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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Telling language learners' stories

Date Released: Fri, 17 June 2011 11:54 +0200

Gary Barkhuizen has heard many language learners' stories.  From his time lecturing in the English Language and Linguistics department at Rhodes, through his experiences teaching English as a second language at a high school in Mmabatho, North West, to his current job as an associate professor of Linguistics at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, he has gathered a wealth of insight into the ways in which people learn language.

Barkhuizen will be returning to his alma mater to share some of these insights in a keynote address at Interactions and Interfaces, a conference about language which Rhodes will be hosting from 26 to 29 June. His talk is entitled “Language learning success: Multiple narrative perspectives”. In it, he will be telling a variety of language learners' stories to show how “success” meant something slightly different for each of them. These ideas of “success” shape the way they learn, and what motivates them to learn.

Gary Barkhuizen's own story is one of his inspirations for finding out other people's stories. He completed a BA and HDE (the old equivalent of a Postgraduate Certificate in Education) at Rhodes, and lectured at Rhodes' Department of English Language and Linguistics for various periods between 1982 and 2001. Between these periods, he spent a stint co-ordinating a MA programme for teachers of English to speakers of other languages at Columbia University, New York, and then four years teaching English in Mmabatho, near where one of his favourite fictional characters lives, Mma Ramotswe from Alexander McCall-Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. In 2001 he moved to the University of Auckland.

As a migrant himself, Barkhuizen has become interested in the stories of other immigrants to New Zealand who learn English in order to communicate in the country in which they have settled. In an abstract he wrote for a keynote address at another recent conference, he wrote “As the Migration Studies Project at Pennsylvania State University observes, 'Migration today goes beyond the stereotypical notion of poor people entering a more developed country … seeking a better quality of life'. Not all migrants need to learn English, either because they are already proficient in the language or because they have no need for English in their lives. And not all of them, when they are in New Zealand, wish to maintain their own first language. Some do, of course, and some also, often desperately, wish to learn English.” All this is more than enough reason for teachers to remember that all language learners have their own individual stories.

Gary Barkhuizen's keynote address will take place from 9:00 to 10:00am on Tuesday 28 June, the second day of Interactions and Interfaces, in Eden Grove. For more information about the conference, visit www.linguisticsconference2011.co.za, or contact Sally Hunt at s.hunt@ru.ac.za or 046 603 8105.

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