Dr. Ania Byerly is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Language Education at the Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh. She has worked with a variety of the university’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, such as MSc TESOL and MSc Language Education, Initial Teacher Education, BA Childhood Practice. Ania is a qualified Early Years and Primary School teacher, specialising in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to young children.
She has also worked with Edinburgh’s English as an Additional Language Service supporting bilingual Polish English Speakers in Edinburgh schools and nurseries. Ania focuses on student teachers and school teachers developing an understanding of various social justice issues: from social class, ethnicity and ‘race’ through to linguistic and religious diversity.
She is also going to be a part of the ‘Teaching that Matters for Migrant Students: Understanding Levers of Integration in Scotland, Finland, and Sweden’ (TEAMS) project in collaboration with ten researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Stockholm, Jyvaskyla and Turku, who will study how teachers, schools and education systems facilitate migrant integration in schools. In particular, the project aims to identify educational practices and structural conditions that facilitate opportunities for migrants’ academic success, cross-cultural socialization, and developing a sense of belonging in their school communities.
[Carine] Hello and welcome to the Much Language Such Talk podcast. Future Carine here! Today’s episode was specifically recorded for the UNs International day of Education, which celebrates of the role of education in peace and development. As academics, we think access to education is a human right and believe a well educated population is one who can make informed decisions about our futures. Additionally, We have some excited news about the podcast! We recently found out that we were accepted for a Student Experience Grant from the University of Edinburgh. With the grant we hope to increase the quality of the podcast and be able to reach an even wider audience. As an education podcast, like the UN, we believe everyone should have easy access to language research. Now enjoy the episode!
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[Carine] Welcome to Much Language Such Talk. Today you’ll be hearing from me [Carine], and Austin, an MSc student in Transformative Teaching and Learning at the University of Edinburgh. Before deciding on becoming a primary school teacher, Austin has coached football in the US, taught English in Japan and worked as a pupil Support Assistant in Scotland. They have a background in developmental psychology and a master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Welcome, Austin. Hi, how are you?
[Austin] Not bad and yourself?
[Carine] I’m alright. Thanks for joining us. Um, I said in your description that you are an MSc in Transformative Teaching and Learning. Could you briefly explain what that courses?
[Austin] Yeah, so the Masters is a teacher training kind of course. But it’s not just training, it’s making sure that we’re being super reflective on our practices, especially looking at things from social justice and sustainability.
[Carine] What do you mean by super reflective, what does that mean exactly?
[Austin] A lot of teacher training courses go into things that might just be about, you know, writing lesson plans and following the curriculum. And this is more looking at curriculum that’s given by, you know, whatever governmental agencies or by the schools themselves, and how are we implementing that, but then also, how does that reflect and affect our teaching? How does that affect and reflect on our students and vice versa, learning from our students looking at them, and how they’re affected, you know, affected by the things that we’re doing.
[Carine] Wow, that’s, that’s really fantastic to have that kind of moment and introspection in your own learning practices and teaching practices. That’s really cool. So today, we’re very excited to be talking with Dr. Ania Byerly about education, language and social justice. Ania is a senior teaching fellow in language education at the Morey house School for Education and Sport at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked with a variety of the University’s undergraduate and postgraduate programs such as MSC TESOL, and the MSC Language Education, initial Teacher Education, and BA Childhood Practice. Ania is a qualified early years and primary school teacher specializing in teaching English as a foreign language to young children. She has also worked with Edinburgh’s English as an additional language service supporting bilingual Polish English speakers in Edinburgh schools and nurseries. Through this, she has gained experience in areas of inclusive intercultural and anti-racist education. Ania focuses on student teachers and school teachers developing understanding of various social justice issues from social class, ethnicity and race through linguistic and religious diversity. Her work as a teacher has led her to complete a PhD in education investigating Scottish primary school teachers’ perspectives on multicultural and anti-racist education. Ania’s current research interests include children’s ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, and whether teachers incorporate these into their everyday practices, how an individual’s and the school’s structural factors enable teacher autonomy, education policies and bilingualism, playful pedagogies, English as an additional language, early years and wider areas of social justice as well as critical literacy, intercultural and anti-racist education. Welcome, Ania, how are you?
[Ania] Hi hello, glad to be here.
[Carine] Oh, we’re so happy to have you. Thank you for joining us.
[Ania] My pleasure.
[Carine] Are you ready to just jump right in?
[Ania] Let’s do it.
[Carine] Alright, so our first question, how did your interest in teaching come about?
[Ania] Well funny you should ask it actually started from language. It’s true, I wanted to be a translator, or perhaps an interpreter when I was in high school and I thought this is a great job. Maybe I can just spend all my days you know, reading science fiction books and then translate them into Polish or into English, whichever way, and I became a teacher instead.
[Carine] A little bit different.
[Ania] A little bit different. However, I got interested in the program, a teacher education program, which qualified teachers also in being language teachers, specifically, English as a foreign language teachers to young children. I thought this is this is something to look at to pursue. And after my first year of University, I thought this is the best choice ever, and I’m never wanting to be an interpreter or translator again.
[Ania] So and yeah, I kind of as the studies progressed, as my five year master degree, which is what it was, progressed, I decided, you know what, it’s a good idea to want to make a difference in people’s lives and teaching is definitely an avenue to pursue that.
[Carine] Oh, wow. Okay, so it was while you are going through all of these things that you were like “oh teaching is a great way to bring language to people” and like help people work on these kinds of things.
[Ania] It actually grew on me with time. Yes, definitely. The more you learn the more you’re excited about it, the more you’re excited about being a teacher, not to mention that studying pedagogy, which included things like psychology and sociology and counseling studies, and so on, just really helped me just be who I am. And I thought, you know what, if anyone ever wants to become a parent in the future, they could do with studying pedagogy.
[Carine] Yeah, not a bad idea. True. That’s really great that you get to have all of these background courses, looking at psychology and sociology, those are really important things I feel like, especially as an educator, you need to keep in mind while you’re doing those, that’s really cool. So you mentioned that you were really interested in becoming a translator, and then later becoming, you know, a language teacher. So what’s your personal experience in learning and teaching languages?
[Ania] I always remember enjoying learning languages. I know that my parents would say I was good at learning languages, but I never saw it that way. I just thought ‘This is fun’. I think I was lucky enough that my teachers or people I was working with made it fun. So I always enjoyed it. So I started- So I’m Polish, m first language is Polish, I grew up speaking Polish only. I started learning English when I was six, which is pretty standard and normal in a big city in Poland, in Europe, in general, I would say. And I went to primary school where we had a choice of about four or five different languages, and everybody studied at least two. So after English, I started learning Russian, I think in primary school, so when I was… seven, or eight, but I didn’t quite like it, so I went to French a few years later. And I studied English in French throughout high school, up until University, and interesting point as well, in order to become a teacher in Poland, you also have to continue a foreign language at University. So I continued with just English at that point. And later on in my early 30s, I decided, you know what, actually, the most useful language for me right now after English would be Spanish. So I started learning Spanish, which I really, really like. But only did a few years of that, and a PhD got in the way boo.
[Ania] I’ll go back and learn Spanish properly. And I did a little bit of a few months of Japanese recently as well, which was really, because I was planning a trip to Japan, I wanted to be able to communicate. Yeah, so I use I use English and Polish every day.
[Carine] Wow, that is quite a range of languages though, that’s fantastic. Oh, that’s so cool to see that you’ve had such like a long history with languages and you’re continuing it now. Yeah, it does suck when your PhD and all your extra work gets in the way. But yeah, that’s, that’s great that you’re having the chance to go back.
[Austin] Currently you’re teaching classes to help teachers battle issues on race, class and other types of prejudice. Was there a specific event that made you want to help teachers learn how to support their students in these areas? Or were you always interested in these dynamics within the classroom?
[Ania] There’s always this crucial event that happens in your life that-that leads you to this path to take this path and not another. And for me, this was a specific experience, a teaching experience, actually, when I was on a on, on a study exchange, and Erasmus in Ireland. I spent a week in a little Catholic school in the south of Ireland, with their youngest children, they call them infants, so they were five. And I was just amazed at how multicultural the classroom was. They were children from all over the world in the class alongside the Irish children, lots of children spoke very different languages, many of them did not speak English at that point. There were many, many Polish children, as well. And I went into the classroom and I thought ‘Wow, how did those teachers do it? How did those teachers manage? What do they do if they don’t speak all the languages of the children that they have in the class?’ And so I wanted to find out how that’s been done. And this ended up being my master’s project, where I ended up doing a comparative study between Polish primary schools and Irish primary schools on including multilingual children and the ugly sides of not including multilingual children. So discrimination and prejudice.
[Austin] Yeah, that’s quite, that’s quite an intense environment you put into to have this to see that and to be able to wrap your head around.
[Ania] But you see, the interesting thing is that this was a normal environment for a lot of schools there in Ireland and actually, it is increasingly so in normal environment, everywhere.
[Austin] Yeah, so this diversity kind of makes it makes it normal. So we have to tackle these sorts of issues head on. What are some of the most common issues teachers are facing when learning to tackle this prejudice in the classroom and what advice would you give to support them with this?
[Ania] So this is a big question.
[Carine] Mhmm It’s a big ask yes.
[Austin] (laughs) Sorry.
[Ania] So what I can say is that this is actually the reason why I went on after my master’s, to do a PhD because I wanted to look deeper into the issues of ethnicity, and race and language and religion. So all different markers of difference, and the types of prejudice and discrimination that children young and people face. So what are the most common issues that teachers face when they want to learn how to tackle prejudice in the classroom? Okay, so I’ll give you some of the insights from that PhD that I’ve done. So there are, let’s say, three different areas to look that at are the most, um, common issues that teachers face. The first one is the personal factors. Lots of teachers would tell us that the confidence and the lack of confidence to tackle these issues is number one. And the reason for that is that most Scottish teachers at least, are white, middle class, comfortable people. Don’t get me wrong, anyone. But most of -most of Scottish teachers just simply don’t have personal experience of difference. Most Scottish teachers are monolingual, most teachers have not lived abroad, right? Most Scottish teachers are white, and therefore, they just don’t know what it’s like to be different. And so that is the number one reason from what the teachers were saying, for the lack of confidence. They just don’t quite know. Another thing is the fear of getting it wrong.
[Carine] I was just wondering: Is this the case even in more uhm, I guess- I don’t like to use the word impoverished, but less well to do areas in Scotland as well that the teachers is still are also from middle class areas.
[Ania] In general terms, yes. However, teaching has always been, historically has always been the profession that enabled social mobility. So a lot of teachers are the first in their home, let’s say in your family to go to University. So yeah, that would be a different position. So then you would say that perhaps the issues of social class are close to their hearts, but not necessarily still issues of skin color, or ethnicity or language diversity. Yeah.
[Carine] That’s good point.
[Ania] So if I was to go back to the question, the fear of getting it wrong, for example, yes, to do with that lack of confidence. And people are, because of that, that they have the fear of what even language to use when talking about prejudice and discrimination. You know, are you able to use the word race? What does the word race mean? How would you describe difference? So the language around those issues is something that the teachers are just not sure of. The most common issues to do with prejudice in the classroom also are to do with kind of structural issues, so that the wider social societal issues, for example, you know, Islamophobia is real and a big big and growing problem in the Scottish and British society in general. So, religion is very visible and religious difference is that the most visible marker of difference and the most common reason for prejudice, unfortunately. Another thing is, for example, English as an additional language. Lots of teachers are aware that there are there will be children who do not speak English as their first language in this class. However, they’ve got lots of misconceptions about it. I can talk about that later, if you wish a little bit more. And… what advice do I usually give teachers to support them with this? Well… Can we talk about that for a day or two? Make it two? Teachers may sometimes feel like they should choose a specialism that they should be good at. So for example, be an advocate for disabled children or be an advocate for LGBTQ+, or learn more about this or that, where in fact, you know, they’re not competing problems. They are intersecting problems, to put it in a different way. They are all important. You know, what makes us who we are, everything is important. There’s no hierarchy of needs, but you cannot be an expert in everything. And this is also why teachers are unsure. So what I would say is, tackle issues as they come along. Don’t be afraid to take whatever children bring to your classroom and speak about that openly with them. And you will find the language talk about those issues with the children. You might even actually ask the children to help you provide the language and work in tandem with them. So I would say start early. Start with the primary school; start with the early primary school. Or even better, start at nursery. Do not shy away from uncomfortable discussions, because children did not shy away from uncomfortable topics, because they’re not uncomfortable for them. They’re just topics. And so, they will naturally arise in the classroom. And so and the last thing I want to say here is that prejudice and tackling prejudice and discrimination is something that all teachers will do anyway, as part of being a teacher. Because you just can’t let it go. You can’t let it stay there. Yeah, it’s a skill that children have to learn. But it’s also a standpoint and a value that us as teachers want to give to the children we work with. So it’s not necessarily just connected to ethnicity, but to all aspects of who we are, to gender, to sexuality, to strengths, to anything at all, really. So yeah, it’s just it’s just a normal part of school life to me. So that’s the advice I would give to teachers: Treat it as normal part of his life.
[Carine] Yeah, that is, Wow, that is a really good point to mention how it is important to not focus on one specific aspect of the children’s lives, because they’re all going to be overlapping. Like, they’re, they’re not always going to have this one thing that might be happening. And they can have multiple things happening at the same time.
[Ania] That’s it, we’re not square boxes (laughs).
[Carine] Not at all. Yeah.
[Carine] That’s really good. So you mentioned a couple of instances of prejudice and discrimination that might happen in schools. How, as these areas shifted in recent years, has it always been the same demographics that are receiving these types of prejudice? Or have they shifted lately within Scotland?
[Ania] I would say there has been a shift. And it actually would be interesting to talk to teachers of different generations in different ages in Scotland to see what their understanding is. Because, say, you know, I moved to Scotland 14 years ago, right at the beginning of mass migration into the UK, from Eastern Europe. I’m very good example of that myself. So currently, the largest minority in Scotland is Polish people. We have, we have replaced very quickly the Commonwealth migrants from a good few decades ago. So the biggest shift recently is within the groups of visible versus invisible minorities. You know, when I walk down the street, I am not subject to strange looks, for example, people don’t clutch their bags when they see me. And they’re not afraid of me, because I’m white, I don’t look different. I don’t wear a hijab, I don’t show myself as outwardly religious either. So that’s also not visible feature of me, and my life. So the demography here has changed. However, racism and prejudice are still here. And some even would say that they they’re growing. So within the context of Islamophobia, which I mentioned before, as well. We have, definitely, heightened issues of skin color, religion and visible minorities are not the only ones that are right now very prominent in Scotland. I would like to mention also that the group of people who statistically have the worst outcomes in terms of education, but also other aspects of life chances, are actually Scottish travelers. Highly invisible group in a way, a lot of young people and young adults from this group, who, for example, choose to stay on in education, formal education don’t often admit that they’re from a traveling background. And on the other hand, traveling children are often seen in education itself as those children who are most likely to drop out very early. And so are, there’s a lot of inequality and prejudice against that group as well. So you know, in Scotland, we do have a bit of overt but also a lot of covert racism, right. And in academic terms, we talk about racism and discrimination operating at three different levels, not just that kind of visible interpersonal one between you know, one person saying something bad about another person, but also at the structural level. So that means how the society, society in general sees other groups, and the institutional level, so how institutions like schools or universities or tax man or whoever else are organised that penalize you for being from minority background. So, I would say that overall research suggests that more and more experiences of everyday racism are being documented and are coming up to the, to the light, it doesn’t mean necessarily mean that there’s more of them happening, but more and more of them can be seen by others in terms of academic research.
[Carine] Yeah, so it is kind of a thing of, we’re now noticing it.
[Austin] So have you seen language discrimination in the classroom? Is it the same as racism or xenophobia? Or is it or is it something different? What does it, what does it mean?
[Ania] Well, that’s a good question. I’m not going to provide you with a definition of what language discrimination is. That’s, that’s not the point here. Yes, so I having worked in various primary schools and nursery schools in Edinburgh, in the city here, I would say just, you know, it’s a city like many others, but it’s a very multicultural city, very diverse city, with very diverse schools, and especially primary schools. Actually, you know what, loads of teachers are doing a great job, loads of teachers are doing really the best they can, providing also that Scottish teachers don’t really have much preparation for teaching multilingual children themselves. So a lot of teachers have been supported over the years by the English as additional language service in the city, lots every Edinburgh, every Scottish council would have, or most, a lot of Scottish councils let’s say, have such support, although it’s often very limited. But the EAL (English as an additional language, editor’s note) specialists have been working around the different schools, going to different schools in order to help the teachers to adapt to the situation of working with multilingual children and giving them strategies to work with them by themselves. So teachers are doing a great job, I have to say, and teachers are not just trying to be able to help the children to access the curriculum. In other words, help them learn. That’s, that’s obvious, right? But teachers understand that children who are bilingual and children who have parents from different countries perhaps bring more to the classroom than just the language. So I would say what you would call language discrimination, perhaps would be a moment where a teacher is treating a bilingual or multilingual child as a problem and not as a resource. If you treat a multilingual child as a resource, you’re doing a great job, because then you actually have another teacher in the classroom, you know? And so, I’ve seen for example, a class where the teacher was teaching French, and she had a multilingual child who also had French, and so that that child was often the teacher. Obviously, in very small part only helping here and there, pronunciation or words or something like that, but there we go, you should definitely use that as an as an opportunity. So please, do not treat bilingual children as a as a problem. It’s not just the lack of English that is defining them. Unfortunately, though, there are still teachers like that, again, probably mostly because they just don’t know any different and they haven’t had enough education yet about bilingualism. There are unfortunately also parents, just like teachers, who think that bilingualism is a problem, that it will slow down your rate of learning English, or that it will bring down your results. Yeah, so we still have to battle with that. But is it the same as racism or xenophobia? It can be combined. So it’s about attitudes, people’s attitudes to other people, to people who are different, whether they’re five years old, 15 or 55. It doesn’t matter, if you don’t like difference, then you will be prejudiced against that person. Another thing to mention, I guess here is that, unfortunately, within the UK and Scotland, different languages have different status. You know, without the languages, the ones that are taught as modern languages, for example, in Scottish high schools are the languages that have high status, the ones that are the languages of the future work and markets and economy have better standing than say, Polish, or Romanian or any language you can think of that are just here because they represent it. Unfortunately, some teachers still think that’s English should be the only language is allowed in the classroom. However, I would say from my experience that is thankfully rare these days.
[Carine] Yeah, that is great to hear, that makes me very happy.
[Austin] Me too.
[Ania] So overall, children, bilingual children were really getting, they’re really helping each other, you know, the children are helping each other. And teachers are helping all the children in the class to achieve. If you want to talk about learning languages in high school, so that’s a different story.
[Carine] It’s amazing to see the difference between it because when you look at Scotland’s one plus two program that they’ve been trying to implement, one of the factions of this is to bring the community languages into the schools to give the students the opportunity to do that. But as you were saying, because of the status of especially European languages, which Spanish, what is it Spanish, French, German, Italian, are the big ones that are taught?
[Austin] Yep, yeah and Mandarin
[Ania] And Chinese Mandarin.
[Carine] Yes sorry, and Mandarin. That’s true. But what are the chances when you have you know, a community where they speak like Punjabi, or if they speak Urdu, or if you have another Chinese community where they speak Cantonese instead, that you’re going to have trained qualified teachers to do that. And I think that’s the issue that they’re falling into at the moment, because all the teachers have been trained to learn these specific languages. So it’s not the qualification that’s there yet. It’s interesting to see how that’s going to change. It’s a, I think, the policy itself is really great and of wanting to bring all of these languages to kids. I understand that, of course, it takes time to, you know, change from one policy, one system to another. Speaking of languages in school, what are some of the most you mentioned a couple of these, but what are some of the most common misconception about bilingual students in the classroom? What has research said about these misconceptions?
[Ania] I think like I said before, the main misconception about bilingual students is that they are lacking something, that deficit model of thinking, as we call it in academia, that that bilingualism is something somehow hindering their learning. What has research heard about this? No, it’s not true, you’re lying. Not true! It is a resource. Not a lack, not a problem. I think on another level, a common misconception about bilingual students is that their language or their languages, is the largest part of their identity. And it doesn’t have to be that way at all. No, oftentimes, children who have been born in Scotland who happen to come from a family where one or both parents are not Scottish, they feel Scottish. They are Scottish. There’s no question about it. They’re Scottish, and perhaps also something else. So that language and that the culture aspect of who they are as well, yeah, they’re important, but they’re not the most, the defining factors of who they are as children. Maybe they were just a child, maybe they just want to be known as you know, Mary, age six.
[Ania] From Edinburgh! That’s it. That’s enough for now Another misconception that still sometimes reigns is that if you have a bilingual child, then their parents or the parent must not speak good English. Why would that be? I don’t understand. Yeah, sometimes it happens. Of course, people move, people still move. It’s not like everyone who lives in Edinburgh has lived here for you know, the last decade or so. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t speak English at all.
[Carine] That’s a really good point about mentioning how the languages aren’t their full identity. My parents both immigrated to the states at different times. My father came to the states in the 70s. My mother showed up in the 80s. My dad’s from Israel, my mom’s from Finland. I consider myself to be American and no one in America would take that away from me. And I think it’s because America’s, you know, history of immigration, as I will politely call it right now, which makes it that no one really fights me against it. Yeah, I can see how I have actually seen exactly examples of like, first generation kids in Scotland being like, I’m Scottish, and they’re like, but aren’t you Chinese, and they’re like, I was born and raised here, dude.
[Ania] Exactly. And actually this is a common thing that is being brought up in research for second, third, and even fourth generation, visibly different Scottish people. Unfortunately, you have Scottish young people, children, young people who are still being asked where they’re from, if you know their grandparents came from India. And that should just not be that way. It’s not fair. It’s absolutely not fair to, to carry this burden for so long just because of your skin colour.
[Carine] Exactly. Yeah. To pivot a little bit, you came to the University of Edinburgh to study for your PhD. Is that correct?
[Carine] Okay. So while you were studying, is that how you found out about Bilingualism Matters? How did you hear about the organisation? How did you get first get involved?
[Ania] That’s a really good question. I don’t remember. I think it’s, yeah
[Ania] I don’t remember. I must have just come across it one day, and I thought ‘Okay, this is perfectly interesting. Let’s have a look.’ … uhm, sorry!
[Carine] Do you think it’s kind of a moment of like language enthusiasts all just kind of gravitated towards each other? That’s like we had some kind of homing beacon where we’re like “You – yes, we have similar opinions on this and we want to talk about it. So let’s get together.”
[Ania] Another thing is that PhD students are in this phenomenal position of being encouraged to look around and, and seeing what’s available and find discussion groups and for, mingling with other students and stuff. And so I’m pretty sure that this is what happened. I just went to all kinds of seminars and talks and discussions and wanted to find out and learn as much as possible. So Bilingualism Matters would have been one of those platforms, because Bilingualism Matters organizes yearly, big conferences, and all kinds of regular events that are definitely of interest. So yeah.
[Carine] That’s so cool to hear how you kind of like stumbled into it in a way.
[Ania] And one other thing I do remember, it comes to my mind just now, one of the schools I worked in as a Bilingual Support Assistant with English as an additional language. Actually, Antonella came one day for a talk.
[Carine] Oh man!
[Ania] So the first time I met Antonella was at a parents evening, it was about the time parents evening scheduled her talk to be for the parents of multilingual children in that school. So, Yeah, I remember that.
[Carine] That’s amazing. We’ve kind of just been like, on the sidelines with you for a while just like, Hey, how you doing until you merged and came to be part of the organisation as well.
[Ania] It’s great! It’s just kind of shows that Bilingualism Matters has been here for a while, you know, and it’s very respected amongst teachers and amongst head teachers in schools. And so, Yay BM!
[Carine] Yay! That’s so great to hear, yes. So you’ve mentioned that teachers and head teachers know about Bilingualism Matters, what resources would you recommend for teachers to use to further their own practice and educate themselves on how to deal with classroom discrimination specifically for language and bilingual children?
[Ania] Well, I wish there was a booklet that could give you all answers. And that you could read it in half an hour and know from now on how to deal with bilingualism, discrimination, everything. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. It’s like…
[Carine] Ah, Holy Grail.
[Ania] Oh yeah. It’s like, I remember what I taught a class on anti-racism, once with my undergraduate student teachers, and I got some feedback after the two hour workshop on racism. That someone was disappointed that they didn’t learn anything about how to disrupt racism, because, you know, like, I could tell them in two hours how to do everything, like it’s just something really easy to do.
[Ania] But on a more serious note, Bilingualism Matters has a range of resources. But I think the main, the most important resource is the ability to talk to other people, and to discuss and to learn. So not necessarily look for quick fixes, because they don’t really exist. But to find where to look for more information, yeah, to find more resources on specific things that you want to ask about, but to find out how to make them work in your own context.
[Carine] Yeah, that’s something I really love about it is that we’ve got this great, like pool of resources from different places, and that the organisation, being international in the way that it is, if one of us in like the Edinburgh branch, if we don’t know something, we can go to someone else who is possibly doing research in this area and ask them for their support and what they’ve seen so far.
[Ania] I mean also, because teachers you know, what do teachers do when they don’t know something? They ask their friends, they ask their colleagues. They don’t go and look for academic journal articles about that topic. You ask your fellow teachers. And so this is it. Bilingualism Matters is made up of a lot of teachers, a lot of educators who work in various fields in various countries and we can pinpoint to one another and to one another’s work. So I particularly like an effort that is now within BM to actually put some of the academic work into plain language. I think that’s a very good initiative and I think that’s something that, yeah should be done more. I would be keen to help because it’s so difficult actually, for us academics to speak in normal plain speech.
[Carine] Yeah it’s so hard.
[Ania] That I would like to learn to do that better myself. So yeah, this is, this is a winner for me.
[Carine] We’re gonna put on every single workshop in two hours, you’ll learn how to never use academic jargon again! (laughs) Oh, my God, if only, that would be amazing. It’s so great that you are you’re very passionate about Bilingualism Matters and the work that we do. And with this, you’re now currently the Programme Director for Teacher Education with Bilingualism Matters. While the pandemic has put many projects on hold, you’ve also if it’s okay for me to mention, have been on maternity leave for the last year. What were, or what are your goals with this position?
[Ania] I’ve got a lot of goals, a lot of ideas in my head and not enough time. There’s never enough time. Okay, well, actually, they’re, they’re the same, they have been the same for a while, my goals. Teacher Education does not have enough education about bilingualism and about languages and about linguistic diversity and cultural diversity and all kinds of ethnicity and race and everything that comes with it really. So it, unfortunately, I am not the Education Minister for Scotland, so I cannot make sweeping changes. However, I can reach individual teachers, and also student teachers. And I think actually, I always choose student teachers, because I think they have, like you, Austin, you are the prime material for me to be able to convince, or to at least try to inform you so that you convince yourself that these issues are worth delving in deeper, and that you are currently, you’re not yet teaching, so you have time on your hands to research, and that’s part of your degree as well. And the role of your degree is to learn and to research and to investigate and to find out. And so this is the time to find out both the theory and a bit about the practice of how to deal with discrimination and racism and things like language discrimination as well, in actual classrooms with real people, real children. For example, if they’re six or 16, you have to do it differently, right? Or in nursery, it’s actually, there’s quite a lot of research in Scotland, even originated from Edinburgh, on how children learn discrimination in the very early years before they actually start speaking well. They already learn that discrimination. So we know that, you know, if children learn that kind of attitude and behavior, then us as teachers, we have to help them unlearn it, we have to make it visible and explicit and talk about it. So my goals for, as a Programme Director for Teacher Education in Bilingualism Matters are to introduce more opportunities for both student teachers, and in service teachers to discuss those issues to work on specific examples of work that they could be doing, as part of their normal daily work to teach anti-discrimination, anti-racism, and to look at the value of languages and diversity in lots of different ways of understanding that word.
[Carine] That sounds fantastic. I’m really excited for you to come back to work and to do all of these things. It’s gonna be great.
[Austin] So I guess more on a more practical note for, at least I’m very interested in this. What would your ideal classroom look like? You know, in terms of how languages are approached and used?
[Ania] I love this question. This is a perfect question. Actually, when I was interviewing, my interviews for my PhD, my last question was also about the ideal world scenario for their life. I think ideal world scenarios can tell you a lot about yeah, what could be possible, because why not? Let’s dream big. In terms of how languages are approached, so let’s start from actually turn it around on its head about how languages are taught. And my idea of classrooms languages would be taught by competent and educated language teachers. First and foremost, I don’t think you can teach a language just because you speak it.
[Carine and Austin] Yes.
[Ania] Let me rephrase it. Research suggests…
[Ania] That you cannot just teach a language because you speak it. You have to know how to teach that language. So in this country right now, unfortunately, there is no preparation. There is very little preparation, for teachers in primary schools specifically, there’s very little, next to no preparation included within teacher education degrees for teachers to feel like they are competent in teaching the languages their tasked to teach. In secondary schools, it’s even more complicated picture and it’s a, it’s a difficult situation. And my ideal school would definitely have a choice of languages to learn and the ability to change the language you want to learn whenever. You don’t have to stick with Spanish for six years. If you don’t like it after the first year, why would you do that? You know, it’s making the language a chore, it’s not supposed to be a subject that’s a chore that you then achieve poorly on and hate it. And then you have to take an exam at the end of school and they’re like (making complaining noises) “I hate languages”. It’s supposed to be fun, if it’s fun, it’s more likely to be successful. And another thing is, my ideal school would be resourceful in terms of who to employ to teach languages and not rely on the fallacy that you have to employ native speakers of that language to teach it well. There’s a whole bunch of research about that, about native speakerism, not just about English, but any language. And so the ideal of classroom in terms of learning languages as well would have enough time devoted to it. Not one hour a week. And within the time comes, also, you know, actual graded difficulty and interest and real life use of the languages and not textbooks all the time and real life use of languages. So making it fun, making it fun. Like we did, Carine, with the Harry Potter reading for example, that was so much fun!
[Carine] Oh I loved those!
[Ania] I loved it too! I think it’s for all languages, and all ages. But so not specifically about how languages are taught, but how languages are approached in classrooms. My ideal classroom would just allow people to experiment. And if they know any language, whether there are bilingual, multilingual or just learning languages, let them use them, just use them. So I’ve seen, I’ve seen classroom teachers in primaries where they had children who had English as an additional language, where children didn’t have much English yet. And they allowed the children to complete the tasks, for example, in English and literacy, in their first language. Why not? Why not a child can perfectly write a poem, but just not in English yet.
[Carine] That is great!
[Ania] So let them write it in the other language. Let them use the languages and see them as a resource. Like I said before. And for Scotland, where you know, one of the countries where English is the first language, let’s just demystify this idea that languages are difficult to learn. They’re not. they’re not very difficult. But if you only do one hour a week, you know, you’re doing language awareness, not language teaching.
[Carine] That’s a good point about letting the kids, I really liked that, let the kids do the tasks in the language that they’re confident in. Of course, it’s important for them to learn the language of the environment. Definitely. But like when I was a kid, I was in nursery school. And I came home from school one day with a note pinned to me – I love telling this story – that literally just said, ‘Please teach Carine English. She bit someone today.’
[Carine] I’m like, not even like two years old. It’s an age kids bite people. It happens. Yeah. My mother only spoke to me in Finnish. And so I only spoke Finnish at this age. I mean, what does a two year old really say, but I really didn’t use English, even though this was the language of the environment, because I spent all my time with my mom. And so once I got to school, I didn’t really have the words for English yet. And like, and it’s like, to this day, that bothers me so much. Because my mom, she was, it was the early 90s. We didn’t have all of this resources to be able to say anything. So she was just like, ‘the teacher’s right. If I don’t teach her English, and I only speak Finnish, then she’ll never learn English.’ And unfortunately, that happened. Which is mind boggling, because now my Finnish skills are that of a two year old. But yeah, who knows what that kid did to deserve that bite but…(laughs).
[Ania] But Austin, wouldn’t you also agree that as a teacher, it’s in your interest to find out who you’re working with?
[Austin] No, absolutely.
[Ania] Who the families are, right, a little bit about the family and about the kids themselves.
[Austin] Yeah. No, absolutely. Because what we’re learning about right now is about the, you know, it’s not just the child that you see in the classroom, it’s everything that they bring from home, and their own background experience. It’s not just, you know, although they might identify as this, you know, particular kid in the classroom. They have a whole wealth of experiences coming from there. And if you can tap into those, get them engaged, because there’s a lot of stuff that goes into how engaged the kids are, how motivated they are, and if they’re not being, you know, respected or understood, then it becomes tricky for them to be able to engage with the teachers be able to engage with their peers. And it’s just it’s, it’s a tricky situation,
[Carine] Oh my God, children are people? Who would have thought! (laughs)
[Austin] Yeah (laughs) Novel concept. I know. (laughs)
[Ania] There’s two things that just came to my mind. One is another real-life example of something amazing that I’ve seen in a primary school. You know, there’s, you might know that various language communities in many cities have what they call complimentary schools or Saturday schools. So schools, you know, community led groups, usually that teach children of that language, that ethnicity, a little bit about the country, the language they speak, the geography, the history, and so on. So it’s like a very mini school on Saturday mornings, usually. So, in one primary school in Edinburgh, I saw that a girl, who attended a Polish Saturday school, came one day to show a prize that she won for a star speller, a contest across the whole Scotland. So, she was the winner of this age group spelling competition in Polish, essentially,
[Carine] Yeah, that’s amazing!
[Austin] That’s awesome!
[Ania] …and you know how hard it is to write and the language that you don’t use every day. It’s not about speaking, the writing is hard. She was the winner of their orthography contest, you know, so it’s a really difficult task, really amazing accomplishment. And what I liked about it the most is that it wasn’t just that she brought it to school because she wanted to share it. But in that school, it was part of our practice that teachers knew and ask the children what they were doing outside of school, especially if there was bilingual children and children of different cultures and who were, who had access and regularly did activities that the majority of children would not do. So if children, if teachers are aware of your children attending a Saturday school, they can actually find out what they’re doing there and take that forward.
[Carine] That’s amazing.
[Ania] That’s a fun anecdote.
[Carine] Also, well done to her for getting that award, well done. (clapping)
[Austin and Ania] Yeah (laughs).
[Austin] So do you have any examples of eliminating language discrimination from the classrooms that you’ve they’ve come across over the years?
[Ania] Like I said, I think overall, a lot of teachers are doing a really great job. And so there’s quite a lot to talk about. But actually, something that comes to mind is a personal experience from this week. If you don’t mind, from a nursery.
[Carine] Of course, yes, please.
[Ania] I am just enrolling my 10-month-old son into nursery for the first time. And, you know, all staff are native English speakers, they don’t have any bilingual staff members from what I could see. However, they do have bilingual children. And so it’s all about attitude. It’s all about attitude for, in this instance, institutional attitude, and structure attitude that filters down to individuals. So when you’re first enrolling a child into nursery, it’s just like when you enroll a child into school, you actually let the environment know, let the institution know a little bit about the child or, you know, schools ask parents to fill in forms to say a little bit about the child. They do, and so the nurseries, and so the key worker I was talking to said that since, because they knew that my son is growing up bilingual, said that I can, I am more than welcome to provide them with some key phrases in Polish that the child is already used to because you know, being 10 months old, he definitely can’t speak it, but he can already understand a few things. And so this was something that was discussed on the first time we met. And I was given a little cheat sheet, which I think is very useful for that all monolingual staff to have with the same phrases that they can use like ‘hungry’, ‘drink’, ‘tired,’ you know, things for little children.
[Carine] That’s so smart.
[Ania] And a few spaces where you could write in your own words. So, things, for example, like come, chodź in Polish, and so on which he knows by now, you know, he knows very well. And so, the staff showed me on the second day of dropping him off for settling in and says that they are already using some of those words when taking the baby out of the buggy. I mean, how simple is that like, that is super simple.
[Austin] Yeah, super simple.
[Carine] That is such a great thing.
[Ania] And it only requires five minutes of that person’s time to try to put in their head something. Obviously they’re not going to learn every single language that there is, but they’re only working with a group of 12 children for the next year. And I think you know, within that day they probably have one or two bilingual children, you can make an effort. And so, yeah, individuals can make such a difference if they have the right attitude supported by the organisation they work in. And so that’s why I say I see a lot of schools doing a lot of good job, a lot of individual teachers doing a good job, but let’s not forget, they have to have the support of their organisation behind them, including in the policies, the head teachers are hugely important, and they really steer what’s happening in the schools. But the head teachers also, as you know Austin, are bound to curricula and policies. And the policies, like we talked about earlier Carine about the one plus two approach to language learning in Scotland. They are good in theory, right? For example, talking about community languages being included. But in practice, there’s no exam that school leavers in Scotland can take in high school, for example, for community languages. So, you know, but when there’s a will there’s a way, and there are schools in various cities known for their attitude to language learning into country discrimination, there are primary schools in Edinburgh, for example, who actually offer children Polish after class.
[Carine] Oh wow.
[Austin] That’s awesome.
[Ania] Because they know that there are so many children who are Polish language speakers that they could actually learn it more, you know, not just the speaking part, but the writing and the orthography and so on as well. So, it’s possible.
[Carine] That was so heartwarming, honestly, to hear that they’re doing that. It’s just a small thing. Like, it doesn’t seem like a lot. It really isn’t. But it is so crucial for also like helping, you know, people feel a part of their community and also show that the teachers care.
[Ania] It’s recognition. And that’s, that’s one of the main elements of antiracism too. And, you know, to put it in other words. One of the, one of the main ways of being discriminatory against others is by misrecognizing people, misrecognition is discrimination.
[Carine] Yeah… So, we’re talking about children and students and classes, and we’ve been around children. Austin and I have both taught in primary schools. We’ve seen children generally in the world.
[Ania] You have also been children once!
[Carine] This is true. I thought I came out fully formed!
[Austin] That’s amazing (laughs)
[Carine] We’ve all seen that children are unpredictable. They’re very expressive. They’re very unfiltered. And you first specialised in working with children. Do you agree with the statement? Or do you have any relatable stories about working with children?
[Ania] So this is funny, you said children are unpredictable, expressive, and unfiltered. And it sounds like a bad thing. It kind of sounds like these, you, Carine, adults who forgot you were a child once. You say “you are unfiltered! You are unpredictable!”.
[Carine] It’s actually something I love about kids.
[Ania] There we go!
[Austin] It’s why I’m going into teaching.
[Ania] It’s funny how you can take you know the same word and put a different spin into it, onto it. And different people do that differently. Exactly. Some people think that children are, you know, they should be seen and not heard, right? There are mini adults, they should learn how to behave, and they should become adults that learn, that know how to behave. And some other people would say “okay, children are unfiltered and expressive and unpredictable” and that’s the best thing about it, because they’re free, they’re not afraid. Children are amazing, children are really open and they’re really honest. You know, children also want to fit in, and that can be a problem. But, they are more accepting than adults. And they’re often less surprised by things than we are, as adults are. So, I can only speak praise to children. I you know what I would say I’m not going to come up with a specific anecdote anymore, as children are great. But what I would say is, I would challenge you and the listeners, I would challenge you, if you have access to any group of small children just even take took two or three small children, and best nursery children or early primary school children, interview them about something really important, and really important topic like love, or friendship, or why do people work? Or something like that. And you’ll be amazed. Your mind will be blown by the answers that they come up with. It’s just amazing. I’ve done something like that for the first time early on in my first degree. And yeah, it was a preschool group of children and we were laughing our head off student-teachers because they were just so amazing. So children learn now a lot more than we think and children are so quick at learning from us. Unfortunately, like we said earlier, they also learn about prejudice and learn about the wrong attitudes. However, we are very good to work with to challenge these attitudes. You know, a lot of teachers who I worked with on antiracist workshops, said “How do you work with children whose parents are racist?. You know, they bring their attitudes from home to school. So how do you do that? You can’t teach the parents, can you? Well, what should we do? Should we just give up? And say Yeah, this seven-year-old has the right to be racist for the rest of their life?”. I think as teachers, we have the conviction that children are able to learn and they are able to think rationally and they’re able also to have empathy.
[Ania] So there’s no prescription here, every teacher will actually know what to do in their own way. Don’t be afraid.
[Carine] I think it was Carl Sagan, who was talking to, someone had asked him, what’s his favorite audience to work with? And he said that he loved to work with young children, because adults, either don’t ask questions, or they ask you the exact same question over and over again, while, kids will come up with these novel questions of like “Why are clouds shaped like that? Why do we have stars?” Like all of these.
[Austin] Why does a watermelon have, why is a watermelon hard on the outside but soft in the inside?
[Carine] So this is an example actually our friend’s got from the nursery school student when we were working in Japan, and she just asked them “Does anyone have any questions, any questions at all?” And then they asked that question, she was just like “That is a great question. I’ll have to come back to you”. He was fantastic, man. Yeah, I think a better way to put this is that they’re, they’re super creative. And they’re open to new experiences. And they’re going to tell you what they’re thinking and, which is great, honestly.
[Ania] But you see, children believe that everything is possible. And I think that’s the best thing about them because you really can carry on that attitude. Yeah, everything is possible. Do you want to eliminate discrimination? Yes, it’s possible. If we can do it in our class, then why can’t the whole school not do it? And then why can’t the whole country not do it? Yeah, it’s possible. If you believe in it, everything is possible.
[Carine] Exactly! Moving back from the students to the teachers, if you could recommend one book or a movie or maybe one of each, to all trainee teachers, what would it be?
[Ania] (sighs) Because we have so much time to read.
[Ania] Actually, the Book of the Year for me last year is called Factfulness. By, It’s written by Hans, Ola and Ana Rosling. Hans Rosling was a Professor of Public Health from Sweden, he died a year or two ago, unfortunately, Ola is a son, and Ana is his daughter-in-law. And they’ve been working together for quite a few years now to come up with a very accessible and entertaining way of showing statistics to people. And using numbers and statistics to convince people that actually facts, you know what, are quite useful to know and they can change attitudes. So, Factfulness by Hans Rosling is a book that tries to dispel some of the main myths around the world, like, for example, it’s all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of war and natural disasters (makes long list sound). It’s really well written, it uses stats and up to date stats, and it shows them in a graphic, easily accessible way. And it shows us as individuals, strategies, very simple strategies, of how we can change the way that we think for the better. So, I think that teachers and everyone else actually should have a look at that book and read it.
[Carine] That sounds so cool. Wow. Easy stats? That doesn’t exist.
[Ania] Yeah. Exactly. I also, I’m not a quantitative person at all. I didn’t even do statistics. So, for me is like magic.
[Ania] I understood Factfulness fine.
[Austin] I’ll make sure to send it to all my coursemates.
[Carine] I am definitely gonna pick that up. Looks like I’m buying it for everyone for Christmas.
[Ania] I actually did that for my sister.
[Carine] Oh, fantastic! Okay. Well, that’s all the questions we have. Thank you so much for speaking with us and answering our questions in such a great and insightful way. And it’s also very clear from the way that you speak about your work how enthusiastic you are, so thank you so much for joining us.
[Ania] Thank you very much for having me. This was a pleasure
[Carine] This is a pleasure for us as well. Thank you so much. And Austin, for someone who is training as well, I can imagine this was quite insightful for you.
[Austin] No, absolutely very reflective, as per our earlier conversation (laughs)
[Carine] Always reflecting. Alright. Thank you so much for joining us while we talked about language, education and inclusion with Ania. We hope you’ve been inspired to think about your everyday experiences with those around you and in education. If you’re interested in learning more about Ania and her work, you can find the link to her University page in the episode description. Tune in next time to keep learning about how language shapes us and the environment around us. As always, stay safe, stay healthy, and…
[Ania] Sayonara! (Japanese for good-bye)
[Austin] Au revoir! (French for good-bye)
[Carine] Lehitra’ot! (Hebrew for see you later)