Honoring Richard Ruiz and his Work on Language Planning and Bilingual Education

Honoring Richard Ruiz and his Work on Language Planning and Bilingual EducationAt the end of last year we published Honoring Richard Ruiz and his Work on Language Planning and Bilingual Education edited by Nancy H. Hornberger. The book brings together a selection of the late Richard Ruiz’s work as well as reflections from his former students and colleagues. In this post, Nancy writes about her own personal memories of Richard and how he inspired the work of others.

Honoring Richard Ruiz and his Work on Language Planning and Bilingual Education is special and unique for me. I’ve edited many books before, including books in my own Bilingual Education and Bilingualism series, and even readers of selected works of distinguished scholars in my field such as Jim Cummins and Joshua Fishman, as this book started out to be too. But what began as a reader featuring selected works of a distinguished scholar who was, uniquely for me, also my own dissertation mentor, became still more special and unique when it evolved to be also a collective testimonial and testament from many of Richard’s own students and colleagues, as we experienced the untimely loss of this most remarkable scholar and human being.

Every contributor and commentator in the volume knew and worked with Richard Ruiz closely as his student or colleague or both, and each one repeatedly expressed to me how grateful and honored they felt to be part of the volume – and though I have always enjoyed working with contributors to every volume I have edited, the abundance of gratitude and heartfelt emotion this volume generated has been truly profound and moving. The spontaneous desire of these authors to include photos capturing their personal relationships with Richard, and Multilingual Matters’ generosity in working with us to do so, conveys some of the warmth that characterized the project as we brought it to fruition.

Richard and Nancy
Richard and Nancy

I am especially pleased that Richard and I worked together to identify the works he wanted to include in the volume, both published and unpublished pieces, including the section he named Language Fun, containing a sample of his wonderfully pithy and humorous ‘take’ on serious and troubling language planning moments and events of our times. We had no inkling that the volume would become a posthumous collection in his honor, and I would have much preferred for him to be here to hold the book in his hands, but as things turned out, it has been a special and unique way for me to remember and contribute to the legacy Richard leaves behind, not just through his remarkable thinking and writing but also through capturing some of the voices of the many whose lives he deeply touched.

Nancy H. Hornberger, University of Pennsylvania

For further information about this book, please see our website.

What Will You Do With the Rest of Your Life? Consider Working With English Learners!

This month we published Sarah J. Shin’s book English Language Teaching as a Second Career which is the first book in our new series CAL Series on Language EducationIn this post, Sarah discusses the experiences of people who embark upon a new career as an English teacher later in life.

English Language Teaching as a Second CareerConsider the following statistics: A 45-year-old American woman who remains free of heart disease and cancer can expect to see her 92nd birthday; a 45-year-old man in similar condition, his 88th birthday. This means that today’s 45-year-olds who maintain reasonably good health can look forward to living another half of their lives. Throughout much of human history, 40 was regarded as a fairly ripe old age. But with extraordinary advances in biomedicine in the last century, longevity has become a global reality.

As a result of dramatically increased life expectancy, a new developmental stage has emerged in the life cycle. The period between the end of young adulthood and the onset of true old age can easily cover a span of four or five decades.

An important consequence of increased life expectancy is that people need to be able to support themselves financially for more years. A 62-year-old person today could easily require 30+ years of retirement income. This motivates people to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. Four out of five baby boomers expect to work well into what used to be known as the retirement years.

What distinguishes this new generation of adults in terms of work is that they are moving beyond midlife careers in search of a calling in the second half of life. They focus on what matters most and are no longer satisfied to work simply to bring home the paycheck. They look for deeper meaning in what they do and are more interested in having an impact on the world around them. Driven by a sense of ‘If not now, when?’, they are able to break away from their former limitations and break new ground on the kind of work they choose to do.

As an English as a second language (ESL) teacher educator at a university, I interact with a growing number of people in their forties, fifties and sixties, who find satisfaction in helping students learn English. Many are actively involved in tutoring and volunteer work with literacy organizations in their communities, where they interact with immigrants and refugees from around the world. These individuals are moving beyond midlife careers in search of a calling in the second half of life, and many consider teaching to be that calling.

In my book, English Language Teaching as a Second Career, I explore what is on the minds of these adults, what they are looking for in their work with English learners and what their experiences are like as they return to school to be trained for a career in education alongside folks in their twenties and thirties. I provide portraits of these individuals as they develop as teachers and describe the processes they go through to launch their teaching careers, and the evolving significance of their work in their overall life goals and achievements.

With longevity a new global reality, the trend we see today of adults returning to school to be trained for a different career will continue in the coming years. The question is how will we create a shared vision for lifelong learning that helps individuals to experiment with new ideas and different types of work, regardless of where they are in the life cycle?

Sarah J. Shin, University of Maryland Baltimore County

For more information about this book, please see our website. You might also be interested in the recent interview with the editors of the CAL Series on Language Education on our blog.

Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals

Earlier this month we published Wai Lan Tsang’s book Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals which studies Cantonese, English and French multilinguals in Hong Kong. In this post, Wai Lan tells us how her own experience as a multilingual learner inspired further examination of the influence of other languages on the language being learned. 

The fact is that if you have not developed language,
you simply don’t have access to most of human experience,
and if you don’t have access to experience,
then you’re not going to be able to think properly.
Noam Chomsky

Chomsky’s quote tells us how important human language is in formulating our experience and thoughts. But what happens when we know more than one kind of human language? How do we think these different human languages influence or interact with each other?

Born into a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, I have the privilege of being exposed to different languages. As a native speaker of Cantonese (a variety of Standard Chinese), I have acquired English, French and Japanese. During the acquisitional process, I have become more and more aware of how the languages I know might influence each other – as expected or to my surprise. For example, once in a Japanese course I was taking, my French was activated quite a number of times when I was trying to figure out the pronunciation of some Japanese words. It was a surprise to me because those moments of activation came unconsciously, and I would expect languages similar to Japanese, for example Chinese, to be activated, but it was not. This kind of amazing experience has inspired me to explore more about how different languages in a multilingual’s mind may interact with each other.

Crosslinguistic Influence in MultilingualsThis book on crosslinguistic influence among three languages, namely Cantonese, English and French, in multilinguals, draws on the notions of ‘interface’ and ‘reverse transfer’ in second language acquisition. In particular, it addresses the possible positive or negative transfer effect from French as a third language (L3) to English as a second language (L2):

Does the acquisition of a later acquired language (i.e. French) have any effect on the reception and production of an earlier acquired language (i.e. English)?

The answer to the above query is not an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’, possibly because of a number of factors at play: L3 proficiency, linguistic feature or structure involved (which in turn relates to the notion of ‘structural linguistic complexity’), typology/ psychotypology and receptive and productive use of L2. These factors may in turn make the acquisitional process most intriguing.

In order to relish and excel in this fascinating acquisitional process, both language learners and language educators are encouraged to become more aware of the different factors and the resulting potential interaction among languages. The book will show them how those factors might have worked among a group of speakers of Cantonese with knowledge of English and French. The discussions in the book will also highlight other issues that are worth investigating in our quest for how crosslinguistic influence among three languages may take place.

Hope you all enjoy reading it and find it useful!

Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language AcquisitionFor more information about the book, please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.

Engaging Superdiversity? Yes, Very Engaging.

This month we published Engaging Superdiversity edited by Karel Arnaut, Martha Sif Karrebæk, Massimiliano Spotti and Jan Blommaert. In this post, Jan explains more about the background to the book.

Engaging SuperdiversityAs all of us know, there is a tremendous pressure in the academic system at present to operate as an individual in a competitive ‘market’ of science focused on deliverables – or more precisely, a market of money for science and other more symbolic and status-related perks. All of these elements – individualism, competition and result-driven orientation – are fundamentally unscientific, and render our lives as science workers increasingly less interesting. Science is a collective endeavor characterised by solidarity and focused on processes of knowledge construction. Why else do we need references at the end of our publications, than to illustrate how we have learned from others in a perpetual process of critical and productive dialogue?

This critical reflex was the motive, almost a decade ago, for a small team of scholars to join forces in a consortium called InCoLaS (International Consortium on Language and Superdiversity) – a ‘dream team’ of people who decided to care and share, to explore domains only superficially touched by inquiry, mobilising each other’s resources in the process,  and to do all this without a pre-set target or road map. After all, exploration is not the same as driving in a limo on a highway with the GPS on: by definition, you don’t know where it will take you. There is no ‘draft proposal’; there are ideas.

This mode of collaboration turned out to be immensely ‘profitable’, to use the terms of the market. Several high-profile publications emerged, and our buzzword ‘superdiversity’ has become a modest celebrity in its own right, attracting what must be seen as the ultimate intellectual compliment: controversy. There are ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’, and both camps have had, over the past years, sometimes heated debates over the value of the word ‘superdiversity’.

We ourselves don’t really care about that word. Sometimes one needs a new word simply to examine the validity of the older ones – the word is then just a sort of stimulus to shed some of the attributes and frames inscribed in the older ones; and it is not the word that is central, but the ideas it points to and the data it can help explain. Whether research is convincing or not rarely depends on which words are used to write it down; usually it depends on the quality of analysis and argument.

Engaging Superdiversity offers another set of studies on language and superdiversity, drawn from one of the key features of our collective mode of work: team workshops in which we listen to and discuss the work of our team members – senior as well as more junior researchers – and insert their results in the collective explorative process described earlier. In these workshops, all of us are ‘free’ – free to come up with unfinished ideas, unsolved problems, struggles with complex data. The joint work of critical dialogue, usually, results in products that are, to say the least, engaging.

This collection of essays, more than any other publication so far, gives people a sense of the ambience in InCoLaS activities. It covers the terrains we find important – inequality, the online-offline nexus, power – and expands the theoretical and methodological framing of the process of exploration. There is a very large number of new things in this book (for the benefit of the “non-believers” who question what is so new about superdiversity), and some of the chapters will, I believe, have considerable impact in the field.

I joined the editorial team rather late in the game, and my gaze is thus, perhaps, a bit more that of a detached spectator than Karel’s, Martha’s and Max’s. So let me say this: When reviewing manuscripts for journals, book proposals, or even student’s essays, I always make a distinction between work that is good and work that is interesting. Most work I see is good, in the sense that there is nothing wrong with it, other than that I would never read it: it’s not interesting. Engaging Superdiversity is good and interesting – extraordinarily so – and I am proud to see it in print.

Jan Blommaert

Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic LandscapesFor more information about the book, please see our website. You might also be interested in Jan’s previous book Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes.

Publication of Multilingual Matters’ First Open Access Book: A Milestone for Pronunciation Assessment

This month we are publishing our first open access title, Second Language Pronunciation Assessment, edited by Talia Isaacs and Pavel Trofimovich. In this post, Talia tell us about her experiences of researching the once unfashionable topic of pronunciation as well as the importance of open access publishing.

When I started doing dissertation research on pronunciation assessment in 2004 during my Master’s degree, this topic was drastically out of fashion. Pronunciation in language teaching had had its heyday earlier in the 20th century, culminating, from an assessment perspective, with the publication of Lado’s seminal book, Language Testing, in 1961, which is viewed as signifying the birth of the language testing field. There had been little sustained research on the topic in the years since. In my early days as a postgraduate student, when I stated that I was researching pronunciation assessment to members of the language assessment community, I remember thinking that reactions from some, however polite, were similar to how some passersby might respond when looking at an odd relic in a museum through protective glass—that this topic may have had some use or merit once in a misguided way but is now decidedly passé. Pronunciation carried much baggage in assessment circles and within language teaching and applied linguistics more generally as a symbol of the decontextualized drills targeting linguistic forms that had been left behind during the Communicative era.

I could not have foreseen, at the time, that pronunciation would gradually begin to embed itself in some of the discourse and have growing visibility in scholarly fora (e.g. Language Testing Research Colloquium), at least on the periphery. Spurred by trends in researching pronunciation in other areas within applied linguistics, where developments happened earlier (e.g. SLA, sociolinguistics), modern work on pronunciation shifted to a focus on intelligibility and listeners’ evaluative judgments of speech and was at the heart of developments in automated scoring of speaking. Assessing pronunciation was, thus, informally rebranded and was able to establish some contemporary relevance.

Second Language Pronunciation AssessmentFast forward to 2017, with the publication of Second Language Pronunciation Assessment. This book breaks new ground in at least two respects. First, it is the first edited collection ever published on the topic of pronunciation assessment. Although the volume is far from comprehensive, it begins to establish a common understanding of key issues and bridges different disciplinary areas where there has historically been little conversation.

Second, it is Multilingual Matters’ first “gold” open access book. Tommi Grover shared his thoughts on open access in a recent blog post, and it is exciting that our book is at the forefront of what we believe will be a growing trend in monograph publishing in time.

When we first learned that our external research funding could pay for open access costs for a monograph to a maximum amount pre-specified by the funder as part of a post-grant open access scheme, we broached this with Tommi and Laura Longworth. It is a luxury to have a world-renowned applied linguistics publisher practically on my doorstep in Bristol, UK, where I currently reside. Tommi mused about some of the pros and cons and the likely logistical challenges aloud over coffee, and I am sure that the flies on the wall were intrigued. It was clear that pursuing open access entailed a degree of risk for the publisher, as the open access maximum payment from the funder alone would not cover the full production costs and overheads. We were delighted that, ultimately, the Multilingual Matters team decided to treat our book as an experiment and go for the open access option to see how it would work.

Thus, with the publication of our book, a scenario that once seemed hypothetical has now become a reality, and our contributors were also very happy about this development. The push for open access within the academy is to ensure that publically-funded research outputs are also publically available free of charge where possible. From the readers’ and authors’ perspective, it is generally preferable to be able to access the official versions with professional typesetting than to have author-approved unofficial versions with different page numbers floating around. We believe that, through the availability of our publication for free download, it will reach a much wider readership than it would have had the access costs been levelled onto the consumer. The print version has also been sensibly discounted for those who still wish to purchase a softback copy. In this way, it will hopefully reach the interdisciplinary audiences of researchers and educational and assessment stakeholders that we feel would benefit from knowing about this book and inform further research and practice.

My co-author, Pavel Trofimovich, and I could not have envisioned a more positive experience working with the Multilingual Matters team from start to finish. As Pavel wrote in an email, reflecting on the publication process, “I cannot think of any publisher who [is] so professional, hands-on, and also human in their interaction with colleagues.” We are extremely grateful for the tremendous help and advice in navigating all aspects of the publication of our book, including dealing with the unexpected. This process has been enriching and the production tremendously efficient. We would highly recommend that any prospective authors in applied linguistics, new or experienced, consider Multilingual Matters as a venue for publishing their book. If you have internal or external funds available or could budget for open access costs for a monograph into a grant application, it might be worthwhile pre-empting a conversation with Tommi about open access. This is an option that the team is clearly open to and which may, in time, revolutionize the publication of monographs, as it already has with academic journal articles.

Talia Isaacs, UCL Institute of Education, University College London, UK
Pavel Trofimovich, Department of Education, Concordia University, Canada

For further information about the book, please see our website. For more information about open access please read Tommi’s blog post or contact him directly at tommi@multilingual-matters.com.

To download the open access ebook please go to the following link: https://zenodo.org/record/165465.

Reflective Practice as Professional Development

This month we are publishing Reflective Practice as Professional Development by Atsuko Watanabe. In this post, Atsuko explains a bit more about the background to the book.

Reflective Practice as Professional DevelopmentThis book attempts to fill an important gap in the professional development of English teachers in Japan.

In March 2003, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan announced an action plan, Japanese with English Abilities, to foster the English abilities of Japanese nationals. The action plan had an unprecedented impact on the nation’s extensive English language teaching sectors, one of which was a compulsory teacher training seminar for all the English language teachers of public junior and senior high schools in Japan to improve their ‘teaching ability’ of English. MEXT was influenced by the business community which promoted the importance of improving teachers’ English proficiency in order to compete at an international level. What was missing from the teacher training seminar was taking account of the teachers’ experiences. Reflective practice, which encourages the teachers to look back and examine their ideas and experiences of teaching, is an essential element of professional development.

This book illustrates a study of reflective practice which was conducted with a group of in-service teachers. By looking back at one’s teaching, reflective practice also allows teachers to enhance self-awareness and to foster autonomy.

As reflective practice was a new concept in Japan, the book took into account some Japanese conventions which are deeply rooted in the culture, such as tatemae (official front) and honne (real intent) in communication, and hansei (self-critical reflection). As a researcher, I attempted not to influence the honne of the participants and not to engage them in hansei. This approach involved the teachers in different types of dialogue: with the researcher, with other teachers, and with themselves. The book also explores what it means to reflect, and examines whether reflection follows a hierarchical sequence and specific stages. The book discusses the following:

  • The reflective continuum as opposed to hierarchical stages of reflection
  • Consolidation of professional identity for novice teachers
  • Consolidation of professional identity for experienced teachers
  • Teachers’ exploration of teacher cognition
  • Teachers’ engagement in reflective interventions, focus group discussion, journal writing, and interviews.

This book outlines a novel approach of allowing teachers to look at their teaching through different perspectives which lead them to develop professionally through shaping and reshaping their professional identity and teacher cognition. Through the illustration of the researcher’s engagement in reflection and reflexivity, the book is also useful for researchers who are interested in conducting a study of reflective practice. Reflective practice is an essential part of professional development and this book will help all teachers to understand reflective practice and engage in it in their teaching contexts.

Exploring Japanese University English Teachers'€™ Professional IdentityFor further information about the book, please see our website. You might also be interested in our other title Exploring Japanese University English Teachers’€™ Professional Identity by Diane Hawley Nagatomo.

Prescription and Tradition in Language

Last month we published the book Prescription and Tradition in Language edited by Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Carol Percy. In this blog post, Carol tells us more about what inspired her and Ingrid to put the book together.

Carol Percy presenting her plenary at the Prescription conference, introduced by Ingrid Tieken
Carol Percy presenting her plenary at the Prescription conference, introduced by Ingrid Tieken

The academic study of linguistic prescriptivism is relatively new. Historical linguists like my co-editor Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and me, Carol Percy, have both hosted conferences on the topic. My bilingual conference in Canada inspired essay collections that focussed mostly on English and on French. Ingrid’s meeting in the Netherlands was truly multilingual in scope, and realizing the significance of this we commissioned chapters on a wide range of languages for Prescription and Tradition in Language. Our multilingual mandate and our English-language medium really highlight how the codification of language norms needs to be considered in unique cultural contexts, across Time and Space.

Some of our contributors consider prescriptive traditions for English. We see journalists and academic linguists contributing to the formation and dissemination of norms. In a chapter contrasting the prescriptive traditions of English with French, the pronunciation guide compiled by lexicographer Robert Burchfield for the BBC (1981) underscores the broadcaster’s “semi-official status” in the absence of a state-sponsored language academy for English. In reviews of Burchfield’s supposedly ‘descriptivist’ edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1996), we can compare the opinions of journalists and linguists. And in what is actually a very depressing chapter, we see that pervading popular ‘news’ about language (whether the Middlesborough dialect or immigrant children’s bilingualism) is an inflexibly unwelcoming ethnolinguistic nationalism. Indeed, another contributor makes the case that traditional prescriptive rules define communities, naturalize assumptions (about rules and the people who observe them, or don’t), and thus ultimately validate prescriptive rules. This argument is probably not English-specific!

Prescription and Tradition in LanguageMore contributors consider prescriptive traditions for other countries and languages—and we are delighted to be disseminating this material in English. For major languages including French, Russian and Chinese, our contributors synthesize traditions and analyze challenges posed by globalization and new media. In the state’s official Dictionary of Modern Chinese (2012), the inclusion—and exclusion—of words referring to economic and social changes is discussed in the media. English delivers technological terms to languages including French and Russian. In France, official committees devise French equivalents to English terms and disseminate them on websites as well as in print. For Russian, shifts in its status and its norms are particularly visible (and open to debate) as the rise of new media coincides with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Some of our chapters contrast the status and standardization of the ‘same’ language in different contexts. Nineteenth-century Dutch in the temporarily-reunited Low Countries varied less in practice than in commentators’ imaginations. But the Russian written officially in Kazakhstan or spoken as a lingua franca in Dagestan is diverging from what is known as ‘Moscow Russian’. And although Macedonian is now recognized as a national language, elsewhere it is a minority language, with official recognition differing from country to country. Basque is recognized as a minority language in Spain but not yet in France: a committee is currently crafting a standard that can be spoken colloquially in multiple contexts. And (how) do sociolinguistic norms for German change when it is taught to foreigners?

While our collection can’t consider every language, it contains general and theoretical chapters. (How) do language norms vary by writing system? (How) does a language’s multilingual vs monolingual contexts or spoken vs written use relate to establishing its norms? Pam Peters recontextualizes these and other issues in her generous Epilogue to the volume. Both Ingrid and I learned (Ingrid “learnt”!) a lot from our contributors when we edited this volume, and we hope you enjoy it.

For more information about this book, please see our website.

Translanguaging in Higher Education

This month we are publishing Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll. In this post, Catherine describes how the book came together.

Translanguaging in Higher EducationOver the last several years the term translanguaging has gained traction in academia, particularly in the field of bilingual education. When I first encountered the term I was looking for a way to describe the bilingual classroom practices that were a taken-for-granted part of content learning at my university (the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez). It seemed to me that ‘code-switching’ just didn’t cover the complex, layered use of Spanish talk around English text, the use of diagrams labeled in English during a formal presentation in Spanish, or the common practice of using scientific keywords in English while defining them in Spanish. I became interested in understanding these practices as bilingualism, rather than dismissing them with a deficit perspective which treated them as simply strategies for coping with a lack of English skills.

Understanding the role of English as a real force in higher education globally, my colleague Kevin S. Carroll and I began to think about the ways that English in particular, and other colonial languages in general, must be inserting themselves into higher education classrooms around the world. We could imagine that some of the same translanguaging practices that we were seeing in our classrooms must be occurring in other socio-cultural contexts. We also knew that other practices may be taking place that were different from those we were seeing, and so might contribute to our understanding of translanguaging as a theory.

With this in mind, the idea for our book, Translanguaging in Higher Education: Beyond Monolingual Ideologies, was born. We envisioned it as a large cross-case analysis that would incorporate perspectives from diverse socio-cultural contexts around the world. By including chapters about South Africa, Denmark, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, India, the United Arab Emirates, and the Basque Country, we hope we have accomplished this goal.

We also sought to contribute to the current academic conversation around translanguaging, which has tended to focus on K-12 education. As we attended conferences and presented our work, we kept hearing questions about translanguaging itself. What does it mean exactly? Is it really new? Isn’t it just code-switching?

In the book, I attempt to answer the question, ‘What is translanguaging?’ And here’s my answer from the book’s introduction:

(1) Translanguaging is a language ideology that takes bilingualism as the norm.

(2) Translanguaging is a theory of bilingualism based on lived bilingual experiences. As such, it posits that bilinguals do not separate their ‘languages’ into discrete systems, but rather possess one integrated repertoire of languaging practices from which they draw as they navigate their everyday bilingual worlds.

(3) Translanguaging is a pedagogical stance that teachers and students take on that allows them to draw on all of their linguistic and semiotic resources as they teach and learn both language and content material in classrooms.

(4) Translanguaging is a set of practices that are still being researched and described. It is not limited to what is traditionally known as ‘code-switching’, but rather seeks to include any practices that draw on an individual’s linguistic and semiotic repertoires (including reading in one language and discussing the reading in another, and many other practices that will be described in this book).

(5) As such, translanguaging is transformational. It changes the world as it continually invents and reinvents languaging practices in a perpetual process of meaning-making. The acceptance of these practices – of the creative, adaptable, resourceful inventions of bilinguals – transforms not only our traditional notions of ‘languages’, but also the lives of bilinguals themselves as they remake the world through language.

If you are interested in translanguaging as a developing construct, in bilingualism and bilingual education, in multilingual higher education, in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), the internationalization of higher education, educational language policy, or languaging across diverse socio-cultural contexts in general, I think you will find this book of interest. Kevin and I accept questions, concerns, and comments here on this post or by email at the addresses below.

Catherine M. Mazak catherine.mazak@upr.edu
Website: www.cathymazak.com 

Kevin S. Carroll kevin.carroll@upr.edu
Website: http://kevincarroll.weebly.com

For further information about this book, please contact the authors at the addresses above or see our website

The Difficulty of Defining the ‘Asian Context’

This month we are publishing L2 Selves and Motivations in Asian Contexts edited by Matthew T. Apple, Dexter Da Silva and Terry Fellner. The book explores current motivational theories and models in Asian educational contexts. However, as the editors explain in this blog post, what exactly is meant by ‘Asia’ and ‘Asian context’ was extremely difficult to define.

L2 Selves and Motivations in Asian ContextsAfter our success editing our previous book Language Learning Motivation in Japan (2013), we were convinced that it would be a worthy goal to expand from one cultural context to another, or to several. Given the number of language motivation researchers in Asian countries who had expressed interest, we began to work with language teachers across Asia to compile an edited volume initially titled Language Learning Motivation in Asia. Yet even from the start, we found it difficult to determine precisely what we meant by ‘Asia’. Was this book about South Asia? East Asia? Southeast Asia? Were countries and cultures in those regions similar or different? Did they have anything in common other than places in which people learned second languages?

It became apparent to us that in a sense the title of our edited volume was a kind of oxymoron. As we write in the book’s opening introductory chapter, Asia is a geographic region, not a single culture or country. Saying the ‘Asian context’ would be just as nonsensical as the ‘European context’ or the ‘North American context’. Even adding an ‘s’ to make the plural ‘Asian contexts’ still did not entirely solve the uncomfortable feeling that we were in danger of characterizing all cultures represented in the volume as a single, monolithic entity. Despite this, the ideas, concepts, arguments, and data used by researchers in various countries across the Asian continent did seem to have one aspect of language learning in common; namely, English was a dominant, in some cases the only, second language taught as a required subject yet not used in daily life. Because of this commonality, the models and concepts currently in use by language motivation researchers did not quite fit the learners in these contexts.

Our previous volume featured many studies that relied on the idea of ‘possible selves’, and we had already seen some signs that that theory and other motivational theories might either have limited applicability to cultures in Asia or have led to confusing and conflicting interpretations. While each of the studies in the book was conducted in isolation by separate researchers, the results collectively support our suspicions that existing theories of language motivation, including theories regarding the ‘L2 self’, were not adequate enough to explain motivation. In nearly every context in the studies in this volume, English is viewed either as necessary for examinations for school admission or for job hiring or as something ‘useful’ for travel overseas. The exoticization of ‘native speakers’ of English and ‘othering’ of users of foreign languages by learners in certain Asian contexts could also be seen as a means of cultural or personal identity defense, and yet in other Asian contexts learning English is a monetary, cultural, and political means of rising in society. Even within one country the learning contexts, and therefore motivations, vary.

In the end, we may raise more questions than we can answer, but given the increasingly complicated and interrelated world in which we all live, Asian or otherwise, we believe this volume of edited studies provides a great starting point for expanding and creating new types of language motivation theories.

Language Learning Motivation in JapanFor more information about this book, please see our website. You might also be interested in the editors’ previous volume Language Learning Motivation in Japan.

Language, Identity and Education on the Arabian Peninsula

This month we are publishing Language, Identity and Education on the Arabian Peninsula edited by Louisa Buckingham. In this blog post, Louisa explains more about the background to the book and the complex language situation on the Arabian Peninsula.

Qasr Al Sarab © Sarah Hopkyns
Qasr Al Sarab © Sarah Hopkyns

The nations on the Arabian Peninsula are home to increasingly urban, networked, ethnically and linguistically heterogeneous societies. Their youthful demography, and the relatively elevated levels of population growth provide impetus to an expanding education sector. The high proportion of foreign recruited employees in the secondary and particularly in the tertiary sectors, provides domestic students with exposure to diverse cultures and languages during their formal education. Complementing this, government scholarship schemes enable many Gulf Arab graduates opportunities for immersion in foreign cultures and languages while pursuing a higher degree. These factors contribute to a widespread appreciation of the role of foreign languages for academic and professional purposes. While English has for decades occupied a privileged position in education and administrative professional contexts, the extensive use of Asian languages, in addition to Arabic and English, in street commerce encounters, in professional activities related to technology, infrastructure and logistics, and the health sector, reflects the multilingual and multi-ethnic profile of the region’s demography.

Signage in Oman (Languages: Arabic, English, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam). ©Louisa Buckingham
Signage in Oman (Languages: Arabic, English, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam). © Louisa Buckingham

As contributors to this volume, we have observed the role and the reception of foreign languages in the lives of our students over many years. We continue a nascent tradition in book-length studies on the Arabian Peninsula which take a critical view of the status of English in educational contexts and professional lives, and we extend previous work by documenting the importance of Asian languages in public and private spheres.

Language, Identity and Education on the Arabian PeninsulaFour main themes run through the book. The opening theme explores the multilingual nature of many households and the different spheres of use assigned to particular languages experienced in the domestic domain. In many homes, the presence of domestic migrant workers (employed to perform the duties of drivers, gardeners, household help and nannies) contributes to an early awareness among young Gulf Arab nationals of their linguistically and culturally diverse communities and, in some cases, provides opportunities for second language acquisition in early childhood. Gender roles may influence the degree to which oral proficiency is developed in particular languages. For instance, as interaction with South Asian labourers and tradesmen is more typically undertaken by males in the household, these may develop a degree of oral competence in particular South Asian languages. Less well-known is the influence of South Korean cultural production. The popularity of Korean soap operas and pop music among some young Gulf Arab females has prompted the inclusion of Korean words or phrases into in-group talk among peers.

The subsequent two themes in the volume are devoted to issues regarding identity construction and academic achievement in sectors of Gulf Arab societies which have strongly promoted English-medium education. The early introduction of English immersion has sometimes come at the expense of Arabic. The perceived neglect or marginalization of Arabic has sparked much public debate in the media.

On the wall of a university in the UAE. © Sarah Hopkyns
On the wall of a university in the UAE. © Sarah Hopkyns

The assimilation of English as an additional language into the linguistic repertoire of many educated Gulf Arabs, and the widespread daily exposure to South Asian varieties of English, means that the wholesale adoption of English language assessment systems which were devised primarily for usage in inner-circle country educational or professional contexts, is problematic. Such proficiency examinations not only include cultural references which may not be readily comprehended by test takers in the Gulf Arab context, but they also often require a form of engagement with texts that is not necessarily commonly practised in the domestic educational context.

The final theme in this volume concerns the role of English as a transmitter of cultural practices in teaching and research careers. The promotion of international study opportunities facilitates the exposure to a wide range of pedagogical traditions; however, Gulf Arab students may experience the need to critically evaluate the degree to which assimilated practices may be applicable in their domestic teaching contexts. In the final study, we examine how international mainstream scholarly journal publishing practices have been adapted to an Omani context to support a culture of research and inquiry in the region, and facilitate the international visibility of local researchers.

Contributions come from five countries on the Arabian Peninsula: Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen. All studies were specifically undertaken with a view to their inclusion in this volume. Both quantitative and qualitative research traditions are represented and the methodological approaches used to document language practices encompass interviews, focus groups and surveys, policy analysis and linguistic landscape methodology.

Louisa Buckingham, University of Auckland

Qasr Al Sarab. © Sarah Hopkyns
Qasr Al Sarab. © Sarah Hopkyns

The Status of English in Bosnia and HerzegovinaFor more information on the book, please see our website. You might also be interested in Louisa’s previous book The Status of English in Bosnia and Herzegovina.