Why Should Forced Migration be Considered in Research on Language Learning?

This month we published Language Learning and Forced Migration edited by Marte Monsen and Guri Bordal Steien. In this post the editors explain why it’s important to consider forced migration in language learning research.

When you listen to debates about migration in some European countries, you might get the impression that the rest of the world spend their life waiting for an opportunity to pack their bags and penetrate the European borders. As academics living in Norway, we are used to a discourse where adult language learners are portrayed as people who came to Norway voluntarily and need to meet strict Norwegian language requirements to prevent too many others taking the same journey. Researchers on second language acquisition also tend to view second language learning for adults as voluntary, and of course, many people both move across borders and learn new languages voluntarily for work, for studies or even just for the sake of new experiences.

However, many people experience that they are moved across borders with force. In Norway, the immigration policies are strict, so migrants coming to Norway from outside the EU will not be able to settle in Norway unless they are in special need of protection, such as UN resettlement refugees. Adult second language learners in Norway are thus usually forced migrants. In our work, we have met people who have been forced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, often by means of cruelty beyond our imagination. They have fled on foot to Uganda, where they have lived a rough life in a sort of limbo, as they know their life in Uganda is only temporary. Under these circumstances, many of them have learned new languages through communicating with people “in the streets”, and many of them have large language repertoires. After years in transit, sometimes decades, they have been resettled in Norway, where few or none of their current language resources are valued. Entering many countries in the Global North entails forced attendance of classes to learn the host language, as is also the case for Norway.

The language courses and language tests that the migrants will come up against in Norway and other European countries are based upon the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). A well-known critique of this framework is that it allows policymakers to easily use language proficiency levels as standards and gatekeepers, while the empirical foundation for these standards is weak, and while the descriptions of language proficiency in CEFR initially was developed to measure foreign language learning by students. Well used concepts within SLA that might further guide the language courses, like Selinker’s theories on interlanguage or various models of motivation or investment in language learning, are also based upon knowledge from students or voluntary migrants. This means that a large number of people that attend language classes in the Global North enter a system that lacks knowledge of their language backgrounds, their needs and their lived experience.

Because of the unique situation of refugees and other forced migrants, we believe we need a research agenda that takes into consideration the experiences of people who have been forced to cross borders. That is what we hope to initiate with our book Language Learning and Forced Migration.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated edited by Anne Golden, Lars Anders Kulbrandstad and Lawrence Jun Zhang.

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.

What Affects the Uptake of and Access to Foreign Languages?

This month we published Discourses, Identities and Investment in Foreign Language Learning by Jennifer Martyn. In this post the author explains what inspired her to write the book.

The story of this book goes back to my own history of language learning. Access to other languages at an early age outside of the classroom context stands out as being crucial in not only developing my own plurilingual repertoire, but also in piquing my interest in the way in which language learning is socially situated and a fundamentally political activity that can draw in some whilst excluding others. 

A range of contradictory discourses surround foreign language learning (foreign language learning usually describes classroom-based learning of a language that is not generally used by the speaker in their wider community). At secondary school, languages can be perceived as difficult and inessential, but also assets in the jobs market. Language learning is sometimes also perceived as something that girls and women are better at, an ideology that stubbornly endures.

Although each person has some degree of agency in terms of whether or not they choose to study a language or which language to study, we are all very much influenced, whether we are aware of it or not, by the discourses of language learning that circulate in our communities and across wider society. Languages are talked about and represented in a myriad of ways, all of which mediate our perception of them and our learning experiences. Whether or not one has access to a language, both in the literal and figurative senses, can also determine language learning experience. Some of us have access to other languages from an early age, while others do not. Nor are all languages valued equally in the marketplace and in wider society.

As a socially situated activity, language learning, then, is far from straightforward. Structural barriers, gendered language ideologies, and discourses of elite multilingualism, for instance, coalesce to make language learning seem difficult, unnecessary, uninspiring, or simply ‘not for us’. In the Irish context, there is limited research on sociolinguistic perspectives on foreign language education, particularly at the secondary school level. By employing an ethnographic perspective, this book investigates what young language learners think about language learning, while locating their experiences and beliefs within broader societal discourses and practices. It is hoped that this book contributes to a discussion of the social forces that mediate the learning experience in Ireland and elsewhere.  

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Portraits of Second Language Learners by Chie Muramatsu.

L2 English Use Online and Its Effects on Language Learning

We will soon be publishing Second Language Use Online and its Integration in Formal Language Learning by Andrew D. Moffat. In this post the author explains what inspired the book.

Over a decade of teaching English as a second/foreign language, I was increasingly struck by the range of internet-facilitated, English-language encounters, that my students and the students of colleagues seemed to be having on a regular basis. Kids who were chronic homework-shirkers but avid Call of Duty players disrupting lessons with shouts of “FIRE IN THE HOLE!!”; adults who were shy in class – and not necessarily very ‘advanced’ from a formal perspective – but could be drawn into discussions about their participation in English-language Facebook groups – one chap was a keen amateur astronomer and moved in English-language astronomy spaces online; young adults working in global-facing companies that needed to use English in very ‘real’ situations. I was fascinated by these little windows into the L2 lives of my students, and in particular by the fact that they didn’t seem to do these things to ‘practice their English’ – these were not learning activities per se.

I also reflected on my own Spanish development while living in Spain.  I had some semi-formal one-on-one lessons and spent a fair amount of time doing grammar activities on the beach, but when I was actually interacting within the local community – renting an apartment, grocery shopping at the market, arguing with my bank about unfair account charges – I didn’t feel at all that I was a Spanish ‘learner’ in those moments.  I was just getting things done with my Spanish – pretty important things sometimes, like registering the births of my twin daughters at the Registro Civil. I wasn’t there to learn Spanish, and yet I distinctly remember the word ‘hembra’ – ‘female’ – lodging itself in my long-term memory after that particular experience.

It seemed to me that there was much more to language learning than the language classroom. I certainly felt that I grew the most as a Spanish speaker in those meaning-driven interactions, and I could see that same kind of development in the kinds of students mentioned above – even though I was fortunate enough to be living in an immersion environment and they were not. Could the internet be providing opportunities for the kinds of interactions and exposure more typically associated with ‘live-abroad’ learning? And what should I be doing about it as a language teacher?

These observations and interests came together in the research underlying Second Language Use Online and its Integration in Formal Learning.  The book explores L2 English use online, its effects on language learning, and how classroom practices can and must adapt to embrace learners’ online interactions. It reports on a survey undertaken in partnership with Cambridge University Press that garnered over 10,000 responses from L2 English users in 157 different countries, providing an empirical evidence base of unprecedented scope attesting to online interactions, concerns, and difficulties. This is partnered with a corpus analysis of the Cambridge and Nottingham E-Language Corpus, exploring the idiosyncratic ways in which English is used in different forms of computer-mediated communication. Together these form the basis for a needs analysis for the 21st century, hyper-connected English learner, and a proposal for addressing these needs in the classroom.

I’m hugely grateful to everyone at Multilingual Matters for facilitating the publication of this work, and genuinely proud to be able to contribute a volume to a book series that has provided so much inspiration for my own academic work and development.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba.

Equity and Justice in Language Education

We recently published Transforming World Language Teaching and Teacher Education for Equity and Justice edited by Beth Wassell and Cassandra Glynn. In this post the editors explain the inspiration behind the book.

Although the work on this book began in 2019, the story behind it begins in the late 1990s. It starts with two White, middle-class, teachers – one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast – who loved languages, loved learning about different cultures, and had a passion, and enough money, to travel. The two young women, Beth and Cassandra, started teaching world languages in middle and high school. They cared about their students and wanted to be just like the teachers who inspired them. But they made a lot of missteps, mostly due to their lack of awareness of their own privilege, their own identities, and their students’ identities.

Fast forward to the early 2010s, when the two met in Denver while at a conference. At this point, each had continued their academic journey and pursued doctoral degrees in education. Each had begun working in university-based teacher education, hoping to inspire a new generation of language teachers. But graduate school, mixed with some powerful experiences in urban P-12 settings, transformed them.

They couldn’t look at those “foreign language” classrooms without noticing issues of access and equity: the students who were told they shouldn’t take a language, or schools where students had to wait until adolescence to be exposed to new languages and cultures. They became increasingly aware of the racial and socioeconomic divides in US schools – the privileged had greater access to robust programming, qualified teachers, and programs that spanned multiple years. Meanwhile, in communities ripe with multilingualism, opportunities and resources for high quality language learning were limited.

They also noticed that the curriculum hadn’t changed much since their days as students – those old lessons on Oktoberfest and mariachi, on how to shop in a department store or order in a restaurant, were still ubiquitous. Lessons that encouraged students to analyze and critique issues of resilience, equity, or justice, that real people experienced daily, were rare.

There were some scholars writing about or enacting critical and culturally sustaining pedagogies in world language spaces – those who saw potential for transformation. This group was growing, and the two women started connecting with colleagues at conferences who were advocating for rethinking the system. They met other scholars and teachers who were theorizing and beginning to disseminate their work on critical approaches. They learned from and started to collaborate with colleagues who propelled their thinking. Like their colleagues, they recognized that this growing body of literature needed to be nurtured before it would take a more significant hold in language teaching and teacher education.

This led those two women – Beth and Cassandra – to a collaborative effort of a text, one that boldly highlights the ways that scholars in the US, and beyond, are not just thinking about, but doing equity and justice work in language education contexts. The result was an edited book that demonstrates how scholars and educators are pushing boundaries to reconstruct a field that has been mired in colonialism and elitism since its inception. The chapters in this book demonstrate what dismantling curriculum, instruction, and teacher preparation looks like. It provides transformative insights on critical language teacher education, intercultural citizenship, disrupting master narratives, teacher identity, decolonizing heritage language pedagogy, and community-centered approaches to teaching and teacher education, written by foremost scholars in language education.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Peacebuilding in Language Education edited by Rebecca L. Oxford, María Matilde Olivero, Melinda Harrison and Tammy Gregersen.

What Counts as Literacy Learning for Emergent Bilinguals in the 21st Century?

This month we published Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals edited by Sally Brown and Ling Hao. In this post the editors explain what a multimodal approach to literacy learning involves.

We are excited about our new publication, Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals: Beyond Print-Centric Practices. This edited volume features research intended to expand multimodal literacy teaching practices in ways that support emergent bilinguals in a variety of early childhood contexts including preschool environments, kindergartens, elementary classrooms, and out-of-school community locations. The chapters include perspectives from areas of the United States where students are relegated to English-only policies and practices, as well as studies from China, London, Brazil and Norway. Each chapter provides background information about the study and concludes with specific implications for teaching and learning practices which is sure to push you into new ways of thinking and alternative ways to support emergent bilinguals. This book provides culturally sustaining pedagogical possibilities for using multimodal approaches to teach literacy with young children learning multiple languages. You can expect to see emergent bilinguals framed from an assets-based perspective that celebrates their rich cultural and linguistic heritages. A translanguaging approach (García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017) guides the authors’ thinking about the complex ways in which young emergent bilinguals use languages in addition to other semiotic resources in order to speak, act, know, and do in manners unique to each learner.

Multimodality is at the heart of all of the chapters. A multimodal approach to literacy learning is based on:

  • Social semiotics where meaning-making is the result of social interactions (Kress, 2010);
  • Communication encompassing more than language or print (speech and written words); language is partial;
  • Utilization of multiple modes with a mode being a set of organized resources of various forms such as images, gestures, oral language, etc;
  • Active sign makers (emergent bilinguals) selecting modes and choosing available resources to create meaning based on their way of understanding the world;
    • For example, a child may use Legos (form) to enact a visual retelling of a story.
  • Construction of a coherent and cohesive ensemble or product drawing from multiple modes.

Using multimodality as a lens for teaching emergent bilinguals allows us to offer additional opportunities to make and share meaning. In many learning spaces, these opportunities are limited to oral and written language even though emergent bilinguals may utilize other semiotic resources in environments where English is the predominant or only language. Small changes in teaching practices can provide more equitable and accessible learning spaces. For example, a teacher may offer students an option to draw in response to a read aloud as opposed to answering questions on a worksheet. The drawing could be analyzed for meaning in terms of salience of features like the main characters as well the use of color to determine how the characters were feeling. We invite you to read this new publication in order to broaden your notions of what counts as literacy learning for emergent bilinguals in the 21st century.

Sally Brown and Ling Hao

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Literacy edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam.

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.

An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching: From Margins to Mainstream

This month we are publishing the second edition of An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching by John Corbett. In this post the author explains what’s new in this edition.

I first started drafting what would become the first edition of An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching in Brazil in the autumn of 1998; it finally appeared five years later. In March 2020, at the beginning of a period of semi-isolation from the Covid pandemic, in the state of Sao Paulo, I finally got around to revisiting and revising that volume for its long-delayed second edition.

Re-reading the first edition, I realised how much things (and I) have changed. At the turn of the century, despite the work of people like Mike Byram and Claire Kramsch through the 1980s and 1990s, there was a feeling that interculturality was still a peripheral concern, at least to many English language teachers, particularly those working in commercial schools. But last year, when I told a colleague from a commercial school in Brasilia that I was revising a book on an ‘intercultural’ approach to ELT, he responded, ‘Well, is there any other way of doing it?’ Why has an intercultural approach gone, apparently, from the margins to the mainstream?

We can point at different reasons: the publication of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) document, in 2001, put interculturality at least nominally at the heart of the language learning agenda; other influential documents, like the NCSSFL-ACTFL ‘can do’ statements followed its lead. But the world also changed, with digital communications and social media giving many learners, for the first time, a direct opportunity to interact with speakers of different languages, speakers who come from quite different backgrounds and hold diverse views of the world. And digital communications also gave teachers abundant access to culturally rich materials to adapt for use in their classrooms. The days of teachers laminating pages cut from magazines are largely over. English rapidly assumed the status of an international language, not a foreign language any more so much as an auxiliary language that pervaded all societies and has been appropriated by their members for a range of functions.

So…the second edition of the book addresses many of these developments. Its treatment of the CEFR and subsequent guidelines is much deeper than that of the first edition, and it acknowledges the critical backlash against ‘universalising’ accounts of interculturality that the CEFR has been said to embody. Its discussion of ethnography extends to an entirely new chapter on online exchanges and the possibilities for cultural exploration they promise, and the challenges they often set for learners and teachers alike. While trying to remain true to the framework of the first edition, the second updates the references and reframes the contents so that they are relevant to the third decade of the 21st century.

And yet, some things remain the same. The first edition was predicated on the optimistic assumption that human beings are generally inclined to be active explorers and interpreters of the worlds they inhabit and encounter. Without necessarily atomising ‘intercultural communicative competence’ as a set of abstract abilities, the second edition likewise draws upon ethnography and semiotics as key disciplines that, if developed in the classroom, will enable learners to explore those worlds more effectively and interpret them in richer ways. The contents of the book might have been thoroughly overhauled, but I hope that its optimism remains intact.

John Corbett
BNU-HKBU United International College
johnbcorbett@uic.edu.cn

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might like Person to Person Peacebuilding, Intercultural Communication and English Language Teaching by Amy Jo Minett, Sarah E. Dietrich and Didem Ekici.

An Invitation into the Global ELT Landscape of Transnational Pracademics

This month we published Transnational Identities and Practices in English Language Teaching edited by Rashi Jain, Bedrettin Yazan and Suresh Canagarajah. In this post the editors introduce the book.

Globalization is truly changing the world as we know it as cross-border migrations of people become increasingly common. International migrations are also no longer unidirectional, nor entail the giving up of ‘old’ affiliations in order to acquire ‘new’ ones. Many transnational migrants maintain deep connections with their ‘home countries’ while simultaneously constructing new ones with their ‘host countries’ (Levitt, 2004), while others transcend these static nation-state boundaries entirely to navigate the “liminal spaces between communities, languages, and nations” (Canagarajah, 2018, p. 41).

The field of second and foreign language pedagogy, especially, includes transnational practitioners with complex personal-professional histories that, in turn, impact how these practitioners construct their identities and engage in practices across diverse contexts. TESOL practitioners also work frequently with students who are migrants themselves. These participants – language learners, teachers, teacher educators, administrators – may already be engaged in reimagining ‘home’ as an idea that is beyond a geographical location (Jain, 2021), as well as problematizing traditional notions around ‘center’ and ‘periphery’, ‘native’ and ‘nonnative’, ‘researcher’ and ‘practitioner’, and ‘practitioner’ and ‘academic’.

As proud co-editors of Transnational Identities and Practices in English Language Teaching, we envision the term ‘practitioner’ as encompassing all those who engage in the practices of TESOL, including but not limited to those who teach English language learners of all ages and across diverse contexts, those who educate teachers and administrators planning to pursue careers in TESOL, those who research TESOL contexts, and those who theorize about these contexts. Further, these practices are not mutually exclusive and by engaging in different practices within (and beyond) TESOL, many dynamic practitioners and academics create areas of overlap, span boundaries, and become brokers between different communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), thus also essentially becoming transnational pracademics – an equitable amalgamation of the practitioner and academic identities inhabiting transnational spaces.

As we move more deeply into the 21st century, transnational TESOL practitioners are thus creatively negotiating ‘liminal’ spaces, charting new trajectories, crafting new practices and pedagogies, constructing new identities, and reconceptualizing ELT contexts. In the process, the transnational landscape of TESOL (Jain, Yazan, & Canagarajah, 2021) is being agentively changed from within – as the contributions that comprise the volume illustrate. This edited volume is thus both a critical and an accessible compilation of transnational narratives. Too often, scholarly publications tend to be inaccessible, in terms of both content and scholarship, to a large part of the very populations theorized about. We have, instead, endeavored to create a space for voices that truly move the field forward in ways that are approachable for all participants.

Our volume serves as a community space where narratives of transnational TESOL practitioners and participants may find a permanent home, with narratives ranging from autoethnographies to self-study reports and from theoretical pieces to empirical accounts. We are thrilled to invite you to read the volume with its rich, diverse narratives and perspectives spanning the global ELT landscape.

Rashi Jain, Bedrettin Yazan and Suresh Canagarajah

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Complexity of Identity and Interaction in Language Education edited by Nathanael Rudolph, Ali Fuad Selvi and Bedrettin Yazan.

English Fever in Asia

This month we published Young Children’s Foreign Language Anxiety by Jieun Kiaer, Jessica M. Morgan-Brown and Naya Choi. In this post the authors explain the concept of ‘English fever’ in Asia.

English in the modern age has well and truly ascended to the throne as the lingua franca of the international academic, business and political worlds, and proficiency in English is seen to hold immense social capital in Asia and most other countries around the world. This prestige has sparked a frenzied English education culture in Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, where a huge amount of resources are funnelled into the English tuition industry each year. In South Korea, parents’ spending on their children reached a record high in 2018, according to the Ministry of Education and Statistics Korea. Total spending on private education was 19.5 trillion won, or roughly $17 billion dollars, marking a 4.4% increase on the previous year. The same survey also revealed that 82.5% of elementary school children were receiving private education. Parents spent more on English education than on any other subject – a total of 5.7 trillion won. Not only are parents looking to spend large amounts of money on English tuition for their children domestically, but students are often sent to English-speaking countries alone for as little as one year to their entire elementary or middle school periods for the purpose of attaining mastery in English.

The problem

Although it is widely accepted that second language acquisition is most efficient in one’s childhood, some children are forced to study English at such young ages that the child’s mental wellbeing and psychosocial development are compromised. There are increasing instances of children showing symptoms of stress at ages as young as 4 and 5 due to this pressure imposed on them by their parents. In English kindergartens, which are gaining in popularity in East Asia, students are often reprimanded for speaking in a language other than English. In some cases, young children who experience early English education can show low self-esteem, lack of concentration, hyperactivity and difficulty in controlling their emotions. Also, they often find it difficult to establish a stable relationship, even with their parents, and fear studying. This unnatural, oppressive exposure to English at the expense of a child’s mental health and cognitive development runs the risk of leading to a mass ‘English trauma’, where English proficiency is ultimately impaired, which is the case in many adults.

The solution

What matters is not when we are exposed to languages, but how. The early stages of a child’s development have lasting impacts on their attitudes towards learning, and children should be allowed to cultivate a healthy curiosity and joy towards cognitive inquiry. This naturally applies to language learning, where children should be exposed to other languages in ways that allow them to engage in a cheerful and inquisitive manner, rather than one that is imposed upon them forcefully. This will not only preserve the child’s proper psychological development, but also curbs any possibility of a widespread English trauma taking hold.

For more information about this book please see our website. We recently held an online event featuring the book, which you can watch here: