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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Getting and Keeping Language Learners Engaged

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

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

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

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

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

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.