Focusing on Phonology in Child Language Acquisition Research

This month we published On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli. In this post, the editor writes about how her new book contributes to the field of child language acquisition research.

Early evidence of philosophical thought on how language is acquired dates back to Classical Greece in the 4th and 5th centuries BC. Even nowadays several language acquisition publications — reviews or actual research — pose the logical problem of acquisition: how language is acquired, known as Plato’s problem. More recently, fundamental philosophical insights waver between two opposing perspectives, namely, the rational (e.g. Noam Chomsky) and the empirical stance (e.g. B.F. Skinner).

For language acquisitionists, there is also a distinct difference between the logical problem of acquisition and the developmental problem of acquisition (Hornstein & Lightfoot 1981).

The distinguished child linguist David Ingram differentiates between research on language acquisition, as one substantiated by ‘what people know’, and research on child language, substantiated by ‘what children say’. Thus, a comprehensive model of child language development needs to combine knowledge of how grammar is practiced during language acquisition, with how learnerability evolves in human offsprings. Furthermore, for such a model to have universal applicability, all aspects of the acquisition of grammar, across all natural languages, and across language acquisition contexts, need to be accounted for.

This necessitates ongoing research into individual children’s linguistic development as well as across several children’s collective developmental linguistic data from infancy and toddlerhood to about school age (i.e. protolanguage). Further elucidation comes by comparing children’s speech outputs (phonological systems) in typical development contexts, in atypical development contexts (i.e. in the presence of disorder or impairment), and in cases where intervention and therapy are practiced.

In the midst of everything, child language data (empirical proof) are the driving force behind theoretical suppositions (rationalizing).

The present volume, On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology, adds a tile on the edifice that makes up child language acquisition research, with a particular focus on the development of phonology (i.e. the study of human speech sounds). It has been a while since a compilation of this type has appeared in the book literature, in spite of the gradually increasing upsurge of related research undertaken in the field.

Also, there has not been a volume previously published that attempts to fill in general knowledge gaps that concern scientists, interested colleagues, and novices in child phonological development — some evidence-based, some theoretical, some purely informative.

Like the auburn-haired child on its cover, On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology stands out as a unique and singular contribution that pays homage to every child, every parent, every parent-linguist, every scientist, and every group effort (contributors, books, conferences) that makes child language research the vibrant collaborative enterprise that it is.

I am thankful for the opportunity to put this book together and hopeful that it will occupy a deserving place in the procession of similar struggles since the ‘official’ commencement of crosslinguistic child phonological research in the early 20th century.

Elena Babatsouli
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
elena.babatsouli@louisiana.edu

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like An Anthology of Bilingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli and Martin J. Ball.

How to Teach Adult Second Language Learners with Limited Literacy

This month we published Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten.

Adult education for learners of a new language has always been an extremely diverse sector, with classes taught in different contexts, from universities and community/further education colleges to community and faith-based organizations. Adults also have many different life situations along with varying goals, aspirations, and needs. Most diverse are adult immigrants with respect to their home language as well as educational background and literacy skills. Their diversity presents challenges for teacher training and professional development, challenges which are greatest for full-time teachers as well as part-time teachers and volunteer tutors who work with adults with limited formal education and literacy.

A practitioner survey was conducted by the 2010-2018 EU-Speak Project. Results revealed that limited opportunities exist in most countries for dedicated training or professional development to impart the knowledge and develop the skills needed for effective work with these learners, and it was on this basis that EU-Speak designed six online modules in five languages. These modules continue to be offered by a post-EU-Speak project team and are self-standing and independent of the volume emerging from the project, Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education, which provides readers with more in-depth coverage of module topics, particularly in terms of relevant research. Readers of the volume will discover that there is a dearth of research on these immigrant adults’ language acquisition and, to a somewhat lesser extent, their literacy development. An expectation of the editors and chapter authors is that the volume will inspire readers to contribute to this research base. Accordingly, the online modules facilitate contact with chapter authors, who are also module designers and lead modules when they are delivered.

When all six modules were offered twice from 2015 to 2018, feedback from practitioners was as the EU-Speak team had hoped. Module participants reported that they felt “compelled to explore and research each of the topics” and “happy with the possibility of sharing the resources I found and that some people liked”. They found the content that addresses “the phonological components of language and the books for pleasure reading” especially useful. And they noted they feel much better prepared for their work and have more confidence and more tools.

The project ended in August 2018 and, since then, the EU-Speak team has continued to deliver modules. Most recently (winter 2019), the team delivered ‘Acquisition and Assessment of Morphosyntax,’ adding a sixth language, Italian. Egle Mocciaro, who recently completed her PhD on the Italian morphosyntax of immigrants with limited literacy, helped lead the module with chapter authors and module designers Martha Young-Scholten and Rola Naeb. From May to July 2020, ‘Reading in a LESLLA Context’ is being delivered, led by chapter author and module designer Marcin Sosinski, assisted by Enas Filimban (whose recent PhD addresses immigrant adults’ early reading development in English) and Martha Young-Scholten. Fall 2020 will see ‘Bilingualism and Multilingualism,’ led by chapter author and module designer Belma Haznedar; and in winter 2021, ‘Vocabulary Acquisition’ will be offered, led by chapter author and designer Andreas Rohde with his team in Cologne.

Larry Condelli says about the book, “While there is voluminous research on how children learn to read in their native language, [research on] the learning process for adult second language learners with limited literacy is sparse. [… ] Those who work with adult migrants, to improve their literacy and language skills and integrate them in their new countries, need research-based knowledge to understand how to teach these learners and help them improve their lives. The chapters of this book provide current and insightful research on the reading development process for adult migrants with limited literacy. Each chapter brings to light new research and unique insights into the reading process and fills a void in previously unexamined areas for migrant adults with unique characteristics.”

Martha Young-Scholten, Newcastle University, martha.young-scholten@newcastle.ac.uk

Joy Kreeft Peyton, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC, joy@peytons.us

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.

Behind the Books: Language Education in a Changing World

In the second video in our Behind the Books series Rod Bolitho and Richard Rossner talk about their new book, Language Education in a Changing World, with Maria Heron.

Language Education in a Changing World is available now on our website. Enter the code BTB30 at the checkout to get 30% off!

“Where a Second Language is Practiced, Bilingualism Soars”

We recently published An Anthology of Bilingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli and Martin J. Ball. In this post the editors explain the background to the book.

In 2003, David Crystal reported that ‘the new millennium would see over 1,000 million people learning English’. Such an increasing trend is still corroborated today by findings of the British Council (2020) showing that the ratio of second (L2) to first language (L1) speakers of English is 4:1. Though these numbers only involve English as one of the languages in bilingualism, one could venture to interpret them to also represent a ‘bilinguals-to-monolinguals ratio’. Given that there are about 7,000 living languages in today’s world (Babatsouli, 2019), several of them spoken as L2s, we would like to encourage the reader to do the arbitrary math and surmise the number of bilinguals in the world.

To our knowledge, there are no conclusive statistics on the number of bilingual speakers in the world, let alone the number of children exposed to more languages than one. The main reason for this is that bilinguals are like chameleons, i.e. as different as the linguistic and cultural contexts in which they may be found; this makes a scientifically reliable measurement of their sum complicated. The point one needs to take home is: “where an L2 is practiced, bilingualism soars”.

Though still a neonate in the history of linguistic research, there has been in the past forty years an ongoing increase in the study of bilingualism, which is currently experiencing an unprecedented boom. This is evident in the multitude of research publications and the continuing establishment of new journals that publish such research, like the Journal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech.

With such background as its milieu, we are proud to be introducing An Anthology of Bilingual Child Phonology that itself radiates with youth, research, and bilingualism. Our edited volume is a compilation of original research articles that focus on bilingual child phonological development during normal or impaired practice; the developmental path of language in childhood has also been referred to as protolanguage (Babatsouli & Ingram, 2018). An anthology of this type was actually missing in the published book literature, in spite of the plethora of individual studies published in the field.

Like the two-colour flower (anthos in Greek) arrangements (-logy) of its front cover, this manuscript is on the acquisition of phonology in two languages during childhood. The book has achieved its aim to enhance research in less represented languages/dialect combinations and contexts of use in child bilingualism, and we hope that this project will constitute a first step towards more publications of this type.

This collaboration has sprung from the realization of the need for such a volume, the editors’ shared study and research interests, the love for book projects, and as a way to extend previous collaboration. We are grateful to all: participating children and parents, authors, reviewers, commentators, the book series editors, and Multilingual Matters, who contributed their efforts, expertise and goodwill, and have enthusiastically supported this endeavour.

Elena Babatsouli, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

elena.babatsouli@louisiana.edu

Martin J. Ball, Bangor University

m.j.ball@bangor.ac.uk

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli.

How Should Educators Interpret and Respond to Silence in the English Language Classroom?

This month we published East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education edited by Jim King and Seiko Harumi. In this post the editors explain where the idea for the book came from and its aim to address the stereotypes of learner silence in East Asian English language classrooms.

Those of us who teach languages all encounter the phenomenon of silence in our classrooms. But how do we interpret and react to these moments of silence? On the one hand, silence can help learning because it allows space for concentration and thinking, whilst on the other, it can be seen as an enemy of the process of second language acquisition, which is so reliant on interaction and meaningful communication for progress. The idea for this book has its origins in our scholarly journeys in East Asia where we were both engaged as educators and researchers. These sometimes challenging experiences led us to develop a fascination with the role silence plays in second language education.

Emerging from an awareness of the need for an up-to-date book which does justice to the significant role silence plays in L2 learning, our publication draws on ideas from a variety of academic fields (e.g. applied linguistics, psychology, international education, pragmatics, anthropology, and so on) in order to build a comprehensive picture of classroom silence in East Asian contexts. This openness to a diversity of ideas is shared by each contributor to the collection, all of whom are experienced in working with students and teachers from such countries as China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.

Compared with investigations focusing on classroom talk, research on silence is relatively rare. Studies done in the past tended to look at the socio-cultural background of East Asian language learners in order to understand their reticence, encouraging stereotyped images of these students as being merely shy, passive and quiet. Such an ethnocentric interpretation of learner behaviour can in fact obfuscate pictures of classroom practice and render them inaccurate.

As one colleague explained: ‘I illustrate the problem as a teacher and regard learner silence as a wall, but also sympathise with students’ frustration with teachers who, rather than understanding their responses, interpret them as a lack of initiative or a refusal to participate’. This teacher’s dilemma encapsulates attempts to express the role and function of specific silences in L2 learning.

East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education rejects simplistic stereotypes and generalisations which profess to explain why so many learners from East Asia seem either reluctant or unable to speak English by providing an account of current research into the complex and ambiguous issue of silence in language education. It also offers a fresh perspective on ways to facilitate classroom interaction while also embracing silence when it is appropriate to do so.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also like other books in our Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series.

The Truth About Creative Writing

This month we published Discovering Creative Writing by Graeme Harper. In this post the author tells us what inspired the book and what to expect from reading it.

I don’t remember either of my parents ever uttering the proverb ‘honesty is the best policy’, but they nevertheless somehow suggested to us kids that we should follow it. I admit, I have failed on occasion to reach the high standard set by this proverb, often attributed to the polymath and one of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’, Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin, as many folks know, invented bifocals. He also invented swim fins, which I think is kind of cool. So it was, with bespectacled Ben Franklin swimming along beside me, that I thought of writing a book that got as close to the honest truth about what creative writing is, and how it happens, as I could possibly get.

Discovering Creative Writing is not much like swim fins or like bifocals, though I hope it helps people explore creative writing a little faster and more effectively, and that it helps them to see a little more clearly what creative writing actually is.  In other words, that it is an honest account. The book is based on the idea of clues, found primarily in our writing practices – that if we can find these clues, and correctly interpret them, we can get much close to discovering the truth about creative writing.

When I say ‘truth about creative writing’, I don’t mean only truth about the end results of it (e.g. short stories, poems, scripts). Nor do I mean only an honest general idea of what creative writing is and how it happens. I mean, truths (because these are multiple) through finding and interpreting clues in our practice and its results, truths about how we each specifically do creative writing, and through these potentially about how other writers do creative writing.

‘Knowledge is power’. I don’t believe either of my parents ever uttered that proverb either. But I know they thought it, because they didn’t seem to find it a bad thing when I continued postgraduate study for too many years, and they never once asked: ‘Isn’t it about time you got a job?’. Knowledge certainly is power, and Discovering Creative Writing aims to improve the reader’s knowledge about creative writing practices and creative writing outcomes.

Of course, I’m reminded now that Benjamin Franklin also invented the glass harmonic and the lightning rod. If Discovering Creative Writing provides some magical vitreous music that stimulates your ideas, perhaps even has you dancing a little, and if it draws to you that spark that ignites a thought about how you write, and why you write, and in what ways creative writing means and gives so much to us all, then my bookish invention will have done its job.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Creative Writing and the Radical by Nigel Krauth.

Hispanic or Latino? A Sociolinguistic Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Leeman

For more information about this book please see our website

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

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching

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

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

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

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

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Industry Award Winners Again!

We have been the proud holders of an ‘Excellence Plus’ Product Data Excellence Award from the Book Industry Communication (BIC) for a few years now (and there are a few previous posts about our journey elsewhere on our blog!). While they may not be the most glamorous of awards to win, and are marked by a certificate arriving in the post, rather than an Oscar’s style ceremony, they are still very important. In short, they are the book industry’s way of certifying that we provide all the ‘behind the scenes’ information about our books to everyone in the industry, in a complete and timely manner.

This year, BIC extended their award scheme to include the new Supply Chain Excellence Award, alongside the Product Data Excellence Award. We are absolutely thrilled to have been awarded an Excellence award, one of only seven publishers in the UK to receive this award (seating ourselves alongside the likes of HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Sage) and to be one of only two UK publishers using a third-party distributor to get this award. What an achievement for a small independent publisher!

The Supply Chain Award differs from the Product Excellence Award in that it focuses more on working processes, rather than on the books themselves. BIC describe winners of the award as ‘modern, technically-capable, efficient to do business with, and compliant with industry standards and practices…the best in their class for business efficiency, customer service, environmental concern and innovation.’

The questionnaire application itself was surprisingly easy, and future applicants shouldn’t be daunted by the 22-page form(!) nor the technical terms. It’s certainly simpler than it looks! For me, the tricky bit was getting the hang of the lingo…the publishing industry is full of its own wonderful list of acronyms and systems, so while most of the questions related to things that we already do, they often happen behind the scenes (and seamlessly) and I had to write to some of our partners to check how the systems work. In happy news, our distributor, NBN International, and the database company we use, Stison, were also among the tiny list of award winners in their categories. We are happy to be working together with such great partners, and it goes to show that sometimes in order to succeed, you need the support of top teams too.

We don’t like to blow our own trumpet, but we think that achieving this award demonstrates that not only are our books among the most exciting in our field, but that we too as a company rank among the best in the industry.

Behind the Books: Duoethnography in English Language Teaching

We are excited to be launching a brand new video series, Behind the Books, in which our authors speak to you about their book and the research that went into it.

In the series’ very first video, Robert J. Lowe and Luke Lawrence talk about their new book Duoethnography in English Language Teaching.

Duoethnography in English Language Teaching is available now on our website. Enter the code BTB30 at the checkout to get 30% off!