 3: Prepping and then recording a language

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After your students have viewed a few videos on the grid, they’ll get a sense of what makes an effective language teaching video. They should make their video between 90 and 120 seconds long and consider the following:

  • Include a language teacher introduction: Hi my name is (first name) and today I will teach you how to say ______ in ______.”
  • Videos should include papers with the phrase being taught written out in English letters. If there is no written script for that language, ask the students to figure it out using their own spelling. Non-Latin script languages can be included, but they should also include English letters.
  • A video can be recorded in Flipgrid, or it can be uploaded as a file. Some of my keener students edited their language lessons.
  • After a video has been recorded and/or uploaded, the student should title the video with the phrase being taught.

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Step 4: Learning other language phrases and recording a response

After the videos have been uploaded, get your students to learn some phrases of other languages and record their learning in a reply video.

100 languages

There are several goals to this project. The first is to celebrate the wonderful ability that many of our students have: the ability to speak more than one language. The second is for students and teachers to experience how varied and wonderful such a core part of our human experience is. Finally, it’s to bring together two powerful phenomena: language and technology, in a meaningful way that elevates our humanity.

When I started, I thought 50 languages would be a fairly challenging goal. But I now think that 100 is a better one. We’ll see where the project goes after 100, but I am prepared to work hard to help us meet that goal of 100 languages and dialects. After all, there are more than 6000 languages spoken on Earth! Many, unfortunately, are at the ends of their lives, with no young people able to continue them. How much more urgent does this project seem with the knowledge that parts of human experience are flickering out each year!

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Let’s do it!

How amazing would it be to have students teaching languages as diverse as Tok Piksin, Chovash, Xhosa, Quechuan, Navajo, Pitjantjatjara alongside Arabic, Spanish, Putonghua, and French, all giving voice to our voices!

Join Teaching our Languages!

Get your students to contribute by teaching phrases of their first languages, or through participating as language learners. Spread the word using the Twitter hashtag #teachingourlanguages and through sharing the website. Offer your feedback to me on Twitter @grahamwnoble or via the form at the end of www.teachingourlanguages.org.

Thank you, Adam, once again, for helping promote this project. And thank you to everyone who has shown an interest or already contributed.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Graham,

    This is a great project and I’m very happy that you wrote about it on my blog. I will get our students onto it next week. 100 languages will be tough, but definitely achievable! I hope that my platform helps.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write this!

    Adam

    1. Thanks for your support, Adam, really. 100 languages is purposefully ambitious, but there are so many languages out there and technology really has made the world more accessible. So the goal should be within our grasp.

      I was just speaking with a person in South Africa wanting one of South Africa’s original languages, Khoekhoe, to be a part of the project. Another person in Canada wants a newly named language called Wolastoqey to be a part as well. And there is a Tok Piksin speaker who is currently working in Indonesia that has also expressed interest. This in addition to a number of other teachers from around the world.

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