Understanding Racialized Expectations in the ELT Profession

10 August 2017

This month we are publishing Race and Ethnicity in English Language Teaching by Christopher Joseph Jenks. In this post the author discusses where racialized expectations come from and how they shape language teaching and learning.

Expectations are everything; they help us make decisions and make sense of existing life experiences. Our expectations shape decisions to seek out particular food items, holiday destinations and places of residence, and influence the extent to which we are satisfied with them. For instance, the satisfaction that I receive from eating a kale salad is not tied to my expectation that this particular food item tastes good. This would, without saying, be a foolish expectation. Rather, consuming a kale salad brings me satisfaction because of my expectations that it will result in good health and allow me to align myself with the all-important hipster community. Of course, the belief that kale is a food item of both a health-conscious individual and an advanced human being is the result of many years of cultural conditioning, which materializes in my decision to seek out particular foods and shop at grocery stores that will remain unnamed.

The decision to enrol in a particular school taught by an instructor that looks a certain way and speaks a specific language variety is also shaped by an existing set of expectations. My book, which examines race and racism in English language teaching and learning, is essentially about understanding where racialized expectations come from, and how they shape our understanding of, and actions pertaining to, the profession. That is to say, a preference for hiring White instructors from so-called Western countries does not materialize in a vacuum – a key observation in my book – but this ideology is rather rooted in a history of cultural conditioning that informs individuals what they should expect to see and hear in the language classroom.

What discourses and ideologies are responsible for such expectations? The expectation that English is a language (best) spoken, and therefore taught, by a small group of countries comes from a number of discourses and ideologies, and indeed varies from one region of the world to another, including colonial and imperial histories; in a place like South Korea, English is often associated with North America because of the role the United States has in military, political, and economic affairs.

My interest in writing this book comes from the many unanswered questions that exist regarding how such expectations become racialized in and through the discourses that are circulated within the English language teaching profession. For instance, I was motivated to understand how neoliberal forces shape the expectations one has when thinking about what English course to take. Although I am not interested in criticizing neoliberalism as an economic theory necessarily, I was motivated to show that the commodification of English facilitates the creation and circulation of racialized expectations. The book was also written because I was very much interested in examining how expectations are formulated from the point of view of privilege, such as White instructors from places like the United States. I show in my book, for example, that racial privilege creates the expectation among White instructors that they are in the best position to facilitate language learning, and this in turn influences how said teachers orient themselves within the profession; I refer to this expectation as White saviorism.

Although this project is ultimately about understanding where racialized expectations come from and how they shape language teaching and learning, the book also explores what needs to be done in the profession to create new discourses and ideologies that attend to the racial diversity that exists within the workforce. Like my desire to eat kale salads, I attempt to show that racial discrimination and privilege are misplaced expectations that come from years of cultural conditioning. This is no easy task, as racism is tied to decades of complex political and cultural struggles; yet I will be happy if my book makes even the smallest of contributions to the eradication of racism in the profession.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you enjoyed this, you might also be interested in Why English? edited by Pauline Bunce, Robert Phillipson, Vaughan Rapatahana and Ruanni Tupas.


No, Where Are You Really From? The Impact of Categorizing Others

8 August 2017

This month we are publishing Becoming Diasporically Moroccan by Lauren Wagner. In this post the author discusses the themes of microaggression and othering that are explored in her book.

© Kiyun Kim – from Racial Microaggressions, December 2013

Contrary to the typical imagination of discriminatory speech being direct and obvious, othering or categorizing statements often happen more subtly through microaggression. It can be understood as the ways underlying stereotypes about race, class, gender, and other social attributes are reproduced in casual encounters – like the experience of the woman in the picture on the right, from photographer Kiyun Kim’s project on microaggressions in a NYC university (For more testimonies, see the Microaggressions Tumblr or this nice video at Quartz with examples from film and TV). Microaggressions can be found anywhere, and experienced by anyone who might find their own sense of identity and belonging inadvertently or purposefully stereotyped by someone else. As they are becoming more widely researched and recognized as fostering social divisions, universities around the US are mandating that incoming students learn about the negative impacts of microaggression on their peers.

Yet, the existence of ‘microaggression’ is coming under attack by media and researchers, who question many of the claims made about potentially negative impacts of subtle speech. In Becoming Diasporically Moroccan, I try to show how the very subtle communicative and embodied modes for categorizing others do have an impact – not necessarily a direct and immediate one, but a cumulative and collective impact, as whole communities can come to feel ‘othered’ by the repetition, across members and over time, of small speech acts that create distinctions between us and them. This book doesn’t concentrate on how ‘othered’ groups feel harmed; rather, I try to focus on how othering contributes to evolving ideas of membership, participation, and a sense of belonging in an emerging group.

Let me take the example from the photograph above to illustrate how categorization happens in ordinary conversation.

No, where are you really from?

This is a question I hear quoted all the time by my research participants as one of the most troublesome ones they receive. While they are Moroccan-origin individuals who grew up in Europe, they share the problem of many migrant-origin individuals around the world of somehow not being allowed to be ‘from’ the place where they grew up.

The person asking this question may be on a genuine quest for information, but this includes layered, embedded assumptions that make it microaggressive. It is, firstly, context-specific, and depends on local knowledges and shared assumptions about what is ‘normal’; what should a person who is from somewhere look, sound, or be like? That leads to a second factor: that statement takes into account some kind of visible embodiment as categorizable in a combination of place (e.g. the somewhere she is from) and descent (or, the family lineage she comes from). This statement makes an assumption that place and descent map onto each other following a ‘normal’ category. Asking where she is really from implies that her claim to be from that somewhere is impossible. When these assumptions work together, they perpetuate this kind of (maybe unintentional…) microaggression, where this woman may feel like she has to justify being from the somewhere she feels she is from.

No wonder she is rolling her eyes…

Categorization at ‘home’

In Becoming Diasporically Moroccan, I pick apart face-to-face interactions where similar kinds of categorizing talk takes place, but in a different kind of context. Instead of looking at how Moroccan-origins manage their categorization in their European homelands – which might be compared to how lots of other minorities and migrant-origin groups have to deal with microaggression within a dominant (often ‘white’) group – this book looks at how these categorizations take place between Moroccans who live in Morocco and Moroccan-origin adults who visit Morocco from Europe. Like some other communities that develop in one place and can trace their familial descent to another place, Moroccans have a chance to regularly visit ‘home’. When they do, however, they often feel ‘othered’, in the opposite way to how many feel ‘othered’ in Europe.

By looking at individual examples of interactions in marketplaces, between resident Moroccan vendors and Moroccans-from-Europe, I show the subtle conversational details of how this ‘othering’ works. My conclusion, however, is not about how one or the other party may be doing wrong… Instead, I advocate that we start to think about how individuals like this – who grow up connected by descent and place to multiple homelands – together create new categories that help us evolve our thinking about where anyone might ‘belong’.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Local Languaging, Literacy and Multilingualism in a West African Society by Kasper Juffermans.


The importance of situating work within deeper historical contexts

3 August 2017

This month we published Statehood, Scale and Hierarchy: History, Language and Identity in Indonesia by Lauren Zentz. In this post Lauren reveals the surprising inspiration behind the book.

A month or so ago, after I’d completed this book and actually had time to let my thoughts wander again, I flashed back to the first time that I appreciated history. I was on my first study abroad trip as a college student in 2001 in Avignon, France, sitting in a 13th century building that had become our class building. In the upstairs library I picked up a historical linguistic book on the history of European languages dating all the way back to Roman times. Throughout high school I had developed a great disdain for learning history, as the histories taught in US high schools are not only entirely suspect but they are also incredibly boring, and usually ‘taught’ by a rotating stream of sports coaches (at least in my high school). But this dusty book that I found in this 13th century building in France transported me to a Rome that actually had people (not just Caesars), who walked, and talked, and yelled at politicians, and had relationships and were humans, just like us some millennia later.

I’d never related this experience to the current project at hand – a book about contemporary language in Indonesia – until I sat down that day and reflected on the obsession I’d had with historicizing the Indonesian context as I wrote this book. This need to historicize most certainly had links with current researchers’ calls for the addition of more history to our work; but I’d like to also think that I was driven to do so by that one experience I had so long ago, when I learned that history was where we could see living people exercising agency – and having it exercised over them – in their contexts over long periods of time.

Statehood, Scale and Hierarchy: History, Language and Identity in Indonesia is clearly a book for graduate students and professionals in the fields of Sociolinguistics, Linguistic Anthropology, Applied Linguistics, and Indonesian studies in general. I hope that readers will take away from this book the importance of situating our work within deeper historical contexts. Part of this importance for me comes from the desire to explain that Indonesia’s current historical context is not the way it is simply because of the development of the nation-state in reaction to European colonialism. Many of Indonesia’s current sociolinguistic facts are due to human currents and power dynamics that have been going on for far longer and in far more complex ways than only colonial and post-colonial states can answer for. I have attempted to situate contemporary Java and my college student participants in such a deep history, as individuals conditioned not only by their contemporary subjectivities in Indonesian statehood under globalization, but also as historically situated subjects whose linguistic practices reflect a deep and complicated history of life on Java over centuries.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Race and Ethnicity in English Language Teaching by Christopher Joseph Jenks.


Why use mixed methods in early language learning research?

27 July 2017

This month we published Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren, the first book in our new series, Early Language Learning in School Contexts. In this post the editors discuss the use of mixed methods in their research.

Understanding how young children learn additional languages in classroom environments is complex. Children learn how to speak, interact, read and write with help from teachers, peers and parents. The surrounding world, as well as themselves, influences their motivation to learn, their self-concept and their attitudes, all of which are important for their learning of an additional language. This wide range of factors with the potential to impact on children’s learning presents serious challenges to traditional research methods. For example, can a qualitative study of say, the oral language production of four children in a few lessons provide us with any clarity as to how young children in general learn additional languages at school? Similarly, can a quantitative study of the oral language production of a whole cohort of children learning an additional language at school provide us with a nuanced understanding of how development for each individual child occurs? Both set-ups could include a variety of factors, in depth analyses in the qualitative approach and advanced statistical methodologies in the quantitative approach, but regardless of which approach is taken, it seems likely that neither will provide very satisfactory answers. For these reasons and many more, we have become interested in adopting a mixed methods approach to our research, with the idea that it might provide a more comprehensive view of how language learning unfolds in classroom environments.

As a theoretical frame, mixed methods research (MMR) is regarded as relatively new, although there is evidence of research approaches that have adopted some form of ‘mixing’ for centuries (Maxwell, 2016). Given current developments in the field, it is unsurprising that views differ on exactly how MMR might be conceptualised. However, recent understandings seem to be moving towards the idea that it can be understood as bringing together all dimensions ‘as an over-arching concept (…) at the philosophical, methodological, and methods levels’ (Fetters & Molina-Azorin, 2017, p.293). Arguing for a framework of integration, they propose an ‘MMR integration trilogy’ outlining the possible dimensions that may be integrated, including: the philosophical, theoretical and researcher positioning; the rationale, aims, data collection and analysis dimension; the approaches to interpretation, dissemination and research integrity. Their suggestion is that if researchers are attentive to all dimensions then ‘more advanced and sophisticated mixed methods studies’ will result (p.303).

As researchers interested in working with MMR we recognise that we are a long way from addressing such a strongly integrated approach at the outset of framing our research plans. Indeed, it may well be that a more fluid approach which allows for the emergence of some form of mixing during the research process may allow for greater creativity in some instances. The variety of research studies contained in our edited volume Early Language Learning reflect a good proportion of the approaches to MMR currently in use in the field of early language learning. As such, we hope they set the bar for future exploration of this research paradigm that may help to clarify whether a more strongly integrated approach to this field of research can contribute to an enhanced quality of research.

References

Fetters, M.D. & Molina-Azorin, J.F. (2017). The Mixed Methods Research Integration Trilogy and Its Dimensions. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 11(3) 291–307.

Maxwell, J.A. (2016) Expanding the History and Range of Mixed Methods Research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 10(1), 12–27.

For more information about this book, please see out website. The editors have also produced a video in which they introduce their book, which can be watched here. If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School edited by María del Pilar García Mayo.


Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües

14 July 2017

This month we are publishing Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües: 2.a edición by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy and Colin Baker, the Spanish edition of Colin Baker’s bestselling book A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. In this post, Alma Flor and Isabel reveal why a Spanish edition of the book was needed.

En nuestro frecuente contacto con padres cuya primera lengua no es el inglés y son residentes de los Estados Unidos, a quienes encontramos en talleres, conferencias, visitas a escuelas o bibliotecas, nos queda a menudo el dolor de comprobar que muchos de ellos se acogen a creencias y prácticas contrarias a lo que beneficiaría a sus hijos, como lo demuestra la experiencia y la investigación.

Alguna de las falsas creencias, en muchos casos totalmente inconscientes, que justifican sus decisiones son que:

  • sus hijos aprenderán inglés más rápidamente y mejor si solo se educan en inglés,
  • sus hijos conservarán el español que aprendieron como niños, incluso cuando solo hablen inglés, y no se haga ningún esfuerzo para practicar o desarrollar su español,
  • sus hijos tendrán más éxito en los Estados Unidos si hablan solo inglés ya que eso les permitirá asimilarse y ser aceptados más fácilmente

Aunque estos padres no prevén inicialmente las dificultades de comunicación entre ellos y sus hijos, sí hemos encontrado a padres que se enfrentaban a la dificultad de no tener un idioma común con sus hijos.

El bilingüismo es un tema complejo que puede manifestarse de muchas formas y los hablantes pueden llegar a diferentes grados de bilingüismo por caminos diversos. Este libro ofrece información e invita a reflexionar a los padres y maestros a tener un claro entendimiento de la alegría y los retos que implica el privilegio de llegar a ser bilingüe.

La necesidad de proporcionar información rigurosa a los padres nos llevó a crear la versión en español de la cuarta edición de Colin Baker, Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües. Alma Flor ya había creado una versión de la primera edición que se ha usado ampliamente. La cuarta edición en inglés, amplió los temas sobre el uso de la tecnología, los resultados recientes de la investigación en psicología y nuevos descubrimientos en educación.

Quizás lo más distintivo de este libro es la forma en que Colin Baker ha organizado los contenidos, a través de una serie de preguntas claras de interés para cualquier persona involucrada en la educación de un niño, en proceso de llegar a ser bilingüe. A través de la lectura del índice cualquiera puede rápidamente identificar lo que más le interesa y así llegar sin dilación a los consejos que busca en el libro. Las respuestas se presentan con claridad y de forma simple y se dirigen al lector de manera personal.

La edición en español añade secciones dirigidas a la integración de la escuela y el hogar, se dan sugerencias para el aprendizaje en el hogar y recomendaciones de literatura infantil en español.

Nos alegra haber dedicado tiempo, en medio de nuestra ocupada vida como autoras de literatura infantil y escritoras de materiales educativos, para crear esta edición en español. Fue una labor satisfactoria y esperamos que muchos padres y maestros encuentren en este libro una valiosa información.

Les invitamos a visitar nuestros portales

www.almaflorada.com

www.isabelcampoy.com

o contactarnos en

almaflor@almaflorada.com

isabel@isabelcampoy.com

For more information about this book, please see our website. Colin Baker’s bestseller, A Parents‘ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (4th edition), on which this book is based, is also available on our website.


Multilingual Matters at the International Symposium on Bilingualism 2017

30 June 2017

Earlier this month, Anna and Laura left Bristol in the midst of a heatwave for rainy Ireland and the biennial International Symposium on Bilingualism, which was hosted this year by the University of Limerick. In this post Laura tells us what they got up to.

A very busy coffee break

The theme of the International Symposium on Bilingualism conference this year was ‘Bilingualism, Multilingualism and the New Speaker’ and delegates enjoyed a packed schedule of presentations, either linked directly to the theme or to any other aspect of bilingualism and multilingualism research. Clearly the topic of the conference lies right at the heart of Multilingual Matters and we were pleased that there was plenty of interest in our books. So much so that we often had a queue of keen customers at the stand during the breaks and were very glad to have each other to share the workload.

Naturally, the 6th edition of our bestselling textbook, Foundations of Bilingualism and Bilingualism by Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright, was a popular choice but it was matched in popularity by New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. All the authors of other bestsellers, Raising Multilingual Children, by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele and Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning by Simone E. Pfenninger and David Singleton, were present to talk to readers about their work. Another hot title was New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele, who was one of the keynote speakers.

Accompanying Jean-Marc Dewaele as other plenary speakers were Ana Deumert, Alexandre Duchêne, Elizabeth Lanza, Tina Hickey and Lisa Lim. The keynotes were all very well-attended and we were glad to be able to slip away from a quiet stand in order to hear them.

Laura and Anna putting their free conference umbrellas to good use

Aside from the packed academic schedule, delegates were treated to a drinks reception, Irish BBQ with traditional Irish music and dancing and a Gala Dinner, featuring a live band and welcoming dance floor. Needless to say, we returned home utterly exhausted from an excellent and enjoyable conference and already looking forward to the next one in Canada in 2019!


Public Policy Development in Translation and Interpreting Studies

16 June 2017

We recently published the first book in our new series Translation, Interpreting and Social Justice in a Globalised World, entitled Ideology, Ethics and Policy Development in Public Service Interpreting and Translation edited by Carmen Valero-Garcés and Rebecca Tipton. In this post the editors introduce us to the main themes of the book.

As the 21st century advances, Public Service Interpreting and Translation (PSIT) services are increasingly positioned at the service of conflict resolution in different contexts, while at the same time being locked in their own struggle for professional recognition. This edited volume builds on our experiences as educators, researchers and practitioners as well as on the FITISPos Conference series in Public Service Interpreting and Translation held at the University of Alcalá, Madrid, and in particular the 2014 Conference which revisited topics related to ethics and ideology in situations of conflict.

The collection illuminates emerging challenges for PSIT in statutory and non-statutory services generated by violent conflict, population displacement and migration, inter alia, gender-based violence, human rights violations and mental health trauma. These challenges raise questions as to the nature of the ethical and ideological frameworks within which interpreters and translators operate, the extent to which they shape such frameworks, and the role of states and institutions in acknowledging and responding to human need and human rights, against a backdrop of shifting political, social and legal landscapes.

The chapters explore the evolving nature of ethics and ideology in a range of settings, and their implications for PSIT service organization, perception and delivery. They make a timely contribution to discussions on public policy development in translation and interpreting studies (see also González Núñez and Meylaerts (eds) 2017).

The volume promotes research involving inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional approaches in order to appeal to communities of public service interpreting and translation, communities of research and practice, intercultural communication services and key stakeholders in policy development. The intended readership is therefore broader than the constituency of PSIT alone and extends to anyone interested in multicultural societies.

The volume is divided into two parts; the first, titled ‘(Re-)defining Concepts and Policy Contexts’ provides historical and contemporary perspectives on ideology in the development of interpreting at the service of state bodies and institutions. The chapters explore ideologies of recruitment, positioning, discourses of professionalization, PSIT and the democratic process, and the ethics and politics of recognition. The chapters are underpinned by theoretical frameworks that highlight political science as an increasingly important inter-discipline.

Part 2 titled ‘Experiences From the Field’ brings together contributions on interpreting in settings such as courtrooms, correctional facilities and in the pre-trial phases of criminal investigation. It focuses on interpreter mediation with asylum seekers, refugees and trauma survivors, drawing on case studies and survey-based studies. Ethical and ideological perspectives are foregrounded through a spotlight on issues of access to justice in correctional facilities and rehabilitation for limited proficiency speakers. Interlingual communication is theorized in particular through rights-based discourses.  The chapters offer new insight into different types of legal events in the European context and bring a fresh perspective on the use and training of interpreters in Europe and the United States.

We hope that the volume opens up useful discussion between educators, interpreting practitioners and key public service and community stakeholders with a view to developing coherent policy approaches to PSIT across domains and settings.

References:

González Núñez Gabriel and Reine Meylaerts (eds) (2017) Translation and Public Policy: Interdisciplinary perspectives and case studies, London and New York: Routledge.

For more information about this book, please see our website


How do Doctors Use Language to Shape, Challenge and Form Relationships?

13 June 2017

This month we published Reflective Writing in Medical Practice by Miriam A. Locher. In this post the author explains the focus of the book and how it came about.

This book is about the linguistic analysis of written reflective writing texts that were produced in the context of medical education and medical practice. The texts were collected from medical students from the University of Basel and the University of Nottingham (in connection with courses on communication skills in doctor-patient interaction), and are supplemented by a corpus of texts written by doctors for columns published in medical journals.

The genre of reflective writing has several purposes: it invites the writer to learn from a past experience and to reflect on potential future behaviour. In its focus on a past experience it involves narrative elements and in its trajectory on learning it involves reflection and projection. As a practice, the value of reflective writing has long been established within the medical humanities and medical professionals are encouraged to make reflective writing a life-long habit.

My own expertise in online health communication and (im)politeness studies led me to ask how medical students and doctors use language to shape, challenge and form relationships (a process for which I use the term ‘relational work’), and thus to study the texts in the reflective writing corpus from an interpersonal pragmatics perspective. In addition, the texts are explored with respect to topic, composition, and genre. In the book, we explore:

  • what topics and communication skills the authors write about
  • how the narratives develop
  • how these texts are shaped
  • what genres influence their composition
  • how relational work surfaces in them
  • how the writers linguistically create their identities as experts or novices

The medical humanities have long played an important role in medical training at the University of Basel. When I joined the staff of the English department in 2008, two important scholars on the medical humanities committee, Prof. Alexander Kiss (psychosomatics) and Prof. Franziska Gygax (English literary and cultural studies) approached me and we developed a joint interdisciplinary project entitled ‘Life (Beyond) Writing’: Illness Narratives, (funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation). This project joins the study of life writing, reflective writing and medical education. During the years that the project was funded, we have learnt from each others’ different ways of developing questions and approaching data. We also organized an interdisciplinary conference, which resulted in an edited collection (Narrative Matters across Disciplines in Medical Practice, Benjamins, 2015).

The current book is the result of the linguistic branch of the project, which deals with the reflective writing corpus as outlined above. Our collaborator Victoria Tischler (Nottingham) and the linguistics project member Regula Koenig were important team members throughout the genesis of the book. While bringing the ideas together as a whole and writing it up was a single-author experience, I feel indebted to both and therefore use the authorial “we” when writing. Without their help in obtaining data, coding and feedback, the completion of this project would not have been possible.

More information on the author can be found on her website.

More information on the interdisciplinary project can be found on the project website.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Medical Discourse in Professional, Academic and Popular Settings edited by Pilar Ordóñez-López and Nuria Edo-Marzá and English in Medical Education by Peih-ying Lu and John Corbett.

 


The Japanese writing system and the difficulties it poses for second language learners

8 June 2017

This month we are publishing The Japanese Writing System by Heath Rose. In this post, Heath reveals how his own struggles with studying the written language inspired him to write the book.

The Japanese writing system has fascinated me since I first began learning it as a high school student in rural Australia. This captivation remained with me when I became a teacher of the language, and later as a researcher of it. However, my relationship with Japanese is somewhat multifarious; while I have always appreciated the beauty in its complexity, I can be simultaneously frustrated with it and enamoured of it. Still to this day, I do not know any other language that mixes so many types of scripts within a single writing system. Japanese consists of two phonetic scripts (hiragana and katakana) that represent syllables in the language, a character-based script (kanji) that represents meaning-based units, and an alphabetic script (Romaji).

When I first learned kanji, I found the writing system to be a great source of motivation to study. There was beauty in the physical form of the scripts and I could see progress being made in my learning of the hiragana and katakana scripts, and the first few hundred kanji. This motivation slowly dissipated in later years of study, as I realised that I needed to learn many more thousand kanji, which seemed to represent the language in a haphazard manner. A learner must know more than 2000 kanji to be literate in the language, and many more thousand to develop a high level of expertise in it. What was once a source of joy, had developed into a laborious task of memorization that extended over a decade of intensive study.

I was fortunate to be able to live in Japan for eleven years. While I saw my spoken Japanese improve effortlessly during this time, my written Japanese still required formal classes, and daily self-study. When I lacked the time to devote to reviewing kanji, my proficiency was adversely affected. At that time it dawned on me that the written Japanese language and the spoken Japanese language were completely separate beasts; it was possible to advance in one and decline in the other.

My interest, as a researcher of the processes by which second language learners acquire written Japanese, grew from my own struggles with learning the language. In my research, which spanned a decade, I discovered patterns in learning that were indicative of good and bad practices. Some successful learners applied strategies to memorize kanji, such as making associations with their shape, components, or meanings. However, I concluded there was no definitive “magic” strategy for success. Rather, successful learners tended to cope with the magnitude of learning via successful self-regulation of their learning goals, and their learning behaviours.

I sum up my research (and the research of other linguists) in my new book titled The Japanese Writing System: Challenges, Strategies and Self-regulation for Learning Kanji. In this book research is discussed in terms of their implications for second language learners, teachers and researchers alike.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Writing Systems edited by Vivian Cook and Benedetta Bassetti. 


Advancing the Research Agenda on Child Foreign Language Learning

6 June 2017

This month we’re publishing Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School edited by María del Pilar García Mayo. In this post the editor explains what inspired her to put the book together and what she hopes readers will gain from it.

Back in October 2014, and together with the members of a Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness-funded research project of which I was the principal investigator, we organized the First International Conference on Child Foreign Language Acquisition at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). Surveying the field, it was obvious that most of what was known about the second language acquisition process came from research on adult and adolescent learners, or on younger learners but in immersion and second language contexts, that is, rich input contexts in which the learners are exposed to relevant stimuli outside the classroom. However, little was known about school-based programs in foreign language (FL) settings and much less about FL programs at the primary school level.

This was somewhat surprising as the number of FL programs for children mainly with English as a FL is on the increase worldwide. More studies on the topic were needed in order for stakeholders to make decisions on pedagogical measures based on research evidence. Sometimes research findings from language acquisition in immersion settings have been extrapolated to FL settings where conditions regarding number of pupils per classroom, exposure to appropriate input and curriculum time available are clearly not the same. FL contexts opportunities for exposure to the target language are often restricted to the classroom and because of this learners are almost completely reliant on their teachers. Besides, these different aged learners vary in terms of linguistic, cognitive and social development and, therefore, the process of adult and child second language acquisition is quite distinct.

After the conference, I decided to contact some of the participants and put together the proposal for what is now the volume Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School. Its main goal is to advance the research agenda on child FL learning. The twelve chapters that comprise the volume contain data gathered from primary school children (ages 6-12) while performing different tasks, answering questionnaires or providing feedback on diagnostic tests. The first languages of the children are Chinese, English, Hungarian, Persian and Spanish; and, except for data reported in one the chapters where the children were exposed to Esperanto, French, German and Italian, the second language learned as a FL was always English, thus representing the world-wide tendency referred to above. The volume offers contributions on what children are capable of doing and provides a wealth of data for researchers and educators. Besides, enhancing pedagogy through research is one of its key outcomes and the various chapters provide valuable insights about methods and teaching practices for young FL learners.

I hope Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School shows the reader that young FL learners are not passive recipients in their language learning process and that their insights are crucial for forthcoming research on the topic.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning by Simone E. Pfenninger and David Singleton, which was published in April 2017, as well as Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren, due for publication in July 2017.


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