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.


Rich Schools, Poor Schools: The Case of Two Cities. Really?

1 June 2017

Last month we published English Language Teaching in South America edited by Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Luciana C. de Oliveira. In this post Lía highlights the similarities between some public schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles when it comes to access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In a recently published book, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that the notion of countries as being rich or poor is an outdated one. Instead, they support the idea that there are poor countries with cities or areas that experience great economic growth and social development. Along the same lines, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that rich countries are not homogeneous. Instead, they have pockets of persistent (and often growing, I would add) poverty and inequality. The latter is the case of the United States. For example, in the state of California, which represents the 7th economy of the world, the educational experience of children enrolled in public schools is dependent on the socioeconomic status (or more specifically on the zip code) of the geographical area in which their public school is located.

As a teacher educator at California State University, Los Angeles, I have the opportunity to observe classes taught by student teachers placed in kindergarten through grade 16 in the Los Angeles county. Public K-12 schools in the county, which includes cities with low, middle, and high incomes, are not significantly different from the schools described by Pozzi in her chapter from our new book titled “Examining Teacher Perspectives on Language Policy in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina,”. In particular, there are two themes that are common to public schools both in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles. These are: access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In our book, chapter authors describe several initiatives designed to integrate technology in EFL classrooms in South America. While Argentina has implemented a variety of such policies, particularly in relation to the notion of one laptop per child in K-12 and teacher preparation settings, the success of these programs with low-income children is still a work-in-progress. Specifically, in her chapter, Pozzi explains that in low income public schools in Buenos Aires, children and their parents are not trained in how to take care of their laptops, resulting in dramatic cases like those of parents’ washing  laptops as if they were clothes. Additionally, when children bring the laptops to school, the internet connection is limited (a point also made by Veciño in her chapter). While my experiences in low income schools in Los Angeles have not resulted in the observation of dramatic experiences like those observed for Buenos Aires, the reality is that access to laptops in low-income immigrant Latino areas is very limited. Schools in the Los Angeles county keep laptops locked in secured carts. During the school day, laptops are shared across classes and students have access to them to do school work for two to three hours per week, on average. Much like in the case of low-income schools in Buenos Aires, the internet connection in low-income schools in Los Angeles is often problematic; therefore, negatively limiting the use of the internet for instructional purposes showing educational YouTube videos to students. On the other hand, in general, schools in middle and high income areas tend to provide much more extensive access to laptops in the form of one laptop per child, particularly at the higher elementary grades (4th and 5th grades). This results in the integration of laptops for a variety of purposes, which in turn promotes higher student comfort with technology. Given that starting in 3rd grade, all children in California are required to take a battery of computer-based tests focusing on math, English language arts, and science at the end of the academic year, comfort with computers is critical for the students’ successful performance on the test.

Another similarity between low income schools in Buenos Aires and in Los Angeles, for example, is related to pedagogical materials. Pozzi explains that the EFL materials used to teach low income children in Buenos Aires are irrelevant to the students’ lives. Inner Circle materials, used to teach EFL in Buenos Aires, present a reality that is far from the reality that low-income children face in Buenos Aires. In the case of Los Angeles, the problem with materials is that, other than the pedagogical materials sanctioned by the school district, children have limited access to books, manipulatives, etc., that will help them expand on their learning. In contrast, teachers in middle and high income school classrooms have a wealth of instructional programs, materials, and in particular books, that children use at different times of the day for a variety of purposes.

To conclude, Pozzi’s chapter in our Multilingual Matters volume provides an eye-opening description of the complexities involved in the implementation of English language policies in low, middle and high income schools in Buenos Aires. In this blog entry, I took a quick look at schools in the Los Angeles county. In my analysis, I identified at least two similarities between schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles; therefore, I propose that we avoid blanket generalizations about countries in general and, more specifically, about the status of English language teaching around the world. In this way, more localized descriptions of the implementation of educational policies will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the impact of such policies.

Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, California State University, Los Angeles

References

Pomeraniec, H., & San Martín, R. (2016). ¿Dónde Queda el Primer Mundo? El Nuevo Mapa del Desarrollo y el Bienestar [Where is the First World? The New Landscape of Development and Well Being]. Buenos Aires: Aguilar.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like The Education of Indigenous Citizens in Latin America edited by Regina Cortina. 


Translanguaging: from a little acorn a mighty oak grows

26 May 2017

This month we published New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and introduce us to the metaphor of the “translanguaging tree”.

Research on translanguaging has often been centred in superdiverse cities and urban spaces. Thus, Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden, may not have come to mind first when exploring new research in the dynamic field of translanguaging as theory and pedagogy ‒ until now! Dalarna University has proven to be the springboard for a collection of innovative international research on translanguaging. How did this happen?

Let us back up a bit! The four of us editors have all been teaching and researching language in education in the Swedish context for many years, focusing on both policy and practice. With approximately 20% of Sweden’s population comprised of immigrants and at least 140 languages spoken by pupils in the compulsory school system, language use in and out of educational contexts is a stimulating field. Our research led us naturally to the concept of translanguaging.

The Translanguaging conference at Dalarna University

Translanguaging offered a new way to explore language ideologies, policies, and processes. After a study visit by Åsa to Canada, where she spent time with Jim Cummins and Thornwood Primary School in Mississauga, the idea of a small workshop on translanguaging grew. While we first imagined that perhaps a dozen or so Swedish researchers would join us in Falun, we soon realized that the thirst for discussing translanguaging as a theoretical and pedagogical concept was great. That informal workshop developed into an international conference, “Translanguaging – practices, skills and pedagogy”, with more than 150 researchers from around 20 countries as well as numerous in-service teachers. Bryn Jones, in his presentation at the conference, aptly described the spread of translanguaging as a useful concept in education research with the metaphor “from a little acorn a mighty oak grows”.

The editors at a writing workshop

The metaphor of the acorn even describes the momentum which followed the conference in Falun. Inspired by the amazing research taking place in different contexts, we knew that a volume was needed to share this surge in the field. With a fantastic group of scholars from seven countries, the volume took shape in record time. For us editors, the period of time from April, 2015, to the present will always be remembered as a blur of texts to read, long editor meetings, contact with fantastic authors spread across the world, and appreciation of the great efforts made by everyone involved in the book. A highlight was a two-day writing workshop in the wintry countryside outside of Stockholm, where all the authors gathered for two days of peer-reviewing and mingling.

Many branches of the ever-growing ‘translanguaging tree’ are represented in our volume. Here are just a few:

  • agency
  • language ideology
  • language policy
  • social justice
  • translanguaging space
  • transliteracy
  • critical views on translanguaging
  • young learners to young adults
  • sign languages
  • national minority languages

Organizing a conference on translanguaging in the small town of Falun in Sweden highlights the fact that linguistic and cultural diversity is part of everyday lives in most places in the world. With the publication of this timely collection, we have made one contribution to tending the flourishing ‘translanguaging tree.’ We hope that the field will continue to thrive, and that future research will benefit from this first volume dedicated to new perspectives of translanguaging in education.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll.


Exploring Feminist Pedagogy in TESOL

19 May 2017

This month we published The Socially Responsible Feminist EFL Classroom by Reiko Yoshihara. In this post the author explains what inspired her to write the book and what we can expect from reading it.

The main purpose of the book is to explore feminist pedagogy in TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Although I focus on the teaching practices of self-identified feminist EFL educators in Japanese universities, I hope to make connections to TESOL more broadly. To obtain a deep understanding of their feminist teaching practices, I explored the feminist teachers’ identities and teaching beliefs. The idea for The Socially Responsible Feminist EFL Classroom grew out of the frustration I experienced when I saw and heard of hesitation, resistance and accusations against feminist teaching from other ESL/EFL (English as a second language/English as a foreign language) teachers. What are our responsibilities as university ESL/EFL teachers? What can we do as ESL/EFL teachers to prepare students for their future? Should we teach only English grammar, vocabulary and linguistic information, and have students improve their English proficiency? I believe that our responsibility is to teach social equality and justice along with the language practice and to educate our language students to become socially responsible world citizens. To promote social equality and justice, teaching about global issues, environmental problems, and human rights and gender issues in ESL/EFL classes should be paid attention to.

In order to understand what is going on in the feminist EFL classroom in Japanese universities, I worked with eight participants who were self-identified feminist teachers (three American women, one American man, one British woman, two Japanese women, one Japan-born Korean women) who taught EFL at university level in Japan. To accomplish this goal, I conducted feminist narrative research. Drawing on poststructural feminist theory of identity, I examined the construction of their feminist teacher identities in social and cultural contexts. I also examined stories addressing the questions of what teaching beliefs individual feminist teachers held, how their feminist identities connected with their teaching beliefs and practices, and how they reflected their teaching beliefs in their teaching practices. This examination provided many major and minor ways of feminist teaching in Japanese university EFL classrooms. On the other hand, I found some incompatibility among feminist teacher identities, teaching beliefs and classroom practices. Poststructural feminist views helped examine incompatible relationships between identities, beliefs and practices.

My hope is that this book will succeed in establishing a new direction in language education research by drawing attention to a powerful, yet under-researched group of teachers. Readers with a passion for learning more about feminist pedagogy in TESOL will find inspiration and ideas for moving forward in this pursuit. In addition, I hope ESL/EFL researchers who are interested in feminist teaching will see this book as an invitation to continue the scholarly conversation and to build a research space for investigating feminist pedagogy within the TESOL field.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan by Diane Hawley Nagatomo and Being and Becoming a Speaker of Japanese by Andrea Simon-Maeda.


Language and China’s Rise: The Confucius Institute Project

16 May 2017

This month we published Soft Power and the Worldwide Promotion of Chinese Language Learning by Jeffrey Gil. In this post the author reveals the inspiration behind the book and discusses China’s controversial Confucius Institute project.

I first became interested in China’s promotion of Chinese language learning when I was a PhD student in the early 2000s. While writing a thesis chapter about the use and status of the Chinese language in the world, I came across a news report describing plans to open a Chinese language and culture centre, called the Confucius Institute, in Kenya. It struck me as a sign that language was an important part of China’s rise, and as a topic worth exploring in more detail in the future. This book is the eventual result.

Confucius Institutes are established through partnerships between China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International (known as Hanban), a Chinese university and a foreign university. Their main function is teaching Chinese language and culture. Confucius Classrooms operate along similar lines in primary and secondary schools. Associated with these are the posting of volunteer and state-sponsored Chinese language teachers overseas, and the international Chinese Bridge Chinese language competitions. I refer to these collectively as the Confucius Institute project. This is part of China’s use of soft power, or attraction, to accomplish its goals in world politics. Language learning is an important aspect of this because there is already widespread interest in learning Chinese, and China views the Chinese language as a vehicle for conveying knowledge and understanding of China, including its culture, history and politics.

The Confucius Institute in Kenya which sparked my interest was one of the earliest; the first was opened in Seoul, South Korea, in November 2004. Since then, the scope and scale of the Confucius Institute project has expanded considerably. It has also garnered much attention from the public, the media, academics and governments, and created quite some controversy in the process. It seemed to me an appropriate time for a work which would map and evaluate the Confucius Institute project from a global perspective. In particular, I wanted to explore the dimensions of the Confucius Institute project across the globe; the impact of the Confucius Institute project at the political and societal levels; and the ways the Confucius Institute project could be modified in the future.

In this book I describe the geographical coverage, volume of activities and pace of development of the Confucius Institute project. I also analyse its influence on the policies and actions of foreign governments, on Chinese language teaching and learning, and on attitudes towards China. My conclusions may be surprising: outside the domain of Chinese language teaching and learning where its impact has been mainly positive, the Confucius Institute project has had little impact on improving China’s standing in world politics. On this basis I make several suggestions regarding what China, schools and universities, governments and researchers can do to improve the outcomes of the Confucius Institute project.

I’m sure this book won’t be the last word on the Confucius Institute project, but I hope I’ve succeeded in highlighting how language is intertwined with China’s rise.

Jeffrey Gil, Flinders University

jeffrey.gil@flinders.edu.au

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy Studies in Second Language Acquisition of Chinese edited by ZhaoHong Han.


Part 3: Anxiety as a Travelling Companion

5 May 2017

Last month we published New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In the last of three posts, one from each of the editors, Mark discusses his personal experience of language anxiety and how we can learn to manage it.

Attempts to understand foreign language anxiety (FLA) often resort to the explanatory power of metaphor. Arnold and Brown (1999) liken the vulnerability and anxious efforts of learners endeavouring to express themselves in the target language to moving along in ‘a shaky linguistic vehicle’ (p.9). ‘A map of the terrain’, the title given to their overview of affective factors, in Arnold’s landmark publication, is a fitting one, evoking images of a fragile vehicle tentatively making its way across unchartered territory. In Young’s (1999) bespoke volume on how to reduce anxiety in pedagogical contexts, anxiety, on one page, is rendered in pictorial form as rocks falling towards a startled climber as he or she moves towards the summit of a mountain. In Jean-Marc Dewaele’s contribution to this blog, anxiety is likened to ‘snow’. All these are creative comparisons that allow us to think about anxiety from different perspectives, thereby aiding our understanding of this complex emotion.

Another metaphor that might shed further light on anxiety and its influence is to view language learning as a series of interconnected phases on an ongoing journey: stops made along the way to take in the wonderful views before us and to feel proud at the progress made; short breaks taken to catch a breather or to rest after difficult moments; longer breaks to consider one’s options and how to avoid the bad weather ahead or actively seek out sunnier climes; tough decisions to be taken on whether to choose a different route, abandon the journey altogether or to soldier on with determination, selecting other resources and drawing upon the help and good will of fellow travellers to better negotiate the landscape and the prevailing climatic conditions.

Whether we, as language learners, are able to transform our shaky vehicle into a sturdier means of transport capable of adapting to these phases of a journey, depends on a number of factors. Not the least of these is how learners (mis)manage their emotional reactions – including anxiety. Because anxiety can lead to a heightened sense of appreciation of the journey, but it can also bring about worry, resignation and a hive of buzzing self-doubts that may significantly hinder or bring our journey to a sudden halt.

It ‘depends’ because, like snow, anxiety is truly ‘slippery’. As a successful language learner, but someone who has experienced language anxiety, I am familiar with various phases of the language learning journey mentioned above. Indeed, my experience of anxiety first triggered my interest in research. Did my own students – future EFL teachers, no less – also have these perplexing, uncomfortable feelings – especially when speaking the target language? And if they did, how could I help them to overcome such discomfort? I set about trying to find out. A significant number of teachers did, indeed, experience FLA, so one myth that can be dispelled is that proficient learners cease to experience FLA. Nonetheless, it remains vital that learners starting out on their journeys receive informed support on how to guide their vehicles around emotional ‘potholes’.

To continue with metaphor, my experience of anxiety was, at times, like getting a flat tyre, literally a deflating experience that often punctured any sense I had of making any progress. There I was, left on the side of the road and waiting for help, while other cars zipped by. During other periods, however, anxiety seemed to be the key factor underlying my desire to improve. I was determined to patch up my own car and catch up with the others. It helped me to reflect on aspects of my own learning and teaching beliefs, and I came to realise, in a deeper sense, how language learning is much more than learning a new code with which to communicate.

At times like these, learners often need to verbalise both their positive and negative emotions, and they can benefit from relativizing their often exaggerated reactions to events with classmates and/or the teacher. Finding a sympathetic ear helps, but self-denial may be the first barrier to overcome. Learners can be reluctant to admit and talk about what they see as their own weaknesses. This is why it is important that teachers are aware of the emotional nature of language learning, and have strategies in their toolbox to help repair ‘faltering vehicles’.

Yet FLA is fascinating – precisely because it is slippery and complex. Talkative learners may be anxious, reluctant speakers may not be. While anxiety is a negative emotion, can it have positive as well as negative effects? The causes of anxiety are not singular or clearly identifiable, and the experience of anxiety leaves us unsure, dogged by uncertainty as to what exactly is coming our way and why. Unlike the falling rocks, which represent a clearly identified threat, and therefore more accurately capture fear, anxiety often leaves us scanning the road ahead, with a vague sense of foreboding. Anxiety likely arises from the realisation that our L2 means of transport is far less reliable in comparison with our solid and trusty L1 performer. It can leave us frustrated and feeling inadequate in public settings. This is why anxiety is often associated with speaking, but it may also arise when learners are listening, writing or reading.

These emotional experiences might be related to one’s own personality, the degree to which you have a healthy relationship with your classmates and/or teacher, whether the classroom activities capture your interest and make the learning experience an enjoyable one, or your levels of motivation and the way you see yourself as a language learner. Or, more likely, the dynamic interplay of all these and other factors.

Yet such complexity should not leave us despondent. The most memorable journeys are usually made up of emotional highs and lows. The former often embody the excitement and deep satisfaction of being able to communicate in an L2. Further, language learning is often punctuated with serendipitous events. For example, chance meetings with people – in or outside the classroom – can spur us on to improve our L2 skills. The lows provide for reflection, and can sow the seeds of resilience needed for the long haul. Looking back, these lows can be kept in perspective, and give us satisfaction that we dealt with these and kept on going. They also feed into our knowledge and experience of how to better prepare for the ongoing journey.

Getting our linguistic vehicle into shape, then, partly depends on how we deal with anxiety as a companion on our journey. At times, we may experience anxiety as a positive factor, with it keeping us on our toes as we try to achieve our objectives; at others, it may grip us as a negative force, scrambling our thoughts and making it more difficult to keep the car on the road. Its influence will wax and wane. Learning to manage this unpredictable companion in a way that bolsters our confidence and enables us to exert greater influence over how we feel and what direction to take is crucial for us to stay on the right track.

Mark Daubney

References

Arnold, J., & Brown, H.D. (1999). A map of the terrain. In Arnold, J. (ed.). Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-24.

Young, D. J. (ed.). (1999). Affect In Foreign Language And Second Language Learning: A Practical Guide To Creating A Low-Anxiety Classroom Atmosphere. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

For more information about this book, please see our website and check out Part 1 and Part 2 from Mark’s co-editors. If you found this interesting, you might also like Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer.


Part 1: Foreign Language Anxiety is Like Fresh Snow

27 April 2017

This month we published New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In the first of three posts, one from each of the editors, Jean-Marc introduces his theory on language anxiety being like fresh snow.

You may have noticed them: foreign language students hunched behind the broad backs of their comrades, avoiding eye contact with the teacher in order not to be picked to say something in front of everybody and reluctantly whispering their response to a teacher’s question when cornered. No questionnaire is needed to identify these students as suffering from Foreign Language Anxiety (FLA).

This complex phenomenon has been linked to a range of higher order personality traits (mainly Neuroticism-Emotional Stability, Introversion-Extraversion or Social Initiative, and – to a lesser extent – also Psychoticism, Conscientiousness, Openmindedness, Cultural Empathy) and a number of lower-order personality traits or psychological dimensions (Trait Emotional Intelligence, Perfectionism, Trait anxiety, Unwillingness to communicate, Risk-taking, Sociability and Self-efficacy) (Dewaele, 2017). These factors interact with a range of sociobiographical and situational variables and cause FLA in reading, writing, listening and – especially – speaking the foreign language (FL). It is important for teachers and students to realise that FLA is not a massive, granite-like, unmovable object blocking the path to communication in the FL. I’d rather compare it to a thick layer of fresh snow.

It is possible to dig through the snow, to ski over it and some comfort can be drawn from the knowledge that it will melt after a while. This turns the teacher into a (metaphorical) FL ski instructor for anxious students. Yes, the snow is slippery and there can be icy patches but there are techniques to avoid obstacles, to accelerate or to brake and to reach one’s destination unharmed. Everybody falls over at some point along the way, but the snow is soft and there is little risk of breaking a limb at low speed. The instructor and peers will help those whose skis got entangled and ended up looking at the cumuli in the blue sky. Back on their feet and feeling the rush of fresh pine-scented air, discovering the breath-taking mountain views, the memories of the fall will fade quickly. Finally, reaching the destination with the rest of the group will be exhilarating and the sense of achievement will boost self-confidence for future runs.

In other words, a FL teacher can create a classroom atmosphere where mutual trust exists between teachers and students and between the students themselves. Good teaching combined with respect, humour and kindness can create a strong sense of solidarity among students, which will be a potent antidote against FLA.

Dewaele et al. (2017) found that FL teachers’ behaviour had relatively little influence on British secondary school students’ average levels of FLA but that it was strongly linked to students’ FL enjoyment. FL students who enjoy themselves are thus more likely to overcome their fears, just like the beginner on ski slopes. Those still experiencing FLA can be cajoled into more active participation in FL tasks they can handle. The first slopes should not be too steep and too anxiety-provoking. These anxious students will learn that it is possible to control their FLA to the point that is ceases to have a debilitating influence on their performance.

Jean-Marc Dewaele

References

Dewaele, J.-M. (2017) Psychological dimensions and foreign language anxiety. In S. Loewen & M. Sato (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition. London: Routledge, pp. 433-450.

Dewaele, J.-M., Witney, J., Saito, K. & Dewaele, L. (2017) Foreign language enjoyment and anxiety in the FL classroom: The effect of teacher and learner variables. Language Teaching Research DOI: 10.1177/1362168817692161

Positive Psychology in SLAGkonou, C., Daubney, M. & Dewaele, J.-M. (eds.) (2017) New Insights into Language Anxiety: Theory, Research and Educational Implications. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

For more information about this book, please see our website and keep an eye out for parts two and three from Jean-Marc’s co-editors. If you found this interesting, you might also like Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. 


A Fresh Look at an Old Question: The Age Factor in a New Methodological Light

20 April 2017

This month we’re publishing Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning by Simone E. Pfenninger and David Singleton. In this post Simone and David discuss the controversial topic of the age factor in second language learning, as explored in their book.

Both of us – from the beginning of our respective careers – have been fascinated by the question of the age factor in second language learning. As we all know, this is a controversial topic; for example, the debate surrounding the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) has not gone away and is not likely to any time soon. There is, however, more consensus than many people realize between CPH sceptics (like Carmen Muñoz) and CPH advocates (such as Robert DeKeyser). The area in which this happy consensus reigns is that of the effects of an early start to L2 instruction in school, which most SLA researchers of all affiliations have for many decades agreed does not yield the advantage one might expect.

There is a sharp difference between the CPH debate and the discussion concerning the optimal age in a formal, educational context. Whereas the CPH question is interesting theoretically, the issue of the best age for starting a foreign language in school (to which, for various reasons, most CPH supporters these days see the critical period notion as irrelevant) is not just intellectually teasing but is also heavy with practical, socio-economic, political and ideological implications. Clearly, for educators, teachers and policy-makers it is of compelling interest to know more about the end state of foreign language instruction, since such research has important implications for multilingual education when making decisions about (1) early teaching of different languages in elementary school and (2) later instruction in different languages in secondary school.

Our book reports on some further long-term findings to this effect, which we explore and expatiate on in relation to a range of variables which, in the instructional context, turn out to be markedly more influential than age. We talk about recent developments and improvements in the methodological aspects of investigating individual difference variables such as age, as well as our observation that in the formal educational setting the age variable is overshadowed to the point of invisibility by other factors. Such factors include contextual effects (e.g. school effects and the transition from primary to secondary school), the effects of instruction-type and intensity of instruction, effects of extracurricular exposure, the influence of literacy and biliteracy skills, and the impact of socio-affective variables such as motivation. A role for starting age is in fact extremely hard to establish. With regard to the school situation, in other words, we can blithely put aside the maturational question, and all agree that when instruction happens is incomparably less important than how it proceeds and under what circumstances.

Actually such findings regarding the effects of early instruction go back a long way. Thus the idea of introducing L2 instruction into primary/elementary schools in the 1950s and 1960s was dealt a severe blow by the findings of research in the 1970s which cast doubt on the capacity of early instruction to deliver higher proficiency levels as compared with later instruction (e.g. Burstall, Jamieson, Cohen, & Hargreaves, 1975; Carroll, 1975; Oller & Nagato, 1974). The disillusionment occasioned by such findings seems, however, to have been rather short-lived, and more recent and continuing negative results in this connection have also been largely ignored. Our own endeavour has been (1) to try to convince the members of the general public that the time is ripe for closer integration between SLA research and L2 pedagogy and (2) to educate them about recent trends in the age factor tradition in SLA research. Our strong view is that consistent and intensive collaboration between practitioners, politicians and researchers is needed in order to understand and address mutual interests and concerns through shared discussions, data collection, analysis and interpretation.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you liked this, you might also be interested in Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition by Vivian Cook and David Singleton and Future Research Directions for Applied Linguistics edited by Simone E. Pfenninger and Judit Navracsics.


The Multilingual Nature of Higher Education

21 March 2017

This month we published Academic Biliteracies edited by David M. Palfreyman and Christa van der Walt. In this post, David and Christa discuss their experience of coediting the book. 

Christa: There were some initial signs that this book was not meant to be. Firstly, David’s e-mails to me disappeared in cyberspace and it was only when Nancy Hornberger contacted me to enquire very diplomatically whether I had received the e-mails, that we found out his institutional e-mails were not delivered, for some unfathomable reason. Secondly, this was an under-researched topic and we were not sure that we would get any contributions; and thirdly, both of us dealt with serious interruptions of a personal and professional nature. And yet, here we are, three years later, with chapters that showcase the multilingual nature of higher education in all its complexity.

Our first (academic) challenge was to agree on what we understand ‘literacy’ to mean, so that we can evaluate contributions on ‘biliteracy’. Going through our Skype notes, I’m struck by the terminology issues in every conversation. Is there a difference between ‘translanguaging’ and ‘translingual’; between ‘multiliteracies’ and ‘multilingual literacies’? Is ‘translanguaging’ the overarching concept in which ‘biliteracy’ needs to find its place, or should they be seen as separate phenomena in multilingual contexts? We still do not have a definite answer; or maybe it is better to say that we have many answers!

David: Yes, the email bug almost put a subtle end to the project before it started, and I’m very glad that Nancy intervened! I was keen to work with Christa on this book because her previous publications had focused on multilingual higher education in a way that I hadn’t come across before: questioning assumptions about English as the medium of instruction in so many universities worldwide.

Christa: We both wanted a variety of chapters from all corners of the world, but of course we had to be selective within the scope of one book.  We aimed to cover both majority and minority languages in contexts where language is a medium for developing knowledge rather than necessarily a focus of the course; in the end, the chapters highlight the use at university of literacy in Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, isiXhosa and other African languages, Korean, Maori, Polish, Spanish and Welsh.

David: Some of the contributors had already published in the area of biliteracy; some had been working with biliterate students and issues of biliteracy in university courses for some years, but came to engage with the issues in new ways through their involvement in the book. As the book developed, we encouraged contributors to read and comment on each other’s chapters, which brought some mutual adjustments and helped bring out common themes. All of us became aware of new perspectives to understand the experience of students and scholars, and fresh options for working with and for biliteracy. Guillaume Gentil, whose previous work provided inspiration for the book, kindly sprang into action once the rest of the book was complete, contributing a concluding chapter which draws themes together and points out some ways forward for research in academic biliteracies.

I’m grateful to Zayed University (UAE) for their support in travelling to Australia, Jordan and the UK in the course of preparing the book. Among many learning experiences along the way, I remember especially meeting up by coincidence with Christa at the AILA Congress in Brisbane – it was good to have a face to face meeting near the beginning as most of our later work together was by email or Skype. Another unforgettable and educative experience was taking part in a research conference at Cardiff University where most communication was in Welsh or Basque: having to rely on simultaneous interpreters and finding my usual language of academic/social communication suddenly minoritized, I suddenly found myself a ‘lurker’ in academic discussions!

Christa: For me, as a lecturer who code switches and uses two languages when teaching at Stellenbosch University, the active development of biliteracy in academic contexts is an important acknowledgement of the multilingual nature of twenty-first century higher education. Many students arrive at higher education institutions with a fully developed academic language that is not English and it would be a waste to ignore the enormous potential of that resource when making meaning of academic material.

We’ll look forward to hearing from readers of the book about how the issues relate to their own experiences as learners or teachers.

 

David M. Palfreyman: david.palfreyman@zu.ac.ae

Christa van der Walt: cvdwalt@sun.ac.za

 

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Higher Education, which Christa published with us previously.

 


What is “the best” way to assess emergent bilinguals?

9 March 2017

Last month we published The Assessment of Emergent Bilinguals by Kate Mahoney. In this post, Kate explains how she came to dedicate her research to this topic and introduces us to her decision-making framework, PUMI (Purpose, Use, Method, Instrument), that can be used to better inform assessment decisions for bilingual children.

Since my first days as a teacher, I wanted to answer questions about how language and culture impact learning and schooling. I found myself teaching in Puerto Rican communities in New York, Navajo communities in New Mexico, Mexican communities in the Southwest, and in bilingual communities in Belize. Each experience drove an awakening clarity: assessment was an incredibly powerful influence on schooling and success, and language and culture strongly influenced assessment. In 1999, my then-advisor Dr. Jeff MacSwan at Arizona State University (ASU) suggested I adopt the study of tests and the testing process – within the context of bilingual learners – as a research topic. Admittedly, I was reluctant to begin a formal study involving psychometrics, language assessment and related methodologies, but I needed a multidisciplinary approach to answer questions. I was reluctant because the topic of testing seemed so frustrating and unfair, and seemed to privilege some students over others, based primarily on the relationship between culture and language. It was this reluctance that led me to begin my study of assessment, and from multiple disciplines. At the same time, I began teaching graduate courses in assessment for the multilingual programs at ASU. I’ve continued to teach this course throughout my career and today teach and conduct research at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

As I think back over the past 15-plus years of researching this topic, I’m continually struck by its complexity, and how difficult it can be for classroom teachers to learn about and stay abreast of the evolving methodologies. There is so much more to assessment than simply establishing a rubric and giving the test. Because of the complexity and multidisciplinary nature of assessment, it was difficult to deliver a course on assessment in a connected way to university students. That’s why I developed PUMI (Purpose, Use, Method, Instrument) for my first class on the subject back in 1999. I didn’t call it PUMI back then, but my students and I always discussed assessments within this framework, and it became an important way to make decisions and select appropriate assessments, while also understanding the complexities of emergent-bilingual assessment.

This book about the assessment of emergent bilingual learners is the culmination of teaching a university course for the past 18 years. I use the PUMI framework across the whole book; it’s a decision-making process teachers can use to make better assessment-related decisions. Also included are more in-depth topics in assessment that warrant full attention, such as validity as a theory, the history of the assessment of bilingual children, as well as testing accommodations and accountability topics.

Over the years, many people have approached me to ask about “the best” assessment or test for assessing Spanish or assessing math with emergent bilinguals. The answer is definitely not prepackaged, and not easy for that matter either. To begin to understand the answer to these types of questions, one must ask PUMI questions, and in that order. So, my response to questions about the best assessment is always first, what is the purpose “P” of the assessment and how will you use “U” the results. After considering the purpose and use, then we can begin to consider the best assessment method “M” and instrument “I”. Selecting an appropriate assessment for emergent bilinguals is not an easy task, but PUMI can guide us toward better assessment for this unique group of students.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you liked this, you might also be interested in Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (6th Edition) by Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright.


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