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.


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.


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.


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