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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Danielle BOON

Literacy acquisition by adults in multilingual Timor-Leste

Abstract/Résumé: Timor-Leste, a developing nation in Southeast Asia, became independent in 2002. It had been a Portuguese colony until 1975, and was then occupied by Indonesia until 1999. The country’s 2002 constitution reflects its multilingual context: Portuguese and Tetum are the official languages, 15 regional languages are valued and developed by the state, and Indonesian and English are accepted as working languages. The country’s adult literacy rates are low, and currently many adults are learning to read and write in adult literacy programs provided by the government and NGOs. Since 2009, the 5-year research project “Becoming a nation of readers in Timor-Leste: Language policy and adult literacy development in a multilingual context” investigates contemporary and historical dimensions of adult literacy in Timor-Leste in three studies. Research questions of the study that will be presented were: What classroom-based literacy teaching-learning processes are adult literacy learners involved in and what ideas guide teachers’ practices? What are results/outcomes of learning to read and write in Tetum, the lingua franca, in the available adult literacy programs and what factors are most important in this respect? What literacy practices do adult learners engage in in their daily lives? Finding answers to these questions implied taking various angles of perspective and using various approaches and techniques. This study has combined a cognitive-linguistic perspective on literacy, focusing on how individuals get access to the written code, with a socio-cultural perspective, focusing on how literacies and literacy practices are embedded in culture and social life. The presentation will show results from a broad study carried out in 2009-2011 in 73 adult literacy groups in three different literacy programs, as well as from an in depth, ethnographic case study on adult literacy conducted in 2011 in four different areas of the country. Findings from class observations and interviews shed light on teaching-learning processes in classrooms. In Timor-Leste’s highly multilingual setting, most adults learn to read and write in a second language: the lingua franca Tetum. But in literacy classrooms, besides Tetum, in general three other languages are in use. Analysis of learners’ scores on literacy tasks show glimpses of teaching/learning outcome. The presentation will focus on learners’ word recognition strategies while learning to read and write in Tetum, their understanding of phoneme-grapheme correspondence, stages in use of spelling strategies, and the impact of proficiency in Tetum. (The project is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research NWO/WOTRO Science for Global Development, W 01.65.315.00.)