Vol. 10 no. 2 / December 2016 / Special issue on Bilingualism in Education in Malta

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Special Issue Articles

“In English not in Maltese!”: The Bilingual Language Use of a Student Teacher Teaching English in Maltese Primary Schools

Josephine Milton

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In this paper I present data pertaining to the bilingual language use of a student teacher during English lessons in Maltese primary school classes. The case study was undertaken as part of a larger study, however, for the purpose of this paper I will focus only on one student teacher and a selection of her experiences. The impetus for the study came about because I was interested in finding out how English and Maltese, as the official languages of Malta, were used by student teachers while teaching primary school pupils. Classroom observations during the professional practice placement were held to find out whether Maltese, as the L1, was drawn on during English lessons. I also held interviews with the participant to obtain feedback as to when and why the first language was used during the lessons. In the primary school classrooms observed, Maltese was drawn on mainly to ensure understanding and learning, for procedural issues, to address classroom management issues and to establish a friendly atmosphere during English lessons. Both languages were used to mediate learning and to negotiate meaning and understanding.

Language Influence on Solving Arithmetic Word Problems

Esmeralda Zerafa

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In Malta arithmetic word problems are normally presented in English. This may impinge on the performance of pupils whose first language is Maltese. The main aim of this study was to investigate whether language influences pupils’ performance on arithmetic word problems. The study was carried out with 30 children in Grade 3 (aged 8 to 9) in the three sectors of the Maltese education system: State, Catholic Church, and Independent. Some participants identified Maltese as their first language whilst others preferred English. Language preference was confirmed through an informal interview with teachers and during the individual informal interviews held with the participants. During the interview they were asked to recall and solve two multi-levelled sets of word problems, one in Maltese and another in English, and to complete a non-verbal computation sheet.

Findings indicated that the pupils found word problems more challenging than non-verbal computations presumably due to the language component. Moreover, it seemed that when problems were in their first language they understood and recalled them better as well as solved them using the correct operation. They also managed to do so quicker without having to translate the word problem since this was already set in their preferred language.

Frequency, Significance and Clarity: Factors Supporting the Learning of Mathematical Vocabulary in Bilingual Classrooms

Marie Therese Farrugia

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A crucial part of mathematics education is the teaching and learning of mathematical language, which includes subject-specific vocabulary. In a study carried out in two Maltese primary classrooms wherein mathematics was taught through the students’ L2 (English), and a teacher-directed ‘whole-class’ approach was used, it was noted that three conditions for vocabulary use – frequency, significance and clarity – appeared to be necessary for teaching new topic-related vocabulary. In this paper, I explain these conditions as they emerged from my empirical data and then conjecture on their relevance to other classrooms wherein both Maltese and English might be used, since code-switching is the most common approach used in Malta for teaching mathematics. I suggest that while frequency of use of words is likely to depend on the teaching methods employed, code-switching might further promote the significance of mathematical words; furthermore, I suggest that using both languages might actually support clarity of the meaning of the topic-related words. Finally, if we wish to make a shift away from traditional whole-class teaching, we will need to equip students with the language necessary to engage differently with mathematics, irrespective of the medium of instruction used.

Language and Achievement in Science in a Bilingual Context: A Maltese Perspective

Frank Ventura

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The great majority of international studies on language in science education relate to oral interactions in monolingual settings. Only a few local studies focus on the bilingual setting of Maltese science classrooms. This paper reviews a small number of research studies on the influence of language on the Maltese students’ performance in science tests and examinations. The research includes a study of correlations between achievement in English language and in a science examination at Ordinary level, an investigation of the Cummins thresholds hypothesis that proficiency in both Maltese and English produces differences in achievement in a Physics examination, and an extensive study of the influence of students’ passive and active English language skills on their performance in Advanced level Physics. Another two studies investigate the effect of setting tests in a different or modified language. In one study, three versions of a science test with questions set in English, in English and Maltese side by side, and in modified English were randomly distributed to 380 Form 5 students. The other study set a Maltese and an English version of a carefully designed Integrated Science test to a sample of 284 Form 1 students. The implications of these studies are discussed.

Interaction and Approximation to the Target Language During Italian Lessons in Malta

Antoinette Camilleri Grima, Sandro Caruana

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For many years it had been considered axiomatic that in the foreign language classroom exposure to the target language should be emphasized, and that the learners’ native language should be banned. However, in recent years, the analysis of classroom discourse has unravelled some essential pedagogical functions of the learners’ native language in foreign language teaching (Macaro, 2009). In line with this, the term ‘translanguaging’ has been introduced in the international literature with reference to the drawing on all of the linguistic resources that one has in order to ‘make sense’ (Garcia, 2009), and to improve language learning processes and outcomes (Lewis, Jones & Baker, 2012). Taking a sociocultural discourse analysis approach, this contribution shows how Maltese learners of Italian and their teachers interact bilingually to fulfil pedagogical requirements such as the assimilation of grammar points, explaining new vocabulary items, and shifting from formal to informal language. We give examples of how the teacher guides the learners in interaction toward target language approximation.

Teachers’ Understanding of the Use of Language as a Medium of Instruction in ‘French as a Foreign Language’ Lessons

Anne-Marie Bezzina

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For their communicative needs, bilinguals access their language repertoire, in which languages are not discrete and separate, but form an integrated system. This has led to pedagogical practices which consider bilingualism as a strategic asset rather than a source of interference of the L1 upon the target language (TL). Competence does not consist of the total mastery of each language. Rather, bilinguals need to build proficiency by developing abilities in the different functions served by different languages. This new understanding clashes with the pedagogical tradition that theorizes competence in terms of monolingual norms, advocating exclusive use of the TL in the Foreign Language (FL) classroom. Given that it has been shown that FL teachers do frequently use the L1, and that the L1 can support the learning of French as a FL, this study investigates Maltese teachers’ attitudes and classroom practices in relation to translanguaging in the French classroom. A questionnaire for teachers allows a better understanding of the functions for which the L1 is put to use, whether teachers received training in language use and whether there are consensus viewpoints about when L1 use may prove more beneficial.

Other Articles

Developing a National Quality Culture for Further and Higher Education in a Micro-State: The Case of Malta

Alexander Spiteri

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In July 2015 Malta inaugurated its National QA Framework for Further and Higher Education to foster a comprehensive quality culture in the sector. This is the first QA framework within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) that covers further, higher and adult formal educational provision. It is also significant because it presents an alternative to the neo-liberal New Public Management paradigm of QA in higher education that is dominant internationally. Indeed, the Framework is based on the 2015 version of the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) which focus on quality enhancement rather than accountability, enriched with elements from the EU system of QA for vocational education (EQAVET). The rhetorical positioning of the Framework as well as its overarching nature were possible because of Malta’s characteristics as a former colony and as a micro-state. This paper discusses how Malta’s characteristics informed the development of Malta’s QA Framework, and how the Framework itself was developed and implemented.

Music in Maltese State Secondary Schools Developing the Syllabus and Raising Standards

Lydia Buttigieg

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Music is considered a multisensory experience which encompasses and focuses on listening, seeing, moving and the emotional aspect of the human awareness. All these elements are considered important in the music curriculum as they enhance, stimulate and develop sensory perception and psychomotor skills. The main objective of this paper is to present detailed and structured revisions to the current Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) syllabus so as to reflect the ideal principles and standards that are required at this stage. Apart from providing the necessary materials and resources to support both teachers and learners, a more comprehensive approach and holistic organisation is needed in the syllabus and music curriculum. This paper also aims to enable the SEC syllabus to help pupils attain and sustain the standards required by other European universities/colleges.

Book Reviews

Anne-Marie Callus and Ruth Farrugia, The Disabled Child’s Participation Rights. London and New York: Routledge, ISBN: 978147242875 (hbk), ISBN: 9781315615509 (ebk), pp. 172

Carmel Borg

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There is no abstract available for this article.