Naomi Wilks-Smith - The International Academic Forum

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Naomi Wilks-Smith - The International Academic Forum

Naomi Wilks-Smith


The Asian Conference on Language Learning 2012Official Conference ProceedingsOsaka, JapanpInnovative Asian Language Teaching and Learning: Case Studies from Melbourne,AustraliaNaomi Wilks-Smith0047RMIT University, Melbourne, AustraliaThe Asian Conference on Language Learning 2012Official Conference Proceedings 201256


The Asian Conference on Language Learning 2012Official Conference ProceedingsOsaka, JapanThere are many models of languages education in Australia. Teaching a language other thanEnglish has been a government recommendation for almost 20 years and with the recentrelease of the Australian Curriculum: Languages, (November, 2011) is again a priority.There are 22 languages taught in Victorian primary schools and 19 in secondary schools. Themulticultural city of Melbourne is reflected in the languages taught in schools. Over 90% ofstudents in government schools study Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian orJapanese.The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, DEECD, recommends thata quality languages program offers 150 minutes per week. Despite this, there are someschools that opt out of offering languages and many schools that teach a language for 30minutes, 45 minutes or 1 hour a week. It is not surprising that after many years of learninglanguages at school many students cannot communicate in a language other than English.There are other schools that have increased the hours of languages learning to provide therecommended minimum of 150 minutes per week or more. Some include a content focussuch as Content and Languages Integrated Learning, CLIL. There are bilingual schoolsdelivering a minimum 7 ½ hours a week in the additional language, 5 of those hours incurriculum content. Some schools are using a gesture approach to teach additional languages.Others have formed clusters of schools to support and strengthen their provision of languagesthrough Innovations in Languages Provision In Clusters, ILPIC.Within Australian languages programs, some will teach in English about another languagewith some or little use of the additional language, other schools will share the time betweenEnglish and the additional language and others teach entirely in the target language. Manymodels of languages teaching are aimed at monolingual English speaking students as anaddition to their education. Some models are aimed to support first languages in thecommunity. For some students the language they are learning at school is a third or furtherlanguage.In addition to school languages programs, the Victorian School of Languages providesclasses in over 40 languages, usually on Saturday mornings. It also offers distance educationcourses in approximately ten languages to secondary students who do not have access tolanguage programs in their mainstream schools for reasons such as remoteness, medicaldisability and travel. (DEECD, 2012). Languages in Victoria are also supported bycommunity languages schools which are “out of school hours” providers of communitylanguages for students of school age. These schools are run by incorporated communitybased,not-for-profit organisations.The recent release of the Australian Curriculum: Languages, (November, 2011) prioritises thelearning of an Asian language and emphasises communication in an Asian language. Thisnew national curriculum is for foundation year (the first year of primary school) to year 10 ofschooling. The Australian Curriculum identifies ‘Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia’as a priority across the curriculum and at all levels of schooling. “Asia literacy requires youngAustralians to gain knowledge, skills and understandings of the histories, geographies,literatures, arts, cultures and languages of the diverse countries of Asia by the time they leaveschool” (Asia Education Foundation, 2011).In order to be “Asia literate”, languages programs need to ensure students are able tocommunicate in the target language. Learning an additional language is seen as a social,interactive and collaborative process in which communication is the goal. As a result we seek57


The Asian Conference on Language Learning 2012Official Conference ProceedingsOsaka, Japanstudents for whom learning French may otherwise have been unattainable. (Dittrick, 2006).He found that students who were considered weak before the AIM program was introducedare seeing success. The use of gestures enables students to understand so that learnerfrustration is alleviated resulting in more positive language achievements (Dittrick, 2006).Kelly, Manning & Roddack (2008) support this notion believing that adding gestures tospeech makes it very easy and understandable which enhances language learning for allstudents. When second language learners grapple with aspects of a new language, teacherscan use gesture to help with these problems. Church (2004) supports this in a study ofSpanish students of English as a second language, finding that gestures help confusedlearners in second language contexts.There is a strong base of research indicating positive outcomes for the use of gestures as ateaching tool for additional languages. Further research will strengthen the body ofknowledge in this field.This paper now shares the story of an AIM gesture approach for teaching Mandarin as anadditional language in Melbourne, Australia.The Carey Grammar story:One school offering an innovative AIM gesture approach in Mandarin.Mandarin is one of the languages taught at Carey Grammar, a K – 12 school. It is aninnovative Mandarin as an additional language program utilising the Accelerative IntegratedMethod, AIM, gesture approach. Mandarin has been introduced via the AIM gestureapproach for 2 years. Mandarin is used exclusively with the intentional use of gestures tosupport the language. The program is used to teach students Mandarin as an additionallanguage who have not had any experience in Mandarin before. Students from their first classare encouraged to gesture and speak along with the teacher. Increasingly, students are able toinitiate their own language with gestures to answer questions, ask questions, and express theirlikes and opinions. When walking into such a program your attention is immediatelygrabbed! Students have a need to watch the teacher gesturing and very quickly pick up thegestures themselves. It is remarkable to watch the whole class engaged, actively usingMandarin. It is also incredible to see students progressively being able to initiate their ownproduction of Mandarin. This was evident when one student asked if he could be “teacher”and played the teacher role at the front of the classroom, complete with gestures withoutsupport from the “real teacher”. The student played the teacher role gesturing and speakingonly in Mandarin. He proceeded to ask questions of other students who excitedly respondedin Mandarin. All of this was unplanned! This independent language output was after only 3terms of the AIM gesture program! In another class, students who had been learningMandarin for two years equally comprehended the Mandarin as well as becoming moreindependent with their use of the language to ask questions and engage in discussions aboutthe content of the lesson. Students would often speak Mandarin while the teacher silentlygestured. She not only had no need to translate into English, but at times also did not need tospeak Mandarin! The empowerment of students and real communicative competence isamazing.60


The Asian Conference on Language Learning 2012Official Conference ProceedingsOsaka, JapanInnovations include content and language integrated learning, CLIL, where Japanese is themedium for learning a variety of content areas, native speaking teachers to create a need forstudents to communicate, a sister school relationship with regular contact including incountrybiannual trips and hosting experiences, and culture embedded language learningwhere culture and language are not separated but taught within other content learning.There is a multi-cultural population within the school where languages are celebrated andcultural and linguistic diversity is the norm. Japanese native speaking students maintain theirJapanese language skills while other students alongside them are learning it as a newlanguage.Bilingual classes are delivered only in the target language. As far as students are concerned,these teachers only speak Japanese, within class, on yard duty and on excursions. Studentswill start by participating in classes delivered in Japanese and interacting in English orJapanese as able. Gradually, Japanese output is increased and strategies are used to encourageincreasing levels of output. The focus of classes is on the curriculum content being deliveredso rather than learning about the language students use the language to learn.When observing this program, one grade 1 class was learning about Recycling. Students werein groups working on various activities; one group was reading a story about recycling withstudents reading the story and discussing it together, another group was classifying picturesinto recycling categories and another group was making their own mini books. As I walkedtowards a 6 year old girl, intending to ask her about her work, a poster suddenly fell downonto her table. Her response was “Aa, bikkuri shita!” (What a surprise!) She then proceededin Japanese to ask a friend on her table for a glue stick to re-glue the paper to a chart and pegit up again. She wasn’t sure if she should stand on the table to do so and asked a friend nextto her. The whole time this student was speaking in Japanese. This has remained in mymemory of this visit. The Japanese teaching was impressive. The students’ use of Japanese inclass was also very impressive. What stood out was the natural use of real Japanesemeaningfully and in context.These case studies provide exemplary models of innovative practice for Asian languageteaching and learning. Both case studies are examples with a strong focus on developingcommunicative competence in languages.Now that there is a renewed commitment to the teaching and learning of Asian languages inAustralia, it is timely to look towards current innovative programs as models to maximise thepotential of Asian language teaching and learning in all school programs. Embracing some ofthese innovative approaches can enhance communicative competence in Asian languages.References:Asia Education Foundation 2012, The National Statement on Asia Literacy in AustralianSchools 2011-2012, Asia Education Foundation, Melbourne, Australia,Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2011, The Shape of theAustralian Curriculum: Languages, ACARA, Sydney, Australia.64


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