“Language is the light of the mind”: Is English in Iceland a Threat or Evidence of an Enriched Linguistic Repertoire

Föstudagurinn 13. mars kl. 13.15-16.00 með kaffihléi.

Fyrirlestrar verða fluttir á ensku en hægt er að taka þátt í umræðum á íslensku.

It is rarely possible to view the impact of language contact as it happens based on a full range of data from an entire country. The five year research project reported in this seminar examined the influence of rich input on the acquisition of English by Icelanders from young children through retirement age, and the impact the exposure has on the development of the linguistic repertoire of modern day Icelanders. The ideology, expressed in Nordic Language Policy (2006) and seen in practice in Nordic universities and the workforce, assumes parallel-lingualism and the belief that Nordic people are able to use English and their L1 equally, especially in academia and in the work force. The mixed method study reported here was undertaken to examine whether this is true for Iceland. Data was collected through surveys, interviews and proficiency tests with the participation of over two thousand Icelanders. The presentation will describe the findings of various sub parts of the research project of the effects of the spread of English in Iceland. The focus is on the learning and use of English as it relates to the life-long bi/multilingual development of Icelandic speakers with respect to both naturalistic and instructed English learning and the societal functions to which learned languages are put. The study examined the nature and amount on input, i.e. exposure, and use of English, and perceptions of proficiency at all levels of Icelandic society and its educational, especially language educational consequences.

Fyrirlesarar og titlar erinda:
  • Ásrún Jóhannsdóttir, aðjunkt í ensku: The Extent of Extramural English in The Linguistic Repertoire of Icelandic Children
  • Hafdís Ingvarsdóttir, prófessor emeritus í menntunarfræðum: Shedding Light on Teaching and Learning in Grade Ten
  • Guðmundur Edgarsson, kennari, HR: The Role of Extramural Input in Academic Vocabulary Proficiency among Secondary School Students in Iceland

​Kaffihlé

  • Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, prófessor í annarsmálsfræðum: The Role of Input in the Development of Language Across the Lifespan
  • Hulda Kristín Jónsdóttir, aðjunkt í ensku: The Basis for Self Evaluation: English Proficiency in the Workplace

Málstofustjóri: Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir prófessor

Útdrættir:

Ásrún Jóhannsdóttir, aðjunkt í ensku: The Extent of Extramural English in The Linguistic Repertoire of Icelandic Children

Recent studies have shown that English use has increased in Iceland. At the same time, it has been suggested that the English proficiency of 8-9 year old children starting 4th grade exceeds the actual learning objectives for that level as proposed by the National Curriculum Guidelines. Results from data collected through a survey and vocabulary tests, administered to over 400 fourth grade students in Iceland, show that the extent of students’ extramural English supports the previous assumption of the extended English proficiency of young learners. However, there is little to no relationship between this proficiency and onset of instruction. This suggests that beginning English instruction early does not necessarily predict the size of young learners’ English vocabulary. Finally, students associate their English knowledge and use with their English learning and use outside of school, and not with formal instruction.

Hafdís Ingvarsdóttir, prófessor emeritus í menntunarfræðum: Shedding Light on Teaching and Learning in Grade Ten

The radical changes in the use of English in Iceland led us to ask how these changes affect the teaching and learning of English in schools. International research has focused on teaching of English as an international language. The literature on the actual teaching and learning of English at school level is still scarce. This part of the symposium focuses on teaching and learning English in grade ten. A light is shed on learners’ and teachers’ attitudes to teaching and learning English at the end of compulsory education. The research was a mixed method study based on questionnaires, followed up by interviews with 10 teachers. The findings show a clear mismatch between what the English students want to learn and the curriculum they are offered. The findings also call into question the relevance of the prevalent teaching pedagogy in grade ten as the study identified a gap between learners’ use of English in class and their use of English outside the classroom. The findings highlight the need for a more pragmatic approach, taking into account the learners’ interests in English, their present and future use and need for a much greater English proficiency.

Guðmundur Edgarsson, kennari, HR: The Role of Extramural Input in Academic Vocabulary Proficiency among Secondary School Students in Iceland

One important variable contributing to SLA is the degree of input learners are exposed to outside the relevant language classes, e.g. through extensive reading. In this talk, I seek to shed light on how, and to what extent, the input variables out-of-school book reading and out-of-school internet/magazine reading among students in upper-secondary school in Iceland in the spring term of 2013 contribute to their academic vocabulary proficiency in English. The findings reveal moderate to strong correlations between those reading-input variables and students’ productive knowledge of academic vocabulary (r = 0.40, n = 248) and knowledge of academic genre (r = 0.42, n = 341). However, out-of-school book and internet/magazine reading correlated considerably less with receptive knowledge of academic vocabulary (r = 0.30, n = 341), albeit significantly.

Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, prófessor í annarsmálsfræðum: The Role of Input in the Development of Language Across the Lifespan

The results of studies of the amount and nature of English exposure in Iceland across the lifespan will be presented. The first study is a telephone survey of over 750 informants that were asked about their level of English use. A cross sectional analysis comparing the amount and type of English use by different age groups shows a significant and gradual increase in English use as the youngest speakers use English more than the oldest. The study was followed up by a qualitative study designed to give a clearer view of the type of English encountered and used by individuals. The results provide a good picture of a high and consistent presence of English in Iceland. Then the English language habits of young children are examined using the same methodology. Here a different picture emerges as older children use English more than younger children although children may use English more productively than older groups. The implications of these findings are then presented, focusing on what they may tell us about the likelihood of future uses of English in Iceland.

Hulda Kristín Jónsdóttir, aðjunkt í ensku: The Basis for Self Evaluation: English Proficiency in the Workplace

English is becoming the Lingua Franca of the modern world (Seidlhofer, Breiteneder, and Pitzl 2006; Jenkins, 2003). This is especially true in international business. This presentation reports findings of a survey of English use in Icelandic companies. Two questions are addressed: 1) What is the perceived proficiency level in English by the Icelandic workforce, and 2) What is the basis of that perception? The results showed that 94% of the respondents believed their English skills to be average or above and had confidence in their ability to perform work related activities in English. The second question proved more difficult as none of the corporations utilised proficiency tests for prospective employees, and the surveys indicated that the repondents had never actually performed many of the work related acts they claim to be able to execute in English. The results suggest that further research is required to identify why Icelanders perceive their proficiency level to be so high, what the basis is for this conclusion and the potential effects of this on the standard of international business communication in Iceland.

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