New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe

The recent resignation of the Irish-language commissioner in Ireland, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, featured strongly in the Irish media just before Christmas.

Irish is the official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is one of the only minority languages in Europe and perhaps in the world to have this level of official status.

However, despite this apparent protection at institutional level, there has been a very laissez-faire attitude to the language.

It is little wonder that the Irish-language commissioner accused the Irish Government of hypocrisy, and said Irish speakers in traditional heartland areas of the Gaeltacht (meaning Irish-speaking) were being neglected.

But the Irish language, like many of Europe’s other minority languages, including Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Galician, Occitan, Sami, Romani, Yiddish etc., is being embraced by new speakers.

New speakers are individuals who were not brought up speaking the language in the home as “native” speakers but who learned it as a second language outside of the home, either at school, through adult classes or some other formal means.

Followers of the blog will remember a post on the concept a few years back inviting people to our symposium New Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue.

This is an exciting moment for Irish and others minority languages which are now being used in modern and new contexts.

I am currently coordinating an EU-funded COST project on the theme, ‘New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe involving researchers from some 17 European countries.

As part of the project, some of my European colleagues and I are interested in finding out more about what it means to become a new speaker of a minority language such as Irish, Gaelic or Welsh.

In particular:

▪   Why do people decide to invest time and effort in learning a minority language?

▪   What are their experiences of speaking these languages?

▪   Who are these people?

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

Edupunk, Engagement and the Rise of Peer Training

Last week, the Thesis Whisperer visited Heriot-Watt. No, it wasn’t an expert in animal training nor was it a visiting speaker who hadn’t learned to project their voice but instead Dr Inger Mewburn, known online for her Thesis Whisperer blog. Although her talk was aimed at helping young academics use social media to help them up the career ladder, one of the most memorable moments was her presentation of the idea of “Edupunk.”

Edupunk is new, dating from just 2008. Basically, it promotes a “do-it-yourself” rule-free approach to teaching and learning. What Dr Mewburn added was that this could easily apply to academic careers too. At a time when blogs and twitter feeds say as much about an academic as their publication list and CV, why play by the existing rules? Why not use new technologies to get the word out about what you do rather than spending all your time filling in form after form after form?

It’s not far off an approach that was tried here at Heriot-Watt to get Deaf and signing people more engaged with research. Since these people are online and engaging with blogs anyway, why not aim a blog at them and let them engage with research online? You will need to either come to the upcoming BAAL conference or wait until the paper hits the journals to find out how that went.

Still, whether that was successful of not, the point remains that nowadays, online, interactive, innovative learning is hitting the mainstream. In the world of commercial translation and interpreting, providers like eCPD and experts like Marta Stelmaszak are making waves with courses like Business School for Translators and showing that translators and interpreters can and should learn from their fellow professionals. National associations have long shown that this path is worth treading. ITI is only one example of a professional association that has long made a  point of providing opportunities for its members to learn from each other.

It’s a cultural shift that is spreading far and wide. But this wouldn’t be a LifeinLINCS post if we just left it there. Just as crowdsourced and professional translation might not be implacable enemies, so it is with Edupunk and traditional training. There are, after all, good reasons for boring-sounding concepts like Learning Outcomes and Syllabus Design. While you could almost certainly string together micro-course after micro-course and spend the same number of hours on informal translation and interpreting training as you could on a degree course, it wouldn’t add up to the same thing.

Of course, some would say that this only favours online and peer learning. A masters degree does not a translator make. That may well be true but it is also true to say that the good degrees can be recognised by the fact that they mix both practical and theoretical training, alongside exposure to events that provide a starting point for the transition from graduate to freelancer.

There might therefore be space for partnership between the new and the old or even for them to learn from each other. The new online course providers could perhaps do with looking at how universities pull together courses into a single package and how they check that the courses they offer are working. They might also want to take a peek at the transferable skills that graduates are supposed to learn to see what they could add to their approach. Learning how to learn effectively is, after all, as necessary a skill for aspiring freelancers as learning to market their services.

For pre-Edupunk academics, the lessons are more striking. For one, if the edupunk approach is has merit then some of the structures normally put around learning might be completely unnecessary. At the very least, it might mean mixing up the methods used for teaching and making more materials available online to absolutely anyone. Edupunk, engagement and peer learning tell us that people want to be far more involved in their own training. Perhaps it’s time to give them that opportunity.

Author: Jonathan Downie

[Editor’s note: The first public version of this post erroneously suggested that national associations had “jumped on the bandwagon” in providing online, peer-learning courses. It has been correctly pointed out that this is not the case and in some cases the courses provided by national associations pre-date some of the examples given by several years. Jonathan apologises for any offence caused by this inaccuracy.]

Upcoming Event: Language Education Policies for Deaf Children

We are delighted to confirm our next EdSign lecture by Dr John Bosco Conama from Trinity College Dublin, on Tuesday 6 November, 6.30PM, at Deaf Action:

Who decides? – Language education policies for Deaf children
Selected findings from a comparative analysis of Finnish and Irish policies on signed languages

John will talk about comparative language education policies in Finland and Ireland. He will present his research discussing different components that influence language educational policies. Showing excerpts from interviews and commenting on the situation in Finland and Ireland, John highlights equality issues around language education policies in general.
Date: Tuesday, 6 November 2012
Time: 6.30pm-8.30pm
Venue: Deaf Action, 49 Albany Street, Edinburgh EH1 3QY

Language: The lecture will be presented in International Sign, and there will be interpretation into English and BSL.

The event is open to everybody and you do not need to book in advance, but spaces are limited, so arrive early.

On a different note, the consultation on the proposed British Sign Language
(BSL) Bill in Scotland is still open, but the deadline is approaching soon: 31 October 2012.
Please take a look at the BSL documents. Responses and petitions should be sent to Mark Griffin MSP, Room M1:20, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP.

We look forward to seeing you all soon,

The EdSign Lectures team

Thank You!

On behalf of the LifeinLINCS team, I would like to send a huge thank you to everyone who has posted, reposted and commented on LifeinLINCS posts recently. I would especially like to thank all those who have contributed to the incredible success of the blog in the past two days.

Until Monday, our most successful day was November 8th, last year when excitement for Graham Turner’s post, Broken Britain: Blame the Interpreters, meant that we received a respectable 757 page views. On Monday, that record was not just broken but smashed. Facebook and twitter, along with other superb interpreting blogs like the Interpreter Diaries  and TerpsTube  got the world stirred up about 7 Ways To Annoy Interpreters. It might have been the ironic humour, it might have been a hint of self-recognition, it might even have had something to do with the fact that interpreters tend not to have an “off” switch.

Whatever it was, it meant that the blog received 1,238 views, not far off double the previous record. And then the incredible happened. Just when we thought everything was getting back to normal, word spread even further. Yesterday, thanks to visitors from the USA, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Russia, as well as the UK, you beat the record again. By the time I woke up this morning, the picture was clear: yesterday alone, LifeinLINCS received two thousand, two hundred and ninety-one visits. 2,291!

Well, what good does this do? As well as giving the profile of Heriot-Watt University and especially LINCS a boost, it also points to a nice future for the profession. You see, yesterday alone, 36 people clicked on links sending them to info on Interpreter training. Over the last 30 days, an additional 24 people have done the same. If nothing else, it seems that Monday’s article has managed to increase enthusiasm for interpreting as a career and that can only be a good thing.

So, give yourself a pat on the back and please accept our sincere thanks.

And, if you know of anyone looking to train as an interpreter or a translator, feel free to use the links below.

For undergraduate degrees (including the new degree in BSL Translation and Interpreting) use this link:

For postgraduate degrees in translation and interpreting, use this link:

Word Up!

After years of dithering and de-prioritisation, it seems parliamentary action to address the decline in British citizens’ language learning is finally approaching. The Holyrood and Westminster governments are announcing plans for change, trying to put the brakes on a decade of implosion which has seen the numbers of young people taking foreign language qualifications at schools decimated. In 2010, 43% of pupils aged 15-16 were entered for a language in national examinations, down from a peak of 75% in 2002.

In London, the focus will be on English and other languages. The education secretary, Michael Gove, will promise a new focus on spelling and grammar when he sets out his plans for the teaching of English in primary schools later this week. Children as young as five will be expected to learn and recite poetry by heart in England. He will also put forward proposals to make learning a foreign language compulsory for pupils from the age of seven.

In May 2012, a study commissioned by the Scottish government said children in Scotland should begin learning a second language as soon as they start school at the age of five. The recommendations – made by the government’s Modern Languages Working Group  – also suggest that children should start to learn a third language before they reach 10 years old.

If this seems radical in a British context, it certainly isn’t unusual within Europe. Last year, the Edinburgh-based Consuls General of France, Germany, Spain, Italy and China joined forces to warn that Scotland needed to take modern languages more seriously. Scottish exports to these five nations alone were worth £4.52bn in 2009, representing about 21% of Scotland’s total international exports.

There are so many reasons for supporting these proposals. For a start, it’s easier for pupils to learn new languages when they’re young. They’ll become more fluent and the learning process will be more fun. Learning early will also help them to develop skills in their first language. And it will confer general cognitive benefits which will assist their all-round personal development.

Of course, many of these benefits can also be gained from learning indigenous languages other than English, and there is evidence of Gaelic being more popular than German in some Scottish schools . The current campaign to introduce school qualifications in British Sign Language  also looks set to be highly popular with pupils, and to promise significant broadening of linguistic, cultural and social horizons amongst students.

Still, as good as these plans may be, they won’t work unless there are teachers capable of delivering them. Modern languages have not hitherto been seen as a major priority – it’s future teachers of maths and sciences who qualify for the most generous ‘golden hellos’ (). Still, Throughout the UK, there appears to be belated recognition that it is never too soon for children to start on the path to bilingualism but is it too little, too late? Let us know what you think in the “Comments” box below.


Author: Graham Turner