The term ‘language ability’ encompasses the communication skills of an individual, the spoken and written expression he or she has achieved from their primary transmission in the home and from the secondary transmission of the school. It subsumes commonly understood words such as fluency, accuracy and proficiency and links them to social settings in which an individual interacts with the wider world.
“Linguistic proficiency” in its most narrow sense refers to the ability of an individual to speak or perform in an acquired language, essentially to speak, read and write. However, among educators there is little consistency of view as to what constitutes language performance, nor how to account for variations in performance. Parents, family and community all contribute to fostering the communicative capability of infants, and with teachers they continue to enhance the language abilities of the young as they are inculcated into citizenship. This is a rite of passage that in many parts of the world is marked by changes in language knowledge, usage and ability.
Different national traditions and civilizations value and classify language behaviors in time-honored and culturally specific ways.
As underlined in the UNESCO Resolution 30/C Res 12, the ability to speak one’s mother tongue fluently and with full literacy, combined with proficiency in additional languages, are becoming essential skills in a globalising world. Although language is essential to communication, it is also a repository of cultural memory and human experience, and the key tool for intercultural exchange, which is ever more crucial to fostering a fair world.
Over the past three decades there has been a growing world-wide appreciation of the intimate connections between human ability in language and sustainable management and custodianship of our natural, human and civilizational resources.
This Conference aims to highlight the significance of language ability and its contributions to intercultural understanding and sustainable human development. This implies acknowledging and celebrating the plurality of traditions and practices of human linguistic ability, and supporting policy efforts which link language education and diversity to sustainable models of economic and environmental growth.
At a time of continuing degradation of the human natural environment, and continuing conflict and poverty the ideal of an interacting, collaborative, linguistically sophisticated human community is one of the greatest ambitions that can be aspired to. We can all imagine such a future, however, to construct it in reality we must draw on the unique contribution of educators, who extend the nurturing and basic education first undertaken by a child’s closest caregivers. Increasingly, it is recognized that a child’s induction into the immediate family is a passage of language as much as it is a physiological development. The professional educator is said to stand in loco parentis, in the place of the parent, as teachers refine the educational work of parents from earliest infancy to introduce literate language and support the inherited traditions of writing and codified knowledge of each society. Literate language, in its primary forms of reading what others have written, and composing original writing, become central objectives of schooling. All societies share in similar practices of transfer, home to school, school to the world of higher education, or work, and ultimately to full citizenship, the only social role all adults in the world share.
The project of human survival is dependent on shared communication across cultures and nation-states as never before, and an appreciation of the crucial role of language educators. Ecological sustainability and equitable economic growth to lift the millions who are mired in poverty are interdependent aims of social progress and both require improved communication and greater language learning.
Language education is also crucial to engage communities in dialogue to resolve conflict. We can promote this by developing future citizens that are open to of the challenges of travel, interaction, engagement and action in a world built on a multiplicity of traditions. We can envision that future citizens will have native level fluency of their mother tongue, proficiency in at least one second language and conversational capability in another language and that their language learning will connect to attitudes as responsible and aware citizens committed to sustainable human development.
Language ability is therefore the fundamental capability of humans that affords communication, innovation, shared community and collaboration. Language skills connect contemporary life to the concepts and lives of past generations, since no living person invents the words that they use, the language structures that are available to them for communication, nor the grammar and literature of their language. Children learn language through messages about here and now activity, but these practical meanings have deeper and wider ramifications as they enter the long flow of generations which have used their language before them. In this subtle process, connections of culture and civilisation are made possible by the practical processes of talking at home, education and schooling. Future prospects for development depend on how policy makers, researchers, and citizens guide the process of literate and spoken ability towards peaceful, multicultural and sustainable futures.
The Conference will discuss effective means and new approaches to enhancing language ability that satisfy the requirements of sustainable development and the ever changing learning needs of learners.
• How is knowing more than one language linked to the more connected world of tomorrow?
• How can the language landscape of this future world also strengthen and maintain the inestimable richness of all of humanity’s languages?
• What are the current understandings of the complexity of language ability?
• What is research telling us about multiple language skill, age of acquisition and sequence of learning across languages?
• How can we expand and widen the languages offered in the curriculum?
• What are examples of positive policy promoting multilingualism?
• What are critical and analytical perspectives affecting language-in-education policies?
• What are the new technologies that best foster enhanced and multiple language abilities?
• What are the thresholds of mother tongue language that foster improved second and third language learning?
• What are the most favourable socio-political landscapes for spreading language abilities across human societies?
• Who is the current state of the art regarding language acquisition in relation to cognitive, mental and also socio-cultural dimensions?
Recent decades have witnessed an explosion of new insights, research, technological innovation, and change from diverse sources. While every child successfully acquires his or her mother tongue it has long been evident that many children and adults who attempt to learn additional languages either abandon their efforts before achieving fluency or settle for lower levels of ability than their aspirations.
Language educators have long expressed dissatisfaction with conventional practices of language teaching, aware that students, governments and employers have expected and desired higher and deeper levels of proficiency and more culturally sophisticated knowledge.
Major innovations in language education concern time, purpose, content, technology, identity and methods.
It seems that the field of language education may have underestimated the amount of time required to become proficient in second languages. The many thousands of hours directed at the single child learning his or her mother tongue are greatly reduced in the school when the child is one among many and the teacher is no longer the intimate care giver but a busy professional. In school, the purpose of language learning is not always as clear and self-evident to the learner as the functional need to know his or her mother tongue.
The purposes for the study of languages have diversified greatly. The vast growth of multicultural societies and international exchanges all over the world means that the maintenance of heritage languages has become a major focus of language education. Traditional foreign language teaching has been addressing questions of what is ‘foreign’ in languages when through technology and travel learners can know in advance and on their computer screens and smart phones about a country, city, culture or people physically far away. These shrinking world dimensions mean that young people can interact with people very different from themselves, living far away in synchronous time. Innovation in curriculum design and in how culture is taught and represented in schooling is a direct consequence of this ability of learners to be independent of teacher, textbook, parent and school.
The content of language education is also changing. Increasingly forms of immersion, bilingual and content-based instruction are taking the place of programs designed to focus on language skills. Teaching languages through content requires new learning from teachers, collaboration between language and content area specialists, more integrated schools and syllabi, new kinds of text books and activities, research into the language demands of diverse subject areas and new kinds of assessment to evaluate what is learned of language when language itself is not the primary or sole goal of study.
A key field of innovation involves the changing role of teachers and teaching. Increasingly teachers are being transformed into the managers of diverse learning experiences of students under their care. Instead of being the sole source of target language input to the student, teachers manage, encourage, facilitate and foster multiple kinds of language input to students and advise and develop on input and interactions learners have independently of teachers. The evolving role of teachers is a crucial aspect of language education transformation and innovation in the immediate future.
All these areas of innovation are facilitated and supported by the diverse new technologies that permit horizontal connections between learners and their age peers, unmediated by teachers or parents.
The new classrooms are portable, instantaneous, ubiquitous and participatory. They require new kinds of literacy to operate and new modes of fusing previously discrete skills, linking the traditional forms of sign and sound, symbol and image, with video and moving image, music, hypertext linking, different kinds of scrolling and trajectories through texts and many other kinds of change. Yet these changes, dramatic and wide-ranging though they are, remain the preserve of some. How can they be democratised to ensure that all can benefit from what is available today?
Traditional foreign language curricula often assumed that learners were located far from the speakers of the languages they studied, both physically and culturally, and that interaction between them would be infrequent, brief and intermittent. All these classical assumptions have been overturned by technological innovation and the vast migration of peoples that have transformed practically most societies into multicultural settings. The identities of learners and of teachers are also modified in these deep transformations. Increasingly important in language education innovation is the idea of the multiple identities of learners, and how these can accommodate cultural diversity, linguistic pluralism and practical differences.
Innovation is also occurring in various means of transnational study of languages in which peers tutor each other and negotiate, exchange, compare and construct new cultural identities.
Language education is a field of pendulums swinging, occasionally towards new methods, and occasionally away from a focus on methods. Innovation in language education has oscillated from a focus on the individual learner to their social world. The individual focus has addressed learner’s psychological processes in language acquisition. The social turn in language learning has focused on the socio-cultural environment surrounding the learner, the target language, the first language, and the need to learn language. Brain-based research incorporates new insights into the location and functioning of bilingualism in the brain and its processes, how language acquisition proceeds, how bilingualism is forged and how language abilities function. Other innovations concern new understandings of what teacher language input to learners is most productive. Should it be exclusively in the target language? Is code-switching permissible? Is “translanguaging” a productive new innovation? Should teacher talk focus on form, on content, on meaning, on messages?
The explosion of social media and other technologies of communication has changed forever what is possible in language education, and the channels and networks of communication through which these happen. Satellite based communications mean that in even the poorest places on earth, far from fixed line telephones, mobile connections will permit leap-frogging of technology and innovation in all learning, including language education, will be possible everywhere.
The practical and world-wide need for good quality language education is growing ever stronger. A key objective of the conference will be to reflect on, exchange and debate creative and innovative ways of improving the outcomes of language education in a range of languages relevant for 21st century life and citizens. As the central platform in the entire cognitive structure of an individual mind, a curriculum and the entire educational enterprise, language education is foundational to both immediate acquisition of knowledge and undergirds the prospects of successful lifelong learning.
A key challenge is to develop creative and innovative ways of providing good quality language education so that it continuously responds to the needs of learners and remains relevant in our changing world. The Conference will provide an opportunity to discuss new trends and share innovative approaches in language education. It will examine effective pedagogical approaches used by educators in language teaching and explore new pedagogies for quality education. The conference will also provide an opportunity to share new policy developments and innovative practices related to multilingual education.
Some questions about innovation in language
• What are the most promising innovations in language education?
• How can the latest innovations in language education be connected efficiently to curriculum planners, text book writers, and teachers?
• How can parents be best informed of new and promising methods and practices in language education.
• What are the specific properties of different kinds of synchronous and a-synchonous technologies in language education?
• What are key directions in research on language innovation?
• What are the main conclusions of research on large scale system wide innovation?
• What can individual schools and teachers gain from the innovation literature and experience?
• What are the implications for the future role of teachers as managers of the learning experiences of students?
• How can national governments and other systems of education foster large scale adoption of promising innovations in language education?
• What are the most effective means for producing greater rates of success in language learning?What are the implications for teacher education, in service and pre-service, of the technological and other changes that are transforming the communication experiences of young people today?
One of the most important rationales for improved and extended language study is the promise it holds for improved international exchange and employment opportunities. The process itself of language learning encourages the learner to see the world differently, adopting perspectives, interpretations and understanding experiences of cultural and national traditions different from their own.
International exchange has long motivated language study, and cultural content in language learning has a complex and ancient history involved in language. If languages did not code and transmit different human cultures the world might long ago have adopted a single language of global communication. However, individual languages do represent the national, cultural and historical experiences of diverse groups and hence are unique and irreplaceable storehouses of the diversity of the world’s population.
Exchange implies that learners immerse themselves in new and different contexts to gain access to such differences, to compare and contrast these with their naturalised practices and experiences gained from their mother tongue. The decline of human language diversity and the extinction of languages show that language loss is concentrated in particular language families, and in particular geographic zones. These represent therefore a loss of difference.
The great hope of global citizens and educators since time immemorial has been that universal language study would foster ideals of global citizenship, respectful cultural exchange, international life-long friendship and collaborations forged in the joint activity of mutual exploration of differences and similarities across cultures.
During the 19th century many innovators sensed that a global age was arriving and sought to prepare for the emergence of a new integrated world society. They invented languages intended to foster a more equal communication system for the globe. Most famous of the hundreds of such schemes is Esperanto, still spoken and used by several million people today. However, the emphasis on global communication, international exchange and collaboration, has shifted away from the idea of producing a neutral single global invented language, towards the universal study of multiple languages.
Learning a new language can facilitate entry into a new culture, a way of being and knowing the world. It can open new doors to the future and facilitates understanding between individuals and societies. Languages are important tools for communication between individuals, groups and nations. Advancing language ability and enhancing cultural exchanges jointly support the foundations of intercultural understanding and sustainable human development. A new form of humanism is needed to operate in a global context which is both competitive and interdependent. Educators across the world must recognize their new role as promoters of intercultural communication and understanding, with language ability as a key element of this.
Greater collaboration and exchange of information, good practices and knowledge of innovative approaches to language education are key to enhancing the quality of language education. Building on existing good practices in language education and language translation abilities, this seminar will discuss how to further promote international cooperation in this area amongst concerned stakeholders across the different regions. It is also important to discuss the global communication arrangements of today’s world and to see where it is possible to harness efforts towards and more conscious effort of universal language study.
International exchange is conducted by official organs of governments, and by private agencies and takes many forms, at different ages, and for different durations. Can these systems be coordinated and expanded so that exchange becomes a normal and expected part of the education experience of young people?
• What are the most promising exchange schemes in language education?
• How can long term collaborations be best fostered in school and post-school international exchange?
• What is the role of short term exchanges and do these accelerate language acquisition?
• What are the best-practice models of language learning that encourage productive international collaboration?
• Is there a case for a universal language body to foster and guard the languages of the world, and to encourage language study, such as a Global Language Council?
• What would such a body do?
• How would it be constituted and managed?
• Could such a body document global language resources and encourage collective action to preserve the rich variety of the intangible heritage of humanity?
• What can individual schools and teachers contribute to wider national schemes of exchange and collaboration?
• Are all parts of the world well represented in exchange and collaboration schemes?
• What is the evidence base for the most effective and durable outcomes from exchange programs?