I have chosen to focus on a project I am currently involved with. The target group are Somali refugees. The project is an English Language group, for English learners who are undergoing an intense, fulltime course of English language study.
Bilingualism and bilingual education seem to go together with IP, in that many bilingual people report thinking differently when they use the TL compared to the L1 (Baker 2006).
The language group will be made up of learners of all ages, none of whom spoke English before arriving in Australia. As such, the largest group will be late bilinguals, learning during adolescence or later, followed by early sequential learners, in early childhood. It is also possible that some simultaneous learners will be present, who are learning both Somali or Arabic and English at the same time (although this is uncertain at this stage).
In the past, the main focus of research was on the person and the product, trying to prove that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals (Baker 2006). In more recent times, the focus of research has been on the process of achieving bilingualism. In particular, researchers have studied the metalinguistic awareness of bilingual children (Baker 2006).
Metalinguistic awareness refers to thinking about and reflecting upon the nature and functions of language (Baker 2006). We feel we can apply these principles particularly to the older learners, who have already learnt a language structure, so do not need to relearn that aspect of language.
We also expect that some parents will wish for their children to learn the parent’s native language, as well as English, similar to the mothers teaching their children Luxembourgish in Kirsch’s (2012) article. While there may be some future use of Arabic, it is questionable whether Somali will have long term benefits for the children. However, as the parent’s native language is likely to be the most spoken at home, it is highly likely that the children, receiving such exposure, will naturally acquire the language. This is due to the fact that the parent’s English is very limited.
We are not completely sure how bilingualism will have an effect on the running of the language group, but we intend to make observations of the three learner groups, in particular the simultaneous bilinguals and sequential bilinguals. We will monitor in younger learners whether the parent’s L1 is dominating the L2 (English), as described in The Handbook of Bilingualism, Chapter 5 by Butler & Hakuta (2004).
Butler & Hakuta (2004) describe that in simultaneous bilinguals, one language is usually stronger than the other. We feel it is important to monitor this, to ensure that English becomes the dominant language, as this is the language that the learners will be required to use most in their school years. Butler & Hakuta (2004) also describe that in sequential bilinguals, there is the potential to lose ability in the first language.
Butler & Hakuta (2004) also report that many kids can differentiate languages by age 2, and mixing of languages has almost gone by age 3. During this time, competition between languages can exist. We hope that we can make parents aware of this, and that they will switch to English from Somali/Arabic frequently, similar to the Luxembourgish mothers in Kirsch (2012).
Another problem which may arise is repetition blindness, which is inability to recall repeated words when presented rapidly Butler & Hakuta (2004). It may be prudent to point this out to the members of the language group, so that they are aware of it when it is pointed out.
Another factor to consider is L1 and L2 acquisition differences, such as feeling limited expressing personality in L2, because already accustomed so doing so in L1 (Butler & Hakuta 2004). This can lead to problems in language transfer, including negative transfer (interference) where L1 and L2 grammar are different. Positive transfer is where L1 and L2 grammar are the same (Butler & Hakuta 2004).
In this respect, we will rely on translators to guide the facilitators about the grammatical differences between Arabic/Somali and English. We can then try to predict where errors are likely to occur.
There are a number of factors identified by Butler & Hakuta (2004). These include age, interaction between L1 and L2, and socio-psychological factors (identity and attitude), that we feel we need to investigate more, to allow the participants in the language group to obtain optimal benefit from it.
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