A Lens into the Psychological Experiences of Learners and Teachers in Integrated Content and Language Settings

This month we published The Psychological Experience of Integrating Content and Language edited by Kyle Read Talbot, Marie-Theres Gruber and Rieko Nishida. In this post Kyle explains how the book came about.

The three of us (Kyle, Marie-Theres, and Rieko) are all interested in the psychological factors that impact language learning and teaching. As such, we are thrilled that our edited collection, The Psychological Experience of Integrating Content and Language, has found a home as a part of Multilingual Matters’ Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series. We happen to think that this book offers a unique perspective into what we believe is an under-researched area; namely, how learners and teachers think and feel about teaching in integrated content and language (ICL) settings (e.g. FMI/EMI, CLIL, CBI, etc.). This collection of research papers covers a diverse range of settings and educational levels and topics such as the self and identity, cognition, learner and teacher beliefs, challenges and opportunities of learning and teaching in ICL programs, well-being, and self-efficacy, as well as professional development, classroom interventions and implementations.

The idea for this collection came together quickly. Kyle and Marie-Theres were working together as part of a nationally funded research project in Austria (ÖNB fund no. 17136) with several wonderful colleagues (thanks all!). The primary focus of this research project was on teacher well-being in CLIL settings across educational levels in Austria. Essentially, we were curious as to how CLIL contexts impacted the way teachers felt about their teaching in these settings, how this affected their lives on a more holistic level, and whether they were thriving in their roles or merely rolling with the punches. The primary investigator, Sarah Mercer, presented some of the preliminary findings of this research project as part of a symposium at the PLL3 conference in Tokyo. As it happened, Rieko was also featured in that symposium and was also researching CLIL settings. Before too long we were all brainstorming about a possible edited collection to house some of the work from our various research projects.

So why did we choose to center this collection of research papers on the psychological experiences of learners and teachers in ICL contexts specifically? Put simply, we view ICL programs as forms of educational innovations. Educational innovations have the potential to be destabilizing for learners and teachers (though they can also be enriching or everything in between). We are also aware that ICL settings are rapidly expanding globally and across levels of education. In speaking to the spread of EMI in higher education specifically, Macaro, Curle, Pun, An, and Dearden (2018) suggest that, “it is hard to see anything but further expansion of EMI in HE” (p. 68). In our view, the same can be said for other ICL program types across educational levels. With this in mind, we think some urgency is needed in addressing how these programs impact the experiences of the learners and teachers and we hope this collection is a small step in that direction. We think this collection of papers will be informative for teachers who find themselves teaching in various ICL settings, researchers interested in the integration of content and language or the psychology of language learning and teaching, and policymakers who may be faced with decisions of how to implement an ICL program in their context.

In sum, we are incredibly proud of this collection and excited that it has made its way into the world. We hope that this book finds its way onto many bookshelves and serves as a spark for future ideas and research in this domain and beyond.

Kyle Read Talbot

kylereadtalbot@gmail.com

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning edited by Liss Kerstin Sylvén.

Native Speaker Privilege and Linguistic Racism in ELT

This month we published The Role of Context in Language Teachers’ Self Development and Motivation by Amy S. Thompson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book.

This book is the culmination of years of experience as a researcher/scholar in SLA, before which I was a language teacher. As a researcher, I’m oftentimes hesitant to ask for participants; I feel as if I am encroaching on others’ personal space and time. For the data used to write this book, some of the language professionals represented are personal acquaintances, and some were part of an IREX fellowship program. An unforgettable moment when collecting data for this project was when a dyad of the IREX teachers thanked me for taking the time to listen to and record their stories. During the fellowship program, these teachers, some of whom had over 20 years of teaching experience, had been repeatedly instructed on how to teach more effectively – how to incorporate the American way of doing things. This particular teacher dyad told me “thank you for listening to our experiences, as we also have something to offer to the teaching profession.” In all of the conversations with the teachers, not one of them indicated a desire to be a native English speaker; in fact, their bi-/multilingual identities played a strong role in forming their ideal teacher selves.

I have taught languages both in my L1 (English) and in my L2s (Spanish and French); thus, I have been on both sides of the native/non-native spectrum. Nonetheless, as a white American L1 English speaker, I have enjoyed privileges that others have not. For these reasons, and others, this book is personal. The experience that I had with this data collection made me even more determined to accurately depict the teachers’ stories. I learned all that I could about their contexts when working on the individual chapters and sent the willing teachers, and others familiar with the contexts, drafts of the chapters for feedback. I purposefully did not censor comments from the teachers relating to the impact of American politics on learning English; as academics, our jobs are to push boundaries, which includes breaking down white fragility. English speakers, particularly white English speakers, need to be confronted with their privilege. Linguistic racism is still prevalent world-wide today, and in order to combat it, we need to first acknowledge its existence, as well as the effects it has on language curriculum and policies.

Early on in my university education, I saw the privilege for native speakers of English; I was hired (“hired” being not really the case, as the work was as a volunteer) as an “assistante anglaise” during my study abroad year in Paris where I taught English classes at a public elementary school and at the high school “Henri IV.”  I was 20 years old and had absolutely no training as a language educator; I was hired because of my L1 English-speaking status. After graduation, I was officially hired (with the whopping salary of 743 euros a month) as an “assistante anglaise” in the small Pyrenean town of Bagnere-de-Bigorre.  Again, I had absolutely no training in language pedagogy.

My situation isn’t unique.  Places all over the world are hiring L1 English speakers (or those who can physically pass for L1 English speakers), sometimes ignoring those who have spent years training and have passed rigorous content and pedagogy exams.  My friend’s brother who was hired to teach in Chile; my student who was hired in China so they could put her face on the recruiting brochures; my own situation being hired to teach English in France; the Turkish government’s campaign to bring in native speakers to teach English all over the country – situations such as this undermine and undervalue the years of education of bi-/multilingual English teachers all over the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities overseas English teaching has afforded me; in fact, it was the start of my academic career in Applied Linguistics. Sitting in my small room in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, I remember thinking to myself that I had so much still to learn about language learning and teaching. Fast forward to today, I now have the experience of mentoring future language teachers and researchers. Like many Americans, talking about racism is difficult for me, but I push myself to read and have discussions about race and racism, including linguistic racism. Likewise, these issues are difficult to integrate into classroom discussions; however, these are not topics that we can continue to ignore, and we have the responsibility as language educators and researchers to ensure that our students, as future language researchers and educators, have the tools and resources needed to break down linguistic racism via curricular and/or policy change. What steps will you take today to help move us towards this goal?

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency edited by Hayriye Kayi-Aydar, Xuesong (Andy) Gao, Elizabeth R. Miller, Manka Varghese and Gergana Vitanova.

Digital Spaces for Teaching Multilingual Writing

We recently published Creating Digital Literacy Spaces for Multilingual Writers by Joel Bloch. In this post the author explains what we can expect from the book.

As the internet has developed from a place to exchange photos of cute cats to one for new forms of literacy and new ways of sharing them, the design of digital spaces for teaching multilingual writing has increased in importance. My book discusses not just technology but literacy as well, based on my years of teaching writing. I address many of the controversies in literacy, the use of technology, writing pedagogies, and teacher training.

The book first discusses the connections between technology and literacy pedagogies and then provides a chapter on blogging, reflecting on the impact of technology and its evolution for teaching writing. The chapter on MOOCs and flipped learning addresses not only technological issues but also pedagogical concerns that teachers address whether they use technology or not, on the design of the classroom and the roles of teachers and students. The chapter on multimodality and digital storytelling addresses some of the issues existing throughout the field of multilingual writing, particularly in academic writing classrooms. Digital stories can be incorporated into these courses, individually or collaboratively created, depending upon the pedagogical goals of the teachers.

This book is teacher-centric, placing teachers at the center of the questions of design as well as providing a way to respond to controversies in teaching writing, such as translingualism, since they support using language varieties, stories, and the rhetorical forms and artifacts that students bring to the classroom. In my experiences as a teacher, reviewer, and editor, I have seen the disruptive roles of technology on all levels of teaching. Publishing incorporates almost every opportunity and controversy in the field of teaching writing: where to publish and in what language, as well as issues related to choices of English, writer identity, and knowledge creation in the publishing space. The internet has supported expanding places to publish and the connections between writers and readers as well as the issues regarding open access and associated copyright and intellectual property issues. Such openness also has created problems regarding the so-called “predatory” journals and forcing writers to decide on appropriate places to publish.

Most of the book was written before the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it addresses many of the issues the pandemic raised. The chapters on MOOCs and flipped learning discuss both positive and negative concerns with technology and online education. Publishing has been greatly impacted by the need to publish related to the pandemic. Personally, it has greatly expanded my access to professional development. I have participated or listened in on meetings held where I could never physically attend.

Teachers incur the same issues with technology that society faces: privacy, access, inclusivity. One of the messages of the book is that the process will inevitably be messy. When we switched to online teaching, I tried adapting flipped learning to my publishing class, but my end of semester evaluations indicated I had left out some of the social factors that I had written about. The end of the pandemic will not mean that digital literacies will fade. Here in the United States we don’t know what the “new normal” will mean.

William Gibson, the science fiction writer, once said that the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed. Students and teachers both face disruption from traditional and newer technologies and the growing anxieties that all disruptions bring. Another book on digital literacy may look very different; it may not even be a book. However, this book still discusses the concerns and anxieties teachers and students may face with new technologies that have disrupted teaching and learning to write.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Writing Instruction in Global Contexts edited by Lisya Seloni and Sarah Henderson Lee.

At the Crossroads of English-medium Instruction and Translanguaging

We recently published English-Medium Instruction and Translanguaging edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Zhongfeng Tian and Jeanette Toth. In this post the editors explain how the book came about.

As language educators involved with teacher training, the three of us share an interest in how language use is addressed at all levels of education, but especially in nominally monolingual contexts like English-medium instruction (EMI) programmes. While languages have traditionally been kept separate in teaching and learning, the more fluid view of languages and language use found in translanguaging has gained traction among researchers as well as teachers (e.g., García, 2009; Paulsrud, Rosén, Straszer, & Wedin, 2017; Tian, Aghai, Sayer, & Schissel, 2020). Research in these publications has shown us that the scope of translanguaging is more than a pedagogy that involves alternating languages of input and output in bilingual classrooms. Beyond pedagogical practices, translanguaging offers a transformative ideological shift that both challenges linguistic hierarchies and promotes social justice, offering implications for what may be considered legitimate languages for learning.

When Zhongfeng was working with his PhD research on translanguaging in bilingual education in the US, he realized there was very little published research on translanguaging in EMI programmes. A quick search online led him to BethAnne, who was conducting research on EMI and translanguaging on the other side of the world in Sweden. After months of exchanging ideas for an edited volume to address a gap in the field, they invited Jeanette, with her expertise on EMI in Swedish primary schools, to join them. Our editorial team was in place and the book project was launched!

Our aim with the volume was to bring together a wide range of studies from different contexts and educational levels, and the response was overwhelming. The many interesting contributions revealed the quality of research on EMI and translanguaging taking place across the world. We are especially excited that several underrepresented contexts are included in our volume, with empirical studies from African contexts including Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa; several Asian contexts including Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, and Turkey; and the European higher education context in Italy. In their chapters, the authors have included some of the best examples of translanguaging to be found, illustrating how teachers and students make use of their diverse linguistic repertoires to make meaning and facilitate content learning at the crossroads of English-medium instruction and translanguaging. In addition, the volume offers contributions that question the English-only ideologies often prevalent in EMI programmes, and instead consider how translanguaging may disrupt English hegemony. We know this volume will be of interest to researchers and teachers alike.

Finally, we must say that we are grateful to have been able to work with such an outstanding group of international scholars – although most we have never even met in person. However, our common passion for understanding the complexities of EMI and translanguaging has made them valued collaborators. As for us three editors, BethAnne and Jeanette still hope Zhongfeng (now a PhD) will make it to Sweden one day so we can actually meet in person as well!

Jeanette Toth, Zhongfeng Tian and BethAnne Paulsrud

For more information about this book, please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin.

Language Learning Strategies: What Are They All About? Where Do They Take Us Next?

This month we published Situating Language Learning Strategy Use edited by Zoe Gavriilidou and Lydia Mitits. In this post the editors explain what inspired them to write the book.

Our interest in language learning strategies started almost two decades ago in Greece as an attempt to find practical solutions to practicing language teachers’ questions about how to make their learners become more efficient, more effective and more motivated when learning a second/foreign language and how to make the whole learning experience more enjoyable. While looking for answers, in an already extensive body of relevant research, we came to realize that an important goal of any education system – an autonomous, self-regulated learner – can’t be achieved without training that learner in a successful use of language learning strategies. Thus, we embarked on an exciting journey of the study of language learning strategies through a large-scale nationwide research followed by international cooperation with world leading researchers as well as new enthusiasts.

In doing so we constantly tried to answer the following questions:

  • What are the current and future trends in language learning strategy research?
  • What are the major gaps in language learning strategy research?
  • What are the theoretical tools and research methods that researchers have at their disposal in order to address language learning strategies?
  • How has research in language learning strategy use in diverse contexts promoted strategy instruction and learner autonomy?

Here we are now, gratified by the fact that the Second International Conference on Situating Strategy Use: Present Issues and Future Trends, which we hosted in Komotini, Greece, in 2017, has given birth to this collective volume in which the chapter authors contribute to answering the above questions.

We’re also very excited that research into strategies for language learning holds strong as the renewed interest in and dedication to the topic in this volume shows. The chapters in the book focus on bringing together theoretical study of language learning and language learning strategies with research on strategy instruction. We hope to show that instructional approaches should be based on sound theory and research on strategic learning. Therefore, the book includes detailed exposition and discussion of empirical findings from relevant rigorous research, instruction interventions as well as theoretical reflections in the field.

The originality of the volume is that it extends beyond most strategy research and theory, and forms a collection of versatile studies in very specific contexts that range from primary to tertiary education and include, among others, research on learning strategies for languages other than English or on their role in promoting critical thinking through video gaming.

We hope that readers of this book, undergraduates studying second/foreign language learning, graduate students involved in second language acquisition research, applied linguists, educational researchers, teachers and policymakers in general, will enjoy its broad scope and global perspective.

Zoe Gavriilidou, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
zoegab@otenet.gr

Lydia Mitits, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
lydiamitits@gmail.com

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning Strategy Instruction in the Language Classroom edited by Anna Uhl Chamot and Vee Harris.

Is Dual Language Education Fulfilling its Purpose?

We recently published Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu. In this post the editors explain the current issues surrounding dual language education in the US.

Bilingualism is many things to many people. In US schools, some students’ bilingualism is taken as a sign of achievement and an investment in a cosmopolitan future, while other students’ bilingualism is treated as unbridled potential but is more readily seen as a barrier. For example, in an essay titled “How to dismantle elite bilingualism”, Nelson Flores argues that a variety of policy decisions and other factors coalesce to create “classrooms where elite bilinguals are framed as gifted and racialized bilinguals are framed as in need of remediation”. In particular, white students from affluent backgrounds are often celebrated for studying languages like Spanish in school, while bilingual BIPOC students are framed as having “gaps” in their achievement and language abilities.

Both of these ways of seeing students’ bilingualism have contributed to the current boom of dual language programs being offered in elementary and middle schools in the United States. Dual language programs grew by a factor of 10 between 2001 and 2015. Proponents of dual language immersion paint a picture of a classroom environment where everyone wins: students classified as English language learners strengthen their English, and other students get the opportunity to develop proficiency in an additional language, such as Spanish, all while building a multicultural community. This vision of inclusive and progressive education offered by dual language immersion programs is tantalizing. But is it being fulfilled?

The question of whether dual language education is fulfilling its purpose in serving vulnerable populations to the betterment of all is a critical topic. As an example, the city where we live, Washington, D.C., is on the cutting edge of dual language education, with many historic and more recent public and charter schools following a dual-language model. However, schools tend to be overwhelmingly white, leading the Washington Post to ask in 2018, “Are dual-language programs in urban schools a sign of gentrification?” This article highlights the popularity of elite bilingualism and a neoliberal perspective of “language as resource” where bilingual education is a hot commodity for white, middle-class Americans, whose needs and norms then dominate the schools, while racialized bilingual students remain marginalized within the same schools, and they and other racialized children are not able to access the schools and benefit from the programs.

Our new book, Bilingualism for All?, brings together the most recent research on these topics and more, from scholars who use a range of approaches to address educational equity. Their work takes a raciolinguistic perspective to examine the reproduction of racial inequities in classrooms, at the school and community level, and at the level of policy. They examine topics ranging from peer interactions, teaching, parent relationships, and school and district policies. Languages covered include Spanish, Korean, Hebrew, and English; research sites range from California and Utah to New York City and beyond. The book raises new questions, such as bilingual education and equity for disabled students, and engages directly with issues of racism and privilege. With the help of an outstanding group of scholars, our aim is for the book to put its finger on the question of whether dual language education is currently for the betterment of all, or increasingly for a select population that already enjoys many social privileges. It is our hope that the book will resonate not only with scholars, but with educators who may see these themes in their own schools and classrooms, and with future teachers. We believe in bilingual education as a critical support for educational equity and achievement, and in dual language immersion as a powerful and potentially transformative model. However, in order to achieve its potential, dual language education must confront the same structural inequities that permeate our institutions and are at the forefront of national debate.

Amelia Tseng, American University
tseng@american.edu

Nicholas Subtirelu, Georgetown University
Nicholas.Subtirelu@georgetown.edu

For more information about this book please see our website.

Getting and Keeping Language Learners Engaged

This month we published Student Engagement in the Language Classroom edited by Phil Hiver, Ali H. Al-Hoorie and Sarah Mercer. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and why it’s important.

All three of us share an interest in the practicalities of getting learners engaged and keeping them engaged. As educators and researchers, we recognized for some years how this has become increasingly difficult in the face of the multitude of distractions competing for learners’ attention. In 2018, we met at the PLL3 conference in Japan. Sarah had already begun work with Zoltán Dörnyei exploring the notion of engagement in depth with a book aimed at educators concentrating on practical issues based on an underlying theoretical frame (Mercer & Dörnyei, 2020). However, all of us felt there was still a need for a greater research commitment to the construct of engagement in SLA. At PLL3, the inspiring relevant plenary by Richard Ryan sealed our resolve to bring such a collection of research papers together. Given its heritage, we are especially honored to have an introduction from Richard Ryan to preface the collection.

In our previous work, we had all seen that although learners may be motivated and want to learn, at the critical moment, their attention could be hijacked leaving them disengaged with the objectives of their learning despite their initial good intentions and motives. Clearly, motivation still has a role to play in understanding learning processes, but learner engagement seems to provide a critical link between learners’ intentions and their actions. What is the nature of engagement, how can it be fostered, and how does it connect with other key variables in language learning – these were some of the key questions driving our interest in compiling this exciting collection of papers.

To date, engagement in language learning has remained relatively unexplored apart from some notable pioneers who have conducted key studies in SLA. This book is intended to chart some of the territory of language learner engagement, pointing out the key areas that can be connected to and built upon but also new directions and avenues yet to be investigated. Engagement is a core foundation for successful learning. While motivation represents an intention to engage, engagement itself is the action state driving learning. Engagement is a complex, multifaceted construct comprised of affective, cognitive, social, and behavioural elements. It is closely interconnected with motivation but differs in its temporal and actional frame. It is a hugely important construct to comprehend, as without engagement, there will be no learning. We are excited to share this collection with you. We expect to continue to learn much more about engagement of different forms in the context of language learning and teaching in the years to come – our hope is that this collection can provide the impetus for that next wave of engagement research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Contemporary Language Motivation Theory edited by Ali H. Al-Hoorie and Peter D. MacIntyre.

The Unique Challenges of Language Education in South Africa

This month we published Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis. In this post the editors describe the unique challenges of language education in South Africa and the value the book will hold for a wider audience.

How do language testers respond to the challenges of education in an environment that is in transition, and in many respects unprepared for change? The short answer is that they do so as language testers in most environments would: as responsibly as they can, using the professional tools at their disposal.

South Africa is not alone in respect of the challenges thrown up by rapid massification of higher education since the last decade of the previous century. South Africa’s transition, however, was different from the challenges of massification elsewhere: it was complicated by the difficulties to move from an unjust system to a constitutional democracy. Its past considerably inhibited what needed to be remedied. That was not the only complication: there was also the constitutionally enshrined multilingual character of the country. A third difficulty lay in the degree of preparedness of new students arriving at university to handle the demands of academic language. How, in such a case, does one first identify, and then provide opportunities for language development to those who need it most? Once again, South Africa is not alone in noting that too low a level of academic literacy may be detrimental for the successful completion of a degree. Enough challenges, one would say, for a whole lifetime of work if you’re an applied linguist.

A quarter of a century on, we have now taken stock of the professional response of applied linguists to its transition, and this book is the outcome. The responses of our applied linguists may in certain respects be different from those in other environments, so it is a pity that the international language testing community still knows too little about how these challenges have been tackled. Indeed, the format and content of the innovative solutions of South African applied linguists to these large-scale language problems are noteworthy. Described in Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society, their solutions offer several new insights into how they set about designing them, and are well worth a look.

Unsurprisingly, in an effort to identify and tackle the challenges early, the professional attention of language testers soon turned to the education sector that feeds into higher education: the school system. Here, too, there are language solutions that will interest a wider audience. Fortunately, the professional efforts of applied linguists in South Africa have been well recorded, though thus far mostly locally. This book offers a selection of the most significant innovations in conceptualization and design for the attention of a global readership.

In compiling a volume about language assessment at university level, co-editor John Read was the first international scholar to notice the lack of attention to the designs described in this book, and he was also the first to propose putting all of this together. His diligence and professional approach are evident in the content of the book.

We would welcome enquiries and discussion with colleagues. If you have an observation or an idea to share, please contact the corresponding editor, Albert Weideman: albert.weideman@ufs.ac.za.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Linguistic Landscape of Post-Apartheid South Africa by Liesel Hibbert.

Does Complexity Research Have To Be Complicated?

We recently published Complexity Perspectives on Researching Language Learner and Teacher Psychology edited by Richard J. Sampson and Richard S. Pinner. In this post the editors explain how their conviction that complexity should be simple inspired the book.

What makes learners and teachers in additional language classrooms tick? How does this ticking change over time? And in what ways does the ticking coalesce with that of others? In a nutshell, this volume looks at how we can explore such questions. Of course, the ‘ticking’ is psychology, and we are talking about how people have been researching the dynamics of L2 learner and teacher psychology through the lens of complexity thinking.

One of the points of departure for this book was an encounter we had at a café in Toyama, Japan, a number of years ago. Before heading to a symposium at the local university, over coffee we started discussing complexity, and a tendency in published work towards being overly-technical and elitist. Both of us had written books in which we approached our own research from a complexity perspective, and we thought, “If we could do it, surely it can’t be that complicated!” We also shared our observations of discussions with various colleagues, through which we had noticed consternation at the mere mention of ‘complexity’. Not only fellow teachers but also researchers seemed to find complexity research horrifying, alienating, confounding.

Complexity is ubiquitous in everyday life, not least of all in our classrooms as we engage with our students in learning, teaching and researching. Complexity perspectives understand that it is through co-adaptive interactions over time that novel phenomena emerge, phenomena that could not have been predicted based on consideration of any one element alone and out of context. These ways of thinking provide a set of tools to describe in a more contextualized and dynamic fashion things observed in our practice for a long time. They also furnish a reminder of why research that reduces and separates has little relevance for those of us who interact with real people in real classroom environments. Yet, there seemed a danger of complexity being lost as an academic fad. We were keenly aware that there needed to be more research using complexity perspectives to look at what goes on inside the language learning classroom.

To this end, we decided to organize a symposium on complexity at the biennial Psychology of Language Learning conference which was to be held the following year in Tokyo. Our idea was that ‘complexity should be simple’, and we were out to show the world (or the few people we predicted might come to our symposium) the usefulness of this way of thinking and doing research. Amidst inviting speakers, one colleague suggested that an edited volume along the same lines might be well received.

We wrote a call for chapter proposals, and spent a good part of the conference chatting with people to encourage them to add to our collection. We asked our contributors to open a window on how they use complexity in real research. We wanted them to show readers what the complexity paradigm offers, how it is useful for making sense of the lived realities of the psychological and social human-beings in our classrooms. The authors who have contributed to this volume have done an incredible job of doing just this, looking at a variety of psychological dimensions. And what we noticed, both through the enthusiastic participation of the many who ended up attending our humble symposium, and in the weeks and months following as we crafted this collection together, was an atmosphere along the lines of, “It’s high time for this!” We hope you agree!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Research Methods for Complexity Theory in Applied Linguistics by Phil Hiver and Ali H. Al-Hoorie.

Can Learning a Foreign Language in School Really Make you a Better Writer in Your First Language?

This month we published Cross-Linguistic Transfer of Writing Strategies by Karen Forbes. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book.

-I’m really bad at languages.

-What makes you say that? You speak English really well, so you’re already a really good language learner!

-No, but English doesn’t count, it’s not a language like French is. It doesn’t have, like, verbs and tenses and stuff like French does.

The above conversation is one I had many years ago with a new Year 7 student when I was teaching languages in a secondary school in England and it has always stuck with me. It’s just one example from the many conversations and experiences I’ve had over the years as a language learner, teacher and then researcher which have really made me reflect on the position of ‘language’ more broadly within the school curriculum. There’s something interesting here about this student’s perception and awareness of language – if he doesn’t view his mother tongue as a ‘language’, then it may be difficult for him to make connections with other languages. There is then a related question about the respective approaches and priorities of first language and foreign language teachers in schools.

These two subject areas are often based in separate departments and the teachers will understandably take very different approaches to teaching their respective languages. Yet, given that both have a shared focus on developing important language skills, there are perhaps opportunities to encourage more joined-up thinking and collaboration between language teachers. We tend to think more about how students draw on their first language as a resource in the foreign language classroom (or indeed, how the first language may even hinder foreign language learning), but how can the skills and strategies explicitly developed in the foreign language classroom, in turn, help learners in their first language?

These are some of the key questions which formed the starting point for the research study at the heart of this book. It focuses on language learning strategies and, in particular, the development of writing strategies. It explores how even beginner or low proficiency adolescent language learners can develop effective skills and strategies in the foreign classroom which can also positively influence writing in other languages, including their first language. At a theoretical level, it is hoped that this book will shed light on our understanding of the construct of cross-linguistic transfer between a learner’s first language and foreign language writing strategies. However, pedagogical implications are also important here and, as such, a step-by-step guide is provided for developing and implementing a cross-linguistic programme of language learning strategy instruction.

Karen Forbes
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
kf289@cam.ac.uk

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord.