Social & Creative

Giving kids confidence to learn language

Published Dec 3, 2019

Viclink is helping Victoria University of Wellington researchers to develop a world-leading programme aimed at giving multilingual pre-schoolers the confidence and tools to improve their language skills.   

Known as the Wellington Translanguaging Project, the programme involves researchers from the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies—as well as Te Kawa a Māui—working with communities to collect and analyse observational data from multilingual pre-schools, in order to create resources that will help support the successful use of translanguaging at school and at home.  

So what exactly is translanguaging? 

“Put simply, translanguaging is a process that allows multilingual speakers to draw on whichever languages they need at the time to communicate—using the language practices they already have to build their language skills,” says Corinne Seals, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, and primary investigator of the project.  

Corinne says that rather than encouraging children to speak English as often as possible, translanguaging enables multilingual pre-schoolers to draw from their entire language repertoire. “Getting them to ask or answer questions in a language that’s more familiar to them builds their confidence and willingness to participate, and helps them demonstrate what they know.” 

She says their research findings confirmed the multilingual reality that children fluidly mix languages. “Our aim is to leverage that natural ability to enhance their learning.”  

The findings also enabled Corinne and her team of nine researchers to create grammatical principles for translanguaging, and develop teacher resources which were then tested on the same communities that informed the research. These resources—which Viclink helped the team to disseminate—includean interactiveposter and two illustrated books, all designed to build vocabulary, cultural understanding and content knowledge for under-fives. The first book uses a mix of Samoan and English, the other Māori and English; both represent the first to be written with a true mix of languages. 

“Traditionally, bilingual books feature one language at the top, and the other at the bottom,” says Corinne, who speaks 11 languages herself. “We’ve applied neurolinguistic and syntactic principles that allow readers to move systematically between the two languages—in much the same way as they might talk at home.” 

With children often embarrassed or hesitant to demonstrate their ability or proficiency to speak a new language, Corinne believes that the translanguaging approach will give them the confidence to try. “What we’re seeing is kids who are taking more risks and participating more—they are also using a greater variety of languages.” 

She says that Viclink has played a pivotal role throughout the process of bringing their research out into the community. “From helping me to set up the domain for our website and e-book shop, and then making it live and searchable, through to connecting us with providers of early childhood education in New Zealand and overseas, Viclink has been 100 percent committed to our goals and so collaborative in the way they work,” says Corinne. “They even organised printing of the books and posters so we could sell them at affordable prices, which we could then use to put on workshops for teachers.” 

With people from 30 countries currently accessing the website, Gary Ward—Viclink’s General Manager, Knowledge Services—says the team is building an international reputation as world-leaders in translanguaging.  

“It’s been such a privilege to be involved in helping them take their work to the world and create positive impact,” he says. 

Listen to Corinne talk more about the project on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme.