Part 3: Anxiety as a Travelling Companion

5 May 2017

Last month we published New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In the last of three posts, one from each of the editors, Mark discusses his personal experience of language anxiety and how we can learn to manage it.

Attempts to understand foreign language anxiety (FLA) often resort to the explanatory power of metaphor. Arnold and Brown (1999) liken the vulnerability and anxious efforts of learners endeavouring to express themselves in the target language to moving along in ‘a shaky linguistic vehicle’ (p.9). ‘A map of the terrain’, the title given to their overview of affective factors, in Arnold’s landmark publication, is a fitting one, evoking images of a fragile vehicle tentatively making its way across unchartered territory. In Young’s (1999) bespoke volume on how to reduce anxiety in pedagogical contexts, anxiety, on one page, is rendered in pictorial form as rocks falling towards a startled climber as he or she moves towards the summit of a mountain. In Jean-Marc Dewaele’s contribution to this blog, anxiety is likened to ‘snow’. All these are creative comparisons that allow us to think about anxiety from different perspectives, thereby aiding our understanding of this complex emotion.

Another metaphor that might shed further light on anxiety and its influence is to view language learning as a series of interconnected phases on an ongoing journey: stops made along the way to take in the wonderful views before us and to feel proud at the progress made; short breaks taken to catch a breather or to rest after difficult moments; longer breaks to consider one’s options and how to avoid the bad weather ahead or actively seek out sunnier climes; tough decisions to be taken on whether to choose a different route, abandon the journey altogether or to soldier on with determination, selecting other resources and drawing upon the help and good will of fellow travellers to better negotiate the landscape and the prevailing climatic conditions.

Whether we, as language learners, are able to transform our shaky vehicle into a sturdier means of transport capable of adapting to these phases of a journey, depends on a number of factors. Not the least of these is how learners (mis)manage their emotional reactions – including anxiety. Because anxiety can lead to a heightened sense of appreciation of the journey, but it can also bring about worry, resignation and a hive of buzzing self-doubts that may significantly hinder or bring our journey to a sudden halt.

It ‘depends’ because, like snow, anxiety is truly ‘slippery’. As a successful language learner, but someone who has experienced language anxiety, I am familiar with various phases of the language learning journey mentioned above. Indeed, my experience of anxiety first triggered my interest in research. Did my own students – future EFL teachers, no less – also have these perplexing, uncomfortable feelings – especially when speaking the target language? And if they did, how could I help them to overcome such discomfort? I set about trying to find out. A significant number of teachers did, indeed, experience FLA, so one myth that can be dispelled is that proficient learners cease to experience FLA. Nonetheless, it remains vital that learners starting out on their journeys receive informed support on how to guide their vehicles around emotional ‘potholes’.

To continue with metaphor, my experience of anxiety was, at times, like getting a flat tyre, literally a deflating experience that often punctured any sense I had of making any progress. There I was, left on the side of the road and waiting for help, while other cars zipped by. During other periods, however, anxiety seemed to be the key factor underlying my desire to improve. I was determined to patch up my own car and catch up with the others. It helped me to reflect on aspects of my own learning and teaching beliefs, and I came to realise, in a deeper sense, how language learning is much more than learning a new code with which to communicate.

At times like these, learners often need to verbalise both their positive and negative emotions, and they can benefit from relativizing their often exaggerated reactions to events with classmates and/or the teacher. Finding a sympathetic ear helps, but self-denial may be the first barrier to overcome. Learners can be reluctant to admit and talk about what they see as their own weaknesses. This is why it is important that teachers are aware of the emotional nature of language learning, and have strategies in their toolbox to help repair ‘faltering vehicles’.

Yet FLA is fascinating – precisely because it is slippery and complex. Talkative learners may be anxious, reluctant speakers may not be. While anxiety is a negative emotion, can it have positive as well as negative effects? The causes of anxiety are not singular or clearly identifiable, and the experience of anxiety leaves us unsure, dogged by uncertainty as to what exactly is coming our way and why. Unlike the falling rocks, which represent a clearly identified threat, and therefore more accurately capture fear, anxiety often leaves us scanning the road ahead, with a vague sense of foreboding. Anxiety likely arises from the realisation that our L2 means of transport is far less reliable in comparison with our solid and trusty L1 performer. It can leave us frustrated and feeling inadequate in public settings. This is why anxiety is often associated with speaking, but it may also arise when learners are listening, writing or reading.

These emotional experiences might be related to one’s own personality, the degree to which you have a healthy relationship with your classmates and/or teacher, whether the classroom activities capture your interest and make the learning experience an enjoyable one, or your levels of motivation and the way you see yourself as a language learner. Or, more likely, the dynamic interplay of all these and other factors.

Yet such complexity should not leave us despondent. The most memorable journeys are usually made up of emotional highs and lows. The former often embody the excitement and deep satisfaction of being able to communicate in an L2. Further, language learning is often punctuated with serendipitous events. For example, chance meetings with people – in or outside the classroom – can spur us on to improve our L2 skills. The lows provide for reflection, and can sow the seeds of resilience needed for the long haul. Looking back, these lows can be kept in perspective, and give us satisfaction that we dealt with these and kept on going. They also feed into our knowledge and experience of how to better prepare for the ongoing journey.

Getting our linguistic vehicle into shape, then, partly depends on how we deal with anxiety as a companion on our journey. At times, we may experience anxiety as a positive factor, with it keeping us on our toes as we try to achieve our objectives; at others, it may grip us as a negative force, scrambling our thoughts and making it more difficult to keep the car on the road. Its influence will wax and wane. Learning to manage this unpredictable companion in a way that bolsters our confidence and enables us to exert greater influence over how we feel and what direction to take is crucial for us to stay on the right track.

Mark Daubney

References

Arnold, J., & Brown, H.D. (1999). A map of the terrain. In Arnold, J. (ed.). Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-24.

Young, D. J. (ed.). (1999). Affect In Foreign Language And Second Language Learning: A Practical Guide To Creating A Low-Anxiety Classroom Atmosphere. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

For more information about this book, please see our website and check out Part 1 and Part 2 from Mark’s co-editors. If you found this interesting, you might also like Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer.


Part 2: In Search of Peace of Mind: Anxiety and Language Education

3 May 2017

Last month we published New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In the second of three posts, one from each of the editors, Christina discusses her personal experience of language anxiety and the inspiration behind the book.

My own journey towards attempting to understand language anxiety and emotions began almost fifteen years ago when at school I read the works of Plato and his most famous student, Aristotle. Both suggested that emotions are largely controlled by our mind and are autonomous from physiology and the body. Aristotle in his treatise On the Soul introduced the notion of ‘catharsis’, which highlights the importance of undermining negative and unpleasant emotions, a process which would lead to the purification of the human psyche. Later on, in reading Sigmund Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, I came across the following inspirational quote: “There is no question that the problem of anxiety is a nodal point at which the most various and important questions converge, a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood of light on our whole mental existence”.

But what is language anxiety in particular? How best could we possibly theorise and conceptualise language anxiety? How pernicious could it be for learners and teachers? And how could it be mitigated in the best possible way to ensure academic achievement and personal well-being? My research along with my experience first as language learner, then as language teacher and currently as teacher trainer has offered me invaluable insights into these questions. I have come across students who are paralysed with anxiety, students who feign their true emotions such as anxiety (whilst also undertaking emotional labour in class), trainee teachers who are anxious about the lessons they will deliver thus facing nervous breakdowns in class, experienced teachers who develop their own strategies to deal specifically with highly anxious learners in their classes, and so forth. All these situations depict anxiety as a negative emotion; and it truly is a negative emotion which takes its toll on learners’ and teachers’ psychological well-being. However, we should not be painting a totally gloomy picture of language anxiety; although it is a negative emotion, there are individuals who after long-standing battles with anxiety, have managed to significantly control it and overcome it. Or according to the Aristotelian view on negative emotions and the recent upsurge of interest in positive psychology in SLA, they have managed to turn a negative situation and/or emotion into a positive one and reap the benefit of adopting a different mindset.

And now the big question emerges: So what? How could all this inform learning? Looking at the psychological dimension of our classrooms will help us to understand how we teach and how our students process information and learn. Emotional self-awareness and self-realisation are key factors in regulating anxiety. Learners should be given opportunities to discuss their anxieties in class, share their concerns with their classmates and the teacher and thus feel a stronger sense of community within their immediate academic setting. If learners (and individuals in general) realise that it is not just them who struggle emotion-wise but others are also emotionally challenged, they will most likely be relieved! They would also need to be told explicitly that anxiety can be overcome. As Jean-Marc Dewaele suggests, anxiety is like fresh snow: you can ski over it, it is soft so even if you fall you won’t get hurt, and if there are any icy patches along the way you might slip or you might find a way to avoid such obstacles. You will, however, manage to ski down the mountain in the end and in any case you won’t be expected to ski steep slopes right from the start!

Anxiety is a pervasive affliction but is often misunderstood. We should not be looking just at its biological dimension, but also bear in mind that it fluctuates and is largely context-bound and complex. All these points and many more are addressed in our recent anthology, New Insights into Language Anxiety, which we as editors started compiling at the international conference, Matters of the Mind: Psychology and Language Learning, held in Graz, Austria, in May 2014. We were lucky enough to meet all our illustrious contributors at the conference and discuss the book. We hope that our blog pieces will entice you to read the book and better understand language anxiety through the fresh perspective that the book takes.

Christina Gkonou, University of Essex

cgkono@essex.ac.uk

For more information about this book, please see our website and keep an eye out for part three from Christina’s co-editor, Mark Daubney. If you found this interesting, you might also like Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. 


An Interview with the Series Editors of CAL Series on Language Education

10 November 2016

Next month we are publishing the first book in our CAL Series on Language EducationEnglish Language Teaching as a Second Career by Sarah J. Shin. To introduce the new series and explain more about its aims, we asked the series editors, Terrence G. Wiley, M. Beatriz Arias and Joy Kreeft Peyton, a few questions.

English Language Teaching as a Second CareerFor those who don’t already know, what is CAL and what do you do?
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC. We were founded in 1959 by noted linguist Charles A. Ferguson. Our mission is to promote language learning and cultural understanding, and we serve as a trusted resource for research, services, and policy analysis. The CAL team includes a cadre of scholars, researchers, and practitioners that focus on solutions to issues involving language and culture as they relate to access and equity in education and society around the globe.

What are the aims of the CAL Series on Language Education?
CAL wants to make high-quality, research-based resources on language learning, instruction, and assessment widely available to inform teacher classroom practices, enhance teacher education, and build background knowledge for university students across a wide range of disciplines.

Who is the audience for the series?
Educators, in the classroom or in training, as well as students in applied linguistics and other language-related fields.

How does the series differ from other series on language education?
CAL believes it can offer a comprehensive look at language education based on our decades of experience in conducting research into how language is learned and applying this knowledge to make information and resources available for educators and practitioners.

How did the idea for the series come about?
In thinking about the wealth of research-based knowledge and practical information CAL has developed over the decades, we wanted to find a purposeful way to share this knowledge. Working with our colleagues at Multilingual Matters to develop this book series was the perfect solution for our desire to disseminate information more broadly.

What topics will be covered in the series?
CAL plans to cover a wide range of topics including approaches to language instruction and assessment, approaches to content instruction and assessment for language learners, professional development for educators working with language learners, principles of second language acquisition for educators, and connections between language policy and educational practice.

calfullstackedblack
What made you choose Multilingual Matters as a publisher to partner with and how will CAL and Multilingual Matters work together on this series?
This was an easy choice for CAL. We have a long-standing relationship with the team at Multilingual Matters and are pleased that many of our staff are published authors under the Multilingual Matters banner. Our two organizations also have similar core values, believing that languages and cultures are important individual and societal resources, that multilingualism is beneficial both for individuals and for societies, and that effective language education should be widely available.

What are your own personal research interests and how will these be incorporated into the series?
CAL’s research interests focus on a wide range of topics connected to language and culture and include policy, instruction, and assessment. We have a long-standing interest in research on language education and promoting equity and access for language learners, with a special interest in programs that promote additive bilingualism. This series provides a natural outlet for our interests and priorities.

For more information about the series please see our website. You can also visit CAL’s website for more information about their other work.


Sociolinguistic Variation and Acquisition in Two-Way Language Immersion

12 October 2016

This autumn we are publishing Sociolinguistic Variation and Acquisition in Two-Way Language Immersion by Rebecca Lurie Starr. The book explores how children in a diverse language immersion school environment negotiate language variation and acquire sociolinguistic knowledge.

As language teachers and learners all know, learning a language is not just about mastering vocabulary and grammar. Native speakers of a language also understand how to phrase things appropriately in different situations, and have an awareness of how different types of people are likely to speak – what types of language use patterns sound educated, feminine, casual, and so on. These sorts of competencies, referred to as communicative competence and sociolinguistic knowledge, are normally acquired by native speakers through everyday interactions in a community of other native speakers. For learners studying a second language, particularly in a school environment in which their exposure to native speakers is limited, acquiring this sort of competence is a daunting task. This challenge may be even greater for young children studying a second language, as they are still developing an understanding of their social world in their native languages. How can a child whose only access to a language is via school come to understand the connections between language features and social meaning? Do children in this situation use their second language to reflect and construct their social identities?

Sociolinguistic Variation and Acquisition in Two-Way Language ImmersionMy book focuses on children’s development of sociolinguistic knowledge in two-way language immersion, an increasingly popular educational model in the US, in which children from different language backgrounds spend part of the school day learning content via each language, with the goal of becoming bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. One of the theorized benefits of two-way immersion relative to conventional language immersion is that students have the opportunity to receive native-speaker input from their classmates who speak the other language at home; this expands the potential range of situations in which children are exposed to a second language, perhaps helping them acquire greater communicative competence. The book presents a case study of first and second graders in a Mandarin-English two-way immersion program in the US, in which some children speak Mandarin Chinese at home, some speak English, and others speak a third language.

As Eliane Rubinstein-Avila has pointed out in her work on Portuguese-English two-way language immersion, the assumption of “two languages” in these two-way programs is problematic: often, this terminology obscures a significant range of dialectal variation within each language present in the program. This is particularly the case for two-way language immersion programs involving widely-spoken heritage languages such as Mandarin Chinese, in which immigrants from a variety of regions (Taiwan, Northern Mainland China, Malaysia, etc.) and their descendants come into contact. In these programs, it is not only students who may speak in a range of dialects, but teachers as well; in fact, some teachers may find themselves teaching students who are native speakers of a more prestigious dialect, or using teaching materials from a dialect with which they are unfamiliar. In this work, I investigate how teachers tackle this sociolinguistically perilous situation, as well as what students learn from how their teachers—and classmates—use and discuss language variation.

My research examines how teachers and students in this dialectally-diverse Mandarin-English program develop shared practices and navigate sociolinguistic variation within each language. I analyze three sources of sociolinguistic information in children’s school environment: teacher language use, classmate language use, and metalinguistic discourse (focusing on corrective feedback initiated by both teachers and students), bringing together quantitative variationist analysis and ethnographic observations.

I argue that, rather than mirroring the language use patterns of their teachers or classmates, children who are learning a second language in two-way language immersion can and do exploit sociolinguistic information in their environment to acquire a more standard language variety than those used by the native speakers around them. To put it more plainly, these children are avoiding acquiring the accents used by their teachers and classmates. Over the course of my analysis, I provide insight into how and why children might be doing this, and discuss how two-way language immersion programs function as communities of practice in which members develop conventions for how language is used, corrected, and negotiated.

For more information on Rebecca’s book, please see our website. You might also be interested in some of our other titles on immersion education: Immersion Education edited by Diane J. Tedick et al, The Sociolinguistic Competence of Immersion Students by Raymond Mougeon et al and Pathways to Multilingualism edited by Tara Williams Fortune and Diane J. Tedick.Immersion titles


First and Second Language Use in Asian EFL

24 May 2016

This month we published Ross Forman’s new book First and Second Language Use in Asian EFL which explores the issue of using students’ first language in the English language classroom.

First and Second Language Use in Asian EFLAnyone who has taught English in Asia will know that classroom practices and teacher/student roles are often quite different from what we might expect in Western contexts. In other words, I refer of course to the fundamental differences of pedagogy which exist between ESL and EFL.

When I first made the move from teaching ESL in Sydney, Australia to teaching EFL at a Thai university back in the 1980s, I found that so many of my assumptions had to be questioned. One above all struck me: the role of L1 in teaching. Then, as now, L1 use in L2 classes was generally curtailed or even forbidden by a number of Ministries of Education in Asia.

When back in Sydney, I kept in touch with Thai colleagues. And then, twenty years later in the early 2000s I took the opportunity to return to my former workplace, but this time as a researcher, to explore with bilingual local teachers how and why they made use of L1 in L2 teaching. Perhaps due to my existing relationships, and perhaps also due to my declared intent to ‘find out why’ rather than to problematise the use of L1, I was able to get fascinating data from nine local teachers through lesson observation and interview.

Teachers were able to speak of the pedagogic value of L1 – speed, accuracy, ensuring that all students could follow the lesson; as well as its affective value – how speakers of L2 ‘feel different’ in the foreign tongue, and how this affords feelings of anxiety, apprehension and joy. Every teacher felt that without some judicious recourse to L1, their teaching of English would be greatly diminished.

Looking at the bigger picture, time and again I was led to see how a newly developing L2 becomes embedded into the existing L1. There are flows of meaning which are multiplicative across two languages; their impact has been under-explored and under-valued to date. Looking specifically at Asian contexts, my book aims to give local EFL teachers a voice in explaining why and how they do what they do.

For more information about this book, please see our website


Positive Psychology in SLA

21 April 2016

This week we have published Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. In this post, the editors tell us a bit more about how the book came together.

Positive Psychology in SLAWe are proud of this book, and very pleased to see it in print. We think that the book will appeal to a variety of audiences, especially teachers and researchers. From a macro-perspective, the book opens up a treasure chest full of gold coins, concepts that language teachers and researcher will eagerly engage with – from grit and perseverance, to developing social capital through language, to new ways to look at the self.

This is not a pop psychology book. There are novel and well-defined concepts, rigorous research methods, and specific positive psychology activities that have received research support.

When one thinks about the concerns of teachers and learners, there are many good reasons to take a serious look at what makes people thrive and flourish in educational settings. Of course we still need to understand the way negative experiences such as anxiety can disrupt learning processes, but we also need to know how positive emotions such as enjoyment can promote and foster successful learning. The positive dimensions of learners have been somewhat neglected and under-researched in SLA, and this collection opens up a whole new area for reflection and empirical study of that which goes well. The authors have taken account of both the positive and negative, but are emphasizing the positive, drawing it into the conversation in a thoughtful way.

From a researcher’s perspective, a notable dimension of the collection is the mixed methods that appear in the chapters. It reminds us that right now Psychology itself  is facing something of a replication problem, where it is being argued that results of foundational studies are not able to be duplicated. In this respect, the applications of Positive Psychology in SLA are already well ahead of Psychology itself in that they embrace a more eclectic mixture of methods. The diversity of methods will allow us to avoid some of the replication problems that arise with strict reliance on a limited range of methods, and help to better contextualize the empirical results.

Another aspect of the collection that stands out for us is the blend we have been able to include of theoretical, empirical and practical papers. We have been privileged to work with a great collection of authors, researchers and teachers, who shared their thinking, research and real-world practical experiences, ensuring that the collection has far-reaching implications. With authors from around the globe, the collection includes a broad range of content relevant to practitioners and researchers in many different places.

When we started thinking about this collection, we did not know how many people might be interested and willing to contribute. We have been thrilled with the response. As it turns out, the volume seems to have hit a sweet spot for several authors. All of us are enthusiastic about the future potential of Positive Psychology in SLA, and ways in which we can understand, study and facilitate the flourishing of language learners and teachers.

If you would like to contact us about the book we can be reached by email:
Peter MacIntyre, peter_macintyre@cbu.ca
Tammy Gregersen, tammy.gregersen@uni.edu
Sarah Mercer, sarah.mercer@uni-graz.at

Gregersen-MercerIf you found this interesting, you might like to find out more on our website or take a look at the editors’ other books: Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality edited by Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre and Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams.


Exploring the identities of female English teachers in Japan

8 April 2016

This week we published Diane Nagatomo’s latest book Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan. In this post, Diane explains the issues faced by Western English teachers in Japan and how they form both their personal and professional identities.

Identity, Gender and Teaching English in JapanIn a nutshell, my research interests generally lie in trying to find out what makes EFL teachers tick. In other words, what makes them do the things that they do in the classroom and their beliefs on how they should go about doing them.

For Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan, I focused on the personal and professional identity development of one group of language teachers: foreign women who are married to Japanese men. The ten women portrayed in this book range in age from their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties, and they teach in formal and in informal educational contexts. As wives and mothers of Japanese citizens, they have established deep roots in their local communities throughout Japan. And yet, as non-Japanese, they are not entirely insiders either. In addition, expectations that they should conform to Japanese gendered norms that place priority on the home and the family have shaped nearly every aspect of their lives. Nonetheless, all of the women in my study have demonstrated extraordinary resourcefulness, resilience and resistance in constructing their English language teaching careers.

My goal in writing this book was to let the women tell their own stories: how they operate English conversation school businesses; how they juggle numerous classes in multiple teaching contexts; and how they assimilate into their workplaces as full-time teachers. But I first wanted to situate their stories within the broader sociopolitical context of Japan in the introductory chapters.

So in Chapter 2, I discussed the historical background of language teaching and language learning in some detail, starting with the appearance of the first Europeans in the 1600s and moving to the economic miracle of the 1980s. In Chapter 3, I described the different educational contexts (conversation schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions) that foreigners generally work in, and I discussed how ideologies toward the teaching and the learning of English in Japan have shaped, and continue to shape the careers of foreign and Japanese teachers. In Chapter 4, I looked at interracial relationships from a historical perspective and from a current one. Attitudes that consider Western men to be ideal romantic partners for Japanese women, but on the other hand, do not consider Japanese men to be ideal romantic partners for Western women, have influenced the experiences of all Westerners with Japanese spouses. In addition, I write about how these gendered attitudes have carried over into the classroom and how they shape the learning experiences of the students as well as those of the teachers.

The stories that are told by my participants in this book are uniquely their own. However, as a foreign woman with a Japanese spouse who has been teaching in Japan since 1979, they strongly resonated with me, and I believe that they will resonate with other expatriate teachers, male and female, who teach English abroad as long-term and/or permanent migrants as well.

Dr. Diane Hawley Nagatomo, Ochanomizu University, Hawley.diane.edla@ocha.ac.jp

Exploring Japanese University English Teachers'€™ Professional IdentityFor more information please see our website or contact Diane at the address above. You may also be interested in Diane’s previous book Exploring Japanese University English Teachers’€™ Professional Identity.


Learning Chinese as a Heritage Language

2 October 2015

Guanglun Michael Mu’s book Learning Chinese as a Heritage Language is out this month and it examines the issues faced by Chinese Australian heritage language learners. In this post Michael introduces the key themes of his book.

Learning Chinese as a Heritage Language“I am Australian but I look Chinese. I look Chinese but I can’t speak Chinese.” This is the predicament of my Chinese Australian friend, and probably that of many other Chinese Australians, Chinese Americans, Chinese Canadians, or overseas Chinese in general. Such a predicament also epitomises the tensions around race, culture, and language in the diasporic context. In response to this predicament, I wrote the book Learning Chinese as a Heritage Language: An Australian Perspective.

The book grapples with the complex entanglement of identity construction, language choice, cultural heritage, and social orders. Specifically, the book investigates how Chinese Australians negotiate their Chineseness and capitalise on resources through learning Chinese as a heritage language in Australia and beyond. Though the book is concerned with Chinese Australians, knowledge built and lessons learned can provide insight into other multicultural settings where people of Chinese descent are becoming increasingly prominent in representing the cultural and linguistic diversity of the society, and more recently, in contributing to the economic dynamics of the society. In addition, the focus on the potholes and distractions as well as the benefits and gains of heritage language learning is not restricted to Chinese diaspora, but relevant to ethnic minority individuals and communities elsewhere.

The book wades into the sociological problem of how durable and transposable dispositions of Chineseness unconsciously generates practices of Chinese heritage language learning, that is, how previous state, cultural history, and ancestral root are inscribed in the body and mind, largely taken for granted at present, and potentially projected into the future. However, the book does not align with the deterministic view because it also takes close account of how Chinese heritage language learning constantly shapes and reshapes Chineseness. The book further deviates itself from the thesis of determinism by examining how Chinese Australians strategically count on material and symbolic resources with the expectation of reproducing these resources in their identical or expanded forms.

The book stresses that the embodiment of Chineseness, the capture of resources, and the learning of Chinese heritage language are intertwined and mutually constitutive elements, while the lack of any element may impede the growth of the other two. Moreover, the book is emphatic about the fact that Chineseness, resources, and heritage language do not act and interact in a vacuum. Instead, they respond to each other in diverse social spaces. Power relations and social structures within domestic milieu, school settings, work places, community domains, and larger cultural and geographic zones all come to inform the embodiment of Chineseness, the investment of resources, and the learning of Chinese heritage language.

I hope that the book is of interest to a wide readership. I invite overseas Chinese, postgraduate research students, teachers of Chinese as a foreign/second/additional language, scholars of Chinese cultural studies, sociologists of education and language, as well as heritage language researchers to read this volume and provide constructive comments to this work. By publication of this book, I would like to encourage colleagues in the field to push the limits and break the boundaries, and to rethink unity of diversities and togetherness of differences.

For more information about this book please see our website.


Cultural Migrants and Optimal Language Acquisition

19 August 2015

This month we published Cultural Migrants and Optimal Language Acquisition edited by Fanny Forsberg Lundell and Inge Bartning. Here, Fanny and Inge discuss the relationship between language learning and culture.

Cultural Migrants and Optimal Language AcquisitionHow well can you actually learn a second language if you start later on in life? As linguists interested in second language acquisition, this is an obvious question. Recent years have seen a growing body of research within the fields of nativelikeness and ultimate attainment, often evolving around the famous Critical Period Hypothesis. According to this hypothesis (depending on the individual researcher’s interpretation), it is impossible to acquire a second language at the level of a native speaker after puberty. More than a hundred studies have tried to confirm or reject this hypothesis and the current state-of-the art, to simplify things, is quite unanimous: yes, for some subtleties of linguistic competence, such as phonetic and grammatical intuition there seems to be a major obstacle for many individuals when acquisition starts after puberty. However, there is much more to language than some detailed aspects that have generally been the object of critical period inquiry, which do not necessarily have an impact on everyday communicative competence.

What is more, there are also other populations of second language learners than those which have traditionally been included in studies on nativelikeness. For quite some time, we have followed a group of Swedish long-term residents in Paris, France. We were amazed by how well many of them had learnt French, although they were late starters. In a study published last year, Forsberg Lundell et al. (2014), 30% of them passed as native speakers in a native speaker evaluation test, which is a high figure compared to earlier studies. The socio-psychological advantage of these learners was striking: most of them were self-declared francophiles, with good experiences of integration, both on a professional and personal level. Could we find a more optimal setting for language learning? If we want to investigate the potential of adult second language learning, these are the speakers we should go after.

Luckily, we are not the only ones interested in the link between second language learning and cultural motivation. Colleagues from Sweden, Ireland, the UK, France and Spain have contributed to this volume and illustrate the relevance of studying the link between migration experience and language. It is our belief that the book presents a number of studies which convincingly argue for a tight link between second language attainment and culture.

Our hope is that our book will open up for new exciting research projects where migration experience is considered to a much larger extent in studies on adult second language acquisition. Furthermore, it would also be desirable if social scientists, studying migration and integration, would accord a more pivotal place to the role played by language, a key aspect of human culture and cognition.

9781847699893For more information about this title please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also enjoy Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community edited by David Singleton et al.


Demotivation in Second Language Acquisition

12 August 2015

This August we published Demotivation in Second Language Acquisition by Keita Kikuchi which explores the issue of why students become demotivated while learning a second language. In this post, Keita tells us a bit more about the cover image of his book and why he chose it.

Demotivation in Second Language AcquisitionYou may be wondering why you find a picture of the cherry blossom, sakura, on the cover page of this book about demotivation in the language learning. When you look at the photo of the cherry blossom petals dancing in the wind like this, what do you see? Do you see it as enjoyable or rather depressing, since their season for the full bloom is over? In Japan, you see the cherry blossom trees as seen in this photo everywhere in spring. When I looked for a graphic for this book on demotivation, I thought this graphic would be a good illustration of my conceptualization of the focus of the book. I see demotivation as the tentative process of lowering motivation in learning languages, and it can be often situational. Also, the way language learners perceive demotivators, what may demotivate them, may be different.

People enjoy having parties and watching cherry blossoms in full bloom at the beginning of spring. In the same way, students are usually excited about their language learning when they start. After a while, however, many of them do not keep studying with the same passion that they had before. Some of them give up. Here, demotivation comes in. Only those who handle demotivation well can succeed in language learning. It’s a time-consuming task. Even though they may not see great outcomes during the process, learners must be persistent in their studies.

Sakura must survive the hot summer and the cold winter throughout the year. Finally, they are in full bloom only for a short time in spring. This whole process reminded me of the long difficult process of language learning. What is demotivation in language learning? What are possible demotivators during the process? Using studies conducted both inside and outside of Japan, I hope this book helps answer these questions.

Language Learning Motivation in JapanFor more information about this book please see our website. You might also be interested in some of our other books on the topic of motivation: Language Learning Motivation in Japan edited by Matthew T. Apple et al and Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei et al.


%d bloggers like this: