Language Transfer: History, Translation and Metalinguistic Awareness

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

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

History

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

Translation

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

Metalinguistic awareness

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

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

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Equity and Justice in Language Education

We recently published Transforming World Language Teaching and Teacher Education for Equity and Justice edited by Beth Wassell and Cassandra Glynn. In this post the editors explain the inspiration behind the book.

Although the work on this book began in 2019, the story behind it begins in the late 1990s. It starts with two White, middle-class, teachers – one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast – who loved languages, loved learning about different cultures, and had a passion, and enough money, to travel. The two young women, Beth and Cassandra, started teaching world languages in middle and high school. They cared about their students and wanted to be just like the teachers who inspired them. But they made a lot of missteps, mostly due to their lack of awareness of their own privilege, their own identities, and their students’ identities.

Fast forward to the early 2010s, when the two met in Denver while at a conference. At this point, each had continued their academic journey and pursued doctoral degrees in education. Each had begun working in university-based teacher education, hoping to inspire a new generation of language teachers. But graduate school, mixed with some powerful experiences in urban P-12 settings, transformed them.

They couldn’t look at those “foreign language” classrooms without noticing issues of access and equity: the students who were told they shouldn’t take a language, or schools where students had to wait until adolescence to be exposed to new languages and cultures. They became increasingly aware of the racial and socioeconomic divides in US schools – the privileged had greater access to robust programming, qualified teachers, and programs that spanned multiple years. Meanwhile, in communities ripe with multilingualism, opportunities and resources for high quality language learning were limited.

They also noticed that the curriculum hadn’t changed much since their days as students – those old lessons on Oktoberfest and mariachi, on how to shop in a department store or order in a restaurant, were still ubiquitous. Lessons that encouraged students to analyze and critique issues of resilience, equity, or justice, that real people experienced daily, were rare.

There were some scholars writing about or enacting critical and culturally sustaining pedagogies in world language spaces – those who saw potential for transformation. This group was growing, and the two women started connecting with colleagues at conferences who were advocating for rethinking the system. They met other scholars and teachers who were theorizing and beginning to disseminate their work on critical approaches. They learned from and started to collaborate with colleagues who propelled their thinking. Like their colleagues, they recognized that this growing body of literature needed to be nurtured before it would take a more significant hold in language teaching and teacher education.

This led those two women – Beth and Cassandra – to a collaborative effort of a text, one that boldly highlights the ways that scholars in the US, and beyond, are not just thinking about, but doing equity and justice work in language education contexts. The result was an edited book that demonstrates how scholars and educators are pushing boundaries to reconstruct a field that has been mired in colonialism and elitism since its inception. The chapters in this book demonstrate what dismantling curriculum, instruction, and teacher preparation looks like. It provides transformative insights on critical language teacher education, intercultural citizenship, disrupting master narratives, teacher identity, decolonizing heritage language pedagogy, and community-centered approaches to teaching and teacher education, written by foremost scholars in language education.

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Meet the Newest Member of our Team – Stanzi!

Stanzi is our newest member of staff and has been working with Sarah as a Production Assistant since November, so we thought it was time our readers got to know her better with a little Q&A!

What were you doing before you joined us?

I was managing the Amazon seller and vendor accounts for a company that sells tools and workwear – very different field!

What made you apply for the job?

I was eager to do a job that actually made use of my degree. And I love books so helping to get them out there really appealed. I’ve always been curious about publishing. Plus it annoys me when I see a typo in a book – and now I get to be the one who left it there!

What were your first impressions?

That the company and the people are absolutely lovely, like a work-family. And that there’s a lot – and I mean a lot – of eating and talking about food.

Do you prefer ebooks or print books? 

I fluctuate. I prefer reading printed books but at a certain point, owning so many books just isn’t practical. I can walk around with hundreds of books on my phone and access them at any second if I have a sudden craving to read, like having a library in your pocket.

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment, I’m reading The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley and a graphic novel called Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe.

Do you have a favourite book?

Several! I have a bookshelf of favourites. But my all time standouts are probably Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Syrup by Maxx Barry, Austen’s Persuasion and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

What do you like to do when you’re not in the office?

I’m a big fan of going on walks. I also enjoy painting and am a bit of a film fanatic. And of course, I can’t forget the pub trips with friends.

We’re really glad that Stanzi has joined us and she already feels like part of the CVP family!

Why Do Adult ESL Learners Drop Out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Linking Translanguaging and Translation

This month we published Translanguaging in Translation by Eriko Sato. In this post the author explains why she chose to study translation in relation to translanguaging. 

In this book I wanted to show the long-term, often invisible contributions of translanguaging to the development of our languages and societies through the analysis of translated texts. Why translated texts? Think about who the translators are and what they do. Translators are bilinguals who stand right at the boundary between two languages and cultures to help two groups of people understand each other. Their criticality and creativity as bilinguals are crucial for overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers to convey their own interpretation of a text to a new audience. Accordingly, the traces of translanguaging in translation can give us insight into bilinguals’ pivotal language practices. Translated texts can indeed serve as valuable primary data for applied linguists who study translanguaging, language contact, and historical development of languages that reflect surrounding sociocultural contexts.

I examined Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hindi and English texts with focus on script types, onomatopoeias, pronouns, names, metaphors, puns and other context-sensitive linguistic elements. The analysis shows that translators’ translanguaging is often ideologically driven and motivated by implicit agendas such as:

  • to respect/adopt the culture of the source text (ST);
  • to achieve intercultural communication, rather than cross-cultural communication;
  • to create new concepts, sensitivities and rhetorical tools;
  • to resist the dominant socio-political power of the culture of the target text (TT);
  • to manipulate the perception of historical events.

Translators push or pull linguistic boundaries as needed, and their translanguaging actions consequently shape and reshape our languages, both vocabulary and grammar, and our societies and cultures.

My study sheds light on the problems caused by monolingualizing forces in translation and brings a new dimension to the field of applied linguistics, in particular, sociolinguistics. It is very rare to find features of the source language (SL) in English translations published in Anglophone societies to the extent that translations appear as originals as claimed by Lawrence Venuti. However, SL words and morphemes are scattered across pages in English translations published in highly multilingual societies such as India. Translation practices indeed mirror each society’s dominant attitude toward multilingualism.

The implication of my study extends to language teaching. Translation activities and the use of languages other than the target language (TL) have been unfairly banned or highly discouraged in many language classrooms over decades. The monolingualizing language teaching is effective in forcing  novice language learners to utter words and phrases in the TL but is not effective in fostering their competence in intercultural communication. Language learners, especially novice learners, need to use their “full” linguistic repertoire to approach unfamiliar words and unknown cultural concepts, compare them with those in their own culture, connect them to other subjects that are relevant to them, and start engaging in the community of TL speakers, and communicate with them based on their renewed identity. Translanguaging liberates language learners and emerging bilinguals from linguistic intimidation and allows them to engage in meaningful intercultural communication, the ultimate goal of language learning.

Eriko Sato
Stony Brook University
eriko.sato@stonybrook.edu

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might like Translanguaging as Transformation edited by Emilee Moore, Jessica Bradley and James Simpson.

Professional Development through Teacher Research

We recently published Professional Development through Teacher Research edited by Darío Luis Banegas, Emily Edwards and Luis S. Villacañas de Castro. In this post each of the editors share what motivated them to put the volume together.

Darío: Except for a few cases, the role that teacher educators play is often ignored at the levels of research and pedagogy. Recognising ourselves as teachers of teachers can be both a great weight and a great privilege in the land of formal education. My interest in working on this was directed by these questions: How do language teacher educators use teacher research to self-direct their own professional development and enhance their practices? What different experiences and trajectories do colleagues navigate in different contexts? This second question encouraged us to contact teacher educators based in countries usually underrepresented in the international literature such as Ecuador or Kenya. Through this volume, I want to contribute to conversations on knowledge democracy and flow, on social justice and representation, on engagement and agency, and on inspiring and inviting fellow educators to examine and share their take on the connections between research and pedagogy in their own educational spaces.

Emily: Practitioner-research can be transformative, not only for the practitioner themselves but also for others involved either integrally or peripherally in the research. Teacher educators have a lot of potential power as agents of change to initiate a cascade effect of professional development and benefits for themselves and others (their student-teachers, their colleagues and peers, and their students’ future students and school communities). At the same time, they can struggle with the dual, often misaligned, teaching and research pressures of their work contexts. I am continually interested in how the processes and products of doing research can change educators – whether they are student-teachers, in-service teachers or teacher educators. So in preparing this volume, I was keen to learn from the chapter contributors about their own motivations, processes, designs, perceptions, learning and responses to the challenges they encountered in the practice of engaging in research. Another question on my mind was what kinds of support and supportive environment teacher educators might need to conduct and publish classroom-based research studies.

Luis: In their job, teacher educators have to fulfill a two-fold goal, and this often involves a remarkable challenge. On the one hand, they want their student-teachers to fully enjoy and engage in the activities that they design for them, with their present-day motivations, experiences and growth in mind. On the other, teacher educators also hope that these activities will have the middle or long-term effect of helping their student-teachers become competent and creative teachers in turn, hence capable of designing activities that will motivate their school or high school students in the future. But how can teacher educators make sure that what their student-teachers learn and experience in their training courses will transfer to real school contexts? One of the reasons I decided to help assemble this volume was to explore the role that research might play in reconciling these present and future, direct and indirect, goals. Researching their own practice and inducting student-teachers into research initiatives and strategies may be the best way for teacher educators to train autonomous and self-directed professionals.

Our personal motivations coincide in stressing the importance of creating meaningful and sustainable teaching and learning experiences that may start in teacher education and have rippling effects across the educational system and beyond. We hope you feel the same after reading the volume.

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.

Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama

This month we published Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain the context for the book and how they went about writing it.

One of the 16 ethnographic sites we observed during the research project, Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities (TLANG), was a large, new, city-centre library. Our guiding concern was to investigate how people communicate in public settings when they bring into contact different biographies, backgrounds and languages. The state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham was the largest regional library in Europe. It attracts a diverse constituency of users, including local people from the city, and visitors from all over the world. One of the library staff, Millie, agreed to be a key participant in the research. She was originally from Hong Kong, having moved to the UK nearly 20 years earlier. Over four months we observed her working in the library. Our colleague Rachel Hu shadowed Millie as she went about her daily routine. We (Adrian, Angela and Rachel) wrote extensive field notes which described what we saw and heard as we observed. We gave Millie a digital voice recorder, to record her spoken interactions with members of the public and colleagues. She also recorded during her tea breaks and lunch breaks.

When we first negotiated access to do the research, the library was a beacon of civic pride for the city. Record-breaking numbers of people had visited in the 12 months since it opened. The spectacular building had exceeded every criterion for success. But by the time we started our field work, six months later, the government had made cuts to local authority grants. The city’s finances were hit hard. Opening hours were significantly reduced, and the library announced that it would cut more than 50% of its staff. As we observed and listened to the people who worked in, and accessed the services of, the library, politics was at the forefront of discussion. When we recontextualised and recreated these discussions as ethnographic drama, it was almost inevitable that the narrative would be dominated by concerns beyond the linguistic.

Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama represents discourses in circulation at a moment of political tension. The play focuses on four customer experience assistants in the library, three women and one man. The drama opens at the point when they have been told they have the option to put themselves forward for voluntary redundancy, or apply for their own jobs, with no guarantee of success. We meet the four characters in the staff room, where they take their lunch breaks and tea breaks. All the circulating tensions in the library are played out in their conversations. They are the only characters in the play, and they are all on stage throughout. In their interactions the voices of others are heard. They discuss the positions of the interim director of the library, the trade union, their colleagues, local and national politicians, and so on. In these discussions perspectives on histories, politics and economics are played out.

The ethnographic drama is made from field notes, audio-recordings, and any other material we were able to gather. This includes fictionalised voices. The ethnographic drama is a creative documentary account of an actual situation, and a specific environment, which integrates original and constructed dialogue. We enhance the rhythm of the dialogue where we can, to drive it forward. It has to move at a good pace, and at a varied pace, or the audience will be bored. We want to bring to the attention of the audience what we saw, and what we heard during our time in the library. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama is about how political decisions affect people’s lives, often unfairly. It’s about a government pushing an austerity policy which harms the lives of the least privileged. The discourse of the four characters represents a particular moment in the workplace, offering an insight into the effects on working people of the government’s austerity measures. The drama treads a line between giving in to the force of powerful structures, and seeking the possibility of escape to new horizons. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama takes ethnographic material and renders it for an audience in as truthful a way as possible. The rest is up to the audience.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous books: Volleyball – An Ethnographic Drama, Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama and Voices of a City Market.

Wider Audiences and New Practices in Academic Communication in the 21st Century

This month we published Digital Genres in Academic Knowledge Production and Communication by María José Luzón and Carmen Pérez-Llantada. In this post the authors explain what digital genres are and why their research is important.

The technological advances of the internet influence the ways in which academic knowledge is being produced and disseminated, offering new opportunities and facilitating new practices for scholars. Scholars are increasingly posting their research updates on their group websites, blogging about their research, launching crowdfunding proposals, promoting their research through videos, or interacting with others on Twitter or other social networking sites. These digital genres (i.e. genres which make use of the affordances of the internet to varying degrees) enable scholars to respond to new demands, such as increasing their visibility or engaging the interested public. In the 21st century scholars are expected to maximize the impact of their research both within and beyond academia and reach wider and diverse audiences, which include not only other researchers but also practitioners, policymakers and the general public.

As genres are tools for accomplishing actions or goals, the book Digital Genres for Academic Knowledge and Communication explores the diversity of digital genres (e.g. blogs, open lab notebooks, crowdfunding proposals, Twitter, academic videos) that scholars have incorporated into their genre repertoire to perform different actions. Digital genres help scholars to:

  • promote their research output, achieve local, national and international visibility and build their scholarly reputation
  • share research in progress and practices with peers and collaborate with all relevant actors
  • engage in interdisciplinary and intercultural interaction with scholars across the world, and ask for and provide feedback, help, support and advice
  • disseminate research and information that can contribute to increasing the scientific literacy of diverse audiences
  • engage the interested public in the production of academic knowledge
  • adopt more participatory and transparent practices of research evaluation

Since we ourselves are multilingual scholars, one aspect of particular interest for us is the relation between multilingualism and digital genres and the possibilities that these genres offer for multilingual scholars. The digital medium enables these scholars to draw upon two or more languages that are part of their linguistic repertoire (e.g. English and/or the languages spoken in their local communities) in order to reach and connect with international and local audiences.

The use of English as a shared language in informal digital genres (e.g. blogs, tweets, discussions in ResearchGate) can help scholars to disseminate, promote and make their research more visible internationally, and interact and collaborate with other researchers at the international level. When English is used as the shared language, scholars’ online communication has apparently become more tolerant of non-standard linguistic forms than formal academic communication. Therefore, for many multilingual scholars, using English in online exchanges probably entails less pressure than writing in English for research publication purposes.

In addition to communicating in English to reach a global audience, multilingual scholars also use their local or national languages when communicating online. The local language makes it easier for scholars to disseminate their work locally, provide access to research results to the local audiences who can apply them (e.g. practitioners in the field, policymakers), promote scientific literacy and engage the public in research. When composing some digital genres (e.g. research blogs, Twitter, crowdfunding projects) multilingual scholars may decide to use only English or only their local language, depending on their imagined audiences. However, they often draw on their multilingual repertoires to communicate simultaneously locally and internationally, adjusting their languages(s) to heterogeneous audience(s), which enables them to participate in different communities and to perform multiple identities.

In short, online multilingualism widens the possibilities for sharing knowledge with diverse audiences. However, further research is necessary on the multilingual practices of scholars when communicating online, in order to determine the extent to which multilingual scholars are participating in global academia and are connecting with various local audiences by composing digital genres.

María José Luzón and Carmen Pérez-Llantada

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Global Academic Publishing edited by Mary Jane Curry and Theresa Lillis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about this book please see our website.

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