Language and Literacy in Early Years Essay

Language and Literacy in a Multilingual Context

In this essay we will investigate underlying issues of discrimination, human rights, inclusion and difference. The essay also considers the role of the early year’s practitioners in planning and resourcing for teaching in a multilingual setting. In order to evaluate and reflect on my settings approach to multilingualism and the generally ethos of the school, I will be referring to the pictures in the essay’s appendix consisting of display pictures, a pie chart of languages spoken overall by the children, and an activity to support language skills. My current setting is a Reception class within a Primary School that is located locally in the borough of Barnet. I have been employed in my setting for four years as a teacher assistant. The class consists of 26 children and four working staff; a classroom teacher, two teacher assistants and a voluntary worker. The setting’s families are very diverse and come from all different backgrounds, race, religion, culture and class. The setting provides care for children from the age 4 – 5 years. As the setting is located in London, Barnet which is known for diversity, rich cultures and language it is no surprise that this is reflected in the variety of languages spoken in the setting and in their home environment . Vygotsky (1986) in Siraj-Blatchford. I (1994:3) stresses “Language is the most powerful tool in the development of any human being. It is undeniably the greatest asset we possess. A good grasp of language is synonymous with a sound ability to think. In other words language and thought are inseparable” Vygotsky (1986) clearly holds language as fundamental to existence and it is this theory that should urge well skilled practitioner to respect the languages with on their settings. We are living in a world that is linguistically and culturally diverse. There are children in the world who digests two or more languages from birth or children who speak only their mother at home and speak another at nursery or school. Haugen (1953:29) defines bilingualism stating “Bilingualism begins when a speaker for one language can make meaningful utterances in other language”. Siraj-Blatchford emphasises that bilingualism is more common that monolingual speakers and 70 per cent of the world’s population speaks more than one language. This becomes natural ability for individual to be able to speak more than one language.

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Siraj-Blatchford (2008:28) goes on to state “Bilingualism is the ability to understand and make oneself in two (or more) languages” Baker. C (2000) believes Bilinguals are at present in every country of the world, in every social class band in all age groups. Baker highlights that everyone has the ability to be bilingual regardless of wealth, status, class and age. I find this to be the case in my setting as it is not based in a particularly affluent area, but yet there are sea families from all different backgrounds, cultures are sent ranges from single parent families, same sex, teen parent, mature parents, and of course a mixture of families financially secure, and some in relative poverty and yet language draws them together in similarity. Fifty-one local authorities (LAs) have been selected to participate in the first year of the three-year programme of Every Child a Talker (ECAT). ECAT is designed to give guidance for Early Language Lead Practitioners. Every Child a Talker (ECAT) is designed to help practitioners and colleagues create a developmentally appropriate, supportive and stimulating environment in which children can enjoy experimenting with and learning language. It can be implemented whether children are in Early Years settings, with a childminder or at home with their parents. Through everyday, fun and interesting activities which reflect children’s interests, ECAT will encourage early language development right from the outset, extending children’s vocabulary and helping them build sentences so that before they start school, children are confident and skilled communicators (DCSF, 2008).

My setting uses ECAT by considering children communication and practitioners too. In our practice, we use policies such as, Listening to encourage talking- time spent listening to children talk to each other, and listening to individuals without too frequent interruption, helps them to use more, and more relevant, language. Practitioners should recognise that waiting time is constructive. It allows children to think about what has been said, gather their thoughts and frame their replies. Also providing good models of spoken English to help young children enlarge their vocabulary and learn, for example, how to structure comprehensible sentences, speak confidently and clearly, and sustain dialogue. In the appendix I have included a pie chart, which sheds lights on the percentages of languages of children spoken in the setting (see appendix 1). According to the pie chart, the majority of English is as an additional language by children with 60% and 40% for native English speakers. Most children who have English as their first language have parents only speak English, whereas other children who have English as their second language speak different languages at home, such as Urdu, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Guajarati and Swedish. When we consider these 60% of children for instance it is very clear that over the year’s child care provisions have changed in terms of the children and families that use them. Early years practitioners need to welcome this shift in diversity and language as the classroom highlights the majority of children are bilingual and the once huge gap between Monolingual English speakers and multi/bilingual families and children. There are seven children who learnt English and their home languages from birth, and this is often called as ‘stimultaneous’ or infant bilingualism. Nineteen children learnt their second language (English) when they attended nursery over time which is known as ‘consecutive’ or ‘sequential’ bilingualism. Seven of the children in the classroom use English consistently to communicate with staff, and their class peers.

This demonstrates English could potentially be the more dominant language, however there is one child who communicates in English at the setting and then holds simple conversations with his parents in French when he is collected from School. This leads me to conclude that perhaps English is not the dominate language after all but the language that enables the children to feel included in the setting’s environment. When we reflect on Jerome Bruner (1985) a language theorist who suggested that children’s language needed to be nurtured, positively encouraged and supported by adults and or an older more capable child. Bruner refers to this as a child’s Language Acquisition Support System (L.A.S.S). However, Noam Chompsky’s (1965) theory argued the Language Acquisition Device (L.A.D) which suggested that children have inbuilt language form birth a second nature to children from genetic factors. It is naturally genetic factor that explains how from the moment a child is born they are able to use language crying to express feelings, needs and wants. A new born baby clearly has some partial inbuilt communication/language skills (Krashen. S.D. 1981). However through Bruner’s eyes and the pie chart (appendix 1) the notion that language is learnt is very evident in my settings environment. As parents are children first educator’s children are constantly bombarded with their parent’s mother tongue language as well as any additional spoken in their home environment. It is in this constant reinforcement hearing languages spoken that is stored in children’s mind as if sponge absorbing water. As the information is stored children start to put together what he’s learnt French from his parents which is their mother tongue. Whitehead, M (2007:16) states “In many young children’s lives complexity and diversity in their languages, cultures and relationships are not uncommon”. It is this reason why practitioners need to examine their own values and attitudes, understating the diversity of human culture and the challenge of prejudices about language and people.

Most importantly they need to extend their knowledge of culture and diversity which will enable them to implement an environment rich in culture and languages. Crystal, D (2005) highlights that the United Kingdom there are over a hundred languages which are in routine use, highlighting that bi/multilingualism is the way of life for many people. The linguistic diversity in the United Kingdom was first acknowledged by the Bullock report (1975) language for life a government report chaired by Alan Bullock. The report argued that if children’s English language needed to be improved their linguistic and cultural background needed to be acknowledged and valued. Department of Education and Science (1975:268) stress “No child should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he crosses the school threshold, nor to live and act as though school and home represent two separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart”. However progress for acknowledging ethnic and linguistic diversity in the class room still was slow after the Bullock Report. In (1981) The Rampton Report was published which highlighted the underachievement of ethnic minority children particular emphasises on Caribbean children. The report identified that one of the reasons for underachievement was the racism within the school and society and adequate pre-school provision (Department of Education and science 1981). However over a decade there has been a rapid change in education through the Labour Government. My setting’s used pictures and posters to display in the wall to represent diversity and different languages spoken (see appendix 2). These two posters are essential to stimulate diverse environment to encourage children to feel their settings as their second home. One of posters displays the word ‘Hello’ in different languages spoken by all the school and it is displayed in the main school hallway walls for children and parents to have access to see.

This gives the parents the sense of welcomed and accepted in the setting. I have also included a picture of children at an activity of painting their home country flags to be displayed in the wall (see appendix 3). The children enjoyed acknowledging other peers home countries and languages spoken. This encourages children to express their feelings and self identity without boundaries to feel un included. In the Revised Early Years Foundation Stage (2012), Communication and Language is broken down into three aspects; Listening and attention, Understanding and Speaking. There are increasing numbers of children entering Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) settings for whom English is not the dominant language in the home. Many practitioners in settings across the country already work successfully with children and families who speak languages other than English. For some there will be one or two language groups represented in their setting; for others the population may be linguistically and culturally very diverse. For growing numbers of settings, providing care and learning opportunities for children and families new to English, or at various stages of proficiency, is a new experience. Effective practitioners include all children by meeting their needs. However, the skills, knowledge and understanding of children learning English as an additional language (EAL) are often underestimated. “Bilingualism is an asset, and the first language has a continuing and significant role in identity, learning and the acquisition of additional languages.” (DCSF, 2012) The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum gives guidelines to practitioners to provide a board and balanced learning environment for individual children. It puts great emphasis on equal opportunities, inclusion and parent partnership in the Early Years. It also puts strong focus on the age/ stage activities.

It is for this reason that practitioners need to provide children with a rich environment that is meaningful to their culture, language. The EYFS’s language and Literacy aspect of learning underpins the concepts of many early years pioneers and theorist. Vygotsky was one such theorist who placed great focus on the child’s social environment and how this impacted on the child’s learning. Vygotsky (1980:88) in Nutbrown, C, et al (2008:57) “Human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into intellectual life of those around them”. I second this notion that children learn from their social environment and significant others as children learn gestures, body language, and facial expression from their surroundings. Children pick up on what is socially expected in society and their culture, for instance in some cultures the way language is delivered can be seen as abrupt and rude and in other cultures/religions it is seen as disrespectful for women to shake a man’s hand. When we consider these factors it highlight why practitioners must reflect before making a judgment on a family, the child’s cultural upbringing underpins every aspect of the child’s interaction with others. On the other hand when we refer to Jean Piaget (1969) promoted the idea that children learn in stages of cognitive development. Through Piaget’s eyes language and thought develop simultaneously. Vygotsky (1986) in Blatchford et al (2000) argues “languages are the most powerful tool in the development of any human being. It is undeniably the greatest asset we process.

A good grasp of languages synonymous with a sound ability to think, in other words language and thought are inseparable”. The acquisition of language is essential but not only for cognitive development but also for social and well being. When children interact with adults and other children it is the key to the acquisition of language. When infants and toddlers interact with adults it provides the basis of communication and learning in both home language and in the second language. Although theorists have different views of children’s language development it is clear that there is no right or wrong theory. They all carry equal weight and value which any skilled practitioner can relate to through observation and experience. In order for children to develop the skills needed to express themselves through all forms of language using the Early Years Foundation Stage as crutch to support the child. Dryden, L. Et al (2005:44) “As a child care practitioner I can’t stress the importance of early years language development enough. Without language development a child will not be able to express their wants, needs, and feeling”. It is for this reason that practitioners need to plan an environment that relates to their interests, culture and language abilities of each children with due regard to their life experience and home environment. This enables room to reflect on how to build strong effective parent partnerships in settings and value parental input. When children and families enter the setting they bring their unique characteristics and personalities and life experiences that have shaped them, and influenced every aspect of their being. In my setting we actively strive to gain knowledge on the child’s background from the moment they enrol in the setting. We give parents the early years starting point form after registering, which gives parents the opportunity to fill out information on the families, religion, languages spoken, and child’s current routine. The setting also has a number of dual language books and supportive props and resources, such as puppets and dolls, flash cards in various languages, cultural prints on fabric and materials, welcome signs with flags on arrival in each room. The setting encourages bilingual staff to support the child who understand the shared language as well as communicating with parents. In early years learning through play is essential and practitioners shape the adult the child becomes. Play provides opportunities for children to interact with their peers and adults, and underpins the Early years Foundation Stage core vision. Through this children will experiment and make unique words as they discover language. In conclusion, it is vital that as educators we recognise our own role as involved and enthusiastic partners in language development.

This essay has also defined bilingualism and has reflected on well known and respected, relevant childcare theorists. This has enabled me to understand in greater depth the world of language and the challenges and assumptions that come with it. Language is so powerful that it can open and close opportunities in life. The early years practitioner should be trained to work with diverse and multicultural children. Practitioners help children in their development without teaching them. They enter their profession with knowledge about the EYFS curriculum that fosters creativity and imagination whilst catering to the social and emotional well-being of the child. All children belong to a different background, culture and history, therefore an understanding of each their needs it required, which can be obtained by practicing an open constant relation with the parents. (Word count: 3,000)

References and Bibliography

Baker, C. (2011) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Multilingual Matters
Browne, A. (2001) Developing Language and Literacy. London: Paul Chapman

DCSF, 2012. Language and Literacy in Early Years. Nottingham

Edwards, J. (2002) Language Arts and Discipline. Psychology Press.

Children in Scotland, (2005) Early years key to promoting multilingualism http://www.childreninscotland.org.uk/docs/media/bilingualismrelease.pdf [Accessed 02/06/2013) Smidt, S. (2008) Supporting Multilingual Learners in the Early Years. Routledge

Bilingual Matters (2008) Benefits of Bilingualism. http://www.bilingualism-matters.org.uk/ [Accessed 03/06/2013]

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