10 Things You Might Not Have Known About Multilingualism

We recently published Twelve Lectures on Multilingualism edited by David Singleton and Larissa Aronin. In this post the editors reveal 10 things you might not have known about multilingualism…

  1. Are dogs multilingual?

    Multilingualism is a specifically human feature. Other species generally use only their own communication systems. Interesting exceptions are domesticated animals which learn to understand human instructions like sit, stay and whoa, as well as apes who have been taught the rudiments of sign language!

  1. The use of two or more languages by individuals almost certainly goes back to the very beginnings of humans’ experience of language and in today’s world is a feature of the profile of a majority of the world’s population.
  1. This latter fact is unsurprising when we consider the number of human languages in the world. Despite the yearly extinction of languages, estimations of this number typically revolve around 6,000 but dramatically increase as soon as we take into account non-standardized language varieties popularly known as “dialects”.
  1. “Thank you!” in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish

    Sometimes you do not even need to have learnt a language in order to understand it! “Receptive multilingualism” is a phenomenon which is common among speakers, of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, where mutual understanding is assured by the closeness of the languages in question. Within other language families too the phenomenon of language proximity facilitating understanding is fairly widespread.

  1. Very often, everyday communication and language-based reflection depend largely on neither one single language nor a person’s entire language repertoire. Instead, small sets of languages (two, three or four), labelled as “Dominant Language Constellations”, provide the principal resources for language use and mainly underlie patterns of language use.
  1. A multilingual may either acquire his/her languages together from infancy or may acquire them sequentially at different ages. A common cliché is that languages learnt beyond childhood will inevitably be condemned to remain at a low level of proficiency, but the reality is that very many adolescent and adult learners of additional languages do so well that they routinely pass for a native speakers of the languages in question.
  1. On the question of age and language acquisition it is also necessary to say that such acquisition also does not stop at any point in life. Our capacity to go on learning languages, including learning aspects of our native language, continues until the very end of our lives.
  1. Bilingualism and multilingualism (three +) are close, overlapping in many ways, but also seem to be significantly different from each other. There is little doubt that, with more experience in multilingual learning, additional language mechanisms develop that would not otherwise be there. These are important not only in language acquisition and teaching, but also in relation to dealing with multilingual communities.
  1. Multilinguals who (because of e.g. stroke or brain surgery) lose their languages have various patterns of recovering them. Recovery patterns in bilingual speakers can be parallel (when all languages improve at similar rates), differential (when one of the languages shows recovery but the others show less recovery or none at all), or selective (when the recovery of some languages comes before the recovery of others). There is also sometimes an incidence of blended recovery – when speakers lose control of their ability to keep their languages apart, and unintentional mixing of elements from their languages ensues. Finally, in antagonistic recovery, the language most available to the patient may change every few days.
  1. The question of whether there is – in a general sense – a “multilingual advantage” is a fraught one. It has been pointed out that the impressive linguistic skills possessed by polyglots sometimes coexist with inadequacies in other areas of life. It may be objected that such observations apply to a very small category of multilingual individuals. A better understanding of such cases may, however, contribute to a fuller and perhaps more broadly applicable sense of individual multilingual possibilities.

 

For more information about Twelve Lectures on Multilingualism please see our website.

The Amazing Mind of the Multilingual Language User

We recently published Mind Matters in SLA edited by Clare Wright, Thorsten Piske and Martha Young-Scholten. In this post the editors discuss what is unique about the book.

“I really love the cover of Mind Matters in SLA, but why do you have jugglers and acrobats?” – this was one of the most frequent comments we heard around the Multilingual Matters stands at conferences this autumn. This book is the companion volume to Input Matters in SLA, published by Multilingual Matters in 2009, with a similar cover by the wonderful artist Ellen Harris. The beauty but also the hard work that underpins successful acrobatics seems to us an ideal way of picturing the complex and amazing processes in the mind of the multilingual language user.

We wanted our volume to go to the heart of the debates that still go on around what the nature of language knowledge is, and – more importantly for us – how that knowledge develops and can be used. So we invited authors who are an eclectic mix of established leaders in their field and rising star researchers to create a well-rounded resource, which we hope will inspire readers, particularly those new to language acquisition, to think in new and exciting ways about second language teaching and learning.

The book is unique in some ways providing a bridge between formalism and functionalism, allowing the reader to explore points of convergence between Minimalist accounts and emergentist/processing accounts, and providing access to cutting-edge research on how learners make transitions during linguistic development. The book is also unique in being committed to being accessible to non-experts. We’ve ensured the volume is easily readable by those who will benefit from it most, i.e. students training to be language teachers, students on postgraduate programmes and professionals keen to reflect on their language teaching practice.

Another unusual aspect of the book is its historical range over what may lie behind modern theories and debates. We highlight just how long some of these questions have taxed scholars – we specifically include a chapter on language evolution, and other chapters make reference to the centuries of thinking about language, dating back to antiquity. The first section of the book focuses on issues that relate to our current understanding of language in general, to acquisition and to second language acquisition, including why human language (particularly syntax) is special, from both generative and non-generative perspectives. The second section includes work on issues currently debated in property-theoretic work in SLA on L2 morpho-syntax, phonology and speech perception, the lexicon and attrition. The third section, focusing on transition research, covers psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic research impacting L2 development, including models of L2 acquisition in and out of the classroom. As with Input Matters in SLA, we’ve included a glossary to define complex terms, and we have ensured chapters can be related to real-world settings to help the reader understand at least some of the possible reasons behind of the old mystery of “why don’t learners learn what the teacher teaches?” (Allwright 1984).

As with all edited volumes, there can be unexpected delays along the way, and we are grateful to Multilingual Matters for their support during the long process of finally getting this one out – to the delight (and relief) of contributors and editors when they saw it on the conference stand!

References:

Allwright, R. (1984) Why don’t learners learn what teachers teach?  The interaction hypothesis. In D.M Singleton and D.G. Little (eds) Language Learning in Formal and Informal Contexts (pp 3–18). Dublin: IRAAL

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Working Memory and Second Language Learning by Zhisheng (Edward) Wen.

New Research on Typical and Atypical Child Language Development and Assessment

This month we published Crosslinguistic Encounters in Language Acquisition edited by Elena Babatsouli, David Ingram and Nicole Müller. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and discuss its contribution to the field.

David, Nicole and I got together for the first time in 2015 at the International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech that took place in Chania on the island of Crete. In retrospect, it comes as no surprise that we ended up editing this book on the acquisition and assessment of typical (normal) and atypical (disordered) child speech crosslinguistically, a theme that represents combined aspects of our research interests.

The crosslinguistic encounters in research undertaken by the volume contribute to the general effort in the field of linguistics to gather data-based evidence that ultimately guides the delineation of normative patterns in the acquisition of languages/dialects in all their likely contexts (e.g. monolingual, bilingual, multilingual, normal, disordered) on a worldwide scale. The book itself contributes towards the establishment of common assessment tools and methods that account for variation (e.g. typological, individual differences) during child language development and, as such, it is an advocate of all such endeavors. This approach will ultimately permit reliable and comprehensive documentation of what is normative and non-normative in child language acquisition in the world that will, in turn, guide clinical methods and intervention techniques.

The book’s aim was to bring together current developments characteristic of its theme, with an eye for the ‘under-represented’ – be that a language per se, a specific disorder, an assessment tool designed for a single language or valid for use across languages/dialects, a linguistic construct, a sociolinguistic context, or an innovative approach that extends existing knowledge. Readers will agree that we have met this goal, notwithstanding the length limitations that a publication of this type affords.

While working in this direction, we discovered that there was a downside to our vantage point, namely that the book turned out to be an amalgam of studies well within its intended span, but not necessarily of immediate interest in its entirety to every single language researcher contributing to these subfields. Given that recognition of shortcomings triggers progress, there is hope that the wide scope of the current edited volume may spark new thought and generate novelty across corresponding subfields in the study of child language and its assessment, where both typical and atypical development are concerned.

We are thankful to the editors of the book series at Multilingual Matters for hosting this, and also to all contributing authors, language therapists, as well as the children and families involved.

Elena Babatsouli, David Ingram, Nicole Müller

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessing Multilingual Children edited by Sharon Armon-Lotem, Jan de Jong and Natalia Meir.

New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning

This month we published New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning edited by Liming Yu and Terence Odlin. Here, Terence tells us a bit more about language transfer and the issues examined by the book.

New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language LearningLanguage transfer research looks at the influence of one language upon another. When learners try to acquire a new language, the knowledge they already have (as in the knowledge of their native language) can influence what they produce or understand inside or outside the classroom. Consequently, experienced language teachers often seek to understand better how transfer works and what they may do to deal with the reality of such influence.

Our volume brings together several innovative studies that shed light on transfer or, as it is also known, cross-linguistic influence. The studies brought together in the book consider such influence in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation as well as topics such as comprehension and social setting in relation to transfer.

Researchers as well as teachers will find a wealth of new insights on several topics including ones that have long been discussed. For example, the introductory chapter shows that the term transfer itself has had a long history in linguistics and was not introduced, as some conventional wisdom would have it, in the 1950s. The same chapter also provides new insights about the issue of predictions of transfer, offering a more optimistic outlook on the issue than is often found in other discussions.

The volume also presents several detailed analyses of transfer involving language contact in China, with most of these studies focusing on the influence of Mandarin on the acquisition of English. However, there is also one study involving the converse type of influence, that is, of L1 English on L2 Chinese. ESL or EFL teachers who are curious about, for example, the prepositional choices made by Chinese students will find an empirical analysis of particular cases, while another chapter investigates why ill-formed sentences such as “The Eiffel Tower sees easily from this window often seem acceptable to Chinese students.

Along with the empirical studies are ones looking at the broader picture, as in Chapter 2 by Scott Jarvis, which reviews (among other topics) some pioneering work using methods such as eye-tracking technology that suggest new insights about cross-linguistic influence. Considering the broader picture from a different perspective, Chapter 12 by Chuming Wang emphasizes the importance of the contexts in which learning occurs. The diverse perspectives of the volume are considered globally in the final chapter (by Terence Odlin), which discusses questions such as whether some linguistic-processing is language-specific. Although it may seem self-evident that people inevitably “think” in English, in Chinese, in Arabic, or in some other language, the notion of language-specific cognitive processes has proven controversial. What is clear, however, is that language transfer has a special relevance to the controversy and the new volume offers much to show that relevance.

Terence Odlin, Ohio State University
odlin.1@osu.edu

If you would like any further information about this book please see our website or contact Terence at the address above.

Consciousness and Second Language Learning

Consciousness and Second Language Learning by John Truscott is the latest book in our Second Language Acquisition series. In this post, John explains how he became interested in the subject and how the book came together.

Consciousness and Second Language LearningThe book is, first of all, an expression of what has always been my number one intellectual interest: trying to understand the human mind. I’ve spent a few decades now wandering through the fields of psychology, philosophy, cognitive science, linguistics, and second language acquisition, always returning to that main interest. Almost 15 years ago, this interest found a home when Mike Sharwood Smith and I began our MOGUL project. The focus of the project is on establishing a framework within which second language learning can be understood and explored. But given the relations between this area and various other fields, constructing a framework of this sort necessarily means going far beyond second language learning itself. The project becomes, in effect, an effort to understand the mind.

One important strength of the MOGUL framework is its parsimonious account of consciousness, which straightforwardly incorporates the major themes of cognitive and neural theories and explains central features of consciousness in perhaps the simplest way imaginable. These characteristics give it great potential value for the study of second language learning. My goal in the book, a narrowing of the general goal of understanding the human mind, was to present the account of consciousness and explore this potential value.

In the first chapter I describe two views of consciousness and human nature, criticizing both. The first sees us as conscious creatures, downplaying or dismissing unconscious knowledge and processes, while the other sees an unconscious self as more important and perhaps more real than the conscious self that we know. The second view has sometimes enjoyed a faddish sort of popularity, but the first is much closer to common thinking. Even those who maintain an intellectual belief in View 2, I suggest, have great trouble actually following through with the idea. The tendency to equate “me” with what I consciously experience can be overwhelming.

This tendency shows in beliefs about second language teaching and learning. Research cannot begin to justify or explain the widespread faith shown by teachers, learners, and academics in the importance of explicit (conscious) learning. What might explain it, without justifying it, is the underlying assumption about human nature: that conscious knowledge and conscious processes represent our essence. This assumption is, depending on the exact form it takes, either confused or simply false. Conscious processes are important in many ways, and I’ve tried to elucidate some of them. But it is a mistake to assume that what we consciously know and do has more than a very indirect relation to second language learning.

Thus, in writing the book I was interested in (a) deepening our understanding of the mind and specifically of how consciousness fits into it, (b) exploring the implications for second language learning, and (c) challenging assumptions that implicitly dominate this area. I hope the book will at least inspire a recognition that more serious consideration of these topics is needed.

For more information about the book please see our website or contact the author: John Truscott, Center for Teacher Education, National Tsing Hua University (Taiwan) truscott@mx.nthu.edu.tw.

 

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.

An Interview with Danuta Gabryś-Barker

The Affective Dimension in Second Language AcquisitionThis month we published Danuta Gabryś-Barker’s new book The Affective Dimension in Second Language Acquisition and she took a couple of minutes to answer a few questions about her research.

Well, I have to confess that a lot of the themes of my research derive from personal and intuitive feelings concerning my own experiences of foreign language acquisition and use. Looking back at my first language learning experiences, I can clearly recall feelings of frustration and negative perceptions of my own language ability, resulting in mental blocks and failures, as well as the moments of success in part ascribable to the words of praise given by my first language teacher. Also when in the 1990s I first started researching multilinguality by means of introspective methods – mostly simultaneous introspection – I did observe how much cognitive processing in language tasks as reported by the subjects was determined – either enhanced or impeded – by the affective states that they went through.

What makes your book different from others that have been published before?
First of all, I would like to say that although affectivity is the major factor in language learning (and not only in this context), not that much has been published on it in the domain of bi- and multilinguality. The book The Affective Dimension in Second Language Acquisition, edited together with Joanna Bielska, is an example of a monograph contributing to this field in that it gathers papers on various themes dealing with affectivity and not all of them just focusing on the usual and most often discussed topics of motivation and attitude. A whole variety of contexts and types of language learners are the focus of the empirical studies presented in the volume. Some of them look at the author’s own affectivity and teaching and learning experiences. Also the research methods used in the studies reported are helping to promote qualitative methods such as introspection and narrative inquiry, which in my view are more relevant in the context of studying affectivity or at least complement the quantitative data.

Danuta Gabryś-BarkerWhich researchers in your field do you particularly admire?
Ok, this is quite an easy question to answer. Although there are quite a few scholars who research issues connected with affectivity in language learning contexts, there are two names that I would like to mention: Aneta Pavlenko and Jean-Marc Dewaele. They are pre-eminent both in relation to their individual research and their joint projects on the emotions of multilinguals. I would also mention the researchers in Geneva Emotion Group and particularly Klaus Scherer, who inspired me to study appraisal systems in the context of  multilingual affectivity. I was very happy that Aneta Pavlenko kindly agreed to contribute to this volume.

What is next for you in terms of research projects?
Last year I published a book on teacher reflectivity, a substantial part of which deals with affectivity in the context of foreign language teacher training, which is very relevant to the other side of my professional interests (working with pre-service teachers of English).  At the moment I am exploring the possibilities narrative and autobiographical methods offer in researching multilinguality, in studying the languages of thought and of dreams of multilingual speakers.

The image on the cover of your book is very picturesque – can you tell us a bit more about where it was taken?
With pleasure, as it brings back a lot of happy memories from the places which I associate with sun, wine and holidays. It was taken in Lisbon on one of our romantic walks with Tony, my husband. And it seemed to me when I was looking through the photos I took last summer (and I can’t resist taking hundreds of them) to choose one for the cover of the book on affectivity, that the sight of an unknown young couple in the archway of one of Lisbon’s cosy side-streets would be most appropriate.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing/editing books?
Well, I have to say that I do enjoy my professional duties, which constitute a very important part of my life. I mean here, lecturing and teaching – especially my M.A. seminars on language teaching and learning. Although I have been teaching for almost thirty years now, I still feel pretty fresh and treat it as an adventure and something of a challenge with every new group of students. But enthusiasm has to go beyond one’s professional life, too. I have to admit to one weakness, which may sound a bit silly in the context of being an academic and researcher. I love branded and vintage handbags and not only collect them (you can’t imagine how big my collection is), but also study their history. My life is so busy at the moment that another passion of mine, painting (though I’m not very skilful at it), has had to be put aside for a while as it requires too much of my concentration and devotion. But I will return to it some day. Perhaps when I retire.

Morphosyntactic Issues in Second Language AcquisitionIf you liked this book you might also like Danuta’s other book Morphosyntactic Issues in Second Language Acquisition.