Exploring Usage-Based Approaches to Language Learning

We recently published Usage-Based Dynamics in Second Language Development edited by Wander Lowie, Marije Michel, Audrey Rousse-Malpat, Merel Keijzer and Rasmus Steinkrauss. In this post Wander explains the inspiration behind the book.

To the best of our knowledge, there is no single theory in applied linguistics that denies the role of input for language learning. Without input, as a source of frequent systematicity and a rich variety of language exemplars, children will not acquire their mother tongue (L1) and adults will not learn a second language (L2). It is on these premises of frequency, systematicity, richness and variety that usage-based approaches attempt to explain the exciting path of language learning. In this book, we take these constructs as a starting point to explore the many avenues of usage-based approaches to language acquisition, with a focus on L2 learning. Grounded in complex dynamic systems theory (CDST), the different chapters showcase how second language researchers investigate language learning from many different angles using a variety of methods for lab-based studies, for classroom interventions and to explore language learning in the wild. The volume thus clearly shows the many different research questions that benefit from usage-based approaches to language learning.

The home of the editors, Groningen University in the Netherlands, has been a centre for CDST-inspired L2 research for quite some time, generating cutting-edge publications from such a CDST perspective. This book forms a natural contribution to this line of research while at the same time being a celebration of the legacy of Marjolijn Verspoor, who has been a driving force behind the Dynamic Usage-Based approach in second language acquisition (SLA) research. Contributors to the edited volume have all been fortunate enough to be influenced by Marjolijn in some way: from her source of inspiration as a theorist, via long-standing colleagues and fellow pioneers within CDST – starting in times when generativists ruled the field of linguistics – and mid-career faculty presenting state-of-the-art methodologies, to young researchers that were formed by her as MA students or graduated under her supervision, as well as language teaching colleagues in the department who, inspired by her, implemented usage-based pedagogy in their classrooms.

We are particularly proud that the edited collection covers the wide variety of usage-based work, painting the dynamic picture of this field of SLA research in all its facets and, moreover, by colleagues at different career stages. Authors studied different source and target languages (e.g., Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian), explored language learning in instructed settings of adolescents in high-school as well as young adults at university, or even naturalistic contexts beyond the confines of instruction, for example in social media. Using quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods approaches, the research collected in this volume investigates both oral and written language development, both cross-sectionally but also adopting a longitudinal perspective where learners are followed over several years.

The result is a colourful illustration and celebration of the dynamic trajectory of usage-based research into second language development, building on the legacy of eminent scholars, such as Marjolijn Verspoor, while at the same time paving the way for a bright future of CDST-inspired classroom implementations.

For information, please contact Wander Lowie: w.m.lowie@rug.nl

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System edited by ZhaoHong Han.

To “Er” is Human: Combining and Expanding Approaches to Second Language Fluency

This month we published Fluency in L2 Learning and Use edited by Pekka Lintunen, Maarit Mutta and Pauliina Peltonen. In this post the editors explain what inspired them to put the book together.

We proudly announce that our edited volume Fluency in L2 Learning and Use has now been published! The volume has been on our minds for a few years, and it is now very exciting to see it in its final form. The idea for the volume came from our shared interests in second language fluency.

We had previously approached the topic from different perspectives and wanted to combine our forces to develop a comprehensive collection on the topic. We had noticed that various approaches had been used to investigate the same phenomenon and many researchers seemed to discuss the same themes without explicitly referring to fluency or using concepts from earlier fluency studies. Our volume now includes, for instance, sign language studies and translation assessment. The title of the volume, “Fluency in L2 Learning and Use” emerged from the observation that fluency as a concept can also be applied beyond the traditional second language learning, teaching and assessment contexts to characterizing second language use and learners that are gradually becoming users of the second language as their proficiency grows. We stress that to hesitate or search for words is natural and disfluent use of language is not automatically wrong: to “er” is human.

After the initial idea, we invited researchers from different fields to a workshop on second language fluency in November 2017. We challenged researchers to reconsider their earlier approaches to fluency-related features in L2 learning and use. The workshop helped us to understand each other’s perspectives and find common interests. Based on the workshop presentations and discussions, it became clear that we wanted to include both empirical studies on L2 fluency and review chapters mapping new openings into L2 fluency research in the volume. Now, about two years after the workshop, we can celebrate with the finished publication in our hands.

The book reflects our initial idea of an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collection of approaches to fluency, which brings the different senses of fluency together and helps to refine the terms further. With this volume, we aim to show how much the field has expanded in recent years and open new avenues for fluency research to focus on in future.

We hope that readers will benefit from the empirical findings, theoretical definitions and methodological solutions presented in the volume. The volume will be of particular interest to students and researchers focusing on the teaching, learning or assessment of L2 fluency or fluent L2 use. In addition, the chapters provide valuable pedagogical and practical suggestions for teachers at all levels of education. We also hope that other professionals, such as translators and language assessment specialists, will find the volume useful.

Pekka Lintunen, Maarit Mutta and Pauliina Peltonen

For more information about this book please see our website.

L2 Learning, Teaching and Assessment

This month we are publishing L2 Learning, Teaching and Assessment by Nihat Polat which explores second language learning, teaching and assessment from a comprehensible input (CI) perspective. In this blog post, Nihat writes about what inspired him to put the book together.

L2 Learning, Teaching and AssessmentGrowing up in the bilingual context of eastern Turkey, I struggled with understanding and communicating messages with different audiences on a daily basis. Some of these difficulties could be attributed to not knowing the vocabulary or the grammatical structures, which is not surprising for any bilingual person. Yet, often I knew the words and/or the grammar but I still had difficulty understanding what my Turkish or Kurdish family members or my friends or teachers were trying to tell me. For me, this was quite interesting. I became even more interested in ‘what it means to understand a particular linguistic sample’ or ‘know a foreign language’ while I was learning English at high school. However, my interest in technical aspects of ‘comprehension’, ‘comprehensibility’, and ‘input’ in second language (L2) learning, teaching and assessment peaked when I met Stephen Krashen at a conference in graduate school. Being on the conference organizing committee gave me additional ‘opportunities of exposure’ to Professor Krashen. As a big fan, I got to ask him a lot of questions to which he kindly offered detailed answers, often with a wonderful sense of humor.

In the process of doing research on different aspects of second language acquisition (SLA) and teaching graduate courses on SLA and L2 teaching and assessment it became clearer and clearer to me that the term ‘comprehensible input’ (CI) is used rather loosely in the field. Thus, I decided that a need is warranted (1) to define the term in light of current SLA research, and (2) explore SLA and L2 teaching and assessment from the perspective of CI. Taking a compressive blended approach that champions the intertwining of theory (Part I) and research (Part II) with L2 pedagogy and assessment (Part III), I particularly focused on the following questions:

  • What is the conceptual foundation of CI?
  • What are CI’s linguistic, cultural, semiotic and stylistic elements?
  • What are CI’s multimodal and dynamic interpretations in the subfields of psychology, anthropology and linguistics?
  • How is CI used/discussed in different SLA theories and research?
  • As far as its role in L2 teaching is concerned, what role do multimodal forms of CI play in different discourse and interaction patterns in different teaching settings around the world?
  • What factors (e.g. curriculum, learner, teacher, setting-related) do the classroom teachers need to consider in modifying CI for pedagogical purposes in different settings?
  • What role does CI play in terms of assessment modifications in different kinds of test techniques for receptive and productive skills?

In short, I hope this book helps students, teachers and researchers in the field to have a better understanding of L2 learning, teaching and assessment from the perspective of CI. I would like to conclude with this caveat that I highlighted in the Conclusion section: “If the ultimate goal of L2A is ‘authentically languaging one’s L2 self’, offering straightforward remedies as to how it happens would be no less unwise than trying to take a still picture of a constantly self-organizing dynamic system with countless elements.”

For more information about this book, please see our website.

Face and Enactment of Identities in the L2 Classroom

This week we published Face and Enactment of Identities in the L2 Classroom by Joshua Alexander Kidd. The book explores Japanese students’ identities in the English language classroom and outlines a professional development model for teachers to build their pragmatic awareness. In this post, Joshua introduces the key themes of his book.

Face and Enactment of Identities in the L2 ClassroomHow would you describe your book?
It focuses on examining classroom discourse as interpreted through the voices of Japanese students during L2 learning activities. A broad corpus of classroom recordings, student retrospective interviews and teacher interviews are scrutinised with attention to cross-cultural pragmatics, politeness theory, face and identity. The data reveals moments when interpretations of classroom interaction deviate from communicative intentions. Significant disparity is evident between socio-cultural and individual affiliations attributed to language use and the implications for students as they engage in the complex process of forging and performing new identities while adjusting to the unfamiliar demands of the L2 learning environment.

Joshua's daughter youngest daughter on her last day at elementary school
Joshua’s youngest daughter on her last day at elementary school

What is the significance of the cover image?
It was chosen to convey that the heart of the book lies in the journey the students’ generously share through candid reflections. This photograph is of my youngest daughter’s first day at elementary school in Japan and she was thrilled to be carrying her randoseru school bag and partaking in the toukouhan (commuting group). Within the toukouhan the older students, assigned to the head and rear, are responsible for getting members to school safely and on time. This was a particularly exciting time for my daughter as her big sister was hanchou (leader) of the merry band.

Why the focus on face and identity?
Face and identity influence the complex and dynamic ways in which individuals present themselves verbally and non-verbally during interaction. Language and issues of identity are closely bound together, as too are language and the management and negotiation of face. Nevertheless, there has been little attention within the research community to how the constructs of identity and face are interrelated and the impact on the student within the language classroom. These two formidable conceptual areas provide fresh insight into the communicative negotiation of face within the broader framework of identity.

What themes do you examine?
We found that what students and teachers consider standard and conventionally acceptable language use and behaviour differ markedly according to social, cultural and individual frames of reference. Of concern here was that students’ communicative strategies were regularly misinterpreted or disallowed. Pervasive patterns of language use, attitudes, and behaviour were collapsed into four themes for examination:

  • Student collaboration
  • Japanese identities
  • L1/L2 usage
  • Student silence

Analysis was carried out through a composite theoretical framework which draws on a critical account of Brown and Levinson’s ([1978]1987) concept of face duality and notions of social and cultural interdependency, discernment and place as advocated by Japanese scholarship.

You conclude with a professional development model. Why?
This model addresses the crucial question: What does it all mean? Findings highlight the need to actively build teacher/student pragmatic awareness (L1 and L2) in order to facilitate positive learning experiences and strengthen interactive competence. Our model is based on continuing reflection from authentic sites of engagement and follows a pedagogic and exploratory cycle of teaching and learning developed around five phases: Awareness, Knowledge Building, Critique, Action and Evaluation. The model holds that culturally responsive curriculum and teaching practices can foster a classroom environment in which socio-cultural diversity and individuality are valued and celebrated. 

Dr Joshua Alexander Kidd, Utsunomiya University, j.kidd6776@gmail.com

For further information about this book please see our website or contact the author at the email address above.