“Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy” @ Languages Canada 2020

February 25 is my talk at the Languages Canada conference, entitled “Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy”.

Here’s a description of the talk:

“English-only” policies—where use of students’ first language (L1) in the classroom is associated with a punitive response—are common in many English language programs. Received wisdom has long framed a monolingual “English-only” environment in many contexts as the most effective way to maximize English language use, and thereby promote the development of fluency, confidence, and communicative and strategic competence that may come with it. However, increasing research shows the advantage of moving away from a monolingual approach to a multi- or plurilingual approach, which gives space to all the languages in a student’s linguistic repertoire along with English, including their L1. Research shows well-implemented policies of this nature can contribute to more effective and deeper language learning via increased target language use, motivation, and agency.

In this presentation, participants will discover some of the latest research findings showing the increased learning outcomes, motivation and equity associated with plurilingual classroom and course policies in different ELT settings. We will also explore some of the challenges in developing and implementing such policies with teachers and students through a case study from a Canadian English language school.

I cite a few articles in the talk; links are below. Here is a link to the CEFR 2017 Companion volume. Both the selection of very recent research on plurilingual approaches in Canadian HE and EAP are great reads, as is Hall and Cook’s (2012) state of the art articles on own-language use in ELT.

Thesis Submitted!

I haven’t been posting on this blog as frequently over the last year as I would have liked. That’s because all my free time was being spent on my doctoral research. The good news is, I just submitted my thesis yesterday! I realized I haven’t really posted much about my research, but now’s as good a time as any to start. This will be the first in a series of posts linking my research to practice for those of us who are language workers in a higher education context.

But first, the asbtract:

Monolingualism, Neoliberalism and Language-as-Problem:   
Discourse Itineraries in Canadian University Language Policy

Internationalization policies to promote international student enrolment at many Canadian universities have led to increased levels of linguistic diversity in the student body. However, institutional language policy responses to this diversity may be lacking, may centre a monolingual mindset or may discursively position the issue of the English language proficiency and development of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds in a framing of deficit. This study maps changing and conflicting “discourse itineraries” (Scollon, 2008:234), the taken-for-granted ideas, constraints and allowances at play discursively in institutional language policy. This was done via a multiple case study of three Canadian universities, where critical discourse analysis (CDA) was carried out on a variety of policy documents related to language, academic literacy and internationalization at the provincial (macro) and institutional and faculty (meso) levels and stakeholders at these institutions were interviewed.

This analysis revealed, first, that much language policy at these three institutions is covert, implicit and de facto. Two prominent discourses were also found: Language-as-Problem (Ruiz, 1984) and Neoliberalism and Language, each with pervasive sub-discourses—notably the Monolingual Mindset—that shape the creation of language policy at these universities. Discursive change is underway, however, as conflicting discourses were found at all institutions. In certain cases, there is a shift away from Language-as-Problem, influenced by a neoliberal focus on the English language as economic instrument. Building on Ruiz’s (1984) orientations toward language planning, this thesis proposes a new policy analytic heuristic to further describe the extent to which institutions ignore, blame, support or embrace language at different policy levels. As well, suggestions are made for Canadian higher education (HE) language stakeholders about how to realign discourses and bring about social change via critical language awareness-raising and policy-making. The ultimate goal is to provide a more equitable academic experience within Canadian HE for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

References:

Scollon, R. (2008). Discourse itineraries: Nine processes of resemiotization. In V.K. Bhatia, J. Flowerdew, & R.H. Jones (Eds.), Advances in discourse studies (pp. 233–244). London: Routledge.

Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8, 15–34

Teacher Qualification Frameworks and Equity in Hiring

Lots of university language centres in Canada get a big influx of EAP students in the Fall semester, and that often means hiring on more instructors. Although that’s not the case with our centre this year, it’s got me thinking about hiring.

In Canada, language schools or institutes might operate within a couple of different accreditation or certification frameworks in terms of the qualifications of academic staff hired: TESL Canada Professional Certification, a provincial certification process, or if it’s a Languages Canada-accredited language training institution, their Classification of TESOL Qualifications.

TESL Canada and Languages Canada are great organizations, and their existence and advocacy has contributed immensely to the professionalization and raising standards of English language teaching in Canada, especially with regards to teachers on government-sponsored immigrant language programs (Burnaby 2003; Sivell 2005; Chafe and Wang, 2008), and with regards to private language schools.

At the same time, the teaching of English for Academic Purposes in the higher education context seems to be a bit of a different beast in terms of the qualifications, background and experience of value in a potential instructor. For example, advanced degrees, research experience, familiarity with academic discourse(s) in different disciplines and published academic work is all of great value in an EAP instructor. BALEAP’s TEAP Competency Framework reflects this in a way that general ELT certification frameworks don’t (and can’t).

I also think that some aspects of the general ELT certification and accreditation frameworks work against diversity and equity in hiring, especially in a context like Canada. For example, for TESL Canada certification a teacher’s training has to have been carried out at an institution on their list of accredited training programs. This list is, in my opinion, very short, and every institution on it is located in Canada. If your training is from another institution, you have to apply for an onerous and expensive prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) process. In an industry as globally-mobile as TESOL, and in a country with as much immigration as Canada, this is quite out of touch with the reality on the ground, where a great number of us (myself included) have training, qualifications and experience from outside the country.

Similarly, TESL Canada has a very narrow definition of acceptable English(es). They require any applicants for certification who have not completed an undergraduate degree at an English-speaking university in one of the countries on this list to show proof of language proficiency. Lists of this type are common in university admissions, etc., but this particular list has a couple of notable omissions, such as Pakistan and India. In these two countries, English-medium higher education is very common, and there are also a significant number of Canadians who have received their education there. Why are they not on that list?

Finally, both TESL Canada and Languages Canada TESOL Qualification criteria prescribe training programs with a very specific minimum of observation and practicum hours. While recent certificate, diploma and degree-programs in the Anglo world might be likely to include these elements that is not the case in many contexts around the world. Folks who have received their TESOL training in the context of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in many different countries would not have had observations or practicum placements, as it’s simply not the norm.

Why flexibility and ability to exercise judgement in hiring are extremely important, as they allow me to hire who I consider to be qualified and a good fit for a given position, be they born, raised and trained in Canada, a recent newcomer to Canada, a Canadian with diverse worldwide experience, or a speaker of one of a variety of World Englishes. If someone has a degree in TESL from another country with no practicum, but a ton of teaching experience, then I can hire them. If they speak Indian English, I don’t have to subject them to an IELTS test. If they have a master’s in biology on top of their other qualifications, I can value that and put them on a science writing course. Languages Canada provides some flexibility by stipulating, for example, that “there will be a valid rationale provided for the employment of any teachers or academic leader without the ELT/TESOL qualifications specified.” This is extremely important not just to allow hiring to reflect the difference between EAP and general ELT, but to ensure I can hire a complement of qualified, experienced and engaged teachers that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population. Our educational program is the richer for it.

Canadian Linguistic Diversity Not Reflected by Telefilm

CaptureCBC has run a story called Language barrier: Why some of Canada’s diverse filmmakers are shut out of funding, which details how Canada’s main film funding agency, Telefilm, only funds films that are made in English, French or an indigenous language. This means that every year, a variety of films are made by Canadian filmmakers that are ineligible for funding because they happen to be in languages other than English, French or an indigenous language. The article gives several examples of critically-acclaimed, award-winning films directed by Canadians of diverse linguistic backgrounds (including one who was awarded one of Telefilm’s own achievement awards) but that had been denied funding because of the film’s language. Some filmmakers have even used workarounds, such as going to the trouble of filming an alternate English-language version of their film that will never be released, simply because it means they will then qualify for funding. An interview with a Telefilm representative defends the policy on the grounds of scarcity of resources, and describes how films in indigenous languages weren’t even eligible until a few years ago.

I think this policy is out of touch with Canadian society. While I fully applaud the inclusion of indigenous languages in Telefilm’s eligibility criteria–this is of utmost importance–why have they stopped there? Why not have this eligibility criteria reflect the linguistic diversity of the Canadian population? This appears to me like the perfect example of the Eve Haque’s Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework (2012), the structures and related attitudes toward which continues to be present in a lot of our governmental and arms-length organizations and programs.

Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework means that a disconnect between language and culture and a linguistic hierarchy are built into governmental policy. Canada’s federal multiculturalism policies (section 27 of the Canadian constitution and the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act) have been criticized for giving the superficial appearance of diversity, while at the same time, divorcing culture from language, as Canada also has a framework of official English-French bilingualism (enshrined in the Official Languages Act of 1969). This has meant that

by de-emphasizing the languages of other cultural groups, [official bilingualism policy] helped to create a cultural and linguistic hierarchy in Canada. While multicultural policy suggested that newcomers were free to preserve their traditional cultures, bilingualism implied the assimilation of immigrants into the cultures of the two “founding races” (Guo, 2013, p. 26-27).

This divorcing of language from culture with regards to immigrants to Canada and the idea of immigrants preserving their cultures while assimilating linguistically to one of the official languages—preserving a cultural mosaic but not a linguistic one—is very pervasive ideology within the society at large:  “the imaginary of Canada as an English-speaking white-settler nation persists, despite dramatic changes resulting from increased immigration from non-European countries over the past 50 years” (Ricento, 2013, p. 480).

Hopefully CBC bringing this issue to light will influence Telefilm to change their eligibility criteria.

References:

Guo, Y. (2013). Language Policies and Programs for Adult Immigrants in Canada: A Critical Analysis. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 45(1), 23–41. https://doi.org/10.1353/ces.2013.0022
Haque, E. (2012). Multiculturalism within a bilingual framework: Language, race, and belonging in Canada. University of Toronto Press.
Ricento, T. (2013). The consequences of official bilingualism on the status and perception of non-official languages in Canada. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34(5), 475–489. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2013.783034