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. 

DMC Theory and Long-Term Motivation

We recently published Directed Motivational Currents and Language Education by Christine Muir. In this post the author introduces and explains DMC theory and the lessons we can learn from it. 

It’s not always easy to stay motivated. During these unprecedented times, as we face up to the continuation and consequences of the global pandemic, it may be more important than ever to look to the future and continue working towards achieving our long-term goals. However, for many, it may also be more difficult than ever to be able to do so. In some respects, it feels like a strange time to be discussing such a uniquely positive and energising motivational construct as directed motivational currents (DMCs). A motivational experience characterised by the feeling of being wholly caught up and carried forwards by a current of motivation in a seemingly effortless process of goal pursuit. 

A little while ago I was invited to give the keynote talk at the fourth annual Languages, Texts and Society conference. In discussing the content of my talk with the organisers – LTS is both run by and organised for postgraduate and early career researchers (PGRs) – I was asked exactly this ‘million-dollar question’: perhaps, the organisers asked, you could include ‘some thoughts on fostering individual DMCs, especially in the context of PGRs trying to operate in the current climate. I appreciate it might be unfair to put you on the spot, but perhaps we can work down from that idea’. So, hardly any pressure at all…

The area of DMC theory that has continued to be the most compelling for me personally has, however, been rooted in exactly this issue: is it possible to translate the underpinning principles of DMC theory into sound pedagogic practice? Is it possible to design our instruction in such a way that students might experience this distinct type of motivational outpouring?

None of the attendees of the LTS conference were, to my knowledge, currently experiencing a DMC, yet we reflected together on lessons DMC theory might provide to help reinvigorate flagging motivational reserves. For example, we discussed the relevance of self concordant goals, goals that tap directly into the core of who we really are, and the eudaimonic wellbeing we can feel in striving to achieve them (the experience of which is a hallmark of all DMC experiences). We discussed the importance of affirmative feedback, a structural feature of DMCs key to maintaining the current of motivation over time, and so therefore of looking backwards as well as forwards to recognise how far we’ve already come in our goal striving.

DMC theory certainly cannot offer a ‘magic bullet’. Yet, the positioning of DMCs as representing a perfect form of long-term approach motivation facilitates not only the potential for pedagogic innovation via intensive group projects (one area of focus in Directed Motivational Currents and Language Education), but also a framework able to facilitate the investigation of other aspects of long-term motivation. Long-term motivation is a broad, fascinating and important area of scholarship that has, to date, received remarkably scant research attention.

The empirical findings presented in Directed Motivational Currents and Language Education, and the areas for future research foregrounded – for example links with study abroad, and the emergent evidence indicating potential lasting positive effects from DMC experiences – give strong support for the argument that this is an area of research with a significant amount to offer.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry.

Behind the Books: Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools

Sara Ganassin speaks to Prue Holmes about her new book Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools: More than One Way of Being Chinese?.

Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools is available now on our website. Enter the code BTB30 at the checkout to get 30% off!

What Actually Goes On in an English Conversation Lounge?

We recently published Dynamics of a Social Language Learning Community by Jo Mynard, Michael Burke, Daniel Hooper, Bethan Kushida, Phoebe Lyon, Ross Sampson and Phillip Taw. In this post, Jo explains how the English conversation lounge at Kanda University of International Studies, which provides the setting for the book, functions.

The setting for this book is an English conversation lounge within a larger self-access learning centre (SALC) in a university in Japan which specialises in foreign languages and cultures. Although the setting is quite specific, the themes in this book are likely to resonate with anyone who has tried to support language learners in using the target language beyond the classroom. 

We moved into a new learning space in April 2017 and our main priority in that first year was to make sure that the SALC as a whole was creating an environment where students could feel comfortable and empowered; a place where students could feel supported in taking ownership of their own language learning. The English Lounge is a place where students can drop in and practice speaking English either to teachers on duty, or to other students. In general, there are very few opportunities to actually use other languages in daily life in Japan, and as an institution specialising in languages, we have always tried to provide opportunities for students to actually use the languages they are learning. An English conversation lounge has been available to students in one form or another at the university for around twenty years, but apart from a couple of isolated studies, no systematic research had previously been conducted. 

In terms of goals or guidelines for the lounge, these are very loose. On the SALC website for students, we state “You can have a free conversation in English with teachers and other students here. You can also come with your friends and chat in English.” This sounds very simple, but after years of observing this in action, myself and other members of the research team could actually see some of the interesting dynamics happening within the space. Some questions began to emerge based on these observations:

  • Why do some students use the lounge everyday, whereas others avoid the place completely?
  • What draws some students to the space? Why do they keep coming back?
  • What role does the lounge play in students’ language learning experiences?

We could see that some students thrived in the space and used it as an opportunity to develop confidence in using English. We wondered how we could make the space more appealing to other students who might like to use it. We were fairly sure that participation in the lounge had something to do with language learner identity. We were also able to see a real community of practice in action. We suspected that other psychological processes were important as well, but we weren’t sure which ones without doing more research.

We had been heavily influenced by previous work in another university setting in Japan by Garold Murray, Naomi Fujishima and colleagues who suggested that many elements shape and transform spaces into places for learning. We were keen to investigate the psychological elements in our own context, so proceeded to study the micro-space within the larger learning ecology of the SALC.

After more reading, our initial observations were eventually formulated into research questions and a detailed research plan. After gaining ethics permission from the university, we began our project with a series of eye-opening observations of the space. This was followed by in-depth interviews with students conducted over two years. Our participants were students from all four years of the university; some were regular users, but some had never used the lounge at all. In this book, we tell their stories and attempt to make sense of them. By making sense of these stories, we offer some insights into the role of such spaces in language education programmes. We also offer some practical advice to others who wish to embark on similar research, or make their own spaces more accessible to all learners who want to use them.

Photos courtesy of Kanda University of International Studies

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba.

Hispanic or Latino? A Sociolinguistic Perspective

We recently published Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman. In this post Jennifer writes about the difference between the terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’.

Recent growth in the share of the US population that identifies as Hispanic or Latino (as well as feminine Latina and the gender-neutral and non-binary Latinx) has been accompanied by increased attention to the labels themselves. There are ongoing debates about whether these pan-ethnic labels correspond to an ‘authentic’ identity, or people’s own sense of themselves as well as their lived experience or if, conversely, they are an ‘artificial’ creation of the US government. Nor is there consensus among scholars, advocates or anyone else whether that identity, assuming it actually exists, should be considered ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial.’ While we explore both of these issues in our new book, the focus of this post is on a third point of contention: the labels themselves. Specifically, is there a difference between Hispanic and Latino/a/x, and if so, what is it? The meaning of these labels is a perennial topic of lively discussion. It is especially timely this year, given that 2020 is a census year and the US census includes a question on Hispanic or Latino origin. Sociolinguistic perspectives on language, and on the relationship of language to identity, can offer insights into the meaning of the terms as well as into why such discussions are important and never seem to reach resolution.

On one hand, many dictionaries present Hispanic and Latinx/o/a as synonyms, as does the US Office of Management and Budget (the federal agency that mandates the race and ethnicity categories to be used on the census), and many speakers use the two terms interchangeably. One the other hand, numerous scholarly essays, news articles, and social media posts insist that they are not in fact the same. Although there is some variation in popular and scholarly explanations of the purported differences, etymology typically figures prominently. Specifically, most authors trace the origins of the word Hispanic to Hispania, the region of the Roman empire that comprised the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal today); some accounts also describe Hispanic as an Anglicized shortening of hispanoamericano, an inhabitant of Spain’s former American colonies. For its part, Latino is described as a deriving from latinoamericano, and many authors note that Latin America is a 19th century construction differentiating the areas in the Americas colonized by France, Portugal and Spain from those colonized by England. Thus, many claim that Hispanic refers to people with a connection to former Spanish colonies (but not Brazil) while Latina/x/o includes all Latin Americans and their descendants (but not people from Europe). Ethnoracial and linguistic diversity within Latin America and Spain is often glossed over in such discussions.

For the most part, etymologically-based accounts of the difference between Hispanic and Latinx/a/o assume a straightforward and enduring one-to-one correspondence between words and their meanings, as well as a similarly rigid understanding of identities and their relationship to labels. In this view, once we know the origin of a word, we know its meaning. However, one of the basics of human language is that it is always undergoing change; not only do pronunciations and sentence structures change over time, so do the semantic and social meanings of words. Thus, while etymology is interesting, and it can tell us something about how words have been used historically, it doesn’t reveal their complete meaning. For sociolinguists, the meaning of words is not contained within the words themselves but in the way they are used and understood in a given context. In the case of ethnoracial labels, this often goes hand-in-hand with varied social constructions of ethnoracial categories, which can vary from place to place as well as over time.

In addition to characterizing identities as socially constructed, sociolinguist approaches also stress that language plays a central role in the creation and performance of identities. Indexicality, or the way that particular linguistic forms or practices ‘point to’ particular attitudes, stances or identities, is key to this process. Specifically, when speakers speak in a particular way, or use one particular word, they rely on socially shared associations between linguistic forms and social meanings to signal something about themselves. Symbolic and indexical meanings play an especially important role in shaping people’s preferences for either Hispanic or Latino/x/a. For many people, the term Hispanic is seen as elevating European heritage and erasing Native and African cultures, peoples and languages. Despite the equally Eurocentric etymology of Latino/x/a, this term for many people indexes a more inclusive recognition of diversity.  In some contexts, using Latino/x/a (and especially when pronounced with Spanish, rather than English, phonology) is a way of enacting a particular kind of ethnoracial pride and/or sociopolitical awareness. In addition, the use of Latinx can signal one’s support for gender inclusivity. In sum, the choice between Hispanic and Latino/x/a (as well as other identity labels) depends not only on the specific ethnoracial identity of the person it refers to, but also on the sociopolitical stance and identity of the speaker. Importantly, indexical meanings are also variable and contextually dependent, rather than fixed within the words themselves. As such, it’s not surprising that the precise meanings of these labels, as well as which one is ‘better’, is highly contested, as are debates about just what it means to be either one.

Jennifer Leeman

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning and Not Learning in the Heritage Language Classroom by Kimberly Adilia Helmer.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching

We recently published The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching edited by Christina Gkonou, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Jim King. In this post Christina explains how she became interested in this area of research and what the book aims to do.

Emotions are at the heart of all human behaviour, and teaching and learning are no exception to this. Teachers plan their lessons carefully, select and design classroom materials that are relevant and suitable for their learners, and contemplate decisions related to classroom management and their actual practice before, during and even after class. But what about decision-making related to emotions – their own as well as those of their learners? How do emotions shape and are shaped by their day-to-day, mundane teaching practice? And how are they experienced and managed?

My own interest in language teacher emotions was generated a few years ago and through earlier research I did on learner anxiety. The interview conversations and follow-up discussions with teachers on the topic of learner anxiety showed that teachers were keen to talk about their own psychologies and anxieties too – and that they would, in fact, slightly deviate from the interview topic by reflecting on their own emotions. This is when I realised that I was only asking them questions about how their learners feel, how anxiety influences learning and what they do to help their learners minimise their language anxiety. Although the focus of my research was on learners, I felt that I could have approached emotions and anxiety within language education in a way that was more balanced and fairer to teachers by giving them the chance to discuss their own emotions too.

When I approached Jean-Marc and Jim to collaborate on this book project, I had not expected how topical language teacher psychology and emotions would be in subsequent years – and how rarely they are discussed in teacher education and development, and even amongst teachers themselves, due to lack of time, reluctance to confide and the inherently subjective nature of emotions. Emotions are there, they are present but they are often marginalised for the sake of other priorities, which are undoubtedly important too but shouldn’t be seen as more important than how individuals in classrooms actually feel. We hope that the book will offer insights into constructs and contexts, methods and tools, theories and practices – and, above all, minds and hearts.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

Language Teachers’ Beliefs in Their Own Ability

This month we are publishing Exploring Language Teacher Efficacy in Japan by Gene Thompson. In this post the author writes about his experience running language teacher workshops in Japan.

How confident are you about successfully completing different teaching activities? What are the factors that influence those beliefs? Are there any experiences that have influenced your confidence towards different teaching tasks?

I confronted these questions during my time contributing to language teacher training workshops in Japan. Working with a licence renewal program and teacher developmental initiatives in a regional prefecture, I observed a huge difference in the confidence of attendees towards implementing government mandated language teaching curricula reforms that encouraged a more communicative focus in English language classes.

For secondary school teachers, the new policy required them to use English as a teaching language. Certain individuals were very confident about doing so – even excited about it. Others were less certain of their capability to carry out lessons effectively if they had to use English with students. Some were completely devoid of any certainty that they could accomplish anything with their students if they were forced to use English when teaching.

What lay behind these beliefs? For many teachers – as users of English themselves – personal ideas about their own English language seemed to be an important factor. Equally, for many teachers, the demands of their teaching environment seemed to be an important part of the equation. For some participants, their school had a motivated and well-resourced teaching staff. For others, student motivation was low and many of their learners had not mastered the skills taught in previous years.

Many participants observed our seminars and simply rejected everything we presented. Quite quickly, my colleagues and I realized that our seminars were much more effective when we made them into workshops. Generally, we would provide a ‘recipe’ for using a teaching strategy (e.g. using the ‘sandwich’ technique) with a certain learner group, then push our attendees to think about how they could change or apply that technique in their classrooms – often challenging them to try them out on each other using microteaching or other practice activities.

We couldn’t cover as much ground in our sessions in workshop fashion. However, we found not only that our participants developed knowledge about different teaching strategies, but also that our sessions could influence – to a greater degree – the extent to which participants felt confident in their ability to actually employ the ideas from our workshops in their classrooms.

This experience stimulated the research presented in Exploring Language Teacher Efficacy in Japan, as I became interested in the relationship between teacher beliefs of capability, their personal abilities, and the influence of contextual demands upon their beliefs and practice.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

How Has Language Education Changed Over Time?

This month we published Language Education in a Changing World by Rod Bolitho and Richard Rossner. In this post the authors explain what inspired them to write the book and why they think it is needed.

We’re pleased: after a long period of gestation and writing we’ve just received copies of our new book Language Education in a Changing World.

So what inspired us to write the book, and why do we think it is needed? Combined, our experience in language education spans 100 years. We have become increasingly aware that the time-honoured segmentations of foreign language education, teaching and learning of the language of schooling, language sensitive subject teaching and so on are no longer meaningful, if they ever were.

We have tried to take stock of how language and communication permeate and impact on all education at all ages, and in the book we review some of the thought-provoking work done by the Council of Europe and specialists in the fields of educational applied linguistics, multilingualism and pluralistic approaches. How have these perspectives impacted on learning in the classroom over the last 40 years? What is being done around the world – or at least in the parts of the world where we have been able to glean information – to incorporate holistic views of language and students’ language repertoires in education, and in teacher education? What could be done to foster dynamic collaboration among teachers and teacher educators across the curriculum? These are some of the questions we have addressed. It was quite a learning experience for us!

In the book we take a fairly close look at four or five areas in particular. We start with an exploration of the role of language and languages in learning and teaching, before going on to look at the recent history and current state of foreign language education and the somewhat controversial impact of English in education. In the second part of the book, we examine teacher education, both pre-service education and continuing professional development for teachers of languages, as well as the extent to which language and communication issues are addressed in the education of teachers of other subjects. The third part of the book focuses on policy around language in education and the roles various stakeholders play in influencing and implementing – or resisting – change. Then we end with our own wish list of future developments in policy around language in education and teacher education.

As potential readers, we had in mind education professionals of all kinds who are interested in exploring the role of language in the teaching of all subjects across the curriculum, including teachers of language, other teachers as well as teacher educators. We hope policymakers, textbook writers, curriculum developers and researchers will also find the book useful. Whatever their role and specific interests, we would welcome readers’ reactions to the contents of our book, and the policy recommendations we have made.

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.

Does a Language Teacher’s Identity Matter?

Next month we are publishing Language Teacher Recognition by Alison Stewart. In this post the author explains how the book came about and what readers will learn from it. 

Does a language teacher’s identity matter? What about the case of Filipino teachers of English working in Japan?

Filipinos used to be denied access to jobs as English teachers in Japan because they weren’t regarded as “native speakers”, and hence not the right kind of people to teach English. Nowadays, they are being hired in large numbers to work across the range of public and private schools, particularly in elementary and preschool education. What has changed? And how has this affected the lives of Filipinos living in Japan?

I first came across a group of Filipino English teachers a decade ago and have been following the group’s activities and progress since then. The successes of many of the group’s members inspired me to start collecting their stories. Through the narratives of eight women and one man, we can see how the changing social conditions of Japan – from migration patterns to educational reforms to shifts in ideologies about language and identity – are reflected in the career paths and aspirations, the disappointments and the triumphs, of Filipino teachers in Japan.

Seven of the teachers belong to an organization, Filipino English Teacher in Japan (FETJ), which supports and trains would-be English teachers. The different narratives allow us to trace the various, at times conflicting, interests and motivations that have propelled the rapid growth of this organization from informal study group to social activism on behalf of a marginalized minority in Japan to teacher training NPO and conduit to potential employers.

Identity is a hot topic in language education research these days, but this is the first time that it has been explored through the lens of Recognition Theory. In the book I’ve attempted to explain why recognition deserves our attention, how it differs from the poststructuralist approach that currently dominates the field, and how it can underpin a “moral turn” in the field. A focus on mutual recognition in different social domains – between those we care for, in large social groups, and in society at large – places social justice firmly at the center of our research endeavors.

The narratives of the nine Filipino teachers, and my own story as well, are presented in their entirety. This too is a break away from current research practices. Readers will find their own resonances in the stories, but I have used them as stepping-stones into discussions on privilege and marginalization, on language teacher associations, on language teaching as a career, and on the very language that we use to talk about identity in language education research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan by Diane Hawley Nagatomo.

Exciting New Multilingual Matters Titles for 2020

We can’t believe the first month of 2020 is almost over! It seems like only yesterday we were decorating the office and singing along to our Christmas playlist. However, if January has seemed like a very long month to you, we have plenty of exciting new titles coming up to fend off the winter blues. Here’s a selection of what we’ve got in store for you this spring…

Global TESOL for the 21st Century by Heath Rose, Mona Syrbe, Anuchaya Montakantiwong and Natsuno Funada

This book explores the impact of the spread of English on language teaching and learning. It provides a framework for change in the way English is taught to better reflect global realities and to embrace current research. The book is essential reading for postgraduate researchers, teachers and teacher trainers in TESOL.

Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman

This book introduces readers to basic concepts of sociolinguistics with a focus on Spanish in the US. The coverage goes beyond linguistics to examine the history and politics of Spanish in the US, the relationship of language to Latinx identities, and how language ideologies and policies reflect and shape societal views of Spanish and its speakers.

Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten

This book aims to empower teachers working with adult migrants who have had little or no prior formal schooling, and give them the information and skills that they need to reach the highest possible levels of literacy in their new languages.

Essays on Conference Interpreting by James Nolan

This book, drawing on the author’s 30-year career, seeks to define what constitutes good interpreting and how to develop the skills and abilities that are conducive to it. It places interpretation in its historical context and examines the uses and limitations of modern technology for interpreting.

 

The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett

This book contributes new perspectives from the Global South on the ways in which linguistic and discursive boundaries shape inequalities in educational contexts, ranging from Amazonian missions to Mongolian universities, using critical ethnographic and sociolinguistic analyses.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching edited by Christina Gkonou, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Jim King

This book focuses on the emotional complexity of language teaching and how the diverse emotions that teachers experience are shaped and function. The book covers a range of emotion-related topics on both positive and negative emotions, including emotional labour, burnout, emotion regulation, resilience, emotional intelligence and wellbeing.

 

Seen something you like? All these titles are available to pre-order on our website and you can get 50% off this month when you enter the code JANSALE at the checkout!