The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children from minority groups have the right to learn, use and develop their indigenous/minority languages:
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language. (Article 30).
In Sweden, the parliament affirmed the right of national minorities to learn, use and develop their minority languages in 2005, and in 2009 this right was written into Swedish law (the Swedish Language Act 2009:600, and the Act on National Minorities and National Minority Languages 2009:724). However, Sweden continues to receive strong criticism from the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (2015) for the lack of a comprehensive and structured approach towards minority language education, resources, materials, and teacher training.
Oral language development “is central to a child´s ability to access the curriculum and develop literacy skills” (Dockrell et al 2010). In a minority language context, supporting oral language skills is central for language maintenance and revitalization, and for developing a functional bilingualism. A primary goal for the Sami school in Sweden is to support each child’s functional Sami-Swedish bilingualism. Considering the importance of oral language, all children need an environment supportive of oral language development, and opportunities and interactions with more knowledgeable conversational partners to practice and develop oral language and communication skills for all languages. Supporting and enhancing oral language skills for the diverse learners in school settings can be challenging, and little is known about how bilingual children’s oral language development in Sami and Swedish is supported. Teachers can be supported by tools that they can use to describe the language learning environments, opportunities and interactions, and to develop their professional practice in the area of effectively supporting young bilingual children´s oral language development. In this presentation, we report on a pilot study that has adapted the Communication Supporting Classrooms Observation Tool (Dockrell et al 2015) to the Swedish school context. This adaption is a first step towards adapting and using this tool in bilingual North and South Sami (pre)schools. The results of the pilot study are discussed in relation to the challenges of setting up a research project examining the support of oral language development in both the indigenous Sami languages and the national language Swedish.
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Dockrell, J.E, Bakopoulu, I., Law, J., Spencer, S. & Lindsey, G. 2015. Capturing communication supporting classrooms: The development of a tool and feasibility study. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 1-16.
Dockrell, J.E., Stuart, M., & King, D. 2010. Supporting early oral language skills for English language learners in inner city preschool provision. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 4, 497-515.
Act on National Minorities and National Minority Languages (2009:724).
Swedish Language Act (2009:600)
United Nations. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www.ohchr.org/ Documents/ProfessionalInterest/crc.pdf [downloaded on July 16, 2015].