Issues with the Current State of the ELT Industry: Why This is the Right Time for My Book

This month we published Antisocial Language Teaching by JPB Gerald. In this post, the author explains why the time is ripe for his book to be released.

Anyone who is affiliated with language education in some capacity is likely aware that there are issues in the field. Depending on your vantage point and level of progressiveness, those issues generally include hierarchical and exclusionary practices such as native-speakerism, so-called “accent reduction”, and the policies that descend from raciolinguistic ideologies, or the association of deficient language with marginalized racial groups. We language scholars and practitioners have, in articles and presentations and books, been trying to address these issues for decades now, and yet many of these barriers remain firmly in place. In my new book, Antisocial Language Teaching: English and the Pervasive Pathology of Whiteness, I make the argument for why we seem to be so ideologically stubborn.

Simply put, all of the issues above – to which you can add the ravages of capitalism and the way that colonialism continues to shape our field – are tied to the belief that certain people and groups are inherently disordered and in need of correction. My own research is based around the intersection of race, disability, and language, but, though it does not factor into my book, you can add religion and gender and other axes of oppression to this as well. Unfortunately, we have been forced to reform our field inch by inch, focusing on intertwined issues separately and thus leaving the overall harmful structure in place. As a rhetorical device, I use the diagnostic criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka DSM-5) to make the point that the way our field was built and is currently maintained could be classified as deeply disordered and only isn’t because of who currently benefits from the system as is; more specifically, I map the seven criteria of antisocial personality disorder onto the connection between whiteness, colonialism, capitalism, and ableism and how these and other -isms harm the vast majority of the students – and educators – in the field of language teaching. Whether you end up agreeing with my argument or not, I do hope you give the book a chance to both inform and entertain you, for I believe that our discipline’s conversation has yet to feature the particular angle I am putting forth, and I also believe that we will never get out of our current cycles if we don’t try something radically different, a vision I put forth towards the end of the work.

The book has just been released, and if you are interested, you can order it here. If you’d like to have a good faith conversation with me about the issues, feel free to find me on twitter: @JPBGerald.

JPB Gerald, EdD, is a graduate of the Instructional Leadership program from CUNY – Hunter College in New York, USA. He works in professional development for a not-for-profit organization.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu.

Language Learning in Primary School: Positive in Theory, Negative in Practice?

This month we published Early Language Learning in Context by David Hayes. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book. 

This book has its origins in my experience as a teacher, teacher-trainer and researcher in a variety of countries in Asia during my career and is also influenced by my own childhood educational experiences. Research tells us that access to high quality education, particularly basic education, offers one of the most important routes out of poverty for children born into poor and/or marginalized communities. That education ideally includes the opportunity to learn another language which has many potential benefits for children. For example, it can have a positive impact on children’s general educational achievement, it can help to develop intercultural competence through learning how the new language views the world as well as helping learners to reflect on their own language and culture from a different perspective and, when children leave school, it can even provide a competitive advantage in gaining employment in certain sectors of the economy.

The language that most children are offered in schools across the globe is English, which is closely linked to national economic needs in an era of globalization. However, the English as a foreign language education that many children receive (and the largest proportion of these will be the urban and rural poor) is often very far from high quality and demotivates rather than motivates them to learn. So there is a conundrum, one which I’ve had to face in much of my work: learning another language in primary school is good for children in theory but often a negative experience in practice.

I have been involved in several projects in different countries over the years designed to improve the learning of English in state education systems which, without exception, focus on ‘improving’ teachers’ pedagogical skills and ‘upgrading’ their English language competence. Though these projects have been well-designed and have had admirable objectives, the factors involved in successful language teaching usually extend beyond ‘improving’ English teachers to those which impact education more generally. It is difficult to provide high quality English language teaching without high quality education as a whole. Hence, this book discusses foreign – primarily English – language teaching in its wider socioeducational contexts to try to understand the place of languages in those contexts and the factors that either promote successful foreign language learning or hinder it.

The book also questions the wisdom of focusing so much on a powerful international language, English, when other languages may be available locally or regionally which would carry more meaning for children in school and then perhaps be easier for them to learn. If children develop a liking for languages closer to their experience early in their schooling, this might help the learning of an international language such as English later on. My main professional concern is with the education of the children of the poor and disadvantaged and a goal of the book is to encourage reflection on more equitable provision of language learning opportunities across educational systems, as a prelude to change in those systems. Without change at the system level, (English) language learning will just be one more obstacle to achievement for the world’s poor rather than an opportunity for their advancement.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessment for Learning in Primary Language Learning and Teaching by Maria Britton.

A Tribute to Michael Byram’s Work on Intercultural Learning in Language Education

We recently published Intercultural Learning in Language Education and Beyond edited by Troy McConachy, Irina Golubeva and Manuela Wagner. In this post the editors explain the motivation behind the book.

There are scholars in every field who stand out not only because they have contributed to significant advances in thinking but also because they have devoted so much of themselves to the development of educational practices and the advancement of scholarly networks. This book is dedicated to one such scholar – Michael Byram – whose work on Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) and Intercultural Citizenship (ICit) has helped educators working within and beyond the field of language education to promote intercultural learning in their classrooms.

This is a book which aims to capture the far-reaching influence of Michael Byram’s work and the various ways it has helped shape the work of individual language educators, professional organisations, and other communities of practice. Simply put, what really motivated this book was a collective sense of wanting to create an opportunity for a range of international scholars to critically engage with Mike’s work based on a sense of gratitude and respect. We felt that this was important given the extent of Mike’s contribution to the field and his generous support for others.

In Part 1 of the book, contributors have looked at the theoretical and pedagogical significance of key concepts that have emanated from Mike’s work or have important connections with it, such as ICC, language awareness, intercultural mediation, ICit, intercultural dialogue and intercultural responsibility. Authors have aimed to consider how understandings of these concepts have evolved over time, given changing contexts and additional knowledge gained in related fields.

Meanwhile, in Part 2, chapters look at perspectives and practices associated with intercultural learning in a variety of contexts, including student mobility, service learning, teacher education and assessment, professional organisations, communities of practice, just to name a few. These chapters capture some of the many ways in which Mike’s work has inspired educators to enact intercultural learning, taking into account the need for locally appropriate pedagogical practices.

One unique feature of this book is that it includes a number of tribute chapters from those who have collaborated with Mike in different capacities. These chapters help further illustrate elements of Mike’s personhood and reveal his selfless support for scholars and colleagues worldwide.

As a whole, we feel that this book not only offers important research insights but also embodies the sense that being able to read, appreciate, and critique scholarship is an important privilege. We invite readers to engage with the research of scholars in the field and the memoirs shared by those who have had the privilege to work closely with Mike on a variety of projects. We hope that this book can serve as a model for a genre that brings together critical engagement and appreciation for the contributions of those who influence research and practice in such important ways.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence by Michael Byram.

Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume

This month we published Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume edited by David Little and Neus Figueras. In this post the editors introduce the CEFR and the questions raised in their book.

The best known fact about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is that it defines communicative proficiency at six levels arranged in three bands: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. Very soon after the CEFR’s publication in 2001, the principal national and international language testing agencies in Europe began to use these labels to indicate the level of their tests and report test-takers’ performances. The CEFR made much less impact, however, on curricula and teaching.

Twenty years on, the introduction of the CEFR Companion Volume (CV) seeks to redress the balance, giving priority to teaching and learning over assessment. The CV also updates the CEFR’s descriptive scheme, adding many new descriptors, a handful of new scales, a new pre-A1 level, and a substantial new section on mediation. In doing so, it gives language education professionals much new material to reflect on and engage with.

Predictably, the CV has aroused great interest among language assessment specialists. In 2018, EALTA (European Association for Language Testing and Assessment) organized a one-day symposium to stimulate discussion of the provisional (2017) version of the CV; and in February 2020, EALTA, UKALTA (UK Association for Language Testing and Assessment) and the British Council organized a two-day conference that focused on the definitive version of the CV within the broader framework established by the 2001 CEFR.

The conference opened with two accounts of the international impact of the CEFR, one from Japan and the other from the United States, and an introduction to the CV from Brian North, who coordinated its development. The remainder of the conference addressed three aspects of the CEFR and the CV: their “action-oriented” approach to the description of language proficiency in terms of language use, their advocacy of a “plurilingual approach” to language education, and the proficiency levels and descriptors. This explains the four-part structure of Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume, which brings together expanded versions of the conference presentations.

The book provides a wide-ranging introduction to the CEFR and the CV. It also encourages those who already work with the CEFR to revisit basic concepts by raising questions like these:

  • The CEFR identifies four modes of language use: reception (listening and reading), production (speaking and writing), interaction (spoken and written), and mediation (spoken and written). Why then do the major testing agencies use the CEFR’s proficiency levels but cling to the four-skills model (listening, speaking, reading, writing)?
  • In the CV’s scales of plurilingual and intercultural competence, the descriptors assume a strict separation between languages. How then can we take account of the real-world practice of mixing two or more languages in the same communicative event?
  • The process of linking curricula, teaching materials and assessment to the CEFR and CV is (or can be) highly technical. So how realistic is it to encourage busy professionals to take the CEFR to their hearts?
  • As we have noted, the CV invites us to focus on curricula, teaching and learning rather than assessment. But how can we expect educational reform to succeed if all three dimensions are not developed interdependently?

These are just four of the many questions explored by contributors to our book. We hope that the book will stimulate language education professionals to pose questions of their own – and to undertake the research that is necessary to answer them. Only in this way can we maintain the CEFR and the CV as the living and ever-evolving instruments of language education policy and practice that the Council of Europe intended.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Action-oriented Approach by Enrica Piccardo and Brian North.

The Remaking of Language Education

This month we published Liberating Language Education edited by Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy. In this post the editors reveal what readers can expect from the book.

Liberating Language Education emerged from our desire to unite our passion about language, education, and lived multilingualism with our visions of what language education can mean, feel, and look like in times of unprecedented change and uncertainty. This passion is reflected in our personas of ‘the weaver’, ‘the fool’, ‘the traveller’ and ‘the activist’ in the introduction of the book: they illustrate the complexity and richness of language experience and language learning across the lifespan and highlight the entanglements of the personal and biographical with the historical and socio-cultural dimensions of language and language pedagogy.

This kaleidoscopic perspective is amplified by the plurality and heterogeneity of voices and orientations manifested in the chapter contributions. The book calls into question a single and unified approach to language, culture, and identity, dismantling monolingual and prescriptivist discourses of pedagogy that have long dominated language education. Instead, it proposes new ways of understanding language and language education that move beyond rationalist and instrumental perspectives and emphasise locally situated meaning-making practices, messiness, and unpredictability.

These new ways liberate our understanding of language to encompass the full range of semiotic repertoires, aesthetic resources, and multimodal practices. They reimagine language education from a translingual and transcultural orientation, showcasing multiple, alternative visions of how language education might be enacted. The translingual, transcultural and transformative approach to pedagogy that underpins the book rests on the following principles:

  • an integrated and inclusive view of language and language learning
  • challenging binaries and fixed positions between formal/informal learning, school/home literacies, schools/other sites of learning
  • attention to language hierarchies and linguistic and social inequalities
  • a synergetic relationship between language and culture
  • the transformative process of language learning as reconfiguring our existing communicative resources and nurturing new ways of being, seeing, feeling and expressing in the world
  • foregrounding embodied, material and aesthetic perspectives to pedagogy
  • emphasis on learner and teacher agency and making their voices heard
  • supporting multiple ways of knowing and a decolonising stance to knowledge building
  • creating trusting, respectful and collaborative relations in research and shared ownership of knowledge

This critical and creative translingual and transcultural orientation repositions teachers, learners and researchers as active language policy creators in the remaking of language education today.

Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett.

At the Crossroads of English-medium Instruction and Translanguaging

We recently published English-Medium Instruction and Translanguaging edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Zhongfeng Tian and Jeanette Toth. In this post the editors explain how the book came about.

As language educators involved with teacher training, the three of us share an interest in how language use is addressed at all levels of education, but especially in nominally monolingual contexts like English-medium instruction (EMI) programmes. While languages have traditionally been kept separate in teaching and learning, the more fluid view of languages and language use found in translanguaging has gained traction among researchers as well as teachers (e.g., García, 2009; Paulsrud, Rosén, Straszer, & Wedin, 2017; Tian, Aghai, Sayer, & Schissel, 2020). Research in these publications has shown us that the scope of translanguaging is more than a pedagogy that involves alternating languages of input and output in bilingual classrooms. Beyond pedagogical practices, translanguaging offers a transformative ideological shift that both challenges linguistic hierarchies and promotes social justice, offering implications for what may be considered legitimate languages for learning.

When Zhongfeng was working with his PhD research on translanguaging in bilingual education in the US, he realized there was very little published research on translanguaging in EMI programmes. A quick search online led him to BethAnne, who was conducting research on EMI and translanguaging on the other side of the world in Sweden. After months of exchanging ideas for an edited volume to address a gap in the field, they invited Jeanette, with her expertise on EMI in Swedish primary schools, to join them. Our editorial team was in place and the book project was launched!

Our aim with the volume was to bring together a wide range of studies from different contexts and educational levels, and the response was overwhelming. The many interesting contributions revealed the quality of research on EMI and translanguaging taking place across the world. We are especially excited that several underrepresented contexts are included in our volume, with empirical studies from African contexts including Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa; several Asian contexts including Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, and Turkey; and the European higher education context in Italy. In their chapters, the authors have included some of the best examples of translanguaging to be found, illustrating how teachers and students make use of their diverse linguistic repertoires to make meaning and facilitate content learning at the crossroads of English-medium instruction and translanguaging. In addition, the volume offers contributions that question the English-only ideologies often prevalent in EMI programmes, and instead consider how translanguaging may disrupt English hegemony. We know this volume will be of interest to researchers and teachers alike.

Finally, we must say that we are grateful to have been able to work with such an outstanding group of international scholars – although most we have never even met in person. However, our common passion for understanding the complexities of EMI and translanguaging has made them valued collaborators. As for us three editors, BethAnne and Jeanette still hope Zhongfeng (now a PhD) will make it to Sweden one day so we can actually meet in person as well!

Jeanette Toth, Zhongfeng Tian and BethAnne Paulsrud

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

If you found this interesting, you might also like New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin.

The Unique Challenges of Language Education in South Africa

This month we published Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis. In this post the editors describe the unique challenges of language education in South Africa and the value the book will hold for a wider audience.

How do language testers respond to the challenges of education in an environment that is in transition, and in many respects unprepared for change? The short answer is that they do so as language testers in most environments would: as responsibly as they can, using the professional tools at their disposal.

South Africa is not alone in respect of the challenges thrown up by rapid massification of higher education since the last decade of the previous century. South Africa’s transition, however, was different from the challenges of massification elsewhere: it was complicated by the difficulties to move from an unjust system to a constitutional democracy. Its past considerably inhibited what needed to be remedied. That was not the only complication: there was also the constitutionally enshrined multilingual character of the country. A third difficulty lay in the degree of preparedness of new students arriving at university to handle the demands of academic language. How, in such a case, does one first identify, and then provide opportunities for language development to those who need it most? Once again, South Africa is not alone in noting that too low a level of academic literacy may be detrimental for the successful completion of a degree. Enough challenges, one would say, for a whole lifetime of work if you’re an applied linguist.

A quarter of a century on, we have now taken stock of the professional response of applied linguists to its transition, and this book is the outcome. The responses of our applied linguists may in certain respects be different from those in other environments, so it is a pity that the international language testing community still knows too little about how these challenges have been tackled. Indeed, the format and content of the innovative solutions of South African applied linguists to these large-scale language problems are noteworthy. Described in Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society, their solutions offer several new insights into how they set about designing them, and are well worth a look.

Unsurprisingly, in an effort to identify and tackle the challenges early, the professional attention of language testers soon turned to the education sector that feeds into higher education: the school system. Here, too, there are language solutions that will interest a wider audience. Fortunately, the professional efforts of applied linguists in South Africa have been well recorded, though thus far mostly locally. This book offers a selection of the most significant innovations in conceptualization and design for the attention of a global readership.

In compiling a volume about language assessment at university level, co-editor John Read was the first international scholar to notice the lack of attention to the designs described in this book, and he was also the first to propose putting all of this together. His diligence and professional approach are evident in the content of the book.

We would welcome enquiries and discussion with colleagues. If you have an observation or an idea to share, please contact the corresponding editor, Albert Weideman: albert.weideman@ufs.ac.za.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Linguistic Landscape of Post-Apartheid South Africa by Liesel Hibbert.

A Glimpse Into The Complexity of Identity and Interaction in Language Education

This month we published The Complexity of Identity and Interaction in Language Education edited by Nathanael Rudolph, Ali Fuad Selvi and Bedrettin Yazan. In this post Nathanael introduces the main themes of his book.

This book is premised on the idea that the dynamic negotiation of identity and community membership is a negotiation of positionality: of who individuals, and others around them, “are/are not,” and “can” and/or “should” be or become. Language education is inseparable from these negotiations, shaping and shaped by contextualized, sociohistorical notions of “truth,” “correctness,” “normativity,” “value,” and “change.” In other words, language education can impose, perpetuate, problematize, challenge, and reify dominant, essentialized, and idealized ways of being and belonging, which create, limit, and eliminate space for diversity.

Critical dialogue in language education (purportedly) seeks to account for the complexity of negotiated identity and interaction characterizing communities and classrooms therein, as well as to address manifested privilege-marginalization that stakeholders encounter in their negotiations of being and belonging. There is no doubt, however, that “criticality” is far from uniform, as it is also a site of ideological struggle over how diversity, (in)equity and inclusivity are imagined and attended to. There are competing conceptualizations of privilege-marginalization, for example: what they are, who experiences them and how, where, and why, and how inequity might be addressed. This is important to understand, as these differences affect the meaning scholars pour into (and how they interpret) terms and concepts relating to interaction, such as “translanguaging”: what it “is,” why and how it might be valued, and who can, should and does engage in it.

We have noticed that critical scholarship pertaining to language education generally concerns itself with problematizing essentialized and idealized nativeness in a particular language (e.g. English), and that such work generally explicitly and implicitly presumes that identity, experience, knowledge, and skills can and should be apprehended categorically (e.g. “native”/“non-native”; “local non-native”/ “non-local [other]”). The majority of such work is detached from broader communal negotiations of identity and interaction, and the transdisciplinary scholarship and social movements which have documented such negotiations, however, leaving a) the contextualized, sociohistorical, local-global origin and nature of such idealized nativeness partially or wholly unaccounted for and unaddressed, and b) the voices of individuals whose identities and experiences transcend such categories, marginalized or silenced.

In our call for proposals and throughout the editing process, we encouraged contributors to envision a criticality that is, “academically transdisciplinary, decentralized, sociohistorically contextualized and connected to the community in which it is situated, and for one that prompts individuals toward self-reflexive attention to positionality; to what frames our seeing (Lather, 1993)” (Rudolph, 2019a: 105). We couldn’t have been happier with, or more inspired by, what resulted.

In Chapter 1, for example, Syed Abdul Manan, Maya Khemlani David, Liaquat Ali Channa, and Francisco Perlas Dumanig, examine English-only language policies and practices in Pakistan, which neglect the pluri- and translingual complexity of society and marginalize the identities of teachers and students. Meike Wernicke (Chapter 2) explores how ‘nonfrancophone’ teachers of French in Canada negotiate personal-professional identity when wrestling with essentialized and idealized notions of nativeness in their workplaces. In Chapter 7, Naashia Mohamed shares a Maldivian teacher’s lived experiences negotiating positionality in the Maldives, during her transition from English teacher to a university instructor of Dhivehi, the national language. Naashia discusses how her participant, Hawwa, initially feels relegated to a second-class occupation, experiences a shift in how she views the role and value of Dhivehi and herself as a professional. April Salerno and Elena Andrei (Chapter 8) present a dialoguing framework for teachers and language teacher educators to explore their language identities and how those identities shape their language-teaching practices, with a focus on their experiences as self-described bilingual (Romanian and English) teacher educators. In Chapter 13, Sarah Hopkyns explores Emirati university students’ lived experiences negotiating positionality as speakers of Arabic and English within their families, schools, and in Emirati society at large.

We hope readers are inspired by the volume! For those interested in exploring the themes more, please feel free to contact Nathanael Rudolph at nrudolph@kindai.ac.jp.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Research Methods for Complexity Theory in Applied Linguistics by Phil Hiver and Ali H. Al-Hoorie.

Behind the Books: Language Education in a Changing World

In the second video in our Behind the Books series Rod Bolitho and Richard Rossner talk about their new book, Language Education in a Changing World, with Maria Heron.

Language Education in a Changing World is available now on our website. Enter the code BTB30 at the checkout to get 30% off!

How Should Educators Interpret and Respond to Silence in the English Language Classroom?

This month we published East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education edited by Jim King and Seiko Harumi. In this post the editors explain where the idea for the book came from and its aim to address the stereotypes of learner silence in East Asian English language classrooms.

Those of us who teach languages all encounter the phenomenon of silence in our classrooms. But how do we interpret and react to these moments of silence? On the one hand, silence can help learning because it allows space for concentration and thinking, whilst on the other, it can be seen as an enemy of the process of second language acquisition, which is so reliant on interaction and meaningful communication for progress. The idea for this book has its origins in our scholarly journeys in East Asia where we were both engaged as educators and researchers. These sometimes challenging experiences led us to develop a fascination with the role silence plays in second language education.

Emerging from an awareness of the need for an up-to-date book which does justice to the significant role silence plays in L2 learning, our publication draws on ideas from a variety of academic fields (e.g. applied linguistics, psychology, international education, pragmatics, anthropology, and so on) in order to build a comprehensive picture of classroom silence in East Asian contexts. This openness to a diversity of ideas is shared by each contributor to the collection, all of whom are experienced in working with students and teachers from such countries as China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.

Compared with investigations focusing on classroom talk, research on silence is relatively rare. Studies done in the past tended to look at the socio-cultural background of East Asian language learners in order to understand their reticence, encouraging stereotyped images of these students as being merely shy, passive and quiet. Such an ethnocentric interpretation of learner behaviour can in fact obfuscate pictures of classroom practice and render them inaccurate.

As one colleague explained: ‘I illustrate the problem as a teacher and regard learner silence as a wall, but also sympathise with students’ frustration with teachers who, rather than understanding their responses, interpret them as a lack of initiative or a refusal to participate’. This teacher’s dilemma encapsulates attempts to express the role and function of specific silences in L2 learning.

East Asian Perspectives on Silence in English Language Education rejects simplistic stereotypes and generalisations which profess to explain why so many learners from East Asia seem either reluctant or unable to speak English by providing an account of current research into the complex and ambiguous issue of silence in language education. It also offers a fresh perspective on ways to facilitate classroom interaction while also embracing silence when it is appropriate to do so.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also like other books in our Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series.