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Dr Robyn Moloney

Paul Sowman portraitDr Robyn Moloney - Intercultural Language Teaching Is Focus of New Project  

Dr Robyn Moloney is a language educator with 30 years’ experience. She taught French, German and Japanese in independent schools for many years before completing her Ed D in the new field of intercultural language learning.

Now a lecturer and coordinator in several Teacher Education Programs at Macquarie, Dr Moloney has a University research grant to study the role of native-speaker assistant teachers in language classrooms. The project has the support of the Association of Independent Schools in NSW.

“Many primary and secondary schools employ a teacher assistant who is a native speaker to help with small groups and conversation practice in their language program. This one-year project will provide evidence of how and why native-speaker assistants can impact effectively on language learning outcomes,” said Dr Moloney.

The study will involve 12 independent schools in urban and rural NSW. A combination of data collection, staff on-line surveys, focus groups, videotaping of classes, and interviews with teachers, students and assistants will help to analyse best practice. The school visits began in March.

“The research will inform Macquarie pre-service teacher education in languages, as well as being available for teacher professional development through the AISNSW. Other school systems will be able to access it through publications and presentations,” said Dr Moloney.

Language teaching has moved on dramatically from the emphasis on grammar and structure in the past, when it produced poor oral skills, and poor understanding of the everyday culture which lies behind the language, said Dr Moloney.

“Students today are more likely to discuss intercultural concepts brought up in the classroom. As they acquire language, they discover how language and culture work inseparably – how hidden cultural expectations and values are implied in everyday exchanges. The students are engaged in a more personal way and they find a place from which they can look at both their own culture and the new one critically.”

Examples, said Dr Moloney, ranged from French relationships negotiated through the use of tu and vous, the status and respect expressed in different verb forms in Japanese, to thinking about how relationships are expressed in our use of different greetings and body language in Australia. All are part of invisible social systems and values.

The Federal Government will announce next year a National Language Curriculum which is expected to be grounded on intercultural concepts. 

“My earlier studies have shown native-speaker teacher assistants to be an authentic intercultural resource. They are a powerful model for both teachers and students to investigate intercultural issues and to develop their language ability,” said Dr Moloney.

The new study of native-speaker teacher assistants in language classrooms will identify what types of learning interactions best enhance student motivation and confidence, create more intercultural curiosity and critical thinking in students, and produce more authentic language and fluency.

“With the encouragement of Prime Minister Rudd’s 2020 goals, educational systems are keen to boost the number of students completing a language to HSC level. Better understanding and more effective use of the native-speaker assistants may  boost retention through high school with greater numbers sitting the subject at HSC with strong results,” said Dr Moloney.

Earlier this year Dr Moloney presented research papers at conferences in Tucson and Los Angeles, USA.