Factors Determining Type Of Societal Bilingualism Education Essay

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This research project examines the characteristics of bilingualism and its development and support. Bilingualism is examined with respect to its institutional supports which are defined as being state sponsored structures such as the educational framework and system. It is also examined with respect to its individualized supports meaning the social and cultural factors that are present in a given market that facilitate the development or maintenance of bilingualism among a population. I will examine this topic of bilingualism from the perspective of three markets which are Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine. The study employed a qualitative methodology known as the case study method but included a survey as a means to collect some primary data in order to improve the validity of the findings.

Bilingualism is viewed to be supported institutionally within an education system in one of two ways where the transitional approach attempts to move learners away from their native languages and towards the official or dominant language while the maintenance approach attempts to prioritize both languages equally within the framework of the state. The findings indicate that Russia is moving away from bilingualism in that it transitions all learners towards Russian within its institutions and since most of the population are Russian speakers, in one respect or another, there is less individual support for bilingualism. The Ukraine maintains much less institutional support for bilingualism but does have a substantial amount of individual support for bilingualism because Russian is still widely spoken and used in print and other media forms. Finally, Belarus is viewed to have a maintenance oriented approach to bilingualism as it provides institutional support for both Russian and Belarus but there is less emphasis on individual support for bilingualism in the market.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT

CHAPTER I: OVERVIEW

Introduction

Background

CHAPTER II: BILINGUALISM AND POLICY

Overview

Policies and Practice

CHAPTER III: METHODOLOGY

Method

Sample

Instrument

CHAPTER IV: PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS

Belarus

Russia

Ukraine

Discussion

CHAPTER V: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Conclusions

Recommendations

REFERENCES

APPENDICES

Appendix One: Instrument

Appendix Two: Data Tables

CHAPTER I: OVERVIEW

Introduction

This research project examined the characteristics of bilingualism and its development in practice. This topic was examined in the context of three specific markets that were Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus. These markets were chosen both because of my familiarity with them but also because bilingualism as institutional policy and individual practices is extremely apparent throughout these markets. The two sets of factors that are examined in this study relative to bilingualism are the institutional factors which are identified as: 1) institutional: language planning within the government apparatus and language development within educational policy and practice, and 2) individual: native languages spoken at home and social and cultural attitudes towards other primary languages (Goldstein, Pon, Chiu & Ngan, 2003, 47). The outcome of this project is an assessment of the type and degree of social bilingualism in the markets targeted in this study.

Background

Bilingualism is not a unique or unusual manifestation in many societies throughout the world. Bilingualism implies that an individual speaks two languages fluently while multilingualism implies that an individual has facility in three or more languages (Goldstein, Pon, Chiu & Ngan, 2003, 45). Bilingualism is achieved in one of two primary methods. Typically, bilingualism is achieved in either a simultaneous fashion or a successive fashion where simultaneously means that an individual acquires fluency in two languages at the same time and successive bilingualism means that an individual acquires fluency in one language before another (Cheng, Rogers & Hu, 2004). This study utilizes the three markets of the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus to identify how institutional and individual factors influence the development, or lack of bilingualism as a manifestation of national culture. Within each market, bilingualism is characterized as proficiency in the country's dominant native language and Russian because Russian would be the only common denominator with which to compare bilingual development across these three markets.

CHAPTER II: BILINGUALISM AND POLICY

Overview

The characteristics of bilingualism in a society vary due to numerous factors. For instance, bilingualism develops in individuals when they are exposed to a number of different environments in which language develops either formally or informally over time. One example is the different social contexts experienced by language that is spoken in a classroom setting versus the language that a student may be exposed to in the home setting in which the two are completely different languages (Thirumurthy, 2002). However, in either case the student acquires each language in an environment of necessity although the method of acquisition may be different. Thus, the classroom setting involves more formalized linguistic structures and the use of contextual reinforcements and support while the home setting involves more colloquial language which relies on a great deal of inference, higher context meaning transfer and little formal support (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988, 96-100). These two settings result equally as well in fluency in the target language although the processes and the context of acquisition are completely different.

The unique aspect of this bilingual development within a given market is that it is either facilitated or discouraged through policy development at the local, regional and national levels of government. The Ukraine is a nation that self-identifies as an independent nation with its own unique language although Ukrainian is linguistically related to other Slavic languages. The post-Soviet era Ukraine has seen the institutional support for the official language of the state shift from Russian to Ukrainian and presently Ukrainian is the official language in the educational system although approximately 65-68% of the population self-identifies as being native Ukrainian speakers (All, 2010). This implies that bilingualism is fairly institutionalized across the country because almost 30% of the population self-identify as native Russian speakers and much of the state media still utilizes Russian (All, 2010). The result is that bilingualism is part of the social and cultural fabric of the nation.

Likewise, Belarus is also a country characterized as bilingual in both practice and structure. In Belarus, Belorussian is the official language of the state along with Russian and both are given equal status in policy and practice. The data reveals that approximately 37% of the population self-identify as being native Belorussian speakers, which is a Slavic language as well, while some 70% self-identify as being native Russian speakers (Population, 2010). Thus, while Belorussian is state sponsored Russian has retained much of its presence in the country and is largely used within the state education system for practicality's sake.

Finally, Russia is, of course, dominated by the Russian language and Russian is the official language not only across Russia proper but also throughout many countries aligned with the Russian Federation. This state support for Russian is seen in the fact that almost 98% of the public schools in the country utilize Russian as the instructional language and the majority of the Russian population self-identify as native Russian speakers (Russia, 2010). Russian is itself a Slavic language and utilizes the Cyrillic alphabet which is shared with many other related but non-Russian languages in use throughout the Russian Federation such as in the Ukraine and Belarus. Because Russian is not only the official language of Russia but also the native language of most citizens in the nation, there is decreased evidence of institutionalized bilingualism as well as individualized bilingualism.

Policy outcomes also affect how bilingualism develops. There are two general categories of bilingualism in terms of how bilingualism is expressed in the student or young learner. Simultaneous bilingualism is the type of bilingualism that occurs where a student gains proficiency in two languages concurrently (Thirumurthy, 2002). Likewise, successive bilingualism describes the scenario in which a student learns two languages but acquires one first before learning the next language such as the aforementioned scenario where the child speaks one language in the home setting and utilizes another language in the school setting (Thirumurthy, 2002). Clearly, in situations where a student speaks one language at home prior to beginning school which may use a different instructional language, one language will be learned before the other. However, in many home environments throughout all three of these markets: Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus, many parents utilize two languages at home because of the previous regional integration that occurred during the USSR era.

Policies and Practice

Bilingualism can be supported through state and official apparatus in a number of ways. Typically, bilingualism that is supported through official policy and, by extension, through educational policies and practice, is facilitated by one of the following approaches (Cheng, Rogers & Hu, 2004):

Transitional in which state support such as funding and resource allocation is dedicated to full fluency in the official language thereby moving the individual away from his or her native language

Maintenance model where the individual's native or primary language is supported equally within the official apparatus which implies dual educational formats and equal percentages of media distribution in these target languages

Presently, these two models are being utilized to varying degrees across these three markets of the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

For Russia, it approaches any bilingualism largely from a transitional model perspective in which the emphasis is to shift individuals away from their native languages to the official Russian language of the state. This is apparent in the data which indicates that approximately 93-95% of the population is educated in the Russian language (Russia, 2010). For its part, Belarus has adopted a maintenance model towards bilingualism in which its traditional language of Belarus is given officially equal status as Russian but a majority of the population speaks Russian as its primary language and about 70 to 80% of the population is actually educated in Russian (Population, 2010). In contrast, the Ukrainian bilingualism is largely supported through individual means. This is apparent where much of the media remains published in Russian but the official language of the state and the education system is Ukrainian where only about 15 to 20% of the Ukrainian population is now educated in Russian (All, 2010). The outcome is that Russia's approach to bilingualism within its educational system is transitional while Belarus' is maintenance oriented and the Ukraine's is largely left to social-individual means.

CHAPTER III: METHODOLOGY

Method

The methodology that was employed in this research project is the case study method with the inclusion of a survey. The case study method is recognized as a qualitative method which has been shown as very useful in arriving at conclusions that may not have been predicted at the outset of the project (Hood, 2006). In this fashion, qualitative methodologies are known to generate results that prove useful beyond the original scope of the research project in which they are applied. Thus, case studies are effective at illuminating relationships that exist in the data which may not be visible through pure quantitative approaches. The integration of the survey is a device that has been utilized in previous case study research projects as a means to extend the utility of the case study method in which: "some of the potentially explanatory processes also may need to be enumerated through surveys" (Yin & Davis, 2006). The survey in this case allows me to confirm or verify assumptions made based upon the literature.

Sample

The sample for this project consisted of adults between the ages of 18 and 21 which ensured that they all have been raised and educated in a post-Soviet environment in the three markets studied. Surveys were distributed anonymously through various youth and student websites. All respondents were assured of anonymity and not identifying information was collected as part of this study. A total of 10 completed surveys were used for this project and the distribution and collection process was stopped once this figure was achieved for each market.

Instrument

The research instrument that was employed within this project was based on the Likert scale. The Likert scale orders responses on a graduate scale of approval moving from the negative to the positive in degrees of value (Savignon, 1997, 187). The survey questionnaire contains five questions and is arranged so that each question addresses either institutional or individual foundations of bilingualism (see Appendix One).

CHAPTER IV: PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS

Belarus

The responses from the respondents that identified themselves as being Belarus revealed that 50% indicated that their parents spoke different native languages in the home. Additionally, 80% of the respondents indicated in a positive manner that they had a different primary language than the official native language which, in Belarus, there are actually two official languages. However, 70% felt strongly that the education system empowered them to maintain their own native language.

Russia

The responses for Russia indicated that while there was a strong indication of different native languages in the home it was not as strongly asserted that this was the case. Russia itself has numerous regional languages and dialects in use that are still somewhat prevalent. To a lesser degree than Belarus it was indicated that the school system largely taught in the same language they spoke at home implying that while they may has spoken a different language in the home environment, Russian was still one of the native languages. This is supported by the fact that 90% reported that the school supported the use and maintenance of their native language implying that bilingualism is not institutionally supported.

Ukraine

In contrast, the Ukrainian respondents reveal that 100% spoke a different language at home at least in some context. The respondents reveal that 50% felt strongly that the school system taught in a different language that they spoke at home and this is mirrored in the literature where the Ukraine educates its students officially in Ukrainian but that Russian programs, both public and private, still abound and still remain popular. Furthermore, 100% of the respondents indicated that official documents and public media publish in a different language than was or is spoken at home and this too is mirrored in the literature in which most publications are still published in Russian.

Discussion

The results indicate that the respondents, first of all, do themselves recognize the differences in the social and cultural contexts in which their bilingualism developed. The data reveals that this recognition mirrors the difference between literal versus contextual meaning in language where they seemed to feel that the home environment offered a more pragmatic language learning environment. This is an environment where meaning is transferred in a high-context fashion in tandem with body language and other non-verbal aspects such as inflection (Hung, 2006). In contrast the policies and practices within the national environment lead to more formalized presentation of language in the school setting and thus that language spoken there tended to transfer meaning semantically where language is spoken as a statement of fact or reliance on pre-existing or taught knowledge (Hung, 2006). Thus, the respondents' home languages received little officially sponsored support while the language spoken in the school setting received full policy support.

CHAPTER V: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Conclusions

The research and findings indicate that the development of bilingualism or even multilingualism for that matter is extremely positive for individuals. Intellectually, is shown that bilingual students tend to develop increased mental acumen in the form of improved metacognition which is a higher level of thought process that occurs while the student is involved in a learning activity (Goldstein, Pon, Chiu & Ngan, 2003, 120-25). Essentially, bilingual learners have an increased capacity to learn about learning and to be aware about what they are learning from an intellectual perspective. Furthermore, other research has shown that while all children have a higher capacity for echoic memory but bilingual learners are able to more fully utilize their echoic memory to acquire linguistic fluency later in life (Tedick, 2005). Hence, while the official encouragement and sponsorship of bilingualism may be an anecdotally positive outcome, there are very real and tangible social and economic benefits for doing so.

The three markets examined each approach the concept of bilingualism from different perspectives. Russia remains focused on the dominance of the Russian language as the official language of the state and as such individuals are transitioned away from their regional languages. In contrast, Belarus has developed a purely maintenance oriented model officially which supports the maintenance and sustainability of a dual language society where bilingualism is encouraged. Belarus and Russian are both prioritized although Russian actually seems more widely spoken based on the literature. Finally, the Ukraine seemed to be the most intent on developing a national identity separate from its former Soviet identity. Ukrainian has received wide government and institutional support at the expense of the Russian language but the respondents in the study indicated that many still speak and converse in Russian. The literature revealed that while there was much less institutional support for Russian, individualized support for the Russian language was widespread and the data from the respondents supports this observation. This, it can be concluded that Russia maintains a transitional educational model of bilingualism in which institutional support for bilingualism is high and individual support is equally as evident culturally. Belarus maintains a maintenance model of education and institutional support for Russian is high but individual support in terms of cultural apparatus is weakening as other languages begin to dominate the younger generations. And, the Ukraine maintains little institutional support for the Russian language but has a great deal of individual support, in the form of social and cultural framework that perpetuates bilingualism in Ukrainian and Russian.

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