Language Transfer: History, Translation and Metalinguistic Awareness

This month we are publishing Explorations of Language Transfer by Terence Odlin. In this post the author discusses the book’s main themes.

Readers of Explorations of Language Transfer will notice several recurring themes, themes that have long seemed to me important for the study of transfer. I’d like to offer some remarks on three of those topics here: history, translation, and metalinguistic awareness.

History

Chapter 2 of the book examines parts of the challenging trail left by nineteenth century thinkers including Wilhelm von Humboldt, Hugo Schuchardt and Aaron Marshall Elliott. Space did not allow a discussion of certain other thinkers from that time who also wrote about bilingualism, such as the Italian historical linguist G.I. Ascoli. If I ever have the chance, I would like to read more about his analysis of how transfer might be manifest in linguistic variation across space and time. Furthermore, I suspect that interesting discussions of transfer go back before the nineteenth century, but if so, the trail may prove a little harder to explore.

Translation

Chapter 7 focuses on translation and transfer. The ongoing refinements in machine translation, one of the topics in this chapter, should be taken seriously by teachers and researchers even while professionals will do well in advising their students to distrust uncritical reliance on translation software. Yet machine translation is not the only area of interest. In the same chapter, I also consider the efforts of a Victorian translator named Mary Howitt who, despite her keen interest in Scandinavian literature, did not always succeed in accurately interpreting the work she undertook. Her translation errors often suggest negative transfer in her reading comprehension. Howitt is probably far from alone in the history of less-than-satisfactory translation, but there does not seem to be much detailed research investigating such cases. This domain, then, may well deserve more exploring.

Metalinguistic awareness

Our awareness of language, often called metalinguistic awareness, proves important in learning a new language, and it interacts with transfer in diverse ways. Without such awareness we could not compare anything in one language with anything in another, nor could we ask for definitions, let alone translate individual words or entire sentences. Even so, individuals vary considerably in how they use such awareness and in how they develop it further. Chapter 8 considers, among other things, successful attempts to foster such awareness. For example, raising consciousness about crosslinguistic similarities and differences has proven effective for helping learners recognize words that are real yet not obvious cognates. The attempts discussed did not involve French, but I think back to my own experiences with high school French and imagine how helpful it could have been if we beginners had gotten a little guidance in recognizing consistent formal relations in pairs such as côte/coast, fête/feast, and pâté/paste. Pairs of this sort also make a good case for why language teachers should have some knowledge of historical linguistics including sound changes.

I naturally hope that readers of Explorations of Language Transfer will find the themes outlined here worth reading about in greater detail, and I also hope that the book will inspire readers to engage in their own explorations of the similarities and differences between languages that can intrigue as well as challenge any learner.

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.

A Tribute to Michael Byram’s Work on Intercultural Learning in Language Education

We recently published Intercultural Learning in Language Education and Beyond edited by Troy McConachy, Irina Golubeva and Manuela Wagner. In this post the editors explain the motivation behind the book.

There are scholars in every field who stand out not only because they have contributed to significant advances in thinking but also because they have devoted so much of themselves to the development of educational practices and the advancement of scholarly networks. This book is dedicated to one such scholar – Michael Byram – whose work on Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) and Intercultural Citizenship (ICit) has helped educators working within and beyond the field of language education to promote intercultural learning in their classrooms.

This is a book which aims to capture the far-reaching influence of Michael Byram’s work and the various ways it has helped shape the work of individual language educators, professional organisations, and other communities of practice. Simply put, what really motivated this book was a collective sense of wanting to create an opportunity for a range of international scholars to critically engage with Mike’s work based on a sense of gratitude and respect. We felt that this was important given the extent of Mike’s contribution to the field and his generous support for others.

In Part 1 of the book, contributors have looked at the theoretical and pedagogical significance of key concepts that have emanated from Mike’s work or have important connections with it, such as ICC, language awareness, intercultural mediation, ICit, intercultural dialogue and intercultural responsibility. Authors have aimed to consider how understandings of these concepts have evolved over time, given changing contexts and additional knowledge gained in related fields.

Meanwhile, in Part 2, chapters look at perspectives and practices associated with intercultural learning in a variety of contexts, including student mobility, service learning, teacher education and assessment, professional organisations, communities of practice, just to name a few. These chapters capture some of the many ways in which Mike’s work has inspired educators to enact intercultural learning, taking into account the need for locally appropriate pedagogical practices.

One unique feature of this book is that it includes a number of tribute chapters from those who have collaborated with Mike in different capacities. These chapters help further illustrate elements of Mike’s personhood and reveal his selfless support for scholars and colleagues worldwide.

As a whole, we feel that this book not only offers important research insights but also embodies the sense that being able to read, appreciate, and critique scholarship is an important privilege. We invite readers to engage with the research of scholars in the field and the memoirs shared by those who have had the privilege to work closely with Mike on a variety of projects. We hope that this book can serve as a model for a genre that brings together critical engagement and appreciation for the contributions of those who influence research and practice in such important ways.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence by Michael Byram.

Why Do Adult ESL Learners Drop Out?

This month we published Understanding Success and Failure in Adult ESL by Taewoong Kim. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book.

“I need English to protect my kids. My 9 and 11 year-old daughters translated in an emergency room 18 years ago when my husband died due to cancer. It was so sad. I couldn’t speak English, couldn’t protect my kids. I wanted to tell doctors, ‘talk to me, don’t touch my kids,’ but I couldn’t. I always want to learn English, but I dropped, because teacher didn’t care for us, never prepared. We did the same thing for 3 days. It was waste of time.” (Irma, pseudonym)

Like Irma who immigrated from Mexico to the US, 28 million immigrant adults have a strong desire to learn English. Despite their busy lives, usually a life marked by struggle as they navigate living in a new country, they often persist in learning English (Comings, 2007; Darvin & Norton, 2012). However, sometimes adult ESL learners drop out without giving a reason (Comings, 2007).

When adult immigrant ESL learners drop out of their ESL classes, administrators’ comments often include: “they are busy” or “they don’t have transportation,” or even “they are not smart enough to take the class.” When adult ESL learners drop out, they “disappear” without a word. Then, those administrators’ apathetic comments and thoughts linger in the empty spots of the learners. Are those reasons – being busy, having no transportation, or being not academically ready yet – the real reasons that adult ESL learners drop out? In my five years of ESL teaching experiences, I witnessed that many adult ESL learners persist in learning in spite of their busy and hard lives. What indeed made such persistent learners drop out?

This question led me to start this research about why adult ESL learners continue or drop out of their classes. This book, Understanding Success and Failure in Adult ESL, is the result of the qualitative study that explored six immigrants’ unheard voices over their journeys of learning English and living in the US.

Superación, meaning self-improvement or self-actualization in Spanish, was reported as a thematic desire for why adult English learners want to invest in learning English. When their ESL classes did not support their Superación, the adult ELs dropped out. Other themes that support students’ staying in class include: learning something new, caring feelings, and comprehensible instructions. Each individual’s Superación has different characteristics such as being able to support and protect children by using English like Irma, pursuing job promotions, and becoming a better person.

As for dropout factors, this book adapted the Push, Pull, Fall Out framework (Doll et al., 2013). I found that the adult English learners were not passively forced to drop out of their ESL class, rather they actively made their decisions through their rigorous, systematic, and thorough evaluation of the class. When the learners see that the class does not support their Superación, the learners evaluate that the time they spent is wasted, which triggers their final decision to say “me no more come.” Among the three constructs of dropout – Push, Pull, and Fall Out – the data revealed that the students were pushed out by the less-meaningful instructions, unrelated topics, and teacher apathy.

Understanding Success and Failure in Adult ESL sheds light on the importance of the probable interplay between cognitive and affective aspects in learning English. Although both aspects work together, when students drop out, affective aspects seem to play a stronger role. Based on real-life stories, rigorous thematic data analysis, and academic discussions, the readers will not only enjoy reading unheard and authentic voices from the margin, but also gain new insights about how to make instruction more engaging.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like English Learners’ Access to Postsecondary Education by Yasuko Kanno.

Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume

This month we published Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume edited by David Little and Neus Figueras. In this post the editors introduce the CEFR and the questions raised in their book.

The best known fact about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is that it defines communicative proficiency at six levels arranged in three bands: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. Very soon after the CEFR’s publication in 2001, the principal national and international language testing agencies in Europe began to use these labels to indicate the level of their tests and report test-takers’ performances. The CEFR made much less impact, however, on curricula and teaching.

Twenty years on, the introduction of the CEFR Companion Volume (CV) seeks to redress the balance, giving priority to teaching and learning over assessment. The CV also updates the CEFR’s descriptive scheme, adding many new descriptors, a handful of new scales, a new pre-A1 level, and a substantial new section on mediation. In doing so, it gives language education professionals much new material to reflect on and engage with.

Predictably, the CV has aroused great interest among language assessment specialists. In 2018, EALTA (European Association for Language Testing and Assessment) organized a one-day symposium to stimulate discussion of the provisional (2017) version of the CV; and in February 2020, EALTA, UKALTA (UK Association for Language Testing and Assessment) and the British Council organized a two-day conference that focused on the definitive version of the CV within the broader framework established by the 2001 CEFR.

The conference opened with two accounts of the international impact of the CEFR, one from Japan and the other from the United States, and an introduction to the CV from Brian North, who coordinated its development. The remainder of the conference addressed three aspects of the CEFR and the CV: their “action-oriented” approach to the description of language proficiency in terms of language use, their advocacy of a “plurilingual approach” to language education, and the proficiency levels and descriptors. This explains the four-part structure of Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume, which brings together expanded versions of the conference presentations.

The book provides a wide-ranging introduction to the CEFR and the CV. It also encourages those who already work with the CEFR to revisit basic concepts by raising questions like these:

  • The CEFR identifies four modes of language use: reception (listening and reading), production (speaking and writing), interaction (spoken and written), and mediation (spoken and written). Why then do the major testing agencies use the CEFR’s proficiency levels but cling to the four-skills model (listening, speaking, reading, writing)?
  • In the CV’s scales of plurilingual and intercultural competence, the descriptors assume a strict separation between languages. How then can we take account of the real-world practice of mixing two or more languages in the same communicative event?
  • The process of linking curricula, teaching materials and assessment to the CEFR and CV is (or can be) highly technical. So how realistic is it to encourage busy professionals to take the CEFR to their hearts?
  • As we have noted, the CV invites us to focus on curricula, teaching and learning rather than assessment. But how can we expect educational reform to succeed if all three dimensions are not developed interdependently?

These are just four of the many questions explored by contributors to our book. We hope that the book will stimulate language education professionals to pose questions of their own – and to undertake the research that is necessary to answer them. Only in this way can we maintain the CEFR and the CV as the living and ever-evolving instruments of language education policy and practice that the Council of Europe intended.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Action-oriented Approach by Enrica Piccardo and Brian North.

The Story of “Person to Person Peacebuilding, Intercultural Communication and English Language Teaching”

This month we are publishing Person to Person Peacebuilding, Intercultural Communication and English Language Teaching by Amy Jo Minett, Sarah E. Dietrich and Didem Ekici. In this post the authors explain how the book came about.

This book began as a friendship between the authors. In 2014, Sarah shared with Didem that she wanted to provide her pre-practicum students authentic teaching practice. Didem was volunteering for an organization working with Afghan citizens who wanted to improve their English. Thus began a collaboration pairing graduate TESOL students with Afghans seeking English tutors. Tutors and students met through videoconferencing, in a space we call the virtual intercultural borderlands. After each meeting, tutors wrote reflections. The voices within those reflective journals – and their references to war, peace and intercultural communication – inspired this book.

In 2018, Amy, Sarah and Didem met for lunch. Didem was finishing her dissertation on how ESOL students developed intercultural competence by working online with Afghans. Sarah was investigating teacher development through the tutoring project. Amy, who had worked in Afghanistan, asked if she could read their data. Everyone pulled out their laptops and so the book began.

That conversation led to interviews with Afghans and tutors, analysis of reflective journals, and long virtual meetings between the authors (by now we lived far apart). By the time the pandemic had shut down most of the face-to-face world, we were confident in our discovery: that language tutoring and intercultural communication – in the virtual intercultural borderlands where Afghans and tutors met and worked – led interactants to build peace, person to person.

The participants whose voices we share in this book do not negotiate treaties or lay down weapons. They are peacebuilders, nonetheless, whose voices bring to life a constellation of elements pivotal to peacebuilding:

  • A Ukrainian-born tutor overcomes her self-acknowledged stereotypes of ‘Afghanis’ when she and her Afghan counterpart share stories of conflict in their homelands, forming a powerful new in-group;
  • A US-born tutor displays dramatic empathy when discovering her student – who was meeting her from a hot and unairconditioned office – was fasting during Ramadan and could not drink water (the tutor quickly put her water away and offered to reschedule the session);
  • An Afghan woman who was a ‘child protection officer’ describes how her tutor helped her understand guidelines in English as she implemented ‘Father Daughter Hours,’ an international initiative intended to push back against generations of gender violence present in so many Afghan families;
  • A US-born tutor learns her student’s educator parents – threatened with beheading under the Taliban – instructed their son ‘that peace will come through the ink in a pen rather than bullets from a gun.’ The tutor goes on to share this line ‘with everyone’.

On August 15th, 2021, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. A few Afghan participants made it out during the evacuations. Others are in hiding or have fallen completely silent. Now we work for their evacuation and for the resettlement of those who made it to the US. We also remain endlessly grateful to the voices in this book, as they provide ways educators can more deliberately leverage person to person peacebuilding in the virtual intercultural borderlands of online exchange.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Peacebuilding in Language Education edited by Rebecca L. Oxford, María Matilde Olivero, Melinda Harrison and Tammy Gregersen.

The Remaking of Language Education

This month we published Liberating Language Education edited by Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy. In this post the editors reveal what readers can expect from the book.

Liberating Language Education emerged from our desire to unite our passion about language, education, and lived multilingualism with our visions of what language education can mean, feel, and look like in times of unprecedented change and uncertainty. This passion is reflected in our personas of ‘the weaver’, ‘the fool’, ‘the traveller’ and ‘the activist’ in the introduction of the book: they illustrate the complexity and richness of language experience and language learning across the lifespan and highlight the entanglements of the personal and biographical with the historical and socio-cultural dimensions of language and language pedagogy.

This kaleidoscopic perspective is amplified by the plurality and heterogeneity of voices and orientations manifested in the chapter contributions. The book calls into question a single and unified approach to language, culture, and identity, dismantling monolingual and prescriptivist discourses of pedagogy that have long dominated language education. Instead, it proposes new ways of understanding language and language education that move beyond rationalist and instrumental perspectives and emphasise locally situated meaning-making practices, messiness, and unpredictability.

These new ways liberate our understanding of language to encompass the full range of semiotic repertoires, aesthetic resources, and multimodal practices. They reimagine language education from a translingual and transcultural orientation, showcasing multiple, alternative visions of how language education might be enacted. The translingual, transcultural and transformative approach to pedagogy that underpins the book rests on the following principles:

  • an integrated and inclusive view of language and language learning
  • challenging binaries and fixed positions between formal/informal learning, school/home literacies, schools/other sites of learning
  • attention to language hierarchies and linguistic and social inequalities
  • a synergetic relationship between language and culture
  • the transformative process of language learning as reconfiguring our existing communicative resources and nurturing new ways of being, seeing, feeling and expressing in the world
  • foregrounding embodied, material and aesthetic perspectives to pedagogy
  • emphasis on learner and teacher agency and making their voices heard
  • supporting multiple ways of knowing and a decolonising stance to knowledge building
  • creating trusting, respectful and collaborative relations in research and shared ownership of knowledge

This critical and creative translingual and transcultural orientation repositions teachers, learners and researchers as active language policy creators in the remaking of language education today.

Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett.

An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching: From Margins to Mainstream

This month we are publishing the second edition of An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching by John Corbett. In this post the author explains what’s new in this edition.

I first started drafting what would become the first edition of An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching in Brazil in the autumn of 1998; it finally appeared five years later. In March 2020, at the beginning of a period of semi-isolation from the Covid pandemic, in the state of Sao Paulo, I finally got around to revisiting and revising that volume for its long-delayed second edition.

Re-reading the first edition, I realised how much things (and I) have changed. At the turn of the century, despite the work of people like Mike Byram and Claire Kramsch through the 1980s and 1990s, there was a feeling that interculturality was still a peripheral concern, at least to many English language teachers, particularly those working in commercial schools. But last year, when I told a colleague from a commercial school in Brasilia that I was revising a book on an ‘intercultural’ approach to ELT, he responded, ‘Well, is there any other way of doing it?’ Why has an intercultural approach gone, apparently, from the margins to the mainstream?

We can point at different reasons: the publication of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) document, in 2001, put interculturality at least nominally at the heart of the language learning agenda; other influential documents, like the NCSSFL-ACTFL ‘can do’ statements followed its lead. But the world also changed, with digital communications and social media giving many learners, for the first time, a direct opportunity to interact with speakers of different languages, speakers who come from quite different backgrounds and hold diverse views of the world. And digital communications also gave teachers abundant access to culturally rich materials to adapt for use in their classrooms. The days of teachers laminating pages cut from magazines are largely over. English rapidly assumed the status of an international language, not a foreign language any more so much as an auxiliary language that pervaded all societies and has been appropriated by their members for a range of functions.

So…the second edition of the book addresses many of these developments. Its treatment of the CEFR and subsequent guidelines is much deeper than that of the first edition, and it acknowledges the critical backlash against ‘universalising’ accounts of interculturality that the CEFR has been said to embody. Its discussion of ethnography extends to an entirely new chapter on online exchanges and the possibilities for cultural exploration they promise, and the challenges they often set for learners and teachers alike. While trying to remain true to the framework of the first edition, the second updates the references and reframes the contents so that they are relevant to the third decade of the 21st century.

And yet, some things remain the same. The first edition was predicated on the optimistic assumption that human beings are generally inclined to be active explorers and interpreters of the worlds they inhabit and encounter. Without necessarily atomising ‘intercultural communicative competence’ as a set of abstract abilities, the second edition likewise draws upon ethnography and semiotics as key disciplines that, if developed in the classroom, will enable learners to explore those worlds more effectively and interpret them in richer ways. The contents of the book might have been thoroughly overhauled, but I hope that its optimism remains intact.

John Corbett
BNU-HKBU United International College
johnbcorbett@uic.edu.cn

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might like Person to Person Peacebuilding, Intercultural Communication and English Language Teaching by Amy Jo Minett, Sarah E. Dietrich and Didem Ekici.

Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated

This month we published Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated edited by Anne Golden, Lars Anders Kulbrandstad and Lawrence Jun Zhang. In this post the editors explain how the book came together.

Zoom and Teams are wonderful for communication, but, alas, they cannot make up for real encounters with new and inspiring colleagues at international conferences. This book is the results of such a get-together. As Norwegian researchers in the field of second language learning and use, we have long been concerned with how some groups of students struggle to satisfy the requirements of language mastery in the new country, particular when it comes to writing. How great then to meet and get to know researchers from other corners of the world having the same concerns! Two of us met at the 14th Symposium on Second Language Writing in Auckland, New Zealand in 2015 and then three of us incidentally met again in 2017 at the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Portland, USA.

We all wondered if the experiences some groups of students had from their prior schooling with writing texts did not match the expected way of writing in the new language or in the new areas of study. Do the language tests they have to take function as strict gatekeeping with borders too difficult to cross or bars too high to jump? For us this was a question of social justice and we saw the task of teachers and researchers as a two-front struggle: On one front, scholars should critically examine testing regimes and raise public awareness about the hidden agendas implicit in language tests. On the other front, scholars should develop research-based knowledge about tests and testing practices, including concealed or unconscious norms as well as raters’ bias, so that institutions of adult education, schools and universities can better prepare learners for the tests they are required to take. We decided to address these questions at the next Sociolinguistic Symposium, which happened to be in Auckland the year after. This is where this book started, at the colloquium in Auckland in 2018. Now it is out. Zoom and Teams would not have been able to initiate this.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Languaging Myths and Realities by Qianqian Zhang-Wu.

Nurturing the Vocabulary Studies Tree

We recently published Vocabulary Theory, Patterning and Teaching edited by Paweł Szudarski and Samuel Barclay. In this post the editors discuss their book’s contribution to the flourishing field of vocabulary studies.

Let’s step back in time. It is the 1940s and we are sitting in the back of an English language class. The teacher is standing at the front reading a dialogue aloud. After listening, we voice first one character and then the other before completing substitution, transformation, and chain drills. Forty-five minutes later we recite the dialogue perfectly and leave the classroom smiling.

Cut to thirty years later, the 1970s, and the teacher has embraced the communicative approach. We are interacting with our classmates, completing discussion and problem-solving activities. We are encouraged to focus on transacting meaning and communicating fluently, and after another, slightly noisier, forty-five minutes we stand up to leave.

These two scenarios represent markedly different views of language, learning, and learners and yet they are similar in one very important way: neither adopts a principled approach to the teaching and learning of vocabulary. In 2021, although many curricula may still lack a systematic process of vocabulary selection, instruction, and recycling, the picture looks, on the whole, lexically richer, at least when it comes to empirical findings and a growing interest in this area. Vocabulary plays an increasingly central role in language teaching, and research into lexical studies has flourished over the past few decades. The field then, is in a healthy state.

This situation has not come about by chance but rather is the result of the consistent endeavour of a handful of individuals. These researchers nurtured the foundations of the field, providing the roots upon which current research activity proudly stands, actively cultivating the field from an overlooked sapling into the position of prominence it holds today. One of these scholars is Professor Norbert Schmitt, in whose honour this edited volume is written. Anyone who knows Second Language Acquisition and Vocabulary Studies knows Norbert from his considerable research contributions over the last 30 years, and perhaps also the colourful Tigger t-shirts he wears to conferences. He has written about various aspects of the field – teaching and learning, formulaic language, assessment, theory – and, crucially, for a variety of audiences – from textbooks for students and introductory books for instructors, to research manuals and reports for those who are more research oriented. In doing so, he has helped to ignite and sustain research interest in vocabulary, while nurturing the next generation of scholars and ensuring that students of applied linguistics have a positive educational experience.

This volume is, however, much more than an extended thank-you letter to Norbert. It presents cutting-edge research from prominent scholars in the field. There are nine experimental chapters organised into three sections – theory and assessment, formulaic language, and teaching and learning. Each section also contains an opening chapter written by leading scholars in the field of Vocabulary Studies, where they offer their perspective on the reported findings, their place within the wider area of lexical and applied linguistic research, and also make suggestions for future studies. In this way, the volume acts as a microcosm of Norbert’s career; it contains thought-provoking and innovative designs and methodologies, but also seeks to foster future research activity. There is also a fascinating preface written by Michael McCarthy and a hilarious afterword penned by Zoltan Dornyei, both of whom were Norbert’s colleagues and collaborators during his career at the University of Nottingham. The volume represents, to continue the metaphor started above, that the vocabulary tree is strong and healthy. It has solid roots and is growing ever bigger, expanding in different directions, and becoming denser in certain key areas. Thankfully, the more it develops, the more ground it has the capacity to influence, the more nutrients its products feed into the educational ecosystem. The image on the front cover of this volume is this tree and we hope that the reported findings sufficiently contribute to the foliage. We may have stretched the metaphor a little too far now, so let us make one final point before wrapping up.

This volume would not have been possible without our gracious contributors. Specific thanks go to Ana Pellicer-Sanchez. Not only has she co-authored a chapter, but she also suggested we contact each other when first I (Paweł) and then I (Sam) called her to discuss an idea for an edited volume. What started as an innocent chat in a small café in London has now turned into an academic publication we are deeply proud of. It has been a great pleasure to have worked together on this volume for the past three years. It has not been all hops and barley, but our work as editors was made easier by the energy and positivity of all the collaborators. It is a sign of the esteem in which Norbert is held that each and every person we emailed about contributing to the volume replied enthusiastically. We hope that you are similarly enthusiastic about the volume and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Happy reading!

Paweł Szudarski and Sam Barclay

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

If you found this interesting, you might also like Perspectives on the L2 Phrasicon by Sylviane Granger.

How Can Educators Promote School Success for Immigrant-Background Multilingual Learners?

We recently published Rethinking the Education of Multilingual Learners by Jim Cummins. In this post the author looks at how best to promote educational success among immigrant-background students.

Population mobility is at an all-time high in human history. The movement of people across national boundaries has resulted in significant increases in linguistic, cultural, ‘racial’, and religious diversity among school populations in countries around the world. Many of these students, whether born in the host country (second generation) or outside the host country (first generation) are experiencing academic difficulties according to multiple large-scale studies carried out over the past 20+ years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Unfortunately, despite an abundance of research data on the nature and scope of underachievement, there is still no consensus among policymakers, educators, and researchers about which instructional practices will be effective in reversing the academic difficulties experienced by immigrant-background students.

In my recent book Rethinking the Education of Multilingual Learners, I proposed a framework that identified a series of evidence-based instructional strategies that educators, individually and collectively, could pursue to promote educational success among immigrant-background students. A first step in rethinking these issues was to ask the obvious question: ‘Which groups or categories of students are underachieving in our schools’? If we exclude students with special educational needs, international research identifies three groups that experience educational disadvantage: (a) students whose home language (L1) is different from the language of school instruction, (b) students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds and (c) students from communities that have been margin­alised or excluded from educational and social opportunities because of discrimination in the wider society. Not surprisingly, students who fall into all three categories experience the most persistent educational disadvantage.

The relevance of this for educational policies and instructional practices is that teachers, individually and collectively, must go beyond simply linguistic support and respond also to the constriction of students’ opportunities to learn brought about by economic exclusion and societal discrimination. Unfortunately, however, no consensus has emerged among researchers or educators about how schools can ‘push back’ against the societal conditions that give rise to ‘opportunity gaps’ associated with poverty and racism.

With respect to socioeconomic disadvantage, the OECD research suggests that schools could push back about one-third of the negative effects of low-SES if they could maximize students’ access to print and engagement with reading from an early age. For more than 20 years, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has documented strong relationships between reading engagement and reading achievement, but unfortunately, these findings have been largely ignored by policymakers, and even by the OECD itself.

Schools can also counteract the effects of racism and other forms of discrimination by implementing identity-affirming instruction focused on decolonizing curriculum and connecting instruction to students’ lives and the funds of knowledge of their communities. The essence of this instruction is that it challenges coercive relations of power operating in schools and society.

Additionally, language support should include not just scaffolding of L2 instruction but also engaging students’ multilingual resources and reinforcing their awareness of how academic language (ideally both L1 and L2) works across the curriculum.

These whole-school instructional directions are not just ‘theoretical’ – they are derived from inspirational instructional initiatives implemented in countries around the world. These initiatives reflect teachers’ role as knowledge generators working collaboratively with university-based researchers both to promote identities of competence and confidence among multilingual students and to enable them to use language powerfully to support their learning, and ultimately make a difference in their worlds.