We recently held an online event to highlight a couple of books in our Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series, in which authors Gary Barkhuizen and Chika Takahashi discussed their research with series editors Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan. In the second half of the event we opened the discussion up for audience questions and we received so many that we decided to answer those we didn’t have time for in a blog post. The recording of the event is available to watch on our YouTube channel.
Questions for Gary Barkhuizen, editor of Language Teachers Studying Abroad
A long time ago, as an undergraduate student, I was a participant in a study to measure L2 French development after study abroad. I remember being asked about romantic relationships in the return interview. At the time I thought it was very personal – is it an element in participants’ experience?
The short answer is ‘yes’. The chapter by Mitchell and Tracy-Ventura, for example, looks at careers after study abroad and gives examples of how participants often return to the host countries to continuing living with (and marrying) people they met while studying abroad. ‘Relationships’ is a very important theme running through all the chapters, and these include not only professional but also romantic relationships.
Is there a system that would allow those going on study abroad programs to meet up with others who have already been? Sharing experience could help acclimatization, perhaps.
This kind of ‘meeting up’ is often arranged by the organizers of study abroad programs, usually within institutions. A number of chapters in the book give examples of this type of connection, and how useful it is for both those going abroad (to learn from those who have already been) and those who have returned (to reflect on their past experience). Sometimes the meeting up takes place online.
Does your book include anything about teachers studying while working abroad?
Actually, it’s more like working while studying abroad. And the work might be internships, short-term placements in schools, doing a practicum, volunteering, etc. I can’t think of examples of studying while working abroad – is that still a kind of study abroad? A good question.
How do you see study abroad driving brain drain, intellectual capital exodus? This is very serious in a range of countries. Students go abroad and later settle abroad, markedly so in the case of Bulgaria, where I am.
It depends on the nature of the study abroad. For example, a semester abroad as part of a degree program requires the participant (a pre-service teacher probably) to return to the home country to complete the teacher education program. Many study abroad programs are a few weeks’ long only, in the form of an exchange for example, and so participants always return. This question may be referring to independent study, of a first degree, or a postgraduate qualification. Here there are easier options for staying abroad after study (and some host countries actually encourage this), but even so there may be immigration visa constraints about staying and often scholarship requirements forcing return.
Questions for Chika Takahashi, author of Motivation to Learn Multiple Languages in Japan
These sound like exceptional learners – did you have certain criteria when selecting participants or did you start out with a larger group?
Yes, I agree that they are rather atypical learners. Indeed, I started out with a larger group: I first interviewed 13 students who responded to the questionnaire in my dissertation, which was administered before the interviews, and who volunteered to be individually interviewed. I noticed that these two learners were contrasting and unique in their own ways even at the very first interviews. Half a year later, I did another round of interviews with five out of the 13, including these two, and they are the two I focused on after this round of interviews and the two who never declined my invitation. I can only thank them for the perseverance.
Was your study informed by a particular motivation model or theory?
Yes, I focused on the L2 motivational self system as well as intrinsic motivation in self-determination theory. At the same time, some themes not covered by these theoretical frameworks emerged from the interview data, and I tried to be particularly careful not to overlook these themes. I believe this is one of the strengths of this type of small-scale, in-depth studies.
I’m very pleased to hear that your languages other than English (LOTE) learners really enjoy language learning itself, not just as an instrument. How were your participants motivated to learn English?
They were of course aware of the aspect of English as a global language and were motivated to learn English to be able to communicate with people around the world. At the same time, particularly one of them considered that in order to understand people of other languages he needed to learn their languages. In this sense, English was not enough and was only “one of the languages” he learned; he never mentioned the aspect of, for example, learning English to gain a competitive edge in the job market.
With online language learning, is the lack of natural human interaction not one of the main reasons for loss of motivation?
That may be the case, as many of us are realizing that doing something online vs face-to-face indeed involve certain differences. At the same time, when you are learning through various media, you may get a sense of “interacting” with those in the programs online, on the radio etc., i.e., with those in the community (whatever that community may be) that one day you hope to be a part of. I think this aspect may be particularly relevant to ideal L2 self, as it involves the aspect of imagination. This aspect may be particularly relevant with the radio, which my interviewees used for their English self-instruction. This is because not having visual information may actually stimulate their imagination.
I work as an English teacher at a Japanese elementary school and I’m struggling with dealing with students who have low engagement during the class, due to lack of concentration. In this situation, how is it possible for me to improve their engagement？
Your question reminds me of my kids! I’ve never taught at elementary school, so my comment is based more on my experience as a mother, but I’d say it’s difficult for them to concentrate, first of all, for a long time (maybe 15 minutes or so? That’s probably one of the reasons why self-instructional radio materials are short), and on a topic they don’t find interesting or relevant. Also, the other day I was trying to teach some basic pronunciation of English to my daughter, who’s a 6th grader, which she found quite boring. So instead of teaching her some random sounds of English, I re-started with the explanations of basic sound systems of a language, sort of like a little linguistics class. This she found interesting and was able to understand. So even within an elementary school what one finds interesting depends on the grade, right? Of course, these are all well-discussed topics related to motivation, I think, but the issues of class organization, interest, relevance, and age all come into play.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for the event and asked so many interesting questions! For those who missed it live, you can watch the recording below.
Language Teachers Studying Abroad edited by Gary Barkhuizen and Motivation to Learn Multiple Languages in Japan by Chika Takahashi are available on our website.