How Meanings are Made and Why They Matter

This month we published Transmodal Communications edited by Margaret R. Hawkins. In this post the editor introduces the main concepts covered in the book.

As applied linguists, we explore how language works in the world.  More recently, a number of us attend to languaging – seeing ‘language’ not a named, monolithic entity, but rather as a mobile, fluid resource leveraged in communication (in tandem with many other resources), replete with intentions, actions and effects. Central to the work of many is semiotics, or how meanings are made, which expands a focus on the act of leveraging resources to create (or assemble) messages to include the ‘arc of communication’ – or the ways in which messages are assembled, travel across time and space, and are received, interpreted and negotiated interactionally. While these aspects are always present in communication, they are perhaps especially prevalent (and generally less well attended to) in our current era of globalization, where messages move with increasing frequency and speed, through ever-changing modes and media, and across greater distances and diversities of people.

A central premise of this book is that communications matter, because they are the foundation of relations between people. And, as is perhaps obvious at the moment, relations between people (both translocal and transglobal) are rife with mistrust, misunderstanding and bias. We are all positioned by and within every communicative act – at both small and large scales – based on representations and interpretations, who interactants perceive themselves and others to be, and how these play out in situated interactions. All of these interactional components are in part shaped by our histories and trajectories, and our communicative means and modes, as well as by outside forces and ideologies that ascribe differential values to varied ways of knowing, being, believing, inter/acting, and so on. We (all contributing authors) start from a social justice stance – that communications and research across diversity must have the goal of fostering equitable and positive relations. We call this critical cosmopolitanism – we work to foster stances of openness, inquiry and care toward others both near and far.

Two additional concepts that this new book introduces (in addition to critical cosmopolitanism) are transmodalities and transpositioning. Transmodalities, at core, provides a framework for exploring and understanding communications among diverse interlocutors, including in (although not limited to) digital environments. It is comprised of five ‘complexities’, attending to the ways that human and material resources are fully entangled in communication; the above-mentioned arc of communication; and the centrality of both culture and context (including place and space) and of power and positioning in the construction of meanings. It is a conceptual structure that sees meaning-making as the totality of ever-shifting signs and symbols, fully entangled with people and things, moving across time and space, and continuously re-interpreted within and across multiple contexts. Each thing/person/sign/context is imbued with its own history and trajectory that shape what it is and means. We posit that each entity is caught up in these movements and mobilities, and is continuously positioned and re-positioned vis-à-vis one another. This is transpositioning, and its role in communications and relations is vital from a social justice perspective.

The book is comprised of multiple chapters that explore semiotics and relations through the lenses of critical cosmopolitanism and transmodalities across a range of domains, illustrating transpositioning in action and its implications. Chapter authors are part of a global research team, live in disparate geographic locations, and are connected in various ways to a project (Global Storybridges) that connects youth in sites across the globe to digitally share and discuss their lives and communities through videos and chats. While the first chapter lays the conceptual groundwork, each chapter thereafter (except the coda) utilizes different theoretical framings and ethnographically-informed exploratory approaches to consider data from the project – both site-specific and transglobal – to examine, at micro- and macro-levels, what exactly constitutes and impacts meaning-making, emerging notions of self and others, and the construction of relations among youth, among youth and adults, and among researchers. In this volume we demonstrate both how we might come to know and why it matters.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Figures of Interpretation edited by B.A.S.S. Meier-Lorente-Muth-Duchêne.

How are EAL Teachers Educated Around the World?

We recently published The Preparation of Teachers of English as an Additional Language around the World edited by Nihat Polat, Laura Mahalingappa and Hayriye Kayi-Aydar. In this post the editors explain the importance of studying teacher education in different settings.

The Preparation of Teachers of English as an Additional Language around the World fills a critical gap in this highly neglected area of educational research: international teacher education. No doubt, this is an area with great potential for the cross-pollination of ideas and actions. Why shouldn’t an innovative approach in teacher education in another country (e.g. in Finland) be adopted, appropriately reconditioned (as per contextual and sociocultural particularities), and utilized in other places (e.g. the US)?

Wouldn’t we all benefit from how the ideas of the great critical pedagogue Paulo Freire are incorporated in EAL teacher education in Brazil? Or, in Finnish and Korean EAL teacher education, how societal values such as trust, autonomy, and professional identity, are promoted? What about how, in nation-states like Greece, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, EAL teacher education is considered critical for socioeconomic success and inte­gration (in science, technology, etc.) with the rest of the world. Or, how in Canada, New Zealand, and the US, multicultural and pluralistic values (e.g. cultural identity, sensitivity to contextual par­ticularities) are emphasized as part of ‘culturally responsive pedagogy’?  We can hear you say ‘Da?’ Indeed, there is no good reason for this not happening! Yet, unfortunately, this has not been the case.

With this goal in mind, this book focuses on the preparation of EAL teachers in 11 countries (Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Greece, New Zealand, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey and the USA). All chapters are built around four critical areas of comparison: policy, research, curriculum, and practice. We have taken this multicultural and multifaceted approach because we believe that a true understanding of high-quality teacher edu­cation is possible only when all major factors contributing to its overall strength are explored simultaneously.

All chapter authors, great researchers and teacher educators, took the same mul­tidimensional approach (and same chapter format) to the kind of data sources (e.g. policy documents, curriculum) that they utilized in writing their chapters. So, this volume will help teacher educators, policymakers, researchers and state education professionals, as well as teacher candi­dates and in-service EAL teachers, learn more about how EAL teachers are educated in different settings around the world. Our hope is that readers will use this volume to improve EAL teacher education in their setting. From national policy about EAL teacher recruitment, compensation, credentialing, quality benchmarks to curriculum mandates about knowledge, skills, dispositions, as well as clinical experience, and accreditation, this volume is truly a gold mine, with great potential.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Preparing Teachers to Work with Multilingual Learners edited by Meike Wernicke, Svenja Hammer, Antje Hansen and Tobias Schroedler.

How Can Language Education Be Adapted for Senior Language Learners?

We recently published Insights into Senior Foreign Language Education by Marek Derenowski. In this post the author explains the particularities of working with senior learners and how teachers might alter their approach accordingly.

World society is constantly aging and in the next three to four decades the number of people who are over 65 years of age is going to triple. Population aging should be considered as a story of success. However, we need to remember that the process of aging should be accompanied with security, dignity, respect, avoidance of negative stereotyping, and complete social inclusion. If these conditions are met, longer life creates a unique opportunity to pursue new activities such as further education (lifelong learning) or long neglected passions.

In some cases, seniors attend education in order to compensate for lost opportunities in their younger life, to avoid social exclusion (e.g. non-citizens, immigrants), overcome the feeling of loneliness, and prevent depression. Others see learning as a perfect way to ‘exercise’ their memory and strengthen their (cognitive) thinking abilities. Regardless of their individual motives, seniors are constantly increasing their educational activity. This in turn creates new challenges for educators who need to create sufficient learning conditions for their older learners.

Teachers who work with senior learners often find this experience exhilarating. Senior learners are wonderful partners in the educational process. They are equipped with a wealth of life experience and are willing to share it in the classroom. They come to the classroom full of positive energy. Furthermore, seniors present a mixture of increased motivation and anxiety. On the one hand, they are afraid to present their private opinions in public. On the other hand, they are extremely motivated to participate, never skip a class, or forget their homework.

Working with senior learners requires a different approach and often focuses on building their confidence and reducing potential stress. In order to do so, teachers may:

  • Create and promote a friendly and relaxed atmosphere
  • Provide senior learners with more time during activities
  • Avoid traditional testing and think of alternative forms of assessment
  • Find out more about their motivations and reasons for joining the course
  • Develop techniques based on positive psychology in order to create empathy
  • Focus on providing positive feedback
  • Cater for any problems they may have with active participation

The relationship created between teachers and learners is always unique, regardless of their age and teaching/learning experience. Senior learners appreciate teachers who are well prepared, provide their learners with clear guidelines, and use a variety of teaching techniques. Furthermore, senior learners appreciate approachable teachers who value their life experience and are sympathetic. It is important to notice that senior learners do not pay attention to the age of the teacher who is usually younger than their learners. As long as the educator pays attention to their needs, caters for their well-being in the classroom, and organizes interesting lessons, seniors are willing and ready to engage.

David Bowie once said: ‘Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been’.  We should not see the passing time as a reason to hurry up and try to make up for all the lost opportunities. We should look for new challenges, also educational, and enjoy every moment of our lives. In the words of 20th century American baseball player Satchel Paige: ‘How old would you be if you did not know how old you are?’

Marek Derenowski, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań/State University Konin, Poland
derenosiu73@gmail.com

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Third Age Learners of Foreign Languages edited by Danuta Gabryś-Barker.

Three Myths About Technology Use in Africa

We recently published Rethinking Language Use in Digital Africa edited by Leketi Makalela and Goodith White. In this post Leketi busts three myths about technology use in Africa.

The use of technology in Africa is often treated with suspicion and doubt especially when it comes to its impact on language development.

Myth number 1: Technology will kill African languages

Due to the history of marginalization of African languages at various stages of colonialism, anything that is perceived as coming from the West is treated with caution surrounded by belief systems about the unknown. Well, it makes sense. But is digital technology all that bad that it will kill African languages? There is a public opinion that the more technology is used, the more leverage it will give to the already dominant languages such as English and French. In this way, the local languages will be decimated due to their low presence in communication systems mediated via technologies.

But if we pause and think about the current status quo, there is very little hope that the governments are willing or have resources to place these languages in high domains of African lives. Languages of parliament, school and the media have remained Westo-phone for a period of more than 50 years. The greatest challenge for these countries has been the legacy of divide and conquer through “misinvention” of many languages. In this book, we show that languages keep evolving, mirroring society. Since digital technology has become a new normal in the 21st century, it is important that African languages adapt and digitize to overcome the stigmas associated with them. Through their use in technology they cross traditional boundaries created in the past and reflect the multilingual competence that their users have. Where African governments have failed, digital technology is able to succeed – to decolonize boundaries and to provide room for innovation based on local cultural competence.

Myth number 2: Africa isn’t plugged in technologically

The economic divide between the Global North and Global South is often cited as critical in future developments that are enabled by digital technology. It is often believed that most countries in the global South will be left behind because they are not plugged into technology with predictions that are pessimistic about the competitiveness of Africans in the global scene. This is only one side of the coin.

Here is a fact worth knowing. Mobile phone subscriptions and use are higher in Africa than other parts of the world. Africans are leading the world in leveraging cell phones to enhance everyday life. Money transfers using mobile technology called M-Pesa in Kenya, USSD in Nigeria are now more common than cash. Jamila Abass is using cellular technology to empower small-scale farmers in Kenya. The examples of innovation via cellular phones are countless. So in the end, it comes down to using what we have!

Myth number 3: Africa is lacking technological innovation

One of the strongly held misconceptions about technology in Africa is the idea that it is behind the rest of the world, lacking in innovative technology. While it is true that people in some African countries lack access to education and resources, but as we have shown above, they make the most of what they have. Consider the following African technological inventions as examples:

Traffic-Regulating Robots. Thérèse Izay from Congo-Kinshasa invented humanoid traffic robots to regulate traffic in Kinshasa. The robots function as a traffic light combined with a crossing guard. In March 2015, there were five robots regulating traffic in Kinshasa.

Drone in Nigeria. In December of 2013, Nigeria’s first unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly referred to as a drone called ‘Gulma’ (Gossip), was created at the Nigerian Air Force Institute of Science & Technology. It can fly nonstop at 3,000 feet for nearly four hours. This is a significant accomplishment because it was Nigeria’s first indigenous drone flight.

In brief, Africans are undoubtedly resourceful and innovative. This book is precisely about this. It couches an uncommon perspective of hope and debunks the often untested myths about Africa and language use in the digital era. In the book we use new concepts such as Digital African Multilingualism (DAM) to ‘bring home’ new and innovative ways of thinking about multilingualism based on the African cultural competence and the one re-dressing imbalances that were created over a long period of linguistic colonization. So, we should mind the language of talking about technology in Africa. Undoubtedly, where there has been epic failure in the post-colonial era, technology offers a panacea for leapfrogging Africa into a developed zone. This is a new book drawing this line.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Creating Digital Literacy Spaces for Multilingual Writers by Joel Bloch.

An Invitation into the Global ELT Landscape of Transnational Pracademics

This month we published Transnational Identities and Practices in English Language Teaching edited by Rashi Jain, Bedrettin Yazan and Suresh Canagarajah. In this post the editors introduce the book.

Globalization is truly changing the world as we know it as cross-border migrations of people become increasingly common. International migrations are also no longer unidirectional, nor entail the giving up of ‘old’ affiliations in order to acquire ‘new’ ones. Many transnational migrants maintain deep connections with their ‘home countries’ while simultaneously constructing new ones with their ‘host countries’ (Levitt, 2004), while others transcend these static nation-state boundaries entirely to navigate the “liminal spaces between communities, languages, and nations” (Canagarajah, 2018, p. 41).

The field of second and foreign language pedagogy, especially, includes transnational practitioners with complex personal-professional histories that, in turn, impact how these practitioners construct their identities and engage in practices across diverse contexts. TESOL practitioners also work frequently with students who are migrants themselves. These participants – language learners, teachers, teacher educators, administrators – may already be engaged in reimagining ‘home’ as an idea that is beyond a geographical location (Jain, 2021), as well as problematizing traditional notions around ‘center’ and ‘periphery’, ‘native’ and ‘nonnative’, ‘researcher’ and ‘practitioner’, and ‘practitioner’ and ‘academic’.

As proud co-editors of Transnational Identities and Practices in English Language Teaching, we envision the term ‘practitioner’ as encompassing all those who engage in the practices of TESOL, including but not limited to those who teach English language learners of all ages and across diverse contexts, those who educate teachers and administrators planning to pursue careers in TESOL, those who research TESOL contexts, and those who theorize about these contexts. Further, these practices are not mutually exclusive and by engaging in different practices within (and beyond) TESOL, many dynamic practitioners and academics create areas of overlap, span boundaries, and become brokers between different communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), thus also essentially becoming transnational pracademics – an equitable amalgamation of the practitioner and academic identities inhabiting transnational spaces.

As we move more deeply into the 21st century, transnational TESOL practitioners are thus creatively negotiating ‘liminal’ spaces, charting new trajectories, crafting new practices and pedagogies, constructing new identities, and reconceptualizing ELT contexts. In the process, the transnational landscape of TESOL (Jain, Yazan, & Canagarajah, 2021) is being agentively changed from within – as the contributions that comprise the volume illustrate. This edited volume is thus both a critical and an accessible compilation of transnational narratives. Too often, scholarly publications tend to be inaccessible, in terms of both content and scholarship, to a large part of the very populations theorized about. We have, instead, endeavored to create a space for voices that truly move the field forward in ways that are approachable for all participants.

Our volume serves as a community space where narratives of transnational TESOL practitioners and participants may find a permanent home, with narratives ranging from autoethnographies to self-study reports and from theoretical pieces to empirical accounts. We are thrilled to invite you to read the volume with its rich, diverse narratives and perspectives spanning the global ELT landscape.

Rashi Jain, Bedrettin Yazan and Suresh Canagarajah

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Complexity of Identity and Interaction in Language Education edited by Nathanael Rudolph, Ali Fuad Selvi and Bedrettin Yazan.

Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa

This month we published Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa by Finex Ndhlovu and Leketi Makalela. In this post the authors introduce the book.

It is often easy to perceive common sense assumptions about the nature and use of language in society as something of a natural kind – that it has always been the way it is. Yet, as we have come to know, we live in a world that has been invented or created following particular ideologies, belief systems and ways of knowing. Languages; our understandings of language diversity (multilingualism) and their practical applications in social and educational policy settings are not immune from ideological habits and practices that are traceable to the Euro-modernist colonial order of the world.

In Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa, we interrogate the problematic nature of common sense assumptions about languages and language diversity. We draw on data from the Global South, and specifically from diverse African communities, to illustrate the particular point about how popular and dominant understandings of multilingualism are tied to the colonial project of categorising languages and identities for the purposes of domination, control and the exercising of power. The packing of languages – through such instruments as national language policies – in a hierarchical order: minority vs major; official vs non-official; standard vs non-standard and so forth, is symptomatic of this logic of what we call global coloniality of language.

In this book, we present alternative approaches for re-imagining multilingualism. We introduce a promising avenue for unsettling colonial ways of knowing by taking into account diverse local knowledges about language and what living with multiple languages means for ordinary people in their everyday lives.

The book emphasises the importance of looking at multilingualism from the perspective of ‘languages of the people’ (the real everyday language practices of real people). This is a counter-narrative to the dominant understanding of language diversity that puts emphasis on ‘languages of the state’ (those countable language-things that were co-constructed with the modern nation-state). We re-visit the precolonial archive and draw attention to previously undocumented and often ignored knowledge traditions about language diversity, what we call ‘socially realistic multilingualism’.

Our goal is to enrich conversations about language diversity among both academic and non-academic communities; and to inform policy frameworks in such domains as language and literacy education, social service provision, intercultural dialogues, immigration and citizenship, and related areas where language is implicated. The book seeks to inspire an audience from differing social, cultural, political and ideological backgrounds to think outside the box; to appreciate that there are diverse ways of knowing about languages and multilingualism. Some such traditions of knowing, particularly those from the Global South, are currently marginalised and not present in mainstream conversations about what it means to live life and live it well with multiple language resources.

The book joins contemporary conversations on this topic in arguing that Southern ways of knowing are equally valid and legitimate. It is important for us to learn in partnership with the subaltern communities of the Global South and to re-centre their stories in our efforts to co-create alternative approaches to valuation of knowledge.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Rethinking Language Use in Digital Africa edited by Leketi Makalela and Goodith White.

Phraseology and the Foreign Language Learner

This month we published Perspectives on the L2 Phrasicon edited by Sylviane Granger. In this post Sylviane explains how interest in the study of phraseology has grown.

We do not speak in single, independent words. As soon as we select one word, the number of words by which it can be followed or preceded becomes severely restricted. For example, the gap in I’m staying at home today because I have a ___ cold will typically be filled by adjectives such as bad, nasty or terrible, not by large, big or considerable. Such word partnerships come naturally to native speakers of English, but represent a major difficulty for foreign language learners. However, for a long time the study of lexis was largely confined to the study of single words. Multiword units were considered peripheral features of language, and the only units that were given prominence in foreign language teaching were semantically non-compositional units, i.e. units whose meaning could not be deduced from the meaning of their parts, in particular figurative idioms (to spill the beans), proverbs (the early bird catches the worm) and phrasal verbs (to give in).

Interest in phraseology, which can be roughly defined as the study of multiword units of various kinds, took a sharp upward turn with the advent of corpus linguistics, i.e. the study of language on the basis of large electronic collections of authentic language and automated methods and tools to investigate them. This major development opened up a brand-new world, in which phraseology took centre stage. Corpus studies have shown that opaque, figurative units are fairly infrequent compared with other units, in particular collocations, i.e. strongly associated pairs of words such as bad cold, and lexical bundles, i.e. longer recurrent word sequences, such as you know what I mean in speech and as a result of in writing. Unlike idioms, these two types of unit pose no particular problem of comprehension. However, they are very frequent and constitute a major hurdle for productive purposes. The reason is that these units, being semantically compositional, tend to go unnoticed: learners are often not aware of their formulaic nature and tend to transfer the literal equivalent from their mother tongue to the target language.

This widening of the scope of phraseology led to a greater focus on non-idiomatic multiword units in reference and teaching materials. For a number of years now, large corpora of native English have been used to show the company that words prefer to keep, in particular collocations, and, on that basis, to ‘phrase up’ dictionary entries, word lists and vocabulary exercises. The problem is that this exclusive focus on native use tells us nothing about the difficulty that learners experience with these units. Does learner use differ from native speaker use and if so, in what way? Do some types of unit cause learners more difficulty than others? Is use of these units greatly influenced by the learner’s mother tongue? Does phraseological use vary with proficiency and if so, how? Does phraseology function differently in speech and writing? These types of question can only be answered by analysing authentic learner data.

The main objective of this book is to make the voice of language learners heard. It does so by relying on learner corpora, i.e. electronic collections of writing and/or speech produced by foreign/second language learners. Scholars started compiling learner corpora in the early 1990s with the twofold objective of, first, contributing to Second Language Acquisition theory by providing a better description of learner language and a better understanding of the factors that influence it and, second, of producing pedagogical tools and methods that more accurately target the needs of language learners. In this book, learner corpora are used to investigate the impact of a range of variables (target language, language background, proficiency level, spoken vs written mode, degree of exposure to the foreign language, topic, time span) on learners’ use of multiword units, mainly collocations but also lexical bundles and lexico-grammatical patterns. The multiword units are extracted automatically from learner corpora on the basis of their frequency and strength of association. The studies in the volume highlight the power of new phraseological indices to assess the quality of learner texts, thus offering great potential for language assessment and automated scoring. Altogether, the book provides a unique window on the learner phrasicon and prompts further studies in this exciting and important research field.

Prof. Dr Sylviane Granger
sylviane.granger@uclouvain.be

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language by Monica Karlsson.

Responding to Cries for Help from Teachers in Need of Support in Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Classrooms

We recently published Migration, Multilingualism and Education edited by Latisha Mary, Ann-Birte Krüger and Andrea S. Young. In this post Latisha explains the inspiration behind the book.

I recently listened to a number of teacher education students presenting their research projects conducted in linguistically diverse classrooms. Even though national curriculum documentation now specifically addresses the question of teaching in linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms, teachers are still struggling with this complex challenge. I was particularly struck by the intensity with which these students, in their final year of teacher education, were still sending out a clear ‘cry for help’: more information, more training and more support were needed if they were to be able to provide the inclusive classrooms in which their bi- and plurilingual pupils could thrive. Even more striking is that this is the same cry we have increasingly been hearing from practicing teachers, echoed by colleagues around the world as migration, displacement and mobility among families continue to increase. According to the OECD Education GPS approximately 5 million permanent migrants entered OECD countries in 2016. In addition, these statistics show that 13% of school pupils in 2018 were from a migrant background, which represents a 10% increase from 2009.

Recent research in a variety of contexts continues to show that teachers of all disciplines frequently lack the knowledge and pedagogical strategies to enable them, on the one hand, to take into account the linguistic and cultural diversity of learners and, on the other, to support the child, adolescent or young adult in her/his plurilingual development. The volume Migration, Multilingualism and Education, co-edited with my colleagues Ann-Birte Krüger and Andrea Young, emerged out of our desire to collectively and critically reflect on the field of inclusive teaching and learning in a variety of migration contexts from pre-school to university whilst focusing on the needs of both students and practicing teachers. Over the years, pre-service and in-service teachers have continually stressed upon us the need for teacher educators to link theory to practice, explicitly relating it to the lived realities of the classroom and to teachers’ everyday concerns.

We have endeavoured to meet these needs in this volume by including the voices of 14 experienced professionals working in multilingual contexts. Placed at the end of each chapter, these individual personal perspectives allow practitioners from diverse contexts around the world to relate their everyday experiences to the theoretical perspectives and empirical research presented in the preceding chapter. It is our hope that this approach will provide vivid examples of innovative practices, open doors to discussion and encourage reflection around such key questions as ‘how can I provide learning support to children whose home language I do not speak’?, ‘which language should I encourage parents to use at home’?, ‘what strategies have proven effective in fostering collaboration with parents who speak another language?’ or ‘how can educators empower multilingual learners in diverse migration contexts?’. These practical testimonies in conjunction with the chapters in the book are our way of endorsing the mantra, initially proposed by Jim Cummins, which has continued to inspire us over the years: Actuality implies possibility.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Literacy edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam.

English Fever in Asia

This month we published Young Children’s Foreign Language Anxiety by Jieun Kiaer, Jessica M. Morgan-Brown and Naya Choi. In this post the authors explain the concept of ‘English fever’ in Asia.

English in the modern age has well and truly ascended to the throne as the lingua franca of the international academic, business and political worlds, and proficiency in English is seen to hold immense social capital in Asia and most other countries around the world. This prestige has sparked a frenzied English education culture in Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, where a huge amount of resources are funnelled into the English tuition industry each year. In South Korea, parents’ spending on their children reached a record high in 2018, according to the Ministry of Education and Statistics Korea. Total spending on private education was 19.5 trillion won, or roughly $17 billion dollars, marking a 4.4% increase on the previous year. The same survey also revealed that 82.5% of elementary school children were receiving private education. Parents spent more on English education than on any other subject – a total of 5.7 trillion won. Not only are parents looking to spend large amounts of money on English tuition for their children domestically, but students are often sent to English-speaking countries alone for as little as one year to their entire elementary or middle school periods for the purpose of attaining mastery in English.

The problem

Although it is widely accepted that second language acquisition is most efficient in one’s childhood, some children are forced to study English at such young ages that the child’s mental wellbeing and psychosocial development are compromised. There are increasing instances of children showing symptoms of stress at ages as young as 4 and 5 due to this pressure imposed on them by their parents. In English kindergartens, which are gaining in popularity in East Asia, students are often reprimanded for speaking in a language other than English. In some cases, young children who experience early English education can show low self-esteem, lack of concentration, hyperactivity and difficulty in controlling their emotions. Also, they often find it difficult to establish a stable relationship, even with their parents, and fear studying. This unnatural, oppressive exposure to English at the expense of a child’s mental health and cognitive development runs the risk of leading to a mass ‘English trauma’, where English proficiency is ultimately impaired, which is the case in many adults.

The solution

What matters is not when we are exposed to languages, but how. The early stages of a child’s development have lasting impacts on their attitudes towards learning, and children should be allowed to cultivate a healthy curiosity and joy towards cognitive inquiry. This naturally applies to language learning, where children should be exposed to other languages in ways that allow them to engage in a cheerful and inquisitive manner, rather than one that is imposed upon them forcefully. This will not only preserve the child’s proper psychological development, but also curbs any possibility of a widespread English trauma taking hold.

For more information about this book please see our website. We recently held an online event featuring the book, which you can watch here: 

Space and Place in Second Language Acquisition

This month we published Language Learning Environments by Phil Benson. In this post the author introduces the book and its relevance in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are in the habit of thinking of space as empty space: as a container for objects of many kinds, including people, things, information and language. We tend to think of these objects as existing in space and moving across space. This I call the objects-in-space view, which is pervasive both in everyday thinking and in the theory and practice of linguistics and SLA.

But what if space is not an empty container? What if it is more like the image on the cover of Language Learning Environmentsa complex, entangled, writhing web of objects? What if objects are space, and what if their movement is the movement of space itself? How will we conceive of the spatiality of language and second language learning from this objects-as-space perspective?

In brief, I argue that we need to view language, not as an object-in-space, as a self-contained system, network or structural entity, but as an object that is integrated with the physical world in many different ways. Language only exists in the world in the forms of physical ‘language-bearing assemblages’. This is a significant point for SLA, because it calls for attention to the ways in which language learning is tied up with the mobility of people, things and information in an increasingly globalized world.

The approach to SLA that I propose connects with ecological, complex and dynamic systems, distributed learning and posthuman perspectives. The key idea is that of learning through interaction with language resources in the environment. But I also argue that it is important to evaluate language learning environments in spatial terms. This leads to three differences with these perspectives.

  • Many researchers now believe that there is no distinction to be made between second and first language learning because both involve interaction with the environment. However, the spatial circumstances of access to the language learned are typically very different. For second language learners, an important question is whether the target language is a scarce or abundant resource in the local environment.
  • We now think of multilingualism, rather than monolingualism, as the global norm for language competence. But it is also true that people become multilingual for specific reasons and have specific language repertoires. The specific character of multilingualism depends partly on individual agency, but more importantly on access to language resources in the local environment. This in turn has much to do with the spatial distribution of language resources globally.
  • Lastly, there is a tendency to foreground the local over the global. Globalization may be an overused term, but a spatial perspective suggests that the global mobility of language-bearing assemblages (people, goods and information) determines the abundance or scarcity of second language resources in local environments and, ultimately, the question of who gets to learn which languages where.
A ‘language-bearing assemblage’ on the streets of Hong Kong

Language Learning Environments has been many years in the making, but it was mostly written during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. We are now living in a world in which a spatial perspective on second language learning seems all the more relevant.

Global mobility drives second language learning. By smoothing the way for mobilities of people, goods and information, second language learning also drives global mobility. In the book, I point to a number of statistics that show how indicators of both global mobility and second language learning have mostly more than doubled over the last twenty years. In addition to the terrifying human costs of the pandemic, there has also been a drastic realignment of global mobilities as borders have closed. The mobility of people, and to some extent goods, has been dramatically slowed down. The mobility of digital information, on the other hand, is accelerating at a remarkable rate.

The future for the global mobilities of languages and language learners is uncertain. Will there be a return to the rapid acceleration on all fronts of recent years, or will there be some kind of longer-term adjustment in which we are less mobile physically, but more mobile digitally? We are already beginning to see important changes in the ways in which second language learners access language resources in their local environments. I believe that a spatial perspective can do much to help language researchers keep abreast of these changes.

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If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.