Liz Billard, PhD
About the author
Liz Billard’s PhD (2000) from Adelaide University, South Australia relates to education and literacy in China, and followed wide experience in classroom teaching in Adelaide over several decades.
From 2002 she developed and implemented a model of contextualized bilingual education preschool curriculum for the remote minority Bai people of SW China. Papers based upon that work have been presented in a number of academic venues and government bodies in China on this subject, including universities in Kunming and Dali and the First “Zero Barrier” International Bilingual Education Symposium in 2011 held in Jinhong, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, PRChina.
Language learning in minority China
The following abstracts outline a set of three papers discussing how children with strong minority language backgrounds and living in rural villages in the PRChina may be better prepared for their Chinese education by beginning their education in their own language during preschool. Paper one explores the importance of developing and extending these children’s oral language skills in both their own minority language and Chinese. Paper two discusses establishing reading and writing skills and strategies which only become available when a language is already familiar. Paper three investigates what has already been done in Canada and Italy and shows how this experience may benefit minority children in China. These papers also give examples from a program already established amongst the Bai minority in Jianchuan County, south western China, and present some outcomes.
Language learning in minority China: oral language
The first paper concerns minority first languages in the PRChina and the acquisition of the national language. It discusses the importance of oral language development in both languages, beginning with the minority language which is often the only language students know when they start school. The paper gives strong reasons for extending the student’s ability to think and use their own language well, because these skills affect all future learning. Also important is establishing an oral foundation in the national language before learning to read and write that language. Even with only one year of oral language teaching in Chinese, students are more likely to have a better sense of the language’s structure, its sound and rhythm while also acquiring some useful vocabulary.
Language learning in minority China: reading & writing
The second paper is mainly concerned with the skills and strategies used when reading and writing a familiar language. Research shows that oral language proficiency levels in a second language greatly affect the ability to use such reading and writing strategies. Research also shows that students should be taught how to use these reading and writing strategies so that they are able to recognize and use ‘chunks’ of language rather than relying on translation. Finally, this paper discusses recent developments in neuroscience which may help to improve the teaching of these reading and writing strategies to students, even when the scripts of the first language and the target language are different.
Language learning in minority China: across the curriculum
The third paper discusses the role non-language subjects can play in second language learning. It looks at immersion programs in Canada, and a different approach used in a European Union country such as Italy, to see what may be learned and applied to minority education in China. The paper also shows how to link subject specific language (e.g. grade one mathematics) in the target language (Chinese) to concepts already learned in preschool in their own language. Finally, it presents some interesting outcomes as Shilong Village Bai/Chinese bilingual preschool program graduates have passed through primary school.