Authors: Cameron Perkins and Topher Yanagihara
Nominator: Rai Farrelly
Course: LING 4620 Teaching L2 Oral Skills and Communication, Fall 2021
Does learning a new language have to come at the cost of your native language? One common phenomenon in English-speaking countries is the loss of mother languages over the course of a few generations. As the world becomes an increasingly interconnected space, economic pressures and language prestige combine to crowd out minority native languages in favor of larger international languages such as English. This continued expansion of the English diaspora disproportionately affects marginalized groups speaking minority languages who do not have the social or economic standing to advocate for themselves. If teachers of English do not make an active effort to consider and engage with this truth then they risk becoming tools of obliteration, smothering out minority languages as they go. English education does not have to be this way and can have a regenerative impact on minority languages, when taught mindfully and with intention in such a way as to spread proficiency and use of English alongside native languages, instead of in their place.
For our part as prospective English teachers as students in an oral skills class at CU Boulder we developed an English language curriculum based around language revitalization and language loss. This curriculum was designed with the goal of providing appropriate, intermediate (CEFR level B2) level English practice while also respecting the learners as agents of change - capable of processing, speaking about, and proposing solutions to the problems that can be caused by the expanding English speaking world. Our curriculum is split into three 90 minute lessons, each focusing on specific aspects of the topic of Language Revitalization.
In preparing the content of these lessons, we looked into the current status of indigenous minority languages in the United States as well as the historical pretext that led to the current state of these languages. We have created activities and lessons that expose learners to information regarding the dark history of Native American boarding schools in the United States, and other such acts of cultural erasure. It is important for us to respect the students’ maturity in discussing serious topics while maintaining appropriate expectations for their English language abilities. Students practice their listening and speaking skills in their discussions of the content and through genuine engagement both to strengthen their English and raise awareness of the value their native language provides.
The latter portion of our curriculum steers students away from the pessimism of language loss and towards the optimism of language revitalization. On our part, we looked into examples of language revitalization across the globe. Some of the most important aspects of language revitalization are resource availability, both monetary and with regards to teaching material and/or qualified teachers, as well as positive community attitude towards the language. To incorporate this into our curriculum, we ask learners to research a minority heritage, or their native language. Often with the goal of focusing learners on their home language, and then identify possible solutions to any negative effects English use may be having on their language. In this way students can engage with their heritage languages and continue their use and spread through English.
Overall, we hope that this curriculum upholds our goal of turning English into a regenerating influence on minority languages instead of the destructive influence it can be. In the ever more interconnected world that we all share together English does have value as a world language allowing the sharing of ideas and cultures from all over. However in the pursuit of English we must continue to place value on languages other than English and by engaging with those languages in meaningful ways we hope to combat language prestige and imbue learners with a sense of confidence and pride with regards to their own cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Rather than becoming ashamed of their perceived lack of English skill it is important to lift these learners up and bring their attention to the skills they have in their native language and through acknowledgement and engagement strengthen their English skills along the way.
Header image credit: https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3c26134/