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Learning Diary - Language Acquisition and Cultural Awareness

by Chelsea Lockwood

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Entry One 

As someone who has been working in bilingual schools for the past six and half years, for six years in Vietnam in bilingual international schools and for the past six months in the Spanish bilingual system, it has come as a surprise to me how little I know about language acquisition in the context of acquiring English as a second additional language. My students in Vietnam ranged from completely fluent in English (they could have matched the level of first language students in the UK for example) who were on grade level for English and who on most levels at least, met the age-level standards for reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. There were other students however who were perhaps new to the school or whose parents did not have any English language ability and therefore could not support them at home or outside of the classroom context, who were far below the grade-level expected standards for English. I did my best to support them in accessing the language as best they could by introducing phonics and scaffolding content to aid them in their understanding, but I do feel that I would have benefited from completing some PD and gaining a better understanding of language acquisition to better support them. 
For me the biggest take-away from the first lecture on language acquisition is that language can be such a big part of identity and understanding how language and identity are interlinked is both useful to teachers who teach languages, but also to help understand people better. I think having a better understanding of my family language tree influences my identity and how the changes and evolutions of my language history have impacted how I relate to people and the world. Coming from South Africa means that when I meet people abroad and say that I speak multiple languages, there is still a disconnect because the languages I speak are not ‘worldly’, i.e. European languages. 

Entry Two

I have found that learning about the positive impact of learning multiple languages has contradicted my previous misconceptions and beliefs about language learning. I have found it empowering to know that children are more than capable of learning more than one language with fluency and not only that, it helps our brains to evolve and think in ways that are hugely beneficial. It has encouraged me to pursue my learning of Spanish in a more meaningful way and has opened my eyes to the power of language. I could never imagine thinking or dreaming in another language, other than English, but feel that this would be a beautiful experience to have. Bilingualism has been proven to improve brain function and is associated with a number of cognitive benefits. It is amazing that switching between languages can help keep one's vocabulary strong and  also help to learn new words faster.
My approach in the classroom has therefore adjusted and I no longer worry when children respond to a question in Spanish as it shows that they have understood the question. It is part of the natural and normal cognitive developments when it comes to language learning. I feel I understand my students better and have a more well rounded picture of their ability and development in English language learning. 

The various stories we covered in class regarding minority language stories was also very enlightening. Our group discussion about Richard Rodriguez who was a first language Spanish speaker, but who lost a lot of communication with his family due to the advice recommended by the school to only speak English at home, was eye-opening. As a group we felt that this could have been handled very differently. Some solutions we thought of were to encourage him to join after school clubs in English where he could practice his English without compromising the communication at home would be an organic way for him to use, develop and practice English. 
Entry Three

This week I watched the film "Outsourced," and it really made me reflect on my own experiences with cultural awareness when moving abroad. The film tells the story of an American man who is sent to India to manage a call center and must navigate the cultural differences and misunderstandings that arise. Watching the film, I couldn't help but think about my own experiences moving to a new country and how important it is to be culturally aware and sensitive. It's easy to assume that the way things are done in your own country is the "right" way, but the truth is that different cultures have different customs and ways of doing things.

One scene that particularly stood out to me was when the American manager, Todd, is frustrated with his Indian employees for not meeting their quotas. He doesn't understand that in India, family and community obligations are often more important than work, and that taking time off for a family event is seen as a necessary and acceptable reason for missing work. This scene made me realize how important it is to take the time to learn about the culture and customs of the country you're moving to, and to approach differences with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
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