Students’ uses and attitudes towards multiple languages in Timor-Leste

Author: Pedro Barreto Ximenes

Barreto Ximenes, Pedro, 2016 Students’ uses and attitudes towards multiple languages in Timor-Leste, Flinders University, School of Education

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Timor-Leste is a multilingual country. The country’s constitution established two co-official languages: a vernacular language Tetum, and a foreign colonialist language Portuguese. English and Indonesian are also used and are considered working languages. Language policy has experienced many changes since independence reflecting the changes in political landscape and a gap between the policy planning and the grassroots language practices.

In the life of a language, attitude to that language is important in the restoration, preservation, decay or extinction of that language. If a community is grossly unfavorable to a bilingual or multilingual education policy, language policy implementation is unlikely to be successful (Baker, 1992). This has implications

for education and the policies related to language of instruction and language learning. The status, value and importance of a language are most often and most easily measured by attitudes to that language (Baker, 1992). Hence the current study aimed to investigate the perceptions of students towards the languages of their educational experience in order to develop a student experience view on the current policy for languages in Timor-Leste.

The aim of this study is to investigate the language use, preferences and attitudes of students towards multiple languages in Timor-Leste, with the focus on high school and university students who have been exposed to at least four languages during their formal education years. The study employed a mixed-method research design with questionnaire and structured interviews.

Findings of the study show that students in Timor-Leste are multilingual with the knowledge of more than four languages, consisting of at least two mother tongues or local dialects and at least two international languages. Most of the students had positive attitudes towards the languages in the education system with Tetum being most favoured followed by English, Portuguese and Indonesian. Although Portuguese has been in the education system for more than 12 years, students

report that their level of proficiency is still below Tetum and Indonesian, which, curiously, is not taught in the school system. Students also attributed different motivations for learning the languages. Portuguese was extrinsically motivated (Ryan & Deci, 2000), due to its status as the official language of instruction in education. For English and Indonesian, the motivation was more intrinsic (Deci, 1985). In the case of English, its role as a global communication language was the main motivator, while the motivation for learning Indonesian was more related to popular culture, for acceptance in social interactions and because of the influence of the media. This study has also provided evidence that in the case of Timor- Leste informal learning not only complements the formal learning at school but

also plays an important role in language learning (Rogers, 2004).

Furthermore the study showed that the current policy is not achieving the intended aims of literacy in Portuguese and Tetum. Students reported literate in Tetum but not in Portuguese. In addition, students felt that they were not sufficiently proficient in the working languages of English and Indonesian. Hence, there is a mismatch in the current situation between policy and practice, and between the languages valued by students and those prescribed for education.

Several implications for language learning and language policy in Timor-Leste emerged from the study. And these together with possible directions for future research are discussed.

Keywords: attitude toward language, language policy, multilingual education, language use and preference.

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2016
School: School of Education
Supervisor: Dr Michelle Kohler