Taiwan’s Gendered Language Learning Ideologies

This month we published Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital by Mark Fifer Seilhamer. In this post the author talks about the research that informed the book.

The title of my new book just out this month is Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital: Taiwanese Narratives of Struggle and Strategy, with ‘Gender’ prominently foregrounded as the first element of this title. But while ‘Neoliberalism’ and ‘Distinction through Linguistic Capital’ had been dominant themes since the very beginning of the manuscript’s preparation, the extent to which my focal participants’ (female) gender impacted their experiences is an issue that was addressed only fleetingly in the manuscript I originally submitted to Multilingual Matters back in 2016. This early version featured a fairly straightforward class-focused Bourdieusian analysis of my participants’ narrated experiences, seemingly (in retrospect) oblivious to the fact that gender does indeed play an outsized role in my participants’ stories, as well as in the dynamics of multilingualism in Taiwan more generally.

The centrality of gender to my participants’ experiences as language learners was pointed out by a reviewer, who asked what I made “of the fact that some students are quite successful at making friends with foreigners, getting free language practice, lining up Skype partners, having boyfriends to talk English with and to pay for trips abroad”. This reviewer went on to pose other questions that served to guide my radical overhaul of the manuscript: “Are young women considered ideal candidates for the sorts of international marketing/public relations/sales jobs many of the women get? How are ideologies of language acquisition gendered in Taiwan, and are these women seen as compromised in terms of their relationships and friendships with foreigners?”

Ideologies of language acquisition are indeed highly gendered in Taiwan, with the idea that males are simply no good at learning languages regarded by many as a commonsensical notion. This common belief results, of course, in language study beyond minimum requirements being almost exclusively the preserve of females. At the start of this research, I did not set out to include only female participants. In the junior college program specializing in languages that I was recruiting participants from, male students were, however, very much in the minority and my pool of possible participants consisted almost entirely of female students. Because it is commonly believed that female brains are specifically wired for learning languages, young women are encouraged to study foreign languages and pursue careers in international marketing, public relations, and interpreting – the sorts of occupations that my participants did, in fact, wind up in. My participants, in their interviews, had indeed addressed Taiwan’s gendered language learning ideologies and the notion of gendered language work, as well as positioning by others due to their relationships with foreigners. In my revisions, the focus on gender and the intersectional questioning that this focus necessitated really did change the fundamental character of the book.

In what now seems to be a glaring omission, I neglected to include an ‘Acknowledgements’ page for this book. This can be attributed to the extreme sense of relief I felt when the editors allowed me to go over the stipulated word limit with my final revised manuscript. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure they would have had no problem with my adding an ‘Acknowledgements’ page, but at the time, I was reluctant to request any more words for anything. I will take this opportunity now then to acknowledge the assistance and contributions of numerous individuals: my study’s participants, without whom the research and book would not have been at all possible; my doctoral thesis supervisors, Lionel Wee, Joseph Sung-Yul Park, and Mie Hiramoto; and everyone at Multilingual Matters, who were all incredibly patient with me, granting me extension after extension as I struggled to address reviewer concerns. And I am also immensely grateful to the anonymous reviewer who alerted me to the inadequacies of the earlier version of my manuscript – before gender was prominently brought to the fore.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio.

Multilingualism As Lived Through Visual Means

This month we published Visualising Multilingual Lives edited by Paula Kalaja and Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer. In this post the editors explain how they used visual methodologies to examine multilinguals’ emotions and their expression of those emotions.

It is only gradually being acknowledged that multilinguals, or people who use more than one language, form the majority of people in the world, not monolinguals. However, multilinguals find themselves in different contexts and for different reasons, and their knowledge of the languages varies. In addition, becoming and being multilingual are quite heterogeneous and individual achievements are experienced very differently by subjects, depending on their contexts and life trajectories.

There are two approaches to multilinguals. The objective approach attempts to figure out the mechanisms inside a multilingual’s mind and trace developments in his or her knowledge of any language (and possible stages in the process) in terms of mastery of a linguistic system or in terms of an ability to communicate or interact with others in the language. In contrast, the subjective approach attempts to find out how a multilingual feels about becoming or being multilingual, or what the different languages and their use mean to him or her personally. In other words, the second approach focuses on multilinguals and their lives as subjectively experienced or as lived, including positive and negative emotions, attitudes, beliefs, visions and identities.

Traditional methodologies (such as questionnaires, interviews and observation) may not be the most suitable options when tackling issues like this, as they may suffer from a “linguistic bias” in their attempts to describe or explain emotions, which are not always easy to put into words. So, to address these sensitive issues, we decided to make use of visual methodologies of various kinds, including drawings and photographs, as mediators between emotions and their expression by multilinguals. However, as a rule, visual data were complemented with other types of data, and the starting points and ways of analysing the pools of data for form and/or content vary from one study to another. But even if visual materials are not always used as the only pool of data, they bring to the foreground aspects that individuals choose to visually represent and comment on. So, using visual methodologies may also be about what is not visible, not represented or not valued by the multilingual subject.

As editors of Visualising Multilingual Lives, we invite the readers to learn about visual narratives accounted by multilinguals in different parts of the world, printed in full color. The different chapters of the book offer coherent, original and individualized insights into multilingualism as experienced in three domains: the multilingual self, the multilingual learner and multilingual teacher education. With a preface by Claire Kramsch, the volume acknowledges the potential of arts-based methodologies in grasping the singularities of multilinguals and their linguistic biographies.

Paula Kalaja paula.kalaja@jyu.fi
Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer silvia.melo-pfeifer@uni-hamburg.de

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

A Tour of English Learning and Teaching Around the World

We recently published Conversation Analytic Perspectives on English Language Learning, Teaching and Testing in Global Contexts edited by Hanh thi Nguyen and Taiane Malabarba. In this post the editors take us on a world tour of English learning and teaching…

This book offers a tour around the world, but unlike the casual tourist, you will get right into the scenes that take place daily at each stop. So, put yourself in the shoes of the people there to appreciate for a moment the constraints they are under, and the possibilities they find.

In Denmark, you are a child in an integrated-grade class of first- and second-graders. Your government has just mandated that students must learn English from first grade. First grade! You’re barely finding your way around in class, and now you’re learning a foreign language. But your teacher is creative – she has a game for the children. You and a classmate walk outside while the other kids stay inside and each chooses a clothing item drawn on the board (later you hear that some kids try to choose a diaper and a jockstrap, but the teacher doesn’t allow those!). When you and your partner come back in, you have to name two clothing items on the board, in English, and the two kids who chose those items are supposed to swap seats. It turns out that you mostly learn “swap seats,” and how you acquire this phrase reveals quite a lot about how language is learned.

In Vietnam, you are a hotel staff member in charge of escorting guests to their rooms. You need to tell them about the WiFi in the hotel, but the problem is, every time you pronounce “password,” people seem really confused! How you ‘crack the code’ here shows the creativity that users of English as a lingua franca exhibit on a daily basis as they learn language ‘in the wild.’

In China, you’re teaching a large high-school class of 70 students. Keeping them focused and engaged requires clear routines. Yet, you need to encourage their participation as well. How you approach this dilemma exemplifies the tricky balance between structure and expansion.

In Turkey, you are a teacher in training. You have your lesson plan all laid out and you have prepared your instructions in advance. But what to do when your students say, “Sorry, what are we doing?” or “We don’t understand!”? You soon realize that the lesson’s success depends more on how you respond in these moments than on the lesson plan in your mind.

Image derives from original world map in acrylic by Lara Mukahirn, photograph by Nicolas Raymond, http://www.freestock.ca

In Japan, you teach engineering students, and you need to assess their speaking abilities. So you ask your students to tell you how to draw geometric shapes in English, step by step. What you then wonder is, whose competence is being assessed? Yours or theirs? In another class, also to assess speaking abilities, you ask your students to talk in pairs. To be fair and to manage your class time, you put a timer in front of them. It turns out that they pay a lot of attention to the timer, and you are surprised to notice how the timer has become an integrated part of their interaction.

In South Korea, you are an American co-teacher assigned to assist a Korean host co-teacher. This co-teaching business is tricky since there are no clear rules about who’s supposed to do what. One moment you are giving out heart sticker awards to student groups and the host teacher says something. Another time you tap a student on the head with a folder and the host teacher says something (well, maybe he has a point there, but you are a teacher, too!). You soon learn that co-teaching, in practice, often involves a lot of tension and negotiation.

In Iran, you teach a college-level class, and you want students to participate in open discussions about controversial issues, such as capital punishment, body piercing and charity donation. The problem is, sometimes what the students say resonates with your beliefs and fits with your lesson plan, but sometimes it doesn’t. Now, you must face a fundamental problem: how much control do you want and how much freedom do you give?

In Brazil, you’re teaching a beginner-level class, and your students can’t speak a lot of English yet. However, the school promotes an unspoken ‘English-only’ policy in the classroom. How do you stick to English when explaining new words or when students talk to each other in Portuguese? It turns out that even the constraints of the rule can sometimes open up opportunities.

In Mexico, you teach English at a boarding school to indigenous children of Mixe (ayüük) ethnicity. What this means is that your students are learning English as a third language, besides Spanish. Furthermore, what is the relevance of English in this remote, rural village? The adolescent students are a lively bunch (they don’t call you ‘Teacher Bikwahet’ for no reason!) and you are devoted to bettering their lives through education.

Reading this book, you will leave your tourist binoculars behind and join the authors to look at these scenes through the lens of Conversation Analysis. Your close-up observations will connect to concepts such as interactional competence, centrifugal and centripetal forces, embodied actions, power relationship and social relevance, which are at work in many other global contexts.

So welcome on board!

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy English as a Lingua Franca for EFL Contexts edited by Nicos C. Sifakis and Natasha Tsantila.

Understanding the Language of Our Daily Lives

This month we are publishing Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization edited by Tyler Andrew Barrett and Sender Dovchin. In this post the editors talk about what inspired them to put the book together.

The contemporary world is full of different languages. These languages are everywhere: Signage, advertisements, popular culture, social media, streets, classrooms, offices, gossip – you name it. These languages are chaotic, messy, unexpected and cluttered. They are part of our everyday lives, whether you want it or not. They are, in fact, quite ordinary! Many of us, however, seem to simply ignore or disregard the messiness and ordinariness of these diverse languages. Because, they are – “SCRUFFY!” After all, who cares about the scruffy language, right? We somehow tend to take seriously ‘the standard’, ‘the official’ and ‘the formal’, while disregarding the most intimate part of our daily communications. Nonetheless, our book strives to show how developing an intimate relationship with ‘the unconventional’, ‘the scruffiness’, and ‘the messiness’ of our daily language practices may see us realize who we are indeed as human beings, as individuals, and as social members. This very messy side of language is, in fact, part of our identities, selves, natures, and characteristics.

Inspired by research in the debate of ‘sociolinguistics of globalization’ (Blommaert, 2010), we wanted to present a collection of research aimed at addressing this very messy, albeit ordinary, side of language. Since language can be understood from several different perspectives, as it is part of just about everything we do in daily life, this meant that our research would address several academic disciplines that include Linguistics, Sociology, Political Science and even Philosophy. However, these fields are often used to reinforce traditional ideas about ‘the standard’, ‘the official’, and ‘the normal’, which meant that we had a big task ahead of us as we were essentially suggesting, along with Blommaert (2010), that our traditional approaches of understanding the language of our daily lives were at times imprecise and in need of a makeover.

While rethinking our understanding of the language of our daily lives was indeed a challenge, although the data kind of spoke for itself in many ways, our biggest challenge was perhaps tying the interdisciplinary themes together as cohesive contributions to the discussion and debate of the ‘sociolinguistics of globalization’. Although we are often conveniently able to casually discuss the complexities of the debate using idealist and very general descriptions of culture, language, politics, and identity, it was challenging to present cutting-edge research that contributed to knowledge in such a way that it is worthy of publication. We hope we have achieved this aim with this project.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Aspiring to be Global by Shuang Gao.

What’s It Like Growing Up With Three Languages?

Last month we had a work experience student with us from Germany. Loïc grew up speaking three languages (his father is one of our authors and you can read about his multilingual journey in our book Raising Multilingual Children), so we wanted to ask him about his experience of being multilingual.

How many languages do you speak?

Loïc (left) and Laura on a tour of our distributor’s warehouse with our account manager, Matt

I would say that I fluently speak three languages: German, Dutch and English.

Did you grow up learning all those or did you learn any later in life?

The first language I learnt was Dutch, as my mom is a Dutch native speaker. Shortly after that, through my father speaking English with me, I became proficient in English as well. Then lastly by living in a German environment, going to German kindergarten and having mostly German friends, German was the third language I learnt.

Do you think of any one language as your ‘mother tongue’ or do you count them all?

I would count all of them as my ‘mother tongue’ even though I speak some better than others and also feel more comfortable depending on the language I speak.

Do you feel your personality changes depending on the language you’re speaking?

I personally can only refer to me feeling most comfortable whilst speaking English. From my friends and family I have heard that I get annoyed a lot faster, and on account of that, curse a lot more, when I speak German.

Which language do you find most difficult and why?

It is most difficult for me to speak Dutch, because I don’t often have the opportunity to speak it. My mom and I stopped speaking Dutch to each other about five years ago as I usually just responded in German. The reason for that I still haven`t figured out (ultimate act of teenage defiance?) I must say that I do regret that, but if I stay with my Dutch family for more than 3 days I usually get the hang of it again.

Which is your favourite language to speak and why?

Loïc on a visit to Sarah’s new house in Dawlish with Tommi and Laura

My favourite language to speak depends a lot on who I’m talking to – with my friends I feel the best speaking German, with my family English or Dutch (depending on what they would rather speak). Overall I must say though that English is my favourite language and usually that is the language I go with when I am emotional.

You live in Germany – how do you maintain your other languages?

I do live in Germany, yes. Maintaining my German is understandably easy and my English also mainly easy, as I practice in school, with foreign friends, online, with media and with my father most of all. My Dutch on the other hand is somewhat more difficult to maintain, but I recently starting speaking more Dutch with my mom and some of my Dutch friends. Mainly I practice my Dutch though when I am in the Netherlands or in Belgium.

What are the advantages of being multilingual?

The range of people I can speak to is a lot bigger. In general, all the benefits you gain from speaking other languages, just that I didn’t have to undergo the time-consuming process of learning a different language… which is supremely helpful. I think every person who has tried to learn a language knows the frustration of not being able to express yourself correctly in that language, because of a lack of proficiency. So I am very happy and lucky that my parents brought me up to be trilingual.

There are also some disadvantages of being multilingual. These disadvantages for me would be that I often switch words in languages or sometimes forget to address a person in the correct language. Generally speaking though I think the cons are strongly outweighed by the pros.

 

Raising Multilingual Children is available on our website.

What Takes Place Behind the Scenes of Research?

This month we are publishing Critical Reflections on Research Methods edited by Doris S. Warriner and Martha Bigelow. In this post Doris explains how a stolen car and a shut-off notice, amongst other things, led her to reflect on her experiences as a researcher.

In 2001, a participant in my dissertation research study called. She told me that her car had been stolen. She said she had been pulled out of the car and injured before they drove away with it. I was listed as a contact person on the police report, so I was later contacted in the middle of the night to be told that the police had located the damaged car at a local truck stop. I eventually helped to retrieve the damaged car from the impound lot. That same year, another participant needed help talking to the local utility company after receiving a shut-off notice in the mail. I accompanied her to the appointment and helped everyone understand what was going on and what needed to be done in order to avoid having power disrupted.

These are just two of many situations which caused questions and doubts to swirl and bounce around in my head. I wondered whether this constituted research, how to engage, and what else might require quick unplanned responses. As I endeavoured to manage these unexpected circumstances, weigh decisions, and understand the potential consequences of my actions, I was filled with uncertainty.

Over the past 15 years, I have continued to work in research contexts with unexpected twists and turns. I have also tried to mentor graduate students through many situations, relationships, contexts, and challenges that they too could not have anticipated or prepared for. I have looked for answers to questions about ethics, relationships, trust-building and process in my experiences as a researcher, in books on qualitative research methods, and in the work of colleagues also working in complex research contexts.

However, while I found many generic discussions of research ethics (e.g., the need to obtain IRB approval and how important that is), I did not find the honest, first-hand accounts of unresolved questions, misgivings, doubt and uncertainty that seem to characterize my own experiences as a researcher. Hungry for more revealing accounts of what takes place behind the scenes of the situations and scenarios written up in peer-reviewed publications, I began to examine some of the questions, challenges and limits surrounding methods of inquiry, analysis and representation.

In 2014, I organized a session for the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association entitled Critical Reflections on Theory and Method: The Possibilities and Limits of Anthropological Work on/with/for Refugee Communities. In 2015, I organized a session for the American Association for Applied Linguistics on Producing Knowledge about/with/for Vulnerable Populations: Collaborations, Constraints, and Possibilities. Combined, the two sessions brought together junior and senior scholars who had navigated relationships, roles, reciprocity and knowledge production processes in complex multilingual contexts and who had many important insights to share about their personal experiences, questions and accomplishments.

This edited collection showcases work that delves into, explores, and examines the possibilities and limits of our methods, our relationships, our roles and our research stories. I hope it will be of interest and value to researchers working on sensitive issues or in challenging contexts. And I look forward to continued conversations with all of you about the relationship between the methods of inquiry we use, the types of knowledge we help to produce, and our lived experiences as researchers.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry.

Can Adult Language Learners Acquire a Native-speaker Accent Just by Listening?

This month we published English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation by Karin Richter. In this post the author talks about what led her to study L2 pronunciation in adults and what we can expect to learn from the book.

Do university students who listen to regular lectures with native speakers improve their pronunciation skills?

Can adult language learners pick up a native-speaker accent just by listening? Or is there little hope because they are probably too old for acquiring a native-like accent? This book presents a longitudinal research project exploring exactly these questions. My interest in the topic arose out of my involvement in two core areas of educational linguistics, namely the current spread of English-medium instruction (EMI) at European universities and the development of L2 pronunciation skills in adult learners. Let me tell you how and why I set out on this exciting journey.

Why study adult pronunciation?

In 2003, the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) in Vienna, where I was teaching ESP courses at the time, pioneered a new programme – part of a growing wave across Europe: EMI. The UAS jumped on the bandwagon and was one of the first in the country to offer a bilingual (English/German) Bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship with up to 50% of the classes taught in English mostly by native speakers. In those early days of the EMI movement, it was hoped that the use of English to teach content courses would simultaneously enhance students’ content and language competence, based on the assumption that the learners benefit from ‘two for the price of one’. However, there was – and still is today – little research yet conducted to confirm this hope.

Interestingly, at the time, I was not only teaching a wide range of Business English courses at the UAS but also Practical Phonetics at another educational institution, namely the University of Vienna. Questions began to rise in my mind and I wondered how the EMI students’ increased exposure to English through their native-speaker teachers impacted on their foreign (Austrian) accent in English. I was curious what was going on implicitly, without any specific effort or attention. Essentially want I wanted to find out was: Do the students simply pick up the teacher’s accent without studying pronunciation or is it irrelevant what accent (foreign or native) the teacher has because adult learners at this stage have already passed the critical period for acquiring a native-like accent? As an experienced pronunciation teacher, these questions spurred me to embark on an empirical study in which I monitored the EMI students’ pronunciation for three years, looking in detail to see if they were making any gains or if they were hitting a wall because of their age.

What’s in the book?

The book begins with a comprehensive account of the rise of English-medium instruction in European higher education, examining the role of English as a Lingua Franca and exploring further questions about native-speaker norms. Then it goes on to discuss how languages in general and pronunciation in particular are learned in the EMI classroom and which factors (such as age, gender, musicality, attitude or motivation) influence L2 pronunciation mastery. Each chapter provides a thorough review of the literature, which then serves as the basis for the presentation and interpretation of the findings of my own study of Austrian business students at the UAS, whose pronunciation development I tracked over the entire duration of their Bachelor studies.

What did I find?

  • Do university students who listen to regular lectures with native speakers improve their pronunciation skills?
  • At their age (most of them were in their early 20s) can they make any significant gains with pronunciation at all?
  • Do EMI programmes result in considerable language development despite little to no explicit language instruction?
  • Do additional activities within and outside the programme influence their pronunciation more than just sitting in on lectures with the content area professors?
  • What are the main features of the Austrian learners’ accent in English which they were struggling with the most?

You’ll have to read the book to find out….

What contribution does this book make?

This book goes beyond the context of the particular case here. It addresses the burning issue of linguistic gains in tertiary EMI classrooms and also provides longitudinal data on L2 phonological changes in adult learners. Hence my purpose in embarking on the study and writing this book was to offer a valuable contribution to both the field of bilingual education as well as second language acquisition. I hope that the findings presented in this volume will spark new ideas for future studies in a fascinating field and that researchers as well as programme designers, teachers and students interested in English-medium instruction and second language phonology will find it a worthwhile and inspirational read.

Karin Richter

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like English-Medium Instruction in Japanese Higher Education edited by Annette Bradford and Howard Brown.

 

How to Give Your Child the Best Chance of Learning a Second Language

This month we published Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition edited by Joanna Rokita-Jaśkow and Melanie Ellis. In this post the editors suggest the best ways to teach your child a foreign language.

Knowing I am an expert in teaching English to young learners, many parents approach me asking, WHEN is it best to start teaching their child a foreign language?

And of course they would like to get a clear-cut answer, which would help them to make the best decision. They are usually very ambitious, conscious parents, often middle-class, who are focused on bringing up children and willing to do their utmost to make the best of their young child’s ‘window of opportunity’ for language learning.

However, the answer to when a child should start is not that simple. First of all, you need to know that if you don’t start teaching your child a foreign language early, it does not mean that your child will miss the learning opportunity. You can compensate for a later start by having more classes more often at a later age, living abroad or by using out-of-class learning opportunities such as the internet. Foreign language (FL) instruction is a part of school curricula in many settings, and if the teaching is high quality, your child will benefit from instruction at school too.

Rather than asking when learning a foreign language should start, if you decide to enrol your child in early FL instruction (which you usually have to pay for), you should rather ask HOW the language should be taught to get the best learning outcomes. Popular demand from parents has seen the rise of numerous private schools which are flourishing, but which do not always offer high quality teaching.

  • First of all, you should aim to give your child as many opportunities to learn the language as possible, remembering that they forget quickly and learn slowly, and need frequent revision and contact with the language. For this reason, choosing a bilingual or immersion type of nursery or school may be the best option, as instruction there takes place most of the time in the foreign language.
  • If this type of schooling is not available in your area or is too costly, do not forget about your own knowledge of the FL and use it as an asset to support your child in foreign language learning. You can revise the FL class material with your child, play simple games in an FL, join them in playing online games or watch cartoons in an FL with them. A parent must be present to keep the child focused on the task and explain words and expressions that they don’t understand.
  • Reading in the FL is the key to speaking in the FL. Reading a picture book together with the child in an FL helps visual and critical literacy to grow along with competence in the FL. Likewise digital books on apps or on websites are freely available and can be used for parent-child reading.
  • It could be a good idea to design an FL corner with self-access material (books, toys, board games, tablet etc.) both in the school/kindergarten and at home. Children could freely reach for FL materials for play, and in this way may act out the FL lesson.
  • Finally, parents need to take an interest in what happens in the language class, not only to keep track of what the children learn, but to be aware how the lessons are taught, particularly in the private sector. The teaching should emphasise play and using the language for communication, but it will only be successful if the teacher is able to control the group of children and at the same time communicate with ease in the FL. So the teacher needs really good managerial, teaching and language skills. Unfortunately, such teachers are difficult to find, which calls into question whether a very early start is the best idea.

Our book looks at these aspects from a research perspective. It outlines critical issues that influence the learning outcomes in young and very young learner classrooms that should be looked into. It will be of interest to teachers, teacher educators, researchers and also parents, who are keen to get more information before making any decision about provision for an early start.

Additionally, it should be remembered that the learning trajectories of early starters vary considerably throughout their lives due to the impact of various social, affective and cognitive factors and go beyond the impact of the starting age. Thus there are many pathways from an early start and not all young learners will reach the same competence in the foreign language.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren.

It Takes a Village to Write a Book: Mastering Idiomatic Expressions

This month we published Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language by Monica Karlsson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book and talks us through the thinking behind each chapter.

Some years ago I was teaching a proficiency class, when my student teachers and I came across some idiomatic expressions in a text that one of my students had brought with her. Her intention was to use the text in one of her own teaching sessions as it dealt with a topic relevant to a particular lesson, but she had problems understanding a few sections of it. Quite a long discussion ensued which, to begin with, was concerned with meaning only, but, when meaning had been resolved, came to be more about how exciting it would be to deal with such vocabulary on a more regular basis. This discussion with my students was the very first step in an extended process that has now resulted in the book Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language.

Setting to work, the first thing I did was to explore differences between comprehension in a first and second language, so that I would get a better understanding of problems related to second language acquisition specifically. In this respect, the research literature clearly shows that there are four main facilitators: age, context, transparency and frequency, and so the second chapter came to deal with these basic concepts, as well as exploring L1 and L2 quantitative and qualitative differences.

Next I wanted to investigate how I could teach these kinds of items in a way that would promote both comprehension and retention, as well as give an understanding of how my students could approach these kinds of expressions in their own L2 classrooms in the future. Chapter 3 is therefore concerned with multimodal and visualization techniques that may help L2 learners of different ages and proficiency levels.

One of the idioms found while searching for suitable scenes from various TV shows to be incorporated in the multimodal tests implemented in the third chapter was paint the town beige. During testing, I realized that this type of manipulated idiom warranted its own chapter, as it caused students to experience quite a few additional problems. The fifth chapter hence deals only with L2 learners’ comprehension of these twisted relatives.

While testing groups of informants, I also noticed that even if many of the expressions were understood and remembered with the help of multimodal and visualization techniques, many more idioms regrettably remained very difficult to grasp, and so, to enhance learning further, it also felt important to deal with persisting ignorance and various types of misinterpretations in a structured way. Chapter 4 is thus dedicated entirely to these tokens.

Presenting my results on L1 and L2 idiom comprehension to a group of other researchers, the last part of a discussion with them came to be about idiom production, at which point I felt I had more to learn. Reading up on the research literature, I found that while sentence completion tasks have been comparatively frequently researched, very little has been done in connection with free composition writing. The sixth chapter therefore focuses entirely on an analysis of L2 learners’ use of idiomatic expressions when writing essays, often considered one of the last frontiers of L2 mastery.

Lastly, it is usually said that it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the above, I now realize that the same can be said about writing a book, during the process of which comments, ideas and input from students, colleagues and friends certainly help decide what would be important parts of a book on a specific topic. I sincerely hope that you will find this book as interesting to read as I found it interesting to write.

Monica Karlsson
monica.karlsson@hh.se

For more information about this book please see our website

A Case for Multilingual Open-Access Academic Publishing

An open access Farsi translation of our 2016 book Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan was recently made available. In this post the author explains why the publication of this translation is so important. 

The English and Farsi editions side by side

Although English academic writing has facilitated communication between scholars from different parts of the world, it has at the same time contributed to complex forms of academic imperialism, which harmfully interferes with knowledge creation and dissemination in languages other than English. In 2016, I published a book with Multilingual Matters about dominant discourses regarding mother tongue-based multilingual education in the Iranian context. The book, entitled Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?, was written based on interviews with influential scholars of multilingual education and language rights in order to contribute ideas to the mother tongue education debate in Iran. The open access publication of the Farsi translation of the book recently became possible thanks to Multilingual Matters – who provided the copyright – and University of Dayton – who published the ebook. In this blog post, I briefly write about the significance of the publication of the translation of the book.

Academic publishing in English has created a global community of scholars who share thoughts and experiences about a wide range of topics including global issues that occur outside the English speaking world. Academics working in the Anglo-American world write about other people’s cultural practices, languages, literature, art, and education. Western scholars even write the histories of non-western populations in English, the de facto academic lingua franca. On the other hand, non-English speaking international researchers are also pressured to publish in English for promotion, a trend encouraged by university ranking dynamics. This trend, on the bright side, has been a blessing in that we become aware of issues and conversations in many parts of the world. There is, however, a darker side to this status.

The journal industry and academic publishing apparatus are practically at the service of promoting a commercialized higher education, which uses researchers’ work for marketing purposes as well as knowledge dissemination. Academics’ publications in this sense become the window of the higher education marketplace in the West for potential shoppers. This approach has serious consequences for knowledge creation and consumption. Most accessible knowledge today is packaged in English, which has practically made non-English academic texts be perceived as less reliable. Also, university libraries have become the main customers of publishers because the books are sold at high prices, alienating public audiences – including non-English speaking populations. For researchers, this means investing their lives into books and papers that would only be read by a small number of readers, or even not read at all. At the same time, academics are pressured to publish more and more, resulting in a focus on quantity and repetition rather than quality and originality.

When it comes to international scholars the situation is even worse. International scholars whose research focuses on local contexts beyond the English speaking world are typically required by their institutions to publish in English. International scholars have to write in a language other than their mother tongue and compete with English speaking scholars who are often already connected with the English academic publishing and journal industry. Just as problematically, international researchers’ work often involves local issues, but because their findings are published in English, local populations have almost no access to the results of the research that was conducted for studying their cultures. This phenomenon raises serious epistemological questions about knowledge dissemination and the positionality of researchers as well as significant conversations about ethics of academic publishing.

The Farsi translation of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? bent this model in favour of the population that the book was written about and, to a large degree, written for: Iranian educators. With the situation of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran in the background, the book brought together prominent scholars of language policy and linguistic rights in different parts of the world to respond to the doubts and questions of Iranian educators and ethnic mother tongue activists. Although the outcome of this conversation was an analysis of sociopolitical discourses that are meant to undermine the role of minoritized languages all over the world, the catalyst of our conversations was the challenges minoritized students are facing in today’s Iran. Thus, one ideal audience among others for this book would naturally be Iranian teachers eager to learn about effective policies and practices in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the academic publishing industry has not been designed for interaction with native populations.

Iranian language teachers – especially those in disadvantaged provinces where minority languages are suppressed – would never be able to afford the English book. In some cases the price of one copy of the book would equal an Iranian teacher’s monthly income. Even if an enthusiastic teacher decided to make such an investment, he or she still would have no access to the book. A combination of western sanctions and the Iranian government’s strict censorship policies has practically made the distribution of the book in Iran impossible. Most foreign publishers have no active presence in Iran; online retailers such as Amazon do not provide service in Iran; and western credit card companies have no reach within the country and its banking system, which makes online shopping impossible. In these circumstances, the educators who practically own the conversation which the English book presents have no access to the text written about their lives.

The English version of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? was not funded in any form. The book was not connected to the participating scholars’ sponsored research. The publication was the fruit of personal commitment and interest of researchers who deeply cared about minoritized students. The translator of the book similarly decided to pen the Farsi version out of personal passion without our knowledge. He had finished the translation months before he contacted me to share news about his work. When I approached Multilingual Matters and the University of Dayton about the possibility of open access publication of the book and highlighted the fact that such a move could break the current mode of elite academic publishing, they did not hesitate to support the free online publication of the Farsi version and worked hard to guarantee the high quality of the publication. Multilingual Matters generously provided the translator with the rights to the Farsi version and offered moral support. The manager of University of Dayton’s E-scholarship also worked hard to release the book in the best possible format as soon as possible.

I am grateful to Multilingual Matters and University of Dayton for supporting the open access publication of the translation of my work. Apart from my personal interest in the project, their decision, I believe, has had important ideological, sociocultural, and economic implications. The translation resists the English-only stance of mainstream academic publishing industry. It provides access to local educators who are the real owners of the book content and invites them to share their thoughts about the debate. In other words, the conversation is no longer about them but with them. Additionally, the free online distribution of the book creates access for native teachers who are often financially disadvantaged. It is fair to see this experience as an example of how we can democratize the academic publishing industry and perhaps remedy some of the effects of the current academic colonialism.

Amir Kalan

 

For more information about Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? please see our website. You can access the Farsi translation of the book here.