New series: Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching

10 October 2017

In January 2018 we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas, which is the first book in our new series, Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching. In this post, series editors Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan introduce the new series and explain the inspiration behind it. 

Both of us started our careers in the classroom as language teachers and it was there that we first developed our fascination with the differences we noted in how our learners approached their learning … or did not, as the case may be. Little did we know back then just where that fascination would take us. From those initial sparks began an ongoing interest in language learning psychology. Our curiosity led us to seek ways to understand what made our learners tick and, somewhat inadvertently, into the exciting world of educational psychology. Once exposed to these – at least to us – new ideas, we then became interested in how best to apply these insights in our teaching. It was classroom practice that triggered our early interest and that practical focus continues to be a key driver for us in our research and we hope in this new Multilingual Matters series too.

Over time, our own understandings of psychology have grown and become – we like to think – more nuanced. In the same way, and over a similar timeframe, a new academic field has grown, both in scale and sophistication, around in interest in the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT). One of the great joys for us in recent years has been the discovery of many like-minded, curious teachers/teacher-researchers/researchers looking to explore the potential of educational psychology theory and research in an attempt to better understand language teaching and learning. For many years, discussions of psychology in language education were dominated by the concept of learner motivation and while that remains a key area of inquiry, we are now seeing a whole range of other topics moving into focus. In addition to motivation, the new field covers various dimensions of the self, identity, affect, cognition, attributions, personality, strategies, self-regulation, and agency among others. A distinguishing trait of this new field is that it seeks to explore the connections between these concepts as opposed to separating them from each other and attempting to analyse them in isolation. Another key shift has been a growing attention to teacher psychology. While there is a strong body of research in certain areas, large domains of teacher psychology have remained almost completely unexamined in the field of language education. Given the tight connections between learner and teacher psychology, it is surprising we know so little about what makes such key stakeholders in classroom life function and potentially flourish in their professional roles.

The first book in the series, Language Teacher Psychology

As a part of the emergence of this new field, there has been an accompanying increase in the number of publications with a PLLT focus. At first, these were scattered across publishing houses, but we felt that there was a need to bring them together under one roof to make it easier for people to find related works, to see connections across areas of research and practice, and to foster cooperation rather than further fragmentation. Multilingual Matters already housed many key PLLT publications within its broader SLA series and it is from that highly successful series that the new PLLT was born. The birth of the new PLLT series has coincided with the further growth of a biennial conference dedicated to the field as well as the formation of a professional association for those working in the area. It is tremendously exciting to witness the new series taking shape and we feel enormously privileged to be a part of this innovative new project. We can already see some thrilling publications on the horizon as academics from across the globe come forward to share their work on PLLT through the series. We hope you will enjoy reading the books that will make up the new series and we also hope that some of you may consider making your own contribution in the future.

For more information about the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series, please see our website. Book proposals for this series should be sent to Laura Longworth.


Language Learning Motivation in Japan

8 January 2014

A couple of months ago, we published Language Learning Motivation in Japan edited by Matthew T. Apple, Dexter Da Silva and Terry Fellner. Here Matthew gives us a bit more detail about how the book came together.

Language Learning Motivation in JapanLanguage Learning Motivation in Japan began to coalesce as a feasible book project during preparations for a conference in Tokyo, in June 2011. We had already contacted and arranged for guest speakers from both inside and outside Japan, and all six graciously offered to contribute chapters to the book project.

Ultimately the conference attracted over 200 participants from around the world. Given the difficulties those of us based in Japan had recently experienced following the triple disaster of 3-11-11, it was extremely motivating to encounter so many dedicated language teachers and researchers. After the conference ended and the book project began in earnest, the response was overwhelming. We initially received well over 50 chapter abstracts but narrowed this down to eleven chapters to be included in the book.

We asked the authors to review each others’ chapters and encouraged them to refer to similar or contrasting concepts and findings in other studies in the book. By doing so, we believe the resulting book presents a clear, coherent snapshot of language motivation at various levels of education in Japan. Chapters touch upon salient issues related to motivation such as autonomy, cultural and personal identity, self-efficacy, intercultural competence, communities of practice, and the role of the teacher.

A key feature of the book is the inclusion of a roughly equal number of studies implementing quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods data analysis techniques. The main reason for this was our desire to encourage SLA researchers to look beyond the stereotypical quantitative-qualitative false dichotomy that often paralyzes and prevents communication among researchers and teachers. By including studies from statistical modeling to in-depth interview case study to diary study, we hoped to convince readers, whether established researchers and teachers or those in training both inside and outside Japan, to view such research approaches as complementary rather than conflicting.

Finally, as editors who consider ourselves teacher-researchers, we were keenly aware of the gap that exists between those in the field of SLA who see themselves as more or less pure researchers and those who regard themselves as down-to-earth practitioners at the chalkface. In our view, the teacher-researcher divide is just as much a false dichotomy as qual-quan. Both roles and both ways of approaching language education are essential: they are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. We therefore encouraged authors to consider how their research could inform practice in the language classroom, and we hope the results will prove useful from both a pedagogical and a theoretical point of view.

While the research is tightly focused on language learning in Japan, we believe that teachers and researchers around the world will find value in every chapter. This focus, rather than reducing the applicability of the findings, further illustrates the multifaceted, dynamic, nuanced, and incredibly complex world of language learner motivation, and also brings up intriguing questions regarding the influence of “culture” on learners’ attitudes. Additionally, much recent world news about Japan has been rather negative: we hope that the research and teaching theories, research, and practices discussed in Language Learning Motivation in Japan provide positive examples of an active, growing community of language learners and educators.

For more information on this title and for ordering information, please visit the book’s page on our website here.


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