Giving language to those who need it most

Hailing from France with a background in French literature and linguistics, Edith Nicolas undertook her PhD in Aboriginal linguistics documenting indigenous languages in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, before meeting her husband and moving to Australia permanently.

Inspired by her own children, the mother of four returned to study in 2014, enrolling in the Graduate School’s Master of Teaching (Early Childhood).

Continuing her passion of research, Edith began investigating the factors that impact second language acquisition for young children from diverse language backgrounds in Australian kindergartens and childcares, earning her the Suzanne and Geoffrey Dawson Scholarship.

“During my placement in early childhood settings I found out there was little focus on second language learners, even though they make up a significant part of the population,” she says.

“I set to identify who these children are, what factors influence their learning and what the risks are in terms of later school outcomes if they don’t get the support they need.”

Established by Belinda Kendall-White in honour of her parents, Edith says she was honoured to receive the prestigious scholarship that supports a high-achieving Master of Teaching student to pursue research that will enhance the advancement of social justice in educational settings and improve equal access to learning for identified communities.

“At first I thought they had the wrong person,” she laughs. “It took a few emails to confirm it was really me and when realisation came I felt immensely moved, and proud.

“It felt like a small bright light, shining in the dark night; an acknowledgement of the hard work involved in juggling intense full-time study with the demands of a large family.”

Edith hopes her research will help early childhood educators better assess individual needs and enable the development of methods to teach a second language.

“Some of these children are amongst the most vulnerable in our education system, so it is very important to be able to identify them and support their learning more efficiently,” she says.

“I would like to see my research being made available to educators, through pre-service training or professional development.”

*This article originally appeared in the Graduate School’s 2017 Annual Review magazine.