Taking a multilingual approach to literacy

peter-nielsenA new approach to language learning that aims to improve literacy outcomes across languages by integrating foreign languages into daily classroom activities is currently being trialled in 11 primary schools across South Australia.

A joint initiative of Flinders University’s School of Education and the State Government’s Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS), the two-year professional learning program is based on a successful pilot project and the latest international research which indicates the way literacy is developed follows a predictable pattern across all languages.

Program leader and Flinders PhD candidate, Peter Nielsen said the trial involves 21 classroom and foreign language teachers working with students from Reception to Year 2 in the first year of the project.

”The classroom teacher and foreign language teachers collaboratively plan for literacy development both within and between the languages – whether it’s English, Italian, French, German, Japanese or Indonesian – and include these languages in the students’ daily activities,” Mr Nielsen said.

“For example, students can now have phonics-based spelling programs in both languages rather than just English,” he said.
“Once students have learned to write the English alphabet, that skill is then available for writing all other Roman-based alphabets.

Once students have learned the skill of mapping a sound to a symbol on the page, then that skill is available for use with any other languages they intend to learn.”

“This idea of universality in languages and literacy development is supported by neuroscience and linguistics,” Mr Nielsen said.

“We now talk about the brain having a common reservoir for all language and for all literacy skills, no matter what the language. So the learning in a foreign language reinforces what’s happening in English, and vice-versa.”

Flinders Dean of the School of Education, Professor Bob Conway said the project “is a great opportunity for collaboration on action-research in schools that draws upon the expertise of the university and DECS”.

“The outcomes will provide the opportunities for further cooperation,” he said.

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