When Second Language Competence is Not Enough: The Case of Minority Languages

This month we published Immersion Education by Pádraig Ó Duibhir, which examines the success of young immersion learners of Irish in becoming competent speakers of the minority language. In this post the author explains why further efforts need to be made to promote the wider use of Irish outside Irish-medium education.

We devote a great deal of time and effort in second language teaching to ensure that learners reach the highest level of competence possible in the second language. Sometimes, however, competence is not enough, as in the case of Irish, a minority language in contact with English – one of the world’s major languages.

I have spent most of my career either teaching or researching Irish-medium education. In general, students who graduate from Irish-medium schools have developed excellent oral communication skills in Irish despite some grammatical inaccuracies. One might expect these young adults to contribute to the wider use of Irish in society. Unfortunately, this is not always the case despite government policy in this area. While some do use more Irish than their counterparts who went to English-medium schools, the level of use is disappointing.

As a parent who raised three children, now in their late 20s, through the medium of Irish, I can attest to the lack of opportunities to use the language outside the home and school contexts. None of my adult children work in a job that brings them into contact with Irish and apart from their communication with me, they have very few opportunities to speak Irish. When the children were younger, they attended Irish-medium schools. When their friends from school visited our house, however, I was always struck by the fact that their conversation was in English. If I engaged them in conversation they would happily speak Irish to me but return to conversing in English once I had left. Speaking Irish to me appeared to be normal, perhaps because they saw me as an authority figure or knew that Irish was the language of our home. But speaking Irish among themselves outside of school was not normal.

So much of the Irish government’s efforts to promote the wider use of Irish are invested in the education system. We know from experience, however, that transferring minority language learning from school to society is extremely difficult. How then might we create safe spaces where it is normal to speak Irish? Could we build Irish-speaking networks around Irish-medium schools? What can we learn from other minority language contexts? The advent of pop-up Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking social events is a very positive development. How might we capitalise on and expand this concept where participants have a clear desire to speak Irish? In the absence of greater opportunities and a desire to speak Irish, competence alone is not enough.

For more information about this book please see our website

How do Native and Nonnative Language Teachers Handle Pragmatics?

This month we are publishing Learning Pragmatics from Native and Nonnative Language Teachers by Andrew D. Cohen. In this post Andrew describes his own experiences of learning pragmatics as well as outlining his research into how language teachers handle pragmatics.

This new book of mine deals with an issue that has been a concern of mine for many years – namely, learning the niceties of pragmatics from native and nonnative teachers of the language. Pragmatic subtleties include knowing just when to use specific greetings in the target language, knowing how to recognize sarcasm when it is directed at you and how to be appropriately sarcastic yourself, knowing how to curse when it is called for, knowing how to make requests in a way that it is well received, and many more things.

At the age of 74, I am currently working on my 13th language, Mandarin, and over the years I have had an opportunity to experience the benefits of learning the language both from teachers who have grown up natively with the language and its pragmatics as well as those who have come to it later on as learners themselves. Clearly, both sets of teachers could have special advantages in terms of what they know about the target language and what they can provide learners. In the book, I invite readers to explore with me this issue, basing many of my insights on an international survey I conducted using Survey Monkey.

Aside from reporting the findings from an international survey about how teachers handle pragmatics, the book also includes sections on:

  • defining target language pragmatics,
  • suggestions for how to teach pragmatics,
  • motivating learners to want to learn about pragmatics,
  • the role of technology,
  • learners’ strategizing about pragmatics,
  • assessing pragmatics,
  • ways to research pragmatics.

By studying many languages and living in different cultures around the world, I have become acutely aware of just how easy it is to experience pragmatic failure while engaged in efforts to communicate with others. Below is a picture of me as a Peace Corps volunteer on the High Plains of Bolivia where I had modest success at learning the local language, Aymara, and at practicing rural community development in the mid-1960s. As you can see, I am wearing a local poncho and gorro. This two-year experience kick-started my interest in applied linguistics and provided me an upfront and personal experience attempting to contribute to an indigenous group who mostly wondered why a young American college graduate would do such a thing.

Andrew D. Cohen, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota, USA
adcohen@umn.edu 

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence by Naoko Taguchi.

‘The Pleasures of an Alias on Social Media’ by Jan Blommaert

Ahead of the 6th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses later this year (which we are sponsoring), plenary speaker, Jan Blommaert, has written an inspiring piece initiating conversation around some of the themes of the conference. 

Jan Blommaert

One of the intriguing things I keep hearing from people who are active on social media is that they use an alias there, because the use of their real name would prevent them from ‘being myself’. This always triggers a critical question from me: isn’t your real name part of your core identity? And how can you really be yourself when you avoid using that absolute and primary identity label of yours – your real name?

While the point might seem trivial to some, it is quite a challenge to widespread perceptions of what it is to be ‘real’. In his classic Seeing Like a State, James Scott explained at great length how important the use of fixed and structured personal names was for the emerging nation-states of Modernity. The names we got (often somewhere in the 18th-19th century) became the alpha and omega of the bureaucratic system of governance: when a name could be conclusively stuck on an individual, that individual was ‘known’ and could be treated as a subject with rights, entitlements, duties and obligations derived from bureaucratically administered laws and rules. We carry our names, consequently, on a range of identity documents: passport, social security or health insurance card, driver’s licence, staff card, library card, and so forth; we write and read our names on the top of thousands of official documents that regulate our everyday lives. Why? Because our names identify us as real, as really existing persons that can be identified, held responsible, involved or excluded from social and political processes. In view of that, avoiding using your real name, hiding it from others or giving a false name when asked for it, is strongly associated with deviance, abnormality, transgression and crime.

On social media, however, the practice is widespread. Very large numbers of otherwise decent and upstanding citizens operate ‘undercover’, if you wish, hiding behind the mask of a bogus name and arguing that it is this mask that enables them to be ‘real’ in interactions with others on social media. It shows us how different the rules and codes of social media interaction are, and how these technologies have shaped a different area of social action operating alongside those of the ‘real’ world of nation-state bureaucratic and social life.

The people I know and had the occasion to talk to about this practice argued that an alias grants them a modicum of freedom of speech on social media. In that sense, it offered them some degree of freedom to speak freely, without the obstacles and restrictions generated by offline life. Their real names, as said above, connect them to the rights and entitlements, but also the restrictions of offline existence, and such restrictions might be compelling. Their employers, for instance, might not be amused by some of the Tweets posted by known employees; such expressions of individual opinion and subjectivity could get them into trouble with political patrons, relatives or other members of the offline communities in which they function. The structures of their ‘real’ offline social existence, in short, prevent them from speaking freely in the public sphere generated by social media.

The use of an alias, thus, is usually an effect of conscious and calibrated decisions in which the opportunities of the online public culture are weighed against the conventional restrictions of offline public culture. Different sets of norms and codes of conduct are measured against each other, and the conclusion for these people is that you can only be uniquely and really yourself on social media when you delete or mask your real name – when you become someone else or remain an anonymous voice, in other words.

I see this as part of ‘the care of the selfie’. We are familiar with the argument developed by a range of scholars, from Foucault to Goffman, that our social existence in Modernity is dependent on large and infinitely detailed sets of norms and regulations for impression management, aimed at appearing as a ‘normal’ subject in the eyes of others. These norms and regulations are socially sanctioned, and all of us are invited to internalize and incorporate them through self-regulation and self-censorship – the things Foucault called ‘the care of the self’. What the use of aliases on social media demonstrates, I think, is how this offline care of the self is now complemented by similar sets of norms and regulations governing our online social lives. The use of aliases, along with a range of other practices, is part of a constructed ‘selfie’, an identity designed solely for online presence.

When meticulously constructed, maintained and applied, this selfie offers us the pleasures of aspects of social life not attainable elsewhere. Or, if you wish, it offers us membership into a community culture that runs in conjunction with the cultures of offline communities but can no longer be detached from it. Which is why we can be truly ourselves there in very different ways from those we practice elsewhere.

You can read more about the themes of the conference in this post on our blog.

AAAL and TESOL in the Windy City

Last month I headed off to Chicago with Anna and Tommi for my first international trip with MM – a week of back to back conferences, starting with AAAL and ending with TESOL. After a nice, relaxing flight over, I arrived in Chicago ready to dive straight into the first day of AAAL the following morning.

On the walk to the conference hotel on the first morning, I truly understood how Chicago got its “Windy City” nickname. It was absolutely freezing! No matter which way you turned, hoping the next block would offer some shelter, the gusts coming off the lake seemed to find you. It was a relief to arrive and hunker down in basement where the exhibit hall was located.

Tommi, Anna and Flo at AAAL

After a fairly relaxed start, it was quite the baptism of fire when the first coffee break brought a flurry of people downstairs to the exhibit hall, and every subsequent break continued in the same vein, with all three of us scrabbling for pens, order forms and books at once. Still, it was great to see so much enthusiasm for our books and it was a really successful conference in terms of sales, with Jan Blommaert’s new book, Dialogues with Ethnography, and Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll proving particularly popular.

Dinner with Wayne Wright

It was also a really good opportunity for me to finally meet so many of the people I’ve been emailing back and forth with over the past three and a half years, and put faces to names. We were even able to spend time with a couple of our authors after the conference over dinner and had lovely meals out with Wayne Wright, and Maggie Hawkins and her son, Sam. I particularly enjoyed sampling the culinary delights Chicago has to offer, including deep dish pizza, steak and the best Brussels sprouts I have ever encountered in my life!

With AAAL over and Anna on a flight back to the UK, Tommi and I headed straight off to the convention centre where this year’s TESOL was being held. It was a totally different experience for me, having never exhibited in a convention centre before, and I couldn’t believe the sheer scale of the place. After a quiet start, our stand got busier and busier, and by the time Tommi left for home on the penultimate day, I was rushed off my feet! Again, sales were good and it was particularly pleasing to take so many preorders of Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry’s forthcoming book, Educating Refugee-background Students, due out in May.

It being my first time in Chicago, I took the opportunity wherever possible to see some of the sights at the end of each day at the conference. I ventured off to Millennium Park to see the famous Bean sculpture there, visited the Art Institute (where the highlight, aside from the collections of famous paintings, were the incredible Thorne Miniature Rooms) and waited in what felt like the world’s longest queue to go up the Willis Tower and try out “The Ledge”, a glass balcony that extends four feet outside the 103rd floor!

Flo

 

IATEFL 2018 – Laura’s trip to the conference in Brighton

Last week I attended the annual International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) conference in Brighton. It’s 7 years since we last attended the conference, and the first time I had been myself, so I was interested to see what it would be like.

Laura on the MM stand at IATEFL

It was clear from the opening evening exhibit hall preview that it was going to be a busy conference and that three of our titles would be vying for the spot of our conference bestseller.  They were:

Creativity and Innovations in ELT Materials Development, edited by Dat Bao. Fresh off the press (published just last month), this title was really popular with educators and academics, looking for the latest research on ELT materials design.

Language Learner Autonomy, by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen. The latter two authors were at the conference and as active members of the IATEFL LASIG they were busy letting delegates know about their new publication.

Language Teacher Psychology, edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. Sarah Mercer had been the plenary speaker at last year’s conference and many delegates were already aware of this exciting new book. I especially enjoyed meeting friends and colleagues of the editors, who were happy to let them know the good news of the book’s popularity, sometimes by taking a photo of the book at the stand to send to them!

Laura beside the Brighton Pier

Having not been to this conference before, many of the delegates were unknown to me and it was great for us to be able to reach a new audience, especially one that is so teacher focused. I was, however, also pleased to see a few familiar faces in the IATEFL crowd, including Janet Enever, the series editor of our new Early Language Learning in School Contexts series and author Carol Griffiths, whose new book is so new that I had to bring copies straight from the office.

As well as being my first visit to IATEFL, it was also my first trip to Brighton. As someone who loves the sea, I thoroughly enjoyed getting a good dose of sea air on my way to the conference every morning and treating myself to fish and chips on the beach at the end of the busy week. I managed to explore a bit of Brighton on the one dry and sunny evening of the week and loved what I saw…Brighton is definitely a UK city I’d love to return to for a holiday (ideally when the weather is a bit better!)

Laura

Linguistic Stereotypes in Academic Discourse

This month we published a new edition of Understanding Language Use in the Classroom by Susan J. Behrens, which now includes teaching materials for college educators. In this post Susan reveals what we can expect from the new edition.

My latest project with the wonderful team at Multilingual Matters is an updated and expanded edition of my 2014 book Understanding Language Use in the Classroom: A Linguistic Guide for College Educators. The original text was my way of offering teachers in higher education accessible lessons in the ways language works, a kind of Linguistics 101 in question and answer format about all aspects of language, especially academic discourse. I think a lot about the intersection of linguistics and pedagogy because I am a linguist, and I direct the teaching and learning center at Marymount Manhattan College. Long ago I saw how linguistics and pedagogy fit together, and most of my work involves making connections between the two.

Feedback I received from many readers of the original text asked me how they could use the material directly with their students, as lessons and assignments. With this new edition, Understanding Language Use in the Classroom: Including Teaching Materials for College Educators, I take on linguistic stereotypes often found in the media. We are all rather susceptible to the many ubiquitous but unchallenged images about language and language users in the media and popular culture (for a taste of language snarkiness and snobbery, check out “Word Crimes” by Weird Al Yankovic). In 2016, I worked with students to examine how Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites depict accents and dialects. We also found in popular culture plenty of statements that men and women “speak different languages.” My students found numerous examples of young women being criticized for using vocal fry and up talk. We considered what goes into the perception of a “gay voice.” And we tackled the assumptions that our very hometown, New York City, is the center of linguistic rudeness.

Why study stereotypes? Public perception and popular impressions of language – whether or not accurate, and often magnified by media – can set into motion, as well as reinforce, bias against groups of people. Nuances and complexities, not a stereotype’s strengths, are lost when we make grand claims about language use and language users, their grammar, accents, and dialects.

The additional material in this book – which takes it into the digital realm with PowerPoint slides, images, and URL links – offers lesson plans and instructor guidance material. Each lesson is connected to a chapter in the original book and extends that chapter, encouraging more exploration, more hands-on linguistic investigation. The pedagogical material is not just for linguistics classes. I wanted to make it adaptable to various audiences and class schedules, and I have included suggestions for customizing the lessons, including assignments that can be both in-class activities and research projects.

The original material is still there: a discussion of academic discourse and its role in higher education, the “conversations” about all levels of language, as well as sample worksheets, references and other resources. Since my work on linguistics for educators is ongoing, I have also updated the book with discussions about research conducted since 2014.

Every step of the process (for both editions) has been made exciting and smooth thanks to the Multilingual Matters team: Tommi, Anna, Sarah, Laura, Elinor, and Flo. Since the first book came out, I also got to meet some of these folks when they traveled to the US for conferences. Thanks for all the good chats, especially about Moomins.

Susan J. Behrens, Marymount Manhattan College

sbehrens@mmm.edu

http://susanjbehrens.wordpress.com

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Developing Intercultural Perspectives on Language Use by Troy McConachy.

What is “The Tornado Effect”? Successful Language Learning and Strategy Use and Development

We recently published the second edition of The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning by Carol Griffiths. In this post Carol explains how the new edition builds on the first and introduces us to the new concept of “The Tornado Effect”.

The book begins with the author explaining why, from personal experience, she believes learning strategies to be important, and a number of other personal narratives from well-known people in the learning strategy field are also quoted. This second edition builds on the material in the first edition, but with a number of important additions. In particular:

  • The existing literature has been updated, since quite a lot has been written in the five years since the first edition was published.
  • The conceptual perspectives have been refined and extended. The issue of strategy definition has been tackled again, and some adjustment made in light of the ongoing debate. The underlying theory has also been re-examined and extended, along with issues of strategy classification. Issues of strategy effectiveness have been considered, especially in light of contextual, target and individual differences. And research methodology, which has attracted criticism in the past, has also been addressed, with suggestions added for data collection and analysis.
  • In the section dealing with quantitative perspectives, new studies have been added and the old studies have been re-analysed.
  • The qualitative section, which examines interview data obtained from students of different levels of proficiency, ages and genders, and varying learning strategy use has been updated and extended
  • The section on pedagogical perspectives has also been considerably extended, with further consideration of issues of strategy instruction. Most notably, strategies appropriate to different knowledge areas (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and function/pragmatics) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) have been added and/or extended
  • In addition, the glossary, which received much positive appraisal in the first edition for its helpful definitions of key concepts, has been updated and extended.

So, why the Tornado Effect? The Tornado Effect hypothesises that learning is not a linear process: it is spiral, with one piece of knowledge or skill helping to support the next, and so on, in an ever-increasing spiral, much the way a tornado expands into a powerful force. As the section on pedagogical perspectives concludes: “If we could only discover how to harness the power of this Tornado Effect, what a wonderful teaching/learning tool we would have!”

For more information about this book please see our website.  

Communication in the Multilingual City – the TLANG conference

While my colleagues were gallivanting off to AAAL and TESOL in Chicago, or holding the fort in the office, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the TLANG conference at the University of Birmingham at the end of March. TLANG is a big AHRC funded project that aims to understand how people communicate multilingually across diverse languages and cultures and the conference was the final event, bringing together work focused on the theme of communication in the city.

Betsy Rymes' keynote speech
Betsy Rymes’ keynote speech

The conference offered a wealth of papers, colloquia and some excellent keynotes, by Betsy Rymes, Annalies Kusters, Tong-King Lee, Ana Deumert and Jan Blommaert (whose work was presented by Massimiliano Spotti). Betsy Rymes opened the conference and spoke on the topic of citizen linguistics, the work language users do to make sense of their surroundings, and illustrated her keynote with local examples, asking for example what a Brummie is and how they speak, as well as a discussion of the ghost emoji, which has always been a mystery to me!

Annalies Kusters introduced the audience to her work on multimodal interactions and the use of gestures by signing and non-signing interlocutors in India. She showed us wonderful examples from her film ‘Ishaare: Gestures and signs in Mumbai’, in which we saw fluent deaf and deafblind signers negotiating the marketplace and interacting with non-signing stallholders. Her keynote was an especially engaging end to the day as it was impressively and seamlessly presented in both sign language and spoken English.

Ana Deumert's keynote speech
Ana Deumert’s keynote speech

The second day was opened by Tong-King Lee, who spoke of his own experiences with translanguaging and advanced the idea of translanguaging as an experiential phenomenon. I was interested in his example of how one might successfully communicate one’s order for Chinese tea in a Singapore coffee shop, by using the action of fishing to demonstrate the dunking of the teabag! In the following plenary, Ana Deumert took the audience away from her hopeful 2016 work and asked whether life is not always friendly and accepting, and questioned what the limits of conviviality are. She spoke about confrontation, violence, anger and the persistence and importance of identities, and accompanied her arguments with archival videos and photos, as well as a discussion of posts and comments on colonial nostalgia from social media and online communities.

My conference display
My conference display

When not in sessions, the coffee and lunch breaks were busy affairs, and I was kept on my toes at the stand as delegates snapped up our latest publications The Multilingual Citizen edited by Lisa Lim, Christopher Stroud and Lionel Wee and Dialogues of Ethnography by Jan Blommaert, as well as the books in our new Translation and Interpreting for Social Justice in a Globalised World series.

Laura

Laura’s trip to the National Association of Bilingual Education conference

Earlier this month, I attended the annual American National Association of Bilingual Education conference, which this year took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is a conference we attend each year as it gives us an opportunity to showcase our books not only to academics researching in the area, but also to readers who might otherwise not discover them so easily, such as professionals working for school districts and in schools.

F. Isabel Campoy, Laura and Alma Flor Ada after the book signing

This year’s conference was particularly exciting as we had organised a launch for the 2nd edition of our book Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües. This book was originally written by Colin Baker in 1995 as a guide for parents and teachers looking for resources to help them raise their children with two languages. The English version has since gone on to a 4th edition (published in 2014); we have sold the rights to other publishers to publish versions in Chinese, Estonian, German, Korean, Swedish and Turkish and we ourselves have published the two editions in Spanish.

The 1st edition in Spanish was published in 2001, so it was long overdue an update. The 2nd edition, written by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, in consultation with Colin Baker, came out last summer and has been really well-received. Ada and Campoy are very well-known, award-winning authors, who have published numerous books and poetry for children, as well as academic works on bilingualism. As such, many delegates were excited to have the opportunity to meet the authors, both at the signing and throughout the conference, and talk about the book and how useful it is for parents and teachers nurturing bilingual children.

Laura at the Sandia Peak

Aside from this book, our books on translanguaging, including Paulsrud et al’s edited collection New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, and assessment, such as Mahoney’s The Assessment of Emergent Bilinguals were popular with the delegates. I am fortunate to have a couple of friends in the city and I spent my day off before travelling home exploring the surrounding area. A personal highlight was going up The Sandia Peak Tramway, the longest aerial tram in the United States. The views from the top of New Mexico were simply stunning!

Laura

Challenging Current Practices in ELT Materials Design

This month we published Creativity and Innovations in ELT Materials Development edited by Dat Bao. In this post Dat introduces his book and explains what inspired him to put it together.

I am lucky to have been involved in many materials projects with scholars who have taught me a great deal about this field: Brian Tomlinson, Alan Maley, Hitomi Masuhara, Rani Rubdy, Martin Cortazzi, to name a few. From 2000, as a student at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK, until the present day, as a lecturer at Monash University in Australia, I have worked together with these scholars in evaluating course materials, writing textbooks, conducting research and publishing the outcomes.

Knowledge, however, does not come only from the expert. Sometimes those with less experience but with a passion for materials development, such as teachers, students and colleagues, can also have a say. These practitioners sometimes make insightful comments about things that I have never thought of. By interacting together, they exchange views, question practices, reject routine, and support or challenge one another.

Having worked closely with both experts and practitioners, I can’t help thinking that these two groups could learn from one another, and help reduce the sense of hierarchy between them. For example, sometimes studying an updated theory can help teachers improve classroom tasks; at other times, observing teaching practice or listening to a teacher’s perspective can make theorists rethink their ideas.

It was this thinking that inspired my new book, Creativity and Innovations in ELT Materials Development, which began to take shape three years ago. In my own experience, this is a rare occasion on which I have managed to bring together well-known theorists and new researchers; experienced textbook writers and teachers who are users of those textbooks; and lecturers in materials development and their students.

The unusual combination of contributors has produced a range of fresh ideas about how to make English textbooks less boring and mundane. It must be said that a certain degree of negotiation among co-authors was needed to ensure that messages were clearly articulated. But in the end, the book is full of good ideas presented in a neat package with an array of helpful suggestions that are worth trying. Some examples include: what makes technology work best in a textbook, how to choose online resources with an effective learning impact, and in what ways can students be guided to become more creative.

Dat Bao (far left) teaching in the classroom at Monash University

I would encourage teachers, when going through chapters in the book, to visualise how ideas can be adapted to suit their tastes. I would also encourage readers to take notes and challenge what we say with your insights and questions. As they say, sometimes rules are made to be broken. Sometimes recommendations are made to be argued with. In this way, there should no end to what we can do to bring about optimal teaching and learning impact. I would very much like to see more debate around the topics that we raise, so that the field never settles, but remains active, in the same way that riding a bicycle requires the rider to be constantly moving forward to keep their balance.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Preparing Teachers to Teach English as an International Language edited by Aya Matsuda.