2014 set to be an exciting year for MM’s SLA series

Capitalizing on Language Learners' Individuality2014 has begun in force for our Second Language Acquisition series. Already this year we have seen the publication of Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality by Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre: an exciting book which offers not only an up-to-date, accessible introduction to the theories of learner characteristics but is also jam-packed full of practical classroom activities. Tammy and Peter told us about how the project came about in their blog post last year. If you missed it, you can catch up here.

Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLAAlso on our blog you may have seen Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams’ introduction (here if you missed it) to their edited collection Multiple Perspectives on the Self which was published at the start of February. This collection of papers brings together a diverse range of conceptualisations of the self in the domain of second language acquisition and foreign language learning. The volume attempts to unite a fragmented field and provides a thorough overview of the ways in which the self can be conceptualised in SLA contexts.

Sociocultural Theory and L2 Instructional Pragmatics

The third addition to our SLA series so far this year is Sociocultural Theory and L2 Instructional Pragmatics by Rémi A. van Compernolle. This book outlines a framework for teaching second language pragmatics grounded in Vygotskian sociocultural psychology. Using multiple sources of metalinguistic and performance data, the volume explores both theoretical and practical issues relevant to teaching second language pragmatics from a Vygotskian perspective. Van Compernolle’s book is the 74th to be published in our SLA series and we are hoping to make it to 80 titles by the end of 2014.

The Acquisition of Sociolinguistic Competence in a Lingua Franca ContextBooks already on their way to publication include The Acquisition of Sociolinguistic Competence in a Lingua Franca Context by Mercedes Durham, Jian-E Peng’s monograph Willingness to Communicate in the Chinese EFL University Classroom, ZhaoHong Han’s edited volume Studies in Second Language Acquisition of Chinese and Measuring L2 Proficiency edited by Pascale Leclercq et al. Other highlights for the SLA series in 2014 include the International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and Second Language Acquisition at The University of Nottingham which we are very excited to be supporting and our annual attendance of EUROSLA which is to be hosted by the University of York this year.

The academic series editor for our SLA series is David Singleton, University of Pannonia, Hungary and Fellow Emeritus, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and our in-house Acquisitions Editor is Laura Longworth. Should you be interested in submitting a proposal or discussing any book ideas with us, please do not hesitate to get in touch. More information can be found on our website here.

Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality

As we are publishing Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality by Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre next month we asked them to tell us a bit about how the book came about.

Capitalizing on Language Learners' IndividualityWe are both teachers at heart, so in many ways this is the book we’ve always wanted to write as it combines a meaningful review of theory and practical applications for teachers. As university professors, we feel fortunate to have jobs (and the inner passion) that inspire us to combine teaching and research, to play with ideas for a living; it really is a match made in heaven. We have found that most teachers, at every level of the education system, are at their creative best when they play with ideas, apply theory to specific cases, look for new approaches to age old questions, and have enough background information to get their creative juices flowing. This process fires their enthusiasm, which ultimately engages learners even more!

This book offers a chance for teachers and learners to play, apply, discover and let their imaginations flow. We don’t get into esoteric theoretical debates or outline the historical positions within this or that school of thought. Our book is made for teachers who are curious about what makes their students tick. Parker Palmer, in his book The Courage to Teach, says that: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” After all, it is teachers who know their students best, and good teachers bring with them training in a background of theory and methodology to really apply and test concepts. We firmly believe that teachers who seek to actualize the potential of their students benefit from suggestions for activities to try, the reasons why they should work, and then the courage to go for it in real life, to succeed or fail with integrity. Master teachers are born to teach and their passion for reaching their learners at their deepest, emotional and individual levels emanates from their souls. Given the experimentation that goes on in every good classroom, we believe that all teachers are active researchers, open to new ideas and constantly asking “what if?”

Peter’s Journey: The writing process was more fun than most readers of the blog can imagine. When Tammy first asked me to join her in writing this book, I had said that I did not have the time – too many other items pressing for attention. But I was intrigued and wanted to help. So, initially I was a consultant of sorts, a sounding board for ideas. As we went along, usually talking at length over Skype or in exchanging documents, I came to see the awesome potential of the project more and more. Tammy’s approach to teaching and learning is very similar to mine – we both see students as individuals, with hopes and fears, dreams of the future and a collection of unique past experiences. The idea of the perfect teaching method, a ‘one size fits all’ solution in the classroom, is quite foreign to both of us. So as we went along sharing research and theory for this and other projects, and tossing around ideas about how to teach, how to find what students are capable of doing, it became very clear to me that at some point, I had already joined the project. I was hooked! So before too long the informal became formal and my wife Anne and I found ourselves near a lake in Northern Iowa, with Tammy and her husband, Mario, ready to sign a contract with Multilingual Matters. Signing the contract was easy – the book was already written!

Tammy’s Journey: Carl Jung once wrote, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Through our book, we may have provided a bit of what Jung called the “necessary raw material” but it will be up to you, our fellow teachers, to touch your learners’ human feelings and provide the warmth to grow their souls.  Working (…well, more like “playing”) with Peter in the sandbox called Skype was a real hoot! Our collaboration never really felt like “work” to me. We often felt like we were in each other’s heads (a much more dangerous place for Peter than me!), tossing around ideas and laughing a lot. Not only do I think that the wedding of theory with practice was a match made in heaven, but so too was Peter’s psychological bent with my applied linguistics leanings.

Tammy and Peter with their signed contract
Tammy and Peter with their signed contract

Peter reminisced in his journey about the way that we – together with our spouses – got together in Iowa as a culminating event where we jointly signed our contract. I also have fond memories of the initiation of our first collaborative efforts when Mario and I traveled to Cape Breton. I will never forget lounging in the Governor’s Pub in Sydney, Nova Scotia with Peter and Anne, the evening we first discussed the idea of this book. “Busy Betty” was sitting at the next table intently (and yes, somewhat impolitely) listening, scrutinizing what Mario and Peter were talking about, bent over and scribbling equations on a piece of paper as they excitedly discussed the dynamic complexity and physics of emotion in language learning. To Betty’s L1 English ear, my husband’s accented English (he’s Chilean) sounded deeply suspect, so she strutted over wanting to know exactly what they were designing with all that math!  Did they have sinister intentions? Were we all in danger? After a good laugh, she ended up joining our little party and gave us some great advice on what to put into our book! So here’s a big shout out to Betty and her insight!

This book has been one of the most tangible outcomes of our collaboration. Readers of the blog might also want to check out our virtual seminar for TESOL on December 4, 2013 called “Talking in order to learn.” We will be discussing some of the theory and activities found in the book. We hope you can join us live from wherever you happen to be. If you miss it, the webinar will be archived on the TESOL International site shortly after it is complete.

Finally, we must mention that we are so pleased and honoured that colleagues we deeply respect, Zoltan Dornyei and Andrew Cohen, agreed to help us by writing for the cover. Rebecca Oxford and Elaine Horwitz wrote a preface that told us we had found a sweet spot with the book. All of these people have earned their reputations as teachers and researchers; we thank them for their kind words and for taking the time to write them.

You can find further information about the book on our website.

Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning

Florentina Taylor, author of the recently published Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learningwrites here about the inspiration for her book.

Imagine for a moment a group of medics debating the best cure for a condition that a patient appears to be suffering from. They have ordered several tests and, based on the results, they are quite confident they can cure the condition with the medicines that, to the best of their knowledge, are considered to be the most effective at the time. How likely is it that they can recommend a successful treatment without including the patient in the discussion? Could there be something in the patient’s medical history they’re not aware of? Could the patient be allergic to some of the substances in the recommended pills? Is the patient taking other medicines that may affect the effectiveness of the intended treatment? Ultimately, does the patient understand the benefits of the proposed cure, and is he or she committed to swallowing three pills a day with plenty of water, before each main meal, in order for the treatment to be successful?

Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language LearningAs language educators dedicated to bringing out the best in our students, we spend huge amounts of time thinking, reading and writing about the best teaching methods, the best materials, the best tests, the best motivational techniques. We debate, we argue, we question and we persist in the obstinate belief that one day we will succeed in engaging the disengaged, enabling the not-yet-able and retaining the so-far-engaged-and-able. Yet, we sometimes resemble a group of medics trying to cure real or imaginary conditions without actually consulting the patient.

In language education, such a condition can take many forms. In English-speaking countries, there is a generalised perception that nobody wants to learn foreign languages because ‘everybody speaks English nowadays’, although there is evidence that English is losing ground as the language of international communication and, clearly, not everybody speaks English. While more and more worrying statistics show how low interest in languages leads to university departments closing down and how businesses are losing out on the global market due to poor language skills, we language educators know that instrumental, means-to-an-end reasons to study languages are less important than intrinsic, personally fulfilling drives. After all, how many of us become interested in languages and are prepared to spend a significant amount of time and effort working on our skills for fear a language department or an international business might close down otherwise?

In non-English speaking countries, where foreign language study is often compulsory at school, or in English-speaking contexts that make foreign language study compulsory, we may find different symptoms of – I would argue – a very similar ‘condition’. Whether or not to study a language may not be an option for many such students, but there is always the option whether or not to engage with the language classes one has to attend. There’s also the option whether to really engage, to sort-of engage or to just put in as little effort as necessary to give the impression that you are engaged so you are left alone to see to your own personally relevant agenda. In such an environment, the teacher is often fighting a losing battle, as few signs may be giving away the fact that many students are not actually as interested in the language lesson as they appear to be and they are not working as hard as they would have us believe.

Does it matter? Well, research shows that it does. The recently published Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning depicts language learners as caught between contradictory expectations (e.g., teacher versus peers) resulting in complex identity negotiations that enable them to please both the teacher, ’who gives the marks’, and the peers, who would otherwise punish nonconformity with ostracism. The learners’ own expectations and wishes are often muted in an effort to please (or, for that matter, irritate) other people. And, if formal achievement measures are anything to go by, there is evidence that students who feel they need to undertake such strategic negotiation and display of identity have lower foreign language scores than those who do not. Students who feel appreciated as real persons by the language teacher, who do not feel the need to pretend they are what they are not, appear to obtain the highest language scores. Moreover, they feel respected and, in turn, respect their teacher, they are prepared to work hard in and out of class, they feel they are real stakeholders in their own education.

Based on the data discussed in this book, several ways in which teachers can show they value their students as ‘real persons’ are:

  • helping them understand how what is happening today in the classroom will one day be of use to them in real life;
  • being understanding and caring when students struggle with a particularly difficult concept;
  • providing supporting and informative feedback that allows students to learn and make progress;
  • not punishing or ridiculing mistakes (e.g., pronunciation, grammar);
  • allowing for a degree of student initiative and autonomy in organising group activities and projects;
  • expecting that their students achieve their best and helping them to do so;
  • accepting that students may sometimes disagree with the teacher, which is perfectly normal in any social group;
  • believing in students’ potential and intrinsic value as human beings;
  • ultimately, respecting them as we would (should?) any other person.

Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning presents numerous direct quotations from student interviews, as well as statistical analyses to support these suggestions, arguing that caring for students as individuals does have a number of benefits, from better classroom dynamics to better achievement. The book proposes a new model of identity based on educational psychology concepts and theories applied to foreign language learning. The project reported in this book tested the model with 1,045 adolescents learning English as a foreign language in Romania. The model has also been tested, with very similar results, with learners of English as a foreign language and Mathematics in four other European countries. Although in a different context and using a different theoretical framework, similar insights were also obtained when researching the perceived relevance of Modern Foreign Languages in England.

The consistent, albeit circular, message that many studies conducted in Europe and elsewhere seem to give is that low foreign language uptake and lack of interest in language classes are mainly due to acute student demotivation. My own work with adolescents learning languages in Bulgaria, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain and the UK has shown that young learners are actually very motivated and interested in languages, that they understand the value of knowing other languages and are willing to invest time and effort in becoming (more) able to do so. But, in all these different contexts, many students appear to feel left out of their own education and, if they are indeed suffering from a condition that needs addressing urgently, I believe it is the need to feel they matter as individuals. Education is meant to inspire future generations to be better than us and do greater things than we have. But inspiration, like education, is not something that we can do to our students. Truly inspiring and educating our students is not possible without giving them a very clear message through our words, attitudes and actions: you matter.

Language-in-education Policies

With Anthony Liddicoat’s book Language-in-education Policies out this week we asked him to tell us a bit about how he came to write it.

Language-in-education PoliciesThis book grew out of a concern that I have had for some time that, while language-in-education policies often talk about using languages to develop intercultural understanding, they often don’t seem to focus much on how they are going to achieve that. To try to understand more about why this is the case, I started to look more at how policies talked about intercultural understanding and how these ideas related to other ways of talking about language and culture. This book, by focusing on ideas like ‘intercultural relationships’, is one way of trying to get at this problem within language policy.

The book is organised around a series of case studies of different polities. There are different ways these case studies could be divided up but I decide to focus on policy contexts rather than only polities  as I found that quite different things happen depending on the groups for whom planning is being done. The book has chapters on policies for foreign language learning, for language education of immigrants, for language education of indigenous people and for external language spread. This allowed me to write about the ways there are similarities and differences between the ways different societies have addressed the issue. Each chapter has three case studies from different polities for each policy context.

Although I found focusing on policy contexts the best way to work with the issues I was dealing with, I didn’t want to lose the possibility of joining together policy contexts in a single society. For this reason I decided that I would choose two countries that would be included in case studies across more than one context. These countries were Australia and Japan. I chose Australia, not only because it is the place I am most familiar with but also because it is a society that represents itself as multicultural. Japan on the other hand has a very monocultural view of itself. So these two case studies are like opposite points on a continuum, with the other case studies falling somewhere between. It is possible to read across these case studies to get a sense of how Australia and Japan deal with policy across contexts and see some similarities and differences between contexts in one society.

Writing the book was like a journey across contexts and across countries and I hope that reading it brings the same experience.

If you liked this book you might also like:

Uniformity and Diversity in Language PolicyUniformity and Diversity in Language Policy edited by Catrin Norrby and John Hajek

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran: From Indigenization to Internationalization

Following this week’s publication of English in Post-Revolutionary Iran, we asked the book’s author, Maryam Borjian, to explain a bit about its background.

Maryam Borjian, author of "English in Post-Revolutionary Iran"
Maryam Borjian, author of “English in Post-Revolutionary Iran”

Post-revolutionary Iran was envisioned with a homegrown, indigenized model of English education – an indigenized English free from the influence of the English-speaking nations. The indigenization movement began some 30 years ago at the onset of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The founding of the Islamic Republic in Iran marked the beginning of a new era in the country’s political landscape. Iran, which had been under the geopolitical influence of the West since the early 19th century, turned away from its Western allies, the United States, in particular, to follow an anti-Western, anti-imperialist ideology. The dream was to achieve ‘self-reliance’ and ‘self-sufficiency’, not only from the capitalist West but also from the communist East. In the words of the grand revolutionary motto of the time, it was to be an Islamic Republic ‘self-sufficient’ (kod-kafā) from the West and the East (na sharqi, na gharbi).

Grand Bazaar of Kerman, 17th century, Kerman, Iran  © Maryam Borjian
Grand Bazaar of Kerman, 17th century, Kerman, Iran. Photo courtesy of Maryam Borjian ©.

Within such a climate, the attitude towards foreign languages was profoundly negative and they were treated as ‘suspicious subject matters’ and ‘the enemies of the people’. Among foreign languages, English was considered the most unfortunate as it was closely associated with the United States, ‘Great Satan,’ and its closest ally, the United Kingdom. The intensity of hostility towards the West and to European languages could perhaps be best explained by the closure of the Iran–America Society and the British Council, the most active centers of English language teaching (ELT) in pre-revolutionary Iran. To eliminate all variables associated with cultural and linguistic imperialism, all foreign language schools were closed and foreign teachers and professors were expelled from the country. A state-run publishing house, aka SAMT, was established to produce indigenized, homegrown textbooks, in which some aspects of English were selectively accepted (phonology, morphology and syntax), whereas the cultural elements of the language were all removed.

As such, a new form of English was born, a form that some may regard as a ‘flat, lifeless and context-free language’, which has been taught to generations of school children via the state’s approved homegrown English textbooks ever since.

The indigenization movement, together with anti-Western and anti-imperialist sentiments, has continued to dominate the political and educational discourse of post-revolutionary Iran for the better part of the past three decades. Yet, despite the state’s 30-year-long constant efforts, the existing system of English education in Iran is not entirely indigenized. Rather, it is marked by two diverging forms of English: (1) the indigenized model that is used by the state-run education programs, and (2) the internationalized or Anglo-Americanized model, which is used by private-run education programs throughout the nation. The latter model is the one currently in vogue and most demanded by Iranians.

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran
English in Post-Revolutionary Iran

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran explores the politics of English language teaching and learning in post-revolutionary Iran from 1979 to the present. The book examines the nation’s English education at the two levels of policy and practice to explore the process (how and what), causes (why) and agents (who) of the two diverging trends of ‘indigenization’ and ‘internationalization’ within the country’s English education. The book explores the ways in which English education has been perceived by various stakeholders both at the national level (politicians and policymakers, and at the subnational level (professional associations, university-based and privately based language programs, English professors, teachers and students) and the catalysts that have sparked off receptiveness or hostility towards foreign lessons, ideas and norms on the part of each set of stakeholders. Although it is presumed that supranational forces have been absent from the realm of English education in post-revolutionary Iran, the book equally takes into account the implicit and explicit contributions of various international and transnational organizations (the World Bank, the UN developmental agencies and the British Council) to the internationalization of the field of English education in the country.

To read more about the book, please visit its page on our website here.

English-Medium Instruction at Universities

Having just published English-Medium Instruction at Universities edited by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra we asked the authors to tell us a bit more about English-medium instruction and the challenges it poses.

One of the more tangible outcomes of internationalisation is the implementation of foreign language study programmes at universities to promote multilingualism and language diversity. Yet, reality indicates that English is preeminent and has become the main foreign language used as means of instruction at world-wide universities.

The aim of this book is to provide critical insights on the English-medium instruction experiences which have been implemented in a number of universities in countries such as Finland, Israel, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and the USA, characterized by differing political, cultural and sociolinguistic situations. This diversity, however, does not prevent the emergence of many commonalities between the different case studies presented. In particular, the volume reflects on the consequences of English-medium instruction as an attempt to boost multilingualism, to attract students, and as a strategy in response to the need to gain competitiveness in both national and international markets. The challenges specific to each setting are also analysed, and the pedagogical issues and methodological implications that arise from the implementation of these programmes are widely discussed.

One of the most demanding challenges has to do with the ways in which the academic communities come to terms with the introduction of English: the effects of EMI on multilingualism, language policy planning and the university community. This book aims to give answers to the following highly topical issues: What is the role of EMI in the internationalisation process? Are university students proficient enough in English to cope with EMI? Can both language and content be integrated successfully at university level? What successful practices are there? The panel of experts gathered in this volume will help the reader to find enriching data, implementation examples and successful practices, as well as drawbacks and pitfalls that need to be addressed.