MEITS Blog


Early years language assessment: the role for EdTech

by Napoleon Katsos

If a parent is concerned about their child’s physical development, all they need in order to confirm that the child is growing well for their age is a measuring tape and scales. They can then check height and weight against widely available developmental charts. If you are a parent living in the UK, you will remember the little red book given by the NHS at the birth of each child, where being on or around the 50th percentile suggests that a child is just fine for their age.

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The Northern Ireland election and the Irish language

by Deirdre Dunlevy

Irish was a principal background factor in the breakdown of the Northern Ireland executive in January, resulting in a snap election on Thursday, 2 March. The position of the Irish language in Northern Ireland became a key issue in the election campaign among politicians and constituents alike. Parties clashed over the need to introduce an Irish Language Act, with some major parties vehemently opposed to any concessions towards the language.

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Is acquiring a second language like acquiring the first?

by Yanyu Guo

Human language has posed great challenges for learning sciences. It has long been noted that children acquire language with relative ease and rapidity and without effort or formal teaching while adult second language (L2) learners cannot. In particular, children show creativity in the course of first language (L1) acquisition, which goes far beyond the input that they are exposed to. This was dubbed as the poverty of the stimulus by Chomsky (1980), with an assertion that human’s knowledge about natural language grammar is supplemented with some sort of innate linguistic capacity. Chomsky (1965) put forth a hypothetical module called the language acquisition device (LAD), which enables human to acquire and produce language.

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“We killed him for being chichipato”: Fernando Vallejo’s politics of linguistic standardization

by Aleksandra (Ola) Gocławska

Probably the most ill-famed Colombian writer, Fernando Vallejo, has laid the foundations for a genre often referred to as la sicaresca antioqueña [the ‘sicaresque’ novel from Antioquia] after the publication of his first novel, La virgen de los sicarios, in 1994. The term, used for the first time by Héctor Abad Faciolince, playfully subverts the meaning of the term picaresca –the Spanish picaresque novel– by substituting the word pícaro [rogue] by sicario [assassin]. While constituting a genre of its own, la sicaresca combines different genres: chronicles, novels or films that revolve around the figures of assasins at service of the drug mafia.

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Spelling and the ongoing standardization of written norms

by John Bellamy

There have been a number of developments in recent months with regard to orthographic norms and standards in written language. The Institut d'Estudis Catalans (IEC) ratified a new set of spelling norms last October, which gave rise to heated debates over changes to the usage of accents (in terms of the diacritic). This January witnessed the death of 111-year old Zhou Youguang, who had played a pivotal role in the development of Pinyin, used for depicting Chinese characters using the Latin alphabetic script. One of the particularly valuable functions of Pinyin is for the teaching of Standard Chinese and a structured, clear, standardized set of writing criteria can be incredibly helpful in the language-learning process.

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Language learning in Anglophone contexts: myths and realities?

by Angela Gayton

I’m sure that on numerous occasions you’ve heard comments from friends, or in the media, about Brits being bad at learning languages – certainly, whenever I’m asked about my research/teaching, and I explain my interest in language-learning attitudes, this is a view raised frequently. Often, this is seen as something to lament (e.g. “Oh, it’s such a pity that we’re so bad at languages!”, or indeed “I wish I could speak another language!”).

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Reality Check: Ukraine’s Multilingualism

by Rory Finnin

For nearly three years, Europe’s largest country has been at war with Europe’s second-largest country. There are many geopolitical and geostrategic reasons for Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine, but the Kremlin often distracts attention from them with the help of one very red herring: Ukraine’s multilingualism.

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Making Mandarin Massive

by Rob Neal

As China impacts British students’ lives more than ever before, it is crucial that more of our young people begin learning Mandarin Chinese. Currently the majority of Mandarin language teaching in UK schools takes place as an extra-curricular activity, often involving very small numbers of students and peripatetic teachers. For example, whereas 150,000 students took GCSE French last year, barely 3,000 took GCSE Mandarin. Moreover, many of these pupils come from Chinese-speaking backgrounds and learn Mandarin at supplementary Chinese weekend schools as opposed to mainstream schools. Overall, the profile of Mandarin learners in UK schools remains skewed towards those from more affluent backgrounds.

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