Language awareness consists of all the activities on any language that do not have the finality of learning it formally, even if it increases in the person the desire to learn one of them formally in the future. This involves the contact with different languages that can be close or not to the maternal language. The aim is to acquire not only aptitudes and attitudes but a sensibility and respect for the nature of these languages and their cultures because discover a language is also discovering a culture.
Why is it a good idea?
Language awareness develops cognitive skills, observation and reasoning, as well as it contributes to a greater openness to what is unfamiliar and develops a higher interest on diversity..
Furthermore, it is a good way to help kids that have just arrived to another country to get into their new school system, by helping them to overcome the gap that could exist between the school language and the one (or those) used at home, by developing linguistic strategies, and also by creating an inclusive environment, using their knowledge as an enrichment for the whole school environment. This opening deconstructs stereotypes, fight against discrimination and ignorance, highlight the various possible perceptions of the same reality, and takes advantage on similarities to achieve common goals.
There is no contradiction between identity affirmation, development of multilingualism and scholar progress, but quite the contrary! Because it encourages the fact that a person has an identity made by a plurality of aspects that can be shared for the enrichment of everyone.
Some examples of language awareness
In the Hangul language (Korean language), we write in a segment of three letters by alternating the consonants and vowels: the word gom (bear).
This alternation (CVC) is due to the notion of balance, which is the main philosophy in the Korean culture, and in order to always preserve it, there is a silent letter that is introduced when a vowel breaking problem is faced. We can extend this concept to other symbolic elements, like in the Korean flag, where we have the four elements of “balance”: water top right, earth bottom right, sky top left and fire bottom left; in the middle there is the Ying at the bottom (cold and darkness) and the Yang at the top (heat and light); everything in a perfect balance and harmony.
To introduce awaken activities to other languages and cultures is not that hard. It can be proposed to students a juxtaposition of phrases, or ask them to express their conception about one or several languages, or to try to write their names in a specific language by using a photocopy of the #Writing Systems concerned, or ask them to point out the specificities of each language: in Russian there are printed and manuscript format of writing; in Arabic we write from right to left; not all the writing systems are alphabets –e.g.
in Japanese there is a combination of two syllabic systems and one pictographic, like the Chinese one, in order to write! –. These activities do not take too much time and are amusing, keeping the students’ attention and interest.
However, language awareness is not only useful for kids, but for everyone!. We, as adults, can also awaken our curiosity for diversity in general and also discover unsuspected abilities.
When I was seeking for an internship, Ukraine was one of the countries I sought for it. In order to prepare my cover letter, I visit the website of the institution I wanted to send my application, but it was all in Ukrainian! I managed to understand the content because I knew the Cyrillic alphabet because I introduced myself to the Russian language in summer 2012. Another factor that helped me to access the information needed was the inner comprehension language skill –e.g. kypc [KURS] in Ukrainian, a course in English, course in French, curso in Spanish–. I admit that I also had to use a dictionary, but I managed most of the content myself.
Language awareness has more benefits both in short and long term, and more advantages than the effort that it requires.