Language Teaching Studies Blog Site at the University of Oregon

November 3, 2016
by LTSblog

Value diversity in the languages you teach

picture-276In this LTS blog post, LTS and Linguistics faculty member Melissa Baese-Berk writes about the importance of valuing and integrating multiple varieties of dialects and accents in the language classroom.

The reality of language and power

Each fall, I teach a general education course called “Language and Power” here at the University of Oregon. One of the textbooks we use is Rosina Lippi-Green’s English with an Accent. In this text, Lippi-Green introduces students to the idea of Standard Language Ideology: “a bias toward an abstract, idealized homogenous language, which is imposed and maintained by dominant institutions and which has as it’s model written language, but which is primarily drawn from the spoken language of the upper middle class.” Lippi-Green argues that by defining some “standard” all other languages, dialects, and accents are defined in contrast as “non-standard.”

During our term, we spend a lot of time examining our ideas about “standard language,” and the impact that these ideas have had on our thoughts about language more generally speaking. We begin the term discussing the remarkable structure throughout language, even in unexpected places (e.g., non-standard dialects). We also spend several weeks discussing the substantial variability found at every level of language both within and across speakers.

Shifts in student thinking

As students begin to examine linguistic facts about structure and variability, they frequently begin to question many of their own beliefs about language. Many of my students are heritage language students who have been exposed to one dialect at home and then learn a different dialect in their language classroom. They’ve received different messages about the prestige of their home and school dialects and languages throughout their lives. When they realize that a many of the judgments about languages and dialects are social, rather than linguistic in origin, students begin to see value and prestige in all the forms of language they use.

What this means for language teachers

Language teachers hold remarkable power in helping students form ideas about language, dialects, and accents. The language and dialects students are exposed to in the classroom are held in high prestige because they are the targets for learning. However, when the language varieties used in the classroom are limited to those typically seen as prestigious by the broader community, students may view other varieties as “non-standard.” Students from heritage backgrounds may feel as though their home varieties are being marginalized. Students being exposed to the language for the first time may learn to reinforce the typical societal views about prestige of certain language varieties. If, however, students are exposed to multiple dialects and accents during the course of their learning, they may learn to value all these varieties. Exposure to these varieties may have the added side effect that students may also able to communicate with more individuals outside of the classroom, rather than only individuals who speak a “standard” or prestige variety.

To read more about Melissa’s work and teaching in LTS, see her past blog post here:

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