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Expert of the Month October/November 2014: David Little

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Professor David Little is Fellow and Associate Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Language and Communication Studies (CLCS) at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. The CLCS, which is part of the School of Linguistic, Speech and Communication Sciences, is a centre of research in linguistics, applied linguistics, second language acquisition research, phonetics and speech science, and its staff provide teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

David Little is also one of the speakers at this month's international conference Multilingualism and Social Media in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands (28-29 November 2014).

Face to face with David Little

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages/education/multilingualism?

During my years as director of the Centre for Language and Communication Studies at Trinity College Dublin (1979–2005), I was involved in a number of projects focused on the teaching and learning of Irish. For example, we developed functional-notional syllabuses for the school and adult education sectors, and I acted as consultant in the design of two radio courses. My work in this area always emphasized the importance of learning Irish by using it.

From 2000 to 2008 I was honorary director of Integrate Ireland Language and Training, which was responsible for supporting the teaching and learning of English as an Additional Language in Irish schools. This explains one of my principal current interests: the role that home languages play in immigrant pupils’ development of proficiency in English as the language of schooling and Irish as the second language of the curriculum.

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?

Those of us concerned with the educational integration of immigrant pupils face two closely related challenges:

(i) to persuade educational authorities, school principals and teachers that pupils whose home language is not the language of schooling are not the victims of cognitive or communicative deficit; and

(ii) to encourage the development of school policies and approaches to teaching that exploit pupils’ plurilingual repertoires in ways that enrich everyone’s educational experience.

It’s not just a matter of ensuring that minority language pupils become proficient in the language of schooling: we must also find ways of ensuring that majority language pupils benefit educationally from linguistic diversity. This gives rise to a third challenge:

(iii) to collect examples of good practice and use them to advocate the changes that are badly needed in so many schools in Ireland and elsewhere.

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?

Scoil Bhríde Cailíní (St Brigid’s School for Girls) is a primary school in Blanchardstown, one of Dublin’s western suburbs. It currently has 322 pupils, some 75% of whom come from homes where English is not the dominant language; between them they have 35 home languages. Scoil Bhríde has responded to the challenge that this level of linguistic diversity poses by developing an integrated approach to language education that embraces English as the language of schooling, Irish as the second language of the curriculum, French (in the last two grades), and pupils’ home languages.

I am working with the principal and teachers on a book-length case study of policy and practice that will be linked to recent and emerging theoretical work in the areas of plurilingualism and translanguaging.

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention?

Two recently published books are helping me to think hard about communication, learning and teaching in super-diverse schools like Scoil Bhríde.

The first is Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education, by Ofelia García and Li Wei (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) . This book addresses how the new linguistic concept of 'Translanguaging' has contributed to our understandings of language, bilingualism and education, with potential to transform not only semiotic systems and speaker subjectivities, but also social structures.

The second is The Multilingual Turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL and Bilingual Education, edited by Stephen May (New York & Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2014). Drawing on the latest developments in bilingual and multilingual research, The Multilingual Turn offers a critique of, and alternative to, still-dominant monolingual theories, pedagogies and practices in SLA, TESOL, and bilingual education.

Critics of the ‘monolingual bias’ argue that notions such as the idealized native speaker, and related concepts of interlanguage, language competence, and fossilization, have framed these fields inextricably in relation to monolingual speaker norms. In contrast, these critics advocate an approach that emphasizes the multiple competencies of bi/multilingual learners as the basis for successful language teaching and learning. This volume takes a big step forward in re-situating the issue of multilingualism more centrally in applied linguistics and, in so doing, making more permeable its key sub-disciplinary boundaries – particularly, those between SLA, TESOL, and bilingual education. It addresses this issue head on, bringing together key international scholars in SLA, TESOL, and bilingual education to explore from cutting-edge interdisciplinary perspectives what a more critical multilingual perspective might mean for theory, pedagogy, and practice in each of these fields.

David Little is also guest editor (with Shelley K. Taylor) of The Canadian Modern Language Review, Volume 69, Issue 4, November 2013: Implementing the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and the European Language Portfolio: Lessons for Future Research

He's also editor (with Constant Leung and Piet Van Avermaet) of Managing Diversity in Education: Languages, Policies, Pedagogies. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2014.

Do you have any questions on these topics?

Ask David