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Indigenous Language Immersion Classes Gain from Partnership

Indigenous language immersion classrooms benefit from partnership

Teachers and children in indigenous language immersion classrooms around the world will benefit from an international partnership involving the University of Canterbury.

Aotahi – School of Māori and Indigenous Studies (Aotahi) at the University of Canterbury (UC) was invited to participate in the international Comparative Language Input Programme (CLIP), developed by Professor William O’Grady and his team from the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. CLIP is the first comparative study of adult speech to children in language immersion programmes. CLIP analyses recordings of indigenous language used by teachers in the classroom from several countries to assess what language children are being exposed to. CLIP is jointly funded by the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and the Smithsonian Institution.

Professor O’Grady says it is widely agreed that the quantity (i.e., the number of words) and quality (i.e., the number of different words) to which language learners are exposed has a major impact on their linguistic development.

“By gathering and analysing information from different immersion programmes, it will be possible to identify the extent of the variation in language use in immersion programmes and, eventually, to determine the impact of this variation on the success of those programmes – a key goal of work on language revitalisation.”

“The inclusion of a Māori immersion programme, widely recognised as among the best in the Indigenous language immersion classrooms benefit from partnership world, in the CLIP research gives scholars a baseline against which to measure other immersion programmes in communities around the world, including Scotland, the Philippines, and Latin America.

UC Ahorangi | Professor Jeanette King of Aotahi says Aotearoa New Zealand’s kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa immersion schools have an excellent reputation globally and a great deal to contribute to international knowledge.

“There is a lot of immersion teaching of indigenous languages happening around the world, but a lot of people setting up programmes in various countries don’t have a lot of information about the quantity or quality of the language input needed to be effective.”

Exceptional expertise

A team of three academics at Aotahi is uniquely positioned to participate in the programme. Currently Ahorangi King’s research specialities include Māori language revitalisation and the intergenerational transmission of minority languages. She also leads the bilingual theme of the New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour | Te Kāhui Roro Reo at UC which also provided funding for the two projects.

UC Director of Māori Teaching and Learning Kaihautū Ako Māori Dr Mary Boyce’s PhD thesis identified high frequency words of Māori based on a one million word corpus of broadcast language. She worked previously for Huia Publishers producing resources for immersion programmes and while there used corpus data to inform her work.

UC Resource Teacher of Māori | Takawaenga Mātauranga Māori Christine Brown’s Master’s thesis focused on producing a new set of frequency lists of words that children were either hearing or reading in the classroom.

Benefitting teachers and students paramount

Ultimately, it was the benefits that participation in the CLIP programme brought to other research at Aotahi that secured UC’s participation. Ahorangi King is leading the Tuhinga Māhorahora project, and Dr Boyce and Ms Brown are associate investigators. The project is building a corpus of children’s writing in Māori which will allow investigation of children’s written expression in immersion settings. The children’s writing has been entered into a database and analysed to test ways of providing targeted feedback to participating teachers.

Ahorangi King says that in agreeing to participate in CLIP, it was paramount that, as with Tuhinga Māhorahora, there would be a benefit to the people approached as well as informing CLIP analysis.

Working to provide benefits to the teacher who self-recorded for CLIP revealed a challenge, she says.

“The transcription of the teacher’s speech was very time intensive. While we intend to provide further feedback to the teacher they were able to read the transcripts and benefited from a self-analysis of their language use.

“The longer term ambition is that both projects, the oral and the written, will enable classroom teachers to more easily see which words children are, and are not, using and how they might enrich both language input and output.”

Analysis of CLIP recordings include:

• quantity – how many minutes per day are children being exposed to language in the classroom

• quality – in particular looking at content words, words that give meaning and repetition versus unique phrases. The more unique the phrases, the more likely it is that students will be exposed to the high frequency words required to lay a foundation for language fluency.

Kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori – background

Kōhanga reo, immersion schools in te reo Māori for preschool learners, began in the early 1980s, following the results of a survey in the 1970s that showed very few children were being raised speaking Māori. Between three and four hundred schools were established within a few years. Kura kaupapa Māori were established in the mid-1980s so that students would not lose their knowledge when they went to primary school.


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