Language Textbooks: Windows to the World?

We recently published Representations of the World in Language Textbooks by Karen Risager. In this post Karen explains what inspired her to write the book and tells us what we can expect from reading it.

It is often said that language teaching opens windows to the world. Learning a new language is even sometimes said to further our development as world citizens. But when we look closely at textbooks (and other materials) used in language learning, what images of the world emerge?

I have always been interested in explicit and implicit cultural representations in textbooks, and one of the earliest examples I remember from my own experience is a chapter in a textbook for French produced in the 1970s (used in Denmark where I lived and still live): The book dealt with the (very dull!) daily life of a middle-class family in Paris consisting of a father, a mother and their children, a son and a (younger) daughter. In the chapter in question, there was a drawing of a small square near the family’s house. There were no people, but a dog and a cat were standing on the gound. The accompanying text ran approximately like this (in French): ‘The dog and the cat do not fight, for in France dogs and cats are good friends’. The microcosmos of the square thus suggested a country characterised by harmonious relations between groups that might very well be in conflict in other countries.

In Representations of the World in Language Textbooks I analyse cultural representations in six contemporary language textbooks (used in Denmark), one for each of the languages English, German, French, Spanish, Danish and Esperanto. I have chosen to take the idea of the ‘world’ literally, that is, while I examine representations of the respective target language countries, I also examine representations of the world at large, the planet: Which regions of the planet do the textbooks refer to, directly or indirectly? Do they take up global issues, such as climate change, or inequality? Do they touch on transnational processes, such as migrations, or the worldwide use of IT?

My professional background is both in languages (sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language education) and in cultural studies (international development studies, intercultural studies, studies of migration). Therefore, it is important for me to emphasise that the analysis of cultural representations in textbooks is greatly furthered if one is aware of which theories of culture and society one draws on. In the book I distinguish between five theoretical approaches:

  • National studies
  • Citizenship education studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Postcolonial studies
  • Transnational studies

Each of these approaches gives rise to a number of analytical questions concerning the cultural and social universe of the textbooks.

Among the numerous results of the analyses of the six textbooks is that the enormous continent of Africa, encompassing a large number of countries, ethnicities, issues and inequalities etc., is almost invisible – with some exceptions. So one may say that the textbooks examined, with all their qualities, are certainly not windows to Africa.

 

Karen Risager, Professor Emerita, Intercultural Studies, Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University, Denmark, risager@ruc.dk

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Teaching Intercultural Competence Across the Age Range edited by Manuela Wagner, Dorie Conlon Perugini and Michael Byram.

 

The Importance of Language Teacher Psychology

This month we published Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. In this post, the book’s editors introduce us to the collection.

Language learners are the end recipients who should benefit from everything we do, so it is perhaps unsurprising that they have been the focus of much of our work as language educators. However, as we explored the teacher-learner relationship, we have become aware that teacher psychology can also have considerable influence on the teachers’ ability to teach as effectively and creatively as possible, as well as on their learners’ psychology. But what do we really know about teachers’ motivations, their emotions, wellbeing, and thinking?

As we looked more closely at what has been published to date, we did find some fascinating, relatively well-explored lines of inquiry, but we also discovered that there was not nearly the same depth, breadth or complexity of research that exists for learners and their psychologies. We felt that this gap was disconcerting, especially in the light of the challenges within the teaching profession, and we were keen to explore how the constructs that were being used in language learner psychology might also apply to teachers. It was encouraging that our concerns and motivations for this volume were shared by other scholars in the field, whose enthusiastic response to our invitation has helped to make this such a rich and diverse collection.

The structure of this book reflects these concerns and attempts to address them. The first few chapters offer new insights into aspects of language teacher psychology that have already received some attention in research, such as motivation and identity. The next set of contributions broadens the agenda by looking into aspects that have only more recently begun to be examined. The third part of the book explores a relatively new line of inquiry considering how insights from positive psychology can be applied to language teaching. The final chapter illustrates how language teacher psychology can be studied as an integrated whole and not just as a collection of fragmented constructs.

As editors, we feel privileged to have worked with such great scholars who contributed their time and insights to the collection. We hope that readers derive as much enjoyment as we did by engaging with the chapters that make up the book. We also hope that it generates more research, more discussion, and more awareness of the importance of language teacher psychology. Indeed, the new book series Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching, would welcome contributions that extend this discussion. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the book, you might want to take a look at the table of contents which are found at the bottom of this page.

Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas

If you found this interesting, you may be interested in Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. You can also find more information on Language Teacher Psychology on our website.

Our Series Editor and Author, Simone E. Pfenninger, Wins Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize

This month we were delighted to hear that co-editor of our series Second Language Acquisition, co-editor of Future Research Directions for Applied Linguistics and co-author of Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning, Simone E. Pfenninger, has been awarded the 2018 Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize.

The Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize is a Swiss prize that is given annually to up to three recipients (an artist, a literary author and a scientist). Simone received the award for her work on the project “Beyond Age Effects”, which she conducted in Switzerland between 2008 and 2017. Parts of the results of this project were published in her 2017 book with David Singleton, Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning.

The large-scale longitudinal project, undertaken in Switzerland between 2008 and 2017, focused on the effects of age of onset (AO) vis-à-vis the learning of English that manifest themselves in the course of secondary schooling. The two main goals of the project were to identify factors that prevent young learners from profiting from their extended learning period, as documented in numerous classroom studies, as well as to understand the mechanisms that provide late starters with learning rates in the initial stages of learning which enable them to catch up relatively quickly with early starters. These are questions of considerable theoretical and practical significance, since they are at the heart of debates revolving around age – one of the most controversial variables in foreign language (FL) learning and teaching research.

Over 800 secondary school students (636 of them longitudinally over a period of five years) were tested, who had all learned Standard German and French in primary school, but only half of whom had had English (their third language, L3) from third grade (age 8) onwards, the remainder having started five years later in secondary school. This constellation provided a unique window into the benefits of early versus late FL learning.

Advanced quantitative methods in classroom research (e.g. multilevel modeling) were combined with individual-level qualitative data, rather than examining the relationship between well-defined variables in relative isolation (as in ANOVA-type analyses). The findings cast some doubt on the importance of maturational and strictly durative aspects of FL instructional learning: success mostly does not relate to AO or length of the exposure. Close analysis of the interplay of variables showed that a number of variables are much stronger than starting age for a range of FL proficiency dimensions, e.g. (1) effects of instruction-type, (2) literacy skills, (3) classroom effects, (4) extracurricular exposure and (5) socio-affective variables such as motivation. The findings also suggest that different learner populations (monolinguals, simultaneous bilinguals, sequential bilinguals) are differentially affected by L3 starting age effects, partly due to individual differences (e.g. (bi)literacy skills), partly due to contextual effects that mediate successful L3 outcomes (e.g. language environment at home, classroom effects and teaching approach).

Congratulations to Simone for this brilliant achievement!

If you found this interesting, you might like to read Simone’s book co-authored with David Singleton, Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning.

Making an Impact: Language Teachers that Left an Impression

Next month we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. The book begins with an invitation to the reader to reflect on their own memories of language learning: “If you think back to your language learning at school, you might remember specific tasks or projects you did, but, even more likely, you will remember your teachers.” This sparked a conversation in our office about language teachers we’ve encountered over the years, which we thought would make for an interesting blog post. Here are some of Laura, Flo and Tommi’s reflections on the language teachers that have stuck with them. 

Laura

My first ever French teacher was obsessed with songs. Every single unit of vocabulary was accompanied by a song and action routine that we all had to learn and perform to the class. I imagine that for the quieter students that must have been a terrifying experience but for the rest of us it was great fun. The songs were incredibly catchy and have stuck with me and my school friends…so much so that we can still recite them off by heart, even 20 years later!

When I was in 6th Form I had French first thing on a Monday morning – not the best time of the week for teenagers! Our teacher came up with the idea that we’d take it in turns to bake a cake over the weekend and bring it in to share with the class that lesson. It was a brilliant idea – not only were we more enthusiastic about coming to class but it also brought us closer together as a group as we were more relaxed while chatting over cake. Some even tried their hand at baking French specialities!

My school German teacher made sure that lessons went well beyond the syllabus. She took the time to get to know us as individuals and often recommended German films and books that she thought we’d like. She made me realise that there’s so much more to studying a language than the topics in the textbook and that languages stretch far beyond the classroom walls. It was also a very good way to get us to engage with German outside lesson time too!

When I was on my year abroad in France I lived with some Spanish students. Over the course of the year they made sure that I learnt basic Spanish, not through formal instruction, but by making sure that they used Spanish as we did things together, such as cooking. Over time I picked up all sorts of vocabulary which has stuck with me since, including the phrase “¿Dónde están mis llaves?” (“Where are my keys?”) which was used on a near daily basis by one forgetful housemate!

Flo

During my year abroad I studied Russian at a French university. The course was taught by two teachers – the first was terrifying: incredibly strict with zero tolerance for mistakes. She called me “the foreigner” for the first few weeks, until I got so fed up I wrote my name in huge letters at the top of my essay in the hope she would get the hint. This was juxtaposed completely by the other teacher, who was kind, patient and very understanding of my predicament as a British student in a French classroom learning Russian! He made many allowances for my odd-sounding Russian to French translations and always made sure I understood definitions, often asking me to provide the class with the English translation, which helped me feel less useless! I really appreciated his acknowledgement and thoughtfulness, which meant I never felt lost or excluded from his lessons.

I have French lessons once a week and it’s probably my best language learning experience so far. My teacher has a great sense of humour, is patient, reassuring, and full of praise but never lets mistakes go unchecked. He’s obviously passionate about French culture and during our conversations he often plays us clips from French films, shows us books and photographs or plays songs. The atmosphere in his classroom is very egalitarian – there’s no tangible student/teacher divide and he is quick to be self-deprecating about his own English, which levels the playing field and reminds us that actually we’re all learners.

Tommi

My A-Level German teacher at school recognised that I hated grammar tables and all of that formal language learning. He would quite often set the class an exercise to do with “der, die, das, die” or whatever. Noticing that I could never really get going at all, he would then come over and chat to me (in German) quite casually for 5-10 minutes, then he would finish with “right, you are now 10 minutes behind the rest of the class, you’d better get some work done”. I suspect I learned more German in those chats than I ever did from grammar tables…

My Italian teacher at Cultura Italiana in Bologna sat with me one day for a private lesson. During the lesson, she would talk, and I would sit leaning back with my arms folded across my chest. Eventually she grew exasperated and said “Tommi, do you care about any of this?” to which I replied “of course I do! I am listening very carefully!” “Argh, no, if you want to learn Italian you mustn’t listen, you need to lean forward, interrupt me and talk over me, that way I will know you want to be part of the conversation! We often go out, everyone talks at the same time, if you are not always saying something I will just assume you are bored and want to be somewhere else!”

For more information about the book that inspired this post, please see our website.

Third Age Language Learners: Facing Challenges and Discovering New Worlds

This month we will be publishing Third Age Learners of Foreign Languages edited by Danuta Gabryś-Barker. In this post she discusses the main themes addressed in her book.

The initial inspiration for compiling a volume on third age learners of foreign languages as is often the case, is derived not only from professional interests and scholarly events devoted to a given issue, but also importantly from a strong personal attachment and enthusiasm for the subject matter.

Approaching a senior’s age and searching for (new) options in life, we all look (or will look) for new challenges and more fulfilment, perhaps in different areas, discovering new interests and pastimes, making more friendships and generally socialising beyond our families and long-standing professional relationships. This volume gathers researchers whose professional lives are in full swing and distant from the third age, but also those who, although still extremely active and successful professionally, are entering the later stages of their lives. For these latter people, being active mentally throughout life while looking at third age characteristics leads them into areas of research personally relevant for them.

Foreign language learning can undoubtedly be a chosen area of activity later in life. This form of learning is strongly determined not only by the need to keep one’s brain active (which is assumed to keep you healthier longer!), but also by present day globalisation processes, mass migrations, mixed-marriages and, perhaps not least, grandchildren who do not speak the language of their grandparents anymore and so grandparents must decide to make an effort to make intergenerational communication possible. I wish them the best of luck!

It is also important to remember that ageing populations need to be taken care of and the Third Age Universities, for which I have a lot admiration, do a great job in promoting the quality of life of seniors. One of the options offered by these institutions – and which is becoming more and more attractive to seniors – is foreign language instruction, which has been gaining popularity among this age group for the personal reasons given above.

However, there is a serious question we need to ask. As the promotion of FL instruction for seniors is gaining popularity, how well-informed are we, and how much do we know about the process of FL learning in the third age? How can we make this process effective and satisfactory to late learners? No effort should be spared to maximise potential here! Thus, this volume aims to comment on seniors’ characteristics and their (FL) learning processes, as well as to offer some guidelines on how to teach an FL to this age group. I hope reading about these different aspects of the issue, as presented in this volume, will not only be informative but also enjoyable and inspirational, as it was for me when working on this book together with all its contributors.

Danuta Gabryś-Barker, University of Silesia, Poland

danuta.gabrys@gmail.com

danuta.gabrys-barker@us.edu.pl

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teaching and the Older Adult by Danya Ramírez Gómez.

Advancing the Research on Heritage Language Speakers

This month we published Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children edited by Raphael Berthele and Amelia Lambelet. In this post Raphael introduces the book and reveals how it came about.

The investigation of transfer phenomena is a classic topic in multilingualism research. Scholars have developed useful tools and frameworks for investigating crosslinguistic influence on linguistic structure and meaning: when patterns in an individual’s speech or writing can be compared to patterns known from dialects or languages that are in contact, positive or negative transfer can be identified. By contrast, the transfer of literacy skills, for example in the form of reading skills or knowledge about text genres, is trickier to investigate. Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children addresses this unsolved problem. Several studies focusing on different language pairs are presented; they deploy diverse methods, but all attempt to measure the impact of skills developed in one or more languages on the development of those same skills in another language. Languages investigated include – among others – Albanian, Turkish, Portuguese, French, German and Russian.

A considerable part of this book is devoted to a longitudinal study of primary school children who are heritage language speakers of Portuguese in Switzerland. This is the fruit of a project that was directed by the book’s two editors. Intrigued by some rather unexpected findings and questions that arose during this project, we contacted colleagues who had been investigating similar issues but with different methods and tasks. We realized that our work was complementary, and that they were able to fill some of the gaps we had identified in our data and in our thinking. That is how this book project was born. We are confident that it is a new and different contribution to the field, that puts into question some – at least in our view – rather problematic assumptions about the interdependence of heritage languages and school languages. We therefore hope that our contribution will nurture future thinking about research on heritage language speakers.

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.

New series: Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching

In January 2018 we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas, which is the first book in our new series, Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching. In this post, series editors Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan introduce the new series and explain the inspiration behind it. 

Both of us started our careers in the classroom as language teachers and it was there that we first developed our fascination with the differences we noted in how our learners approached their learning … or did not, as the case may be. Little did we know back then just where that fascination would take us. From those initial sparks began an ongoing interest in language learning psychology. Our curiosity led us to seek ways to understand what made our learners tick and, somewhat inadvertently, into the exciting world of educational psychology. Once exposed to these – at least to us – new ideas, we then became interested in how best to apply these insights in our teaching. It was classroom practice that triggered our early interest and that practical focus continues to be a key driver for us in our research and we hope in this new Multilingual Matters series too.

Over time, our own understandings of psychology have grown and become – we like to think – more nuanced. In the same way, and over a similar timeframe, a new academic field has grown, both in scale and sophistication, around in interest in the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT). One of the great joys for us in recent years has been the discovery of many like-minded, curious teachers/teacher-researchers/researchers looking to explore the potential of educational psychology theory and research in an attempt to better understand language teaching and learning. For many years, discussions of psychology in language education were dominated by the concept of learner motivation and while that remains a key area of inquiry, we are now seeing a whole range of other topics moving into focus. In addition to motivation, the new field covers various dimensions of the self, identity, affect, cognition, attributions, personality, strategies, self-regulation, and agency among others. A distinguishing trait of this new field is that it seeks to explore the connections between these concepts as opposed to separating them from each other and attempting to analyse them in isolation. Another key shift has been a growing attention to teacher psychology. While there is a strong body of research in certain areas, large domains of teacher psychology have remained almost completely unexamined in the field of language education. Given the tight connections between learner and teacher psychology, it is surprising we know so little about what makes such key stakeholders in classroom life function and potentially flourish in their professional roles.

The first book in the series, Language Teacher Psychology

As a part of the emergence of this new field, there has been an accompanying increase in the number of publications with a PLLT focus. At first, these were scattered across publishing houses, but we felt that there was a need to bring them together under one roof to make it easier for people to find related works, to see connections across areas of research and practice, and to foster cooperation rather than further fragmentation. Multilingual Matters already housed many key PLLT publications within its broader SLA series and it is from that highly successful series that the new PLLT was born. The birth of the new PLLT series has coincided with the further growth of a biennial conference dedicated to the field as well as the formation of a professional association for those working in the area. It is tremendously exciting to witness the new series taking shape and we feel enormously privileged to be a part of this innovative new project. We can already see some thrilling publications on the horizon as academics from across the globe come forward to share their work on PLLT through the series. We hope you will enjoy reading the books that will make up the new series and we also hope that some of you may consider making your own contribution in the future.

For more information about the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series, please see our website. Book proposals for this series should be sent to Laura Longworth.

Stories of Dreamers: Linguistic Privilege and Marginalisation

This month we published Narratives of East Asian Women Teachers of English by Gloria Park. In this post the author explains how her book has provided a platform for six East Asian women to share their experiences of living in the midst of linguistic privilege and marginalisation.

Writing Narratives of East Asian Women Teachers of English: Where Privilege Meets Marginalization has been an amazing journey. Amazing in a sense that I was able to revisit the stories of the five fabulous women who have opened their lives to me, but also, being able to reflect on my life – the very stories that have shaped me into who I am today. While this book is about Han Nah, Liu, Xia, Yu Ri, Shu-Ming, and Gloria, the stories that unfold in each chapter can touch the lived experiences of many other women teachers of English around the world.

The stories in this book are symbolic of how issues of privilege and marginalization continue to (re)surface in our lives – how issues of race, gender, and class intersect with the English language and traverse the territories of the US and our mother lands. In our times of political turmoil where difference is negated, placed on chopping blocks, and silenced, our stories and other stories of transnational and mobile individuals become critical. Critical because these are shared stories of experiences of the Dreamers – those of us who seek out opportunities, both directly and indirectly, to live and interact humanely in this world. The stories of the six women depicted in this book may be privileged narratives, but I can’t negate the ways in which even the most privileged are somehow marginalized – the stories of privilege intersecting the linguistic and racialized discourses that continue to haunt these women and others in similar minority positions in the United States. Yes, indeed, this book has been my platform to shout out the lives we all know exist for those who are perceived to be (il)legitimate speakers and users of the English language.

Yet, these platforms are not always accessible to everyone. Those who are perceived to be powerless or special victims will never have the opportunity nor a platform to fight their battles for voice, for democracy, for visibility, for a better life, and most of all, for a chance to live out their DREAMS as the DREAMERS. While those who think that they can MAKE AMERICA GREAT have no clue about the legacy of America and those who have stepped up to build America in more ways than one. There is no singular truth in our complex world – there is no supremacy in the United States – it is a land of opportunity that should and MUST continue to champion those who need to live out their DREAMS. Each person’s dream is unique, as depicted by the stories of these six women, in that it changes with time given both local and global contexts. Narratives of East Asian Women Teachers of English is one step toward finding our voice, our agency, our democracy, our opportunity, and most of all, our DREAM to live and interact safely in this world now and in the years to come.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Desiring TESOL and International Education by Raqib Chowdhury and Phan Le Ha.

The Development of the Field of Norwegian Second Language Acquisition

This month we published Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord. In this post, the editors discuss the development of the field of Norwegian second language acquisition.

The studies presented in the book Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning: Findings and Insights from a Learner Corpus all concern Norwegian as a second or later-learned language, and in this blog we thought it would be useful to put the book into its proper context by saying a few words about the development of the field of Norwegian second language acquisition (SLA). This will help readers of the book not only to understand the position and impact of the field of Norwegian SLA on the teaching of Norwegian as a second language, but – perhaps even more importantly in the present context – also help them to understand why the effects of learners’ native language (L1) on their L2 learning have never been abandoned by Norwegian SLA researchers, contrary to what has happened in many other parts of the world.

In this short blog, we will say a few words about each of the following:

  • modern migration to Norway starting around the 1970s
  • the close connection between schools, teachers, and learners, on the one hand, and the development of SLA as a recognized field of science at Norwegian universities, on the other
  • the strategic decision in the early 2000s to build a learner corpus dedicated to the exploration of L1 influence in learners’ acquisition and use of Norwegian as a second language

The fact that Norwegian is among the less commonly taught languages around the world is not hard to understand since Norway has a relatively small population. As of 2017, the overall population of Norway is about 5 million inhabitants, of which about 880,000 are immigrants. The overall population of Norway has grown by about 35% since 1970, but its immigrant population has grown by more than 1000% (from about 60,000 in 1970). In the 1970s, large groups of foreign workers mainly from Turkey, Morocco, and Pakistan, as well as refugees from Chile and Vietnam, arrived in Norway. The Norwegian schools were not prepared to receive or educate these new immigrant populations, and this crisis created a sense of urgency among teachers and the entire educational system that forced the universities to take action to address the problem. To be clear, SLA did not emerge as a field of science at Norwegian universities as a natural outcome of organically evolving scientific discoveries and practices; rather, it was deliberately developed in response to the urgent external needs and experiences expressed by teachers in the public schools.

Teachers’ everyday encounters with different groups of immigrant pupils led unmistakably to the observation that speakers of different L1s experience different types of challenges in learning L2 Norwegian. The different needs and challenges of different L1 groups soon became widely recognised among educators in Norway, and the specific challenges of the different groups were also made explicit. The first Norwegian Master’s thesis (1980) in the field of SLA investigated the effects of the L1 on L2 learning, and it is important to note that many of the subsequent SLA theses were written by students who were motivated by their prior experiences as teachers of L2 Norwegian. Looking back, it is easy to see that it was the close contact between the schools and teachers who worked closely with learners from different L1 backgrounds that led to a condition – including at Norwegian universities – where the effects of the L1 on L2 learning were never in doubt.

Critical to the background of our new book is the ASK corpus, which was designed and compiled specifically for the purpose of conducting research on crosslinguistic influence. The texts in the corpus are essays written as part of an official test of Norwegian language ability by L2 learners of Norwegian (mostly immigrants) representing ten of the largest L1 groups in Norway around the year 2000 and the Polish group is now the largest immigrant group in Norway. The ASKeladden research project – funded by a grant from the Research Council of Norway – was the vehicle that ultimately made the studies presented in this book possible.

For more information please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.

Three decades working with language learner autonomy

This month we are publishing Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen. In this post the authors reflect on three decades’ work in the field.

Learner autonomy entails that learners are fully involved in planning, implementing and evaluating their own learning. We were first introduced to the concept in the 1980s. For Leni Dam it offered a way of responding to the challenge of differentiation in teaching and learning at school; for Lienhard Legenhausen and David Little it was a prerequisite for successful self-access language learning at university. Our collaboration of almost three decades, however, has focused on classroom learning. Leni and Lienhard have used empirical techniques to explore the outcomes of autonomous language learning and compare them with the outcomes achieved by learners working with a ‘communicative’ textbook; while David has been concerned to derive pedagogical principles from successful practice to facilitate replication in other contexts.

Although learner autonomy has been a focus for innovation in language education for almost forty years, it’s equally relevant to other areas of the curriculum. In our view its operationalization entails that learner self-management and reflective learning are exercised and further developed via ‘practice’ appropriate to the curriculum subject in question. In a language classroom, practice means use of the target language as the preferred medium of communication and reflection. Under guidance from their teacher, autonomous language learners use the target language from the beginning to plan, implement and evaluate their learning. Writing plays an indispensable role: learning is documented in logbooks and portfolios, and this supports use of the oral language and facilitates reflection on the process and content of learning.

It is sometimes assumed that learner autonomy is concerned exclusively with individual learning, but this is a misunderstanding. All effective classroom learning is based on interactive communication; what makes the autonomy classroom different is the fact that, by definition, the learners have equal right of access to all discourse roles, initiating as well as responding. Our experience leads us to define the autonomy classroom as a self-generating and self-maintaining community of practice whose members develop proficiency by using the target language to manage their own learning individually and collaboratively. This means that they devise their own learning materials and produce a wide variety of creative texts – stories, poems, plays, and reports on projects of many different kinds.

Some years ago, Leni asked a class of 15-year-olds, ‘After four years of learning English, how would you assess your overall progress?’ This is what one girl wrote (transcribed without correction):

“I already make use of the fixed procedures from our diaries when trying to get something done at home. Then I make a list of what to do or remember the following day. That makes things much easier. I have also via English learned to start a conversation with a stranger and ask good questions. And I think that our “together” session has helped me to become better at listening to other people and to be interested in them. I feel that I have learned to believe in myself and to be independent.”

Clearly, in four years this learner has acquired a proficiency in English that extends her communicative and reflective capacity and with it her identity. Her facility in writing implies that English is a fully integrated part of her developing plurilingual literacy.

The autonomy classroom shares fundamental pedagogical principles with inclusive education. It is thus not surprising that autonomous learning succeeds with students whose learning difficulties might cause them to fail in more traditional pedagogical settings. We have also found that learner autonomy empowers adult refugees learning the language of their host community; and that when primary pupils from immigrant families are encouraged to use their home languages in the classroom (even though their teacher may not understand them), this not only helps them come to grips with curriculum content but also gives them an interest in taking autonomous learning initiatives.

Everything we have written about learner autonomy over the past thirty years or so has taken successful practice as its starting point, and we have always believed that learner autonomy is first a pedagogical imperative and only secondly a fertile research topic. Aimed at student teachers, teacher educators and language learning researchers, our book will have served its purpose if it encourages more language teachers to embrace the principles of learner autonomy and find ways of implementing them in their classrooms.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Managing Diversity in Education edited by David Little, Constant Leung and Piet Van Avermaet.