Bridging Language Barriers Symposium: Abstracts

By February 23, 2017News

Our visitors from Hamburg University are getting ready to travel 16,295 km to Sydney for the ‘Bridging Language Barriers’ Symposium

The count-down for the Bridging Language Barriers Symposium at Macquarie University on March 16 has started! The abstracts of our exciting presentations are now available and you can find details of research into the educational consequences of European and Australian linguistic diversity below.

If you have not registered yet, make sure to do so asap because places are filling up fast. Attendance at this highly interactive event will be free but numbers are limited so register your attendance now by sending an e-mail to

When: Thursday, March 16, 2017, 9am-6pm

Where: Macquarie University, Australian Hearing Hub S2.6 (AHH) 1.200 Lecture Theatre

Program: Available at


Keynote lecture 1, Prof Ingrid Gogolin, Hamburg University, Language diversity as an asset for teaching and learning: theoretical considerations and empirical indication

Europe is a multilingual space. Paradoxically, individual and societal multilingualism are officially accepted and celebrated at the European level, where the policy aim is for every European citizen to become at least trilingual. However, closer analyses of the European discourse on multilingualism show the ‘Janus face’ of perceptions of linguistic diversity.

While the languages of European nation-states and officially acknowledged linguistic minorities (such as Frisian in the Netherlands, Welsh or Gaelic in the United Kingdom, Sorbian in Germany) are celebrated, all the other languages of people who live in Europe are ignored or even rejected as so-called ‘migrant languages’. Europe is home to migrants from all parts of the world. Germany, for example, accommodates migrants who originate from 190 countries. Officially, however, Germany is considered a monolingual country.

Embedded in this paradox, my presentation will first provide an overview of the historical development of migration and linguistic diversity in Europe with a focus on Germany. In the second part, I will present current research on linguistic super-diversity and its perception from sociolinguistic and education research perspectives. Lastly, I will present findings from an ongoing longitudinal study on the multilingual development of 1,800 students in German schools. In this study, the development of German and English among all students has been tested, as well as the Russian or Turkish development among migrant students, and the French or Russian development among those students who study these languages as schooled foreign languages. I will present interim results from this study, as well as reflect on methodological challenges that arise for research on linguistic diversity.

Keynote lecture 2, Prof Drorit Lengyel, Hamburg University, Home languages and home language instruction in the German education system

Approximately 50 years ago, heritage or home language instruction was introduced in German schools in reaction to the migrant ‘guest worker’ period in which workers’ children and other family members were granted permanent residency. The German federal states developed varying services for home language instruction due to divergent commitment towards home language provision in general, and due to individual negotiation processes between the institutions and parties involved. However, not all children who speak home languages other than German have the opportunity to attend home language programs and to become bi-literate through professional instruction. This presentation provides an overview of both the history as well as the present-day situation of home language instruction in the German education system. Moreover, it discusses recent research findings on the need and importance of home language instruction in schools from the perspective of parents and children, as well as on the potential benefits for language learning in general.

Panel 1: Educating diverse student populations

Susan Poetsch, Sydney University and Australian National University, Languaging their learning: how children work their languages for classroom learning

This study presents a linguistic analysis of an early years Maths lesson with children who speak an Australian Aboriginal language (Arrernte) as their first language. It describes how they use Arrernte, English, and an admixture of those codes for classroom learning. Despite their language background, schooling is delivered primarily through English, which places significant responsibility on these students for their own learning. Although the data provides evidence of successful learning in this lesson, it also demonstrates how the children’s first language is a necessary tool to achieve that, and the potential for more targeted English language instruction when teaching mainstream curriculum content.

Hanne Brandt, Hamburg University, Language learning in the mainstream classroom: Social Studies teachers’ approaches and attitude

In Germany, an increase in the number of migrant students across the education system, coupled with low levels of educational attainment among these students, has sparked a discussion around the possibility of integrating language education provisions across all content areas. Current teaching standards call for all teachers to provide their students with language support in the classroom, regardless of the grades and subjects they teach. The present study focuses on Social Studies teachers at secondary schools, and investigates how the rising demand for language support is translated into their pedagogical practice.

Findings show that the majority of participating teachers seem to be aware that their students are in need of language support and many of them believe that it is their duty to provide them with it. However, most of these teachers do not feel qualified to deal with the language diversity in their classrooms, and therefore are unable to include language support into their pedagogical practice.

Miriam Faine, Monash University, Student experiences in the superdiverse university

Higher education can no longer be understood as existing only within a national space but operates across fluid globalised spaces. It therefore needs to respond to diversity (including linguistic diversity), rather than attempting to manage diversity in ways that perpetuate problematic power relationships. This paper focuses on postgraduate international students’ experiences and practices in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. I report data from a small scale qualitative study which focuses on the micro scale of lived spaces to show ways these students created and participated in multiple, fluid networks across linguistic, national, cultural, religious and regional boundaries.

While the literature has often homogenized ‘international students’ into a singular marginalised entity and focussed on English language deficits in the context of dichotomous relations – or lack of them – between the host community and international students, this data validates the international students as active agents and cosmopolitan subjects. In spite of the institutional barriers created by language, new language practices emerged from local contexts of interaction as these international students engaged with each other to create networks, personal as well as academic, within the transnational and transcultural social and academic spaces afforded by internationalisation.

Stephen Doherty, University of New South Wales and Jan-Louis Kruger, Macquarie University, Bridging language barriers in educational settings using subtitles for first and second language students

This paper showcases recent research into the cognitive processing of educational subtitling for first and second language students in higher education. We describe the cross-disciplinary approach that we have taken to develop a multidimensional methodology that employs both online (eye tracking, electroencephalography, and task performance) and offline measures (psychometrics questionnaires) to investigate the cognitive processing and usage of subtitles amongst English L1 and L2 viewers of educational content.

Results demonstrate the strengths and limitations of this methodology, and we present findings that have provided us with unprecedented access into the efficacy and efficiency of subtitling in educational and entertainment settings amongst diverse multilingual samples. We examine initial evidence of the beneficial nature of subtitles for both L1 and L2 viewers in these settings, and show how subtitles can be optimized using research findings from Cognitive Load Theory and Cognitive Translation Studies.

Finally, we highlight links to wider cross-disciplinary research projects and real-world applications that bridge language barriers for linguistically diverse groups in multimodal settings.

Panel 2: Multilingualism in institutions

Ruth Arber and Michiko Weinmann, Deakin University, Orientating languages: Navigating multilingual spaces

The manifestation and impact of conversations about language, identity and difference and their impact on student and teacher interaction in western education contexts has been frequently remarked upon. Few publications explore the ways in which these norms and their consequent structures and behaviours play out in the practices of languages teaching.

This chapter draws from larger research to explore the ways that EAL and Languages teachers working in schools in Victoria, Australia experience and enact their professional Languages teacher identities and speak about those of others. Engaging the move towards a social turn and a more comprehensive understanding of languages, multilingualism and transnationalism, we explore the ways in which languages teachers’ practices are described and enacted in day-to-day school contexts. Through the narrative device of the vignette, teacher conversations about their daily experience and practice are explored and interrogated. These conversations pointed to a phenomenon in which some languages, and the teachers who spoke or taught them, were understood differently to others. These differences were produced and reproduced in complex interaction between systemic indicators including race, class, whiteness and western hegemony which marked languages, Language teachers and learners as being of more prestige and higher or lower value.

We argue that, in the transnational contexts of Australian schools, these discussions are framed within unequally empowered discourses of alterity and ‘hegemony’ that are raced, gendered, neo-colonial, and neoliberal. They appear to many as wrought within a world with dissolving national, linguistic and cultural boundaries, which are experienced as unsettling and disempowering. Moreover, the particular example of Language teachers’ identity is shaped by the normative terms and conditions of an understanding of languages and Languages education that remains, all too often, rooted in parochial, monolingual and pecuniary perspectives.

If we are to re-orientate approaches to Languages education, and develop a more sustainable and socially just approach to teacher supply, these conversations and the norms and behaviours that frame them need to be better understood.

Tobias Schroedler, Hamburg University, Multilingual Practices in a German Institution: A Case Study of Multilingualism amongst Staff at Hamburg University

In recent years, research on multilingualism in institutional governance has become a key area to better understand the mechanisms and politics of linguistic diversity in Europe. This project aims to shed light on the role of multilingualism in the governance and administration of Hamburg University. With over 42,000 students and over 12,000 employees, Hamburg University is one of Germany’s largest higher education institutions. This project explores the role and value of multilingualism in the university’s governance communication.

Data from an extensive quantitative survey among all members of staff in administrative and technical functions reveals that over 60 different languages are spoken, and that over 75% of employees use languages other than German regularly at work. The presentation will illustrate reported application scenarios, and the usefulness of the extensive multilingual repertoires in relation to specific communication scenarios. The data further indicate that English plays a ubiquitous role in the daily work of most employees. I will conclude by asking whether fluent competencies in German and English represent the (essential) norm; and what role languages other than German and English play in the governance of the university.

Amanda Miller Amberber, Australian Catholic University, Language therapy in the first versus second language for multilinguals with aphasia: effectiveness and barriers to treatment

The diversity of languages and cultures present in most cities and countries results in there being many multilingual individuals with language impairment after stroke (aphasia). Multilingual individuals with aphasia face a double communication difficulty, resulting not only from aphasia but also from access to effective assessment and treatment in both/all languages. Research is presented demonstrating the effectiveness of treatment provided in the first or second language for the treated language only, with little evidence of generalisation to the non-treated language. Consequently language therapy in all relevant languages is essential. The barriers to treatment in both/all languages spoken by multilingual individuals include lack of access to bilingual speech pathologists or interpreters for treatment, lack of standardised aphasia language tests in diverse languages, and an institutional monolingual mindset that does not adequately recognise multilingualism as the norm. The social and functional consequences for multilingual individuals with aphasia are discussed together with recommendations for overcoming the language barriers that currently exist.

Haidee Kruger, Macquarie University, The double-edged sword of translation: Language-in-education policy, publishing languages, and translated children’s books in South Africa

Since the late 1990s, South African educational policies have promoted multilingualism (in principle if not always in practice), and have emphasised the importance of mother-tongue teaching and learning together with the acquisition of additional languages. Given the highly multilingual South African context, this has posed significant challenges for the production of educational and leisure books for children. To meet these challenges, many publishing houses make use of translation to fulfil the need for children’s books in all 11 South African official languages. However, continued linguistic, economic and educational inequalities mean that translation is a complex and contested practice.

This paper presents a quantitative analysis of publishing and survey data collected in the period 2006 to 2014, in order to investigate how language-in-education policy and economic incentives intersect in shaping publishing practices and motivations for using translation to produce books for children in the 11 languages of South Africa. Read against the background of the cultural, ideological, educational, linguistic and material realities of South Africa, the analysis suggests that vastly different forces drive publishing, generally, and the uses of translation, specifically, in the different languages in South Africa. In particular, the African-languages children’s book market remains small, and appears to be almost exclusively driven by educational incentives. Translations far outstrip original writing in this sector. As far as the development of a children’s book market in the African languages is concerned, it appears that translation is, at the moment, a double-edged sword, extending the uses of the African languages, their visibility and their status, while simultaneously constraining (by making unnecessary) original writing in these languages.