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.

Linking Discourse Studies to Professional Practice

In August we published Linking Discourse Studies to Professional Practice edited by Lubie Grujicic-Alatriste. In this post she tells us a little bit about how the book came together.

Linking Discourse Studies to Professional PracticeLinking Discourse Studies to Professional Practice is an inspirational volume for analysts, researchers, academics, students and practitioners in various teaching and professional programmes including, but not limited to, applied linguistics, discourse studies, critical discourse and gender studies, political, news discourse and communication studies, sociology of work and professional training. It aims to raise awareness about the importance of considering research findings within the broader life framework by reaching out to the stakeholders in the places of professional practice.

Analysts from Australia, Europe and the USA were invited to consider their original research findings in (for them) a new way: how to begin to disseminate their work in real world settings (or ideally in the settings where they originally collected the data). Chapter 1 provides the theoretical background for the volume and describes the components of the Framework for Application. Each of the remaining 13 chapters generally opens by stating the key findings, presents a brief theoretical overview and description of the original research study, and then showcases the key excerpts from a larger body of discourse data. Most significantly, the authors engage the Framework for Application by presenting a plan for dissemination and the tools for gauging research relevance and, in some cases, by reporting the initiatives already taken towards outreach to the places of practice. The Framework includes outreach tools and feedback tools so that future analysts can both see pertinent elements and also include them in their own dissemination efforts. Finally, I carefully examine challenges that lie ahead so as to fairly present to all the work lying ahead.

The blueprint for application is the central part of this volume and the one that really makes each chapter both unique and uniformed. Though the volume’s plans for application are diverse, as the research settings are themselves diverse, each chapter does share the same kernel idea: that of disseminating the research findings by providing a clear practical path to it. This innovative and unusual aspect of the book is what all reviewers have pointed out as an invaluable and most welcome one.

The chapters include studies done on spoken and written discourse, using Conversation Analysis (CA) in combination with other methods, genre analysis in combination with other methods, and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Contributions are loosely grouped by setting and include the following: workplace and business settings both in private companies and university business offices; educational settings including second language classroom and college writing programs; private and public settings that showcase individuals with disabilities and family interaction including identities of grown children; and government and media settings with a special focus on Chinese news reporting and translation of international news; in addition media representation of gay marriage issues covering a few decades is presented here through the CDA lens.

The volume does show the value of both conversation analysis and written discourse analysis as research tools, but it does not base its organizational principles solely on methodology. Instead it uses the settings as the first principle and the methods of data collection and analysis as the second organizational principle in order to include as many researchers as possible in this discussion of application. It is my hope that many different researchers and their students will find each of the chapters equally engaging, no matter what the base methodology is being focused on. I wanted to showcase how applied linguists can and should share their research findings without being too constrained by the school of methodology they espouse. As editor of this volume, I encourage readers to consider the global purpose of our work more than local issues in the field. Equally importantly, I encourage and invite discussion on any of the issues presented in the volume, be it by responding to this blog, or by writing additional comments elsewhere.

As an illustration of the volume and its history, I here provide a bit of chronology. For many years, as a doctoral student first and then as a professor and researcher, I felt frustrated with the lack of connection between scholars and practitioners, not just in education, but in many other walks of life where linguists collect data and conduct research. The question of how valuable our research could really be to the real world of language users if the same research is never shared with broader real life or professional audiences kept irking me. Finally, in early 2010, I set out to plan this volume. At the onset of this project in 2010, I could not have imagined the road ahead. We discovered that the process of creating a plan, or an outline for dissemination of research findings, was a bigger challenge than first anticipated. As the project moved along, it became clear that the outlines for dissemination of findings provided in this volume would need to be tested out in order to illustrate the process but also to show the results. We hope to continue this work and present it in a separate volume in the near future.

Communicative Practices at WorkFor more information about the book please see our website. If you found this title interesting you might also like Jo Anne Kleifgen’s book Communicative Practices at Work.