Psychology and Language Learning Conference in Graz

Last week I was fortunate enough to travel to the Psychology and Language Learning conference in Graz, Austria. This conference was the very first of its kind and Multilingual Matters was honoured to be invited to attend. We have recently published several books of relevance to the theme of the conference so it was a fantastic opportunity to share our publications with a group of scholars dedicated to the topic.

Laura at the Multilingual Matters book display
Laura at the Multilingual Matters book display

The conference was hosted by the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz and seamlessly organised by Sarah Mercer and her efficient team of student helpers. The 3 day conference schedule included seminars, workshops and 6 plenary sessions related to the theme “Matters of the Mind: Psychology and Language Learning”. The sessions were sandwiched between Zoltán Dörnyei’s engaging opening plenary on the significant role of narratives in the psychology of language learning and Jean-Marc Dewaele’s closing plenary in which he presented a solid case for the defence of individual differences peppered with many entertaining anecdotes!

10 most popular titles at the Psychology and Language Learning conference
10 most popular titles at the Psychology and Language Learning conference

Outside of the sessions, I was kept busy in the book exhibit as our new books, Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA (edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams) and Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individual Differences (by Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre), were snapped up by the delegates. As ever with international conferences, it was a pleasure to meet some of our authors for the first time. I was particularly pleased to meet Kata Csizér who I have recently been working with as her book The Impact of Self-concept on Language Learning has just been approved for publication in September.  She edits the book together with Michael Magid and I was amazed to hear that they have never met each other in person!

Laura enjoying the Austrian wine region
Laura enjoying the Austrian wine region

The conference also had a packed social schedule and I really enjoyed catching up with both familiar and new colleagues as we sampled typical Austrian wine and schnitzel! Having not been to Austria before I was glad that some of my expectations about the country were correct – the food really is delicious; the city was enchanting and the countryside absolutely stunning and my ability to speak German is just as rusty as I feared! I was also interested to learn new things about the country (and region in particular) that surprised me – pumpkin seeds (or their by-products) are served with almost everything; I actually do quite like Sauvignon Blanc (or at least that from the Styrian region) and Austria is one of a few EU countries where smoking is still permitted in some bars and restaurants.

At some point in the conference it was mentioned that, on average, each delegate sends 4 emails to the conference organiser before the event. For a conference of this size, that makes well over a 1000 emails demanding to be answered, on top of the usual correspondence involved in conference organisation and of course the continuing commitments of daily life. I think I echo the sentiments of all the delegates in saying how grateful we are to Sarah Mercer for arranging such a vibrant and successful few days. At the beginning of this post I referred to the conference as “the first” and I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that there will be a second “Psychology and Language Learning” conference in the future…

If you’d like to see more of the photos from the conference please visit our Facebook page and search the photos albums.

Laura

Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams introduce their new book “Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA”

Ahead of the publication of Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA next month, we asked its editors, Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams, a few questions about the book and their experiences working on the project.

Could you tell us a bit about where the idea for the book came from?

Sarah: I’ll perhaps respond to this as it is partly a result of my personal journey that has brought us to this point. Whilst I was doing my PhD on self-concept in foreign language learning, I became aware of the vast number of constructs in the field. In discussing my work with others, I often found myself having to explain the different nature of self constructs and ‘defend’ my choice of construct. However, the more I work in this area, the more acutely aware I become of the vastness of the self and, hence, the more humble I become about what I feel we can know and understand about learners’ and teachers’ sense of self in respect to language learning and teaching. Although we perhaps tend to have a preferred way of viewing things, we both feel it is important to respect a diversity of views on the self. Rather than feeling that one perspective is inherently superior or ‘more valid’ than another, we feel it is more important to appreciate how different perspectives can each contribute a piece of the puzzle towards a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of self in SLA. We thus felt a book was needed that brought different perspectives together.

Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA

What makes your book different from others that have been published before?

Marion: As Sarah explained, many books on the self consider it from a single particular perspective. Our aim with this book was to bring together multiple different perspectives in one volume to facilitate an overview and help make salient where interconnections between perspectives may exist and how they may complement each other. We were keen not to specify how or in what ways the self should be conceptualised and/or researched by the contributors, as we deliberately wanted to explore the diversity of perspectives on self. As we conclude in the book, the self is so complex and vast that we feel it cannot possibly be explained by one single theory or perspective. Instead, we believe that the field will ultimately benefit from engaging with multiple perspectives.

This is not the first book that you two have edited together, how did you first come to work together?

We actually first worked together back in 2007 when we worked on a symposium for IATEFL on language learning psychology. Building on our shared interests, we then went on to co-edit a book in 2012 together with our colleague Stephen Ryan entitled “Psychology for Language Learning” published by Palgrave Macmillan. It was the first time that the three of us had worked together and we found the experience positive and stimulating and we learnt a lot from each other in the process. So much so, that we are currently working on another book project together. Although other commitments prevented Stephen from joining us in editing this collection, we were delighted that he contributed a chapter to the book with a colleague and we are very grateful to him for his help in the indexing – a skill we knew he had from our last book together. We have found working in a team to be such a rewarding and enriching experience that we are sure it won’t be our last project together.

So, what is your next research (or other!) project?

We are already working on our next book, jointly with Stephen Ryan, again in the field of psychology in language learning. We mostly work with each other online with regular Skype sessions, but sometimes we find the chance to work together at Sarah’s house in the hills of Austria, which aides our productivity! We are also all involved in a conference Sarah is organising at her home university entitled “Matters of the Mind: Psychology and Language Learning”. Within the conference, we will be promoting this book and there will also be a symposium on the self in SLA run by Sarah and involving several contributors to the collection. So, plenty to keep us busy!

Marion Williams presenting copies of the book to Desmond Morris; we are honoured that he offered to let us use his image on the cover. The picture is entitled 'The Imaginer', which is the theme of one of the chapters.
Marion Williams presenting copies of the book to Desmond Morris; we are honoured that he offered to let us use his image on the cover. The picture is entitled ‘The Imaginer’, which is the theme of one of the chapters.

Finally, you have chosen an unusual piece of artwork for the cover – can you tell us a bit more about the artist and why you thought it relevant?

Marion: For some time I have been an admirer of the works of Desmond Morris, the UK’s renowned surrealist, with their strong colours and powerful images. I have attended his exhibitions in Oxford and talked to him about his work. When it came to choosing an image for our cover, I had the idea of asking this great artist if we could use one of his paintings as many of the themes link to psychology – indeed, he generously allowed us to use one of his paintings for our previous book. When I approached him again in respect to this book on the self in SLA, to my surprise and delight, he agreed again. We think the image makes a fantastic cover and we’re thrilled with it.

For more information on this title and for ordering information, please visit the book’s page on our website here. If you found this of interest, you may also like other titles recently published by us, such as Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality (by Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre), Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning (by Florentina Taylor) and Identity and Language Learning, 2nd Edition (by Bonny Norton).