Explaining Complexity and Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST)

This month we published Research Methods for Complexity Theory in Applied Linguistics by Phil Hiver and Ali H. Al-Hoorie. In this post the authors explain why their book is so important for complexity research.

What are the big questions that occupy researchers in the human and social sciences? Chances are that these questions share two key features. First, many social questions, from the minute level to the grand scale of things, are interconnected. Second, their optimal solutions are constantly changing over time. As the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once said, the 21st century is likely to witness a general intellectual reorientation around a complex, interconnected, and dynamic view of the world, a view that is indeed sweeping through various human and social disciplines. And, if many of the major issues of our time are complex and systemic, they need to be approached with a corresponding shift in perception. One such approach is complexity and dynamic systems theory (CDST).

Of course, once we began to adopt a CDST understanding of language learning, development, and use in our work in applied linguistics, it seemed to us that everything straightforward was ruined. Like many others, we had happily operated on the assumption of a neatly ordered and simple world. We studied phenomena by breaking them up into smaller parts, drawing boundaries between those parts, and studying them separate from their environment and in isolation. It is no wonder that before long we ended up frustrated and puzzled as to why we were no closer to understanding and capturing reality than before. While embracing a CDST view promised to bring us closer to an approximation of this complex and dynamic reality, we quickly realized that there was very little guidance for the methods necessary to do this kind of research. Many sources of information were too abstract or conceptual, but also misleading (e.g. “qualitative data are inherently better for studying complex systems”); others were far too technical (e.g. “Lyapunov functions are scalar functions that can be used to measure asymptotic equilibrium in stochastic models”) and did not seem to lend themselves to the kinds of questions that concern us applied linguists.

Methods for doing CDST research did prove elusive at first. But with just a little more digging, we became convinced that certain existing research templates, techniques for data elicitation, and methods of analysis that have a firm complexity basis in other human and social domains did hold promise. This book is the result of that journey we took to learn about already well-established designs and methods for complexity research. Based on our search, and a healthy dose of trial and error, we set out to share a variety of methods for complexity research already in widespread use by social complexivists. In the end, this is the book that we wish we had when we set out nearly a decade ago to explore the issues and questions of interest to us in applied linguistics. We hope it will function like a road map in pointing the way forward to many others who are also interested in the interrelated and dynamic reality of the human and social world.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System edited by ZhaoHong Han.

How Best to Conduct Multilingual Ethnographic Research

We recently published Learning and Using Languages in Ethnographic Research edited by Robert Gibb, Annabel Tremlett and Julien Danero Iglesias. In this post the editors explain how the book can help researchers with their multilingual ethnographic research.

Are you a researcher who needs to learn a new language or use another language you already know in order to carry out interviews or fieldwork for a PhD or other research project? If so, there are many important questions you are likely to be asking yourself: What’s the best way for me to try and learn the new language? How long will it take me to become fluent enough to conduct the research successfully? What issues am I likely to encounter when working in another language? How can I prepare myself to address these effectively? Just like the contributors to this volume, you’ve probably searched the existing literature on ethnographic research for answers to such questions and found that it has surprisingly little to say about the learning and use of different languages for research purposes.

Learning and Using Languages in Ethnographic Research aims to help researchers like you to make more informed choices when conducting multilingual ethnographic research. In the book, researchers at different stages of their career offer frank and often moving personal accounts of how they attempted – not always entirely successfully! – to learn and use different languages in their work. The contributors are all concerned in particular with reflecting on how their experiences were shaped by wider structures of power, hierarchy and inequality. Drawing on their combined experience, the volume ends by providing some ‘top tips’ for those intending to learn or use another language in order to carry out ethnographic research.

By breaking the silence that still tends to surround language-related issues in fieldwork, the book aims to help researchers to feel more confident about handling language-related matters in their own work, and also to encourage them to add their own voices to what is a long-overdue debate about the multilingual aspects of ethnographic research!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Critical Reflections on Research Methods edited by Doris S. Warriner and Martha Bigelow.

The Increasing Importance of Learning English and Chinese for Young People

This month we published Learning English and Chinese as Foreign Languages by Wen-Chuan Lin. In this post the author talks about the themes explored in the book.

This book compares English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching and learning in Taiwan with Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL) education in England and highlights how classroom activities are embedded within ethnic or social group cultures, family resources and school visions or goals. From Vygotsky-inspired sociocultural theory and a cross-cultural comparative angle, I hope to highlight the following themes and critical issues in foreign language education:

  • The impact of globalisation on EFL/CFL: There is a growing impact of globalisation on foreign language education and I would argue for a future need to view foreign language learning from traditional ‘knowledge value’ as school subjects or ‘use value’ to ‘exchange value’ and ‘intercultural value’.
  • Elite social status of EFL/CFL: There are similar emerging social issues such as elitism and inequality in language learning identities that affect both EFL and CFL practice in Taiwan and England. This social inequality has the potential to persist if certain attitudes remain; such as the English educational myth that ‘only intelligent students can learn languages well’.
  • Pedagogical ‘cultural bridging’ and ‘sociolinguistic bridging’: Those Taiwanese teachers who employed students’ ethnic culture or mother-tongue in dialogical interactions were able to create a psychological co-membership and enhanced students’ EFL learning, while in England similar interactional use of students’ everyday culture or teacher’s own background culture were also detected in Chinese classrooms. In teaching CFL, an emerging form of culturally responsive pedagogy using learners’ existing sociolinguistic knowledge of English to learn Chinese was found to be useful in helping young people who are native speakers of English.
  • ‘Knowledge-based’ EFL vs. ‘activity-based’ CFL pedagogy: Among the differences of interactional styles evident in schools in both studies, the most pervasive general pedagogical pattern was of ‘knowledge-based’ grammar teaching in Taiwan in contrast to ‘activity-based’ pedagogy in England despite the fact that the class sizes are different – on average 30-40 in Taiwan and 10-15 in England. It could be argued that an ‘activity-based’ pedagogy would help students to move from a traditional view of foreign language learning as ‘knowledge value’ to one of ‘exchange value’ and ‘intercultural value’ in an era of rapid globalisation.
  • Emerging social issues in EFL and CFL: Both EFL and CFL practices are not isolated from the influence of socialisation and enculturation. Emerging social issues such as resource-divide and social gender identities were discovered in learning these two foreign languages that must draw our attention at personal, interpersonal and policy level if we wish to encourage students to access them without excluding those who are not provided with appropriate cultural resources.

It is my hope that this book will provide pedagogical insights for foreign language teachers to take into account classroom pedagogy that incorporates both cultural and sociolinguistic bridging in order to motivate learning; and provide theoretical and methodological insights for researchers to look at young people’s foreign language learning processes that take place within social, cultural and historical contexts.

Wen-Chuan Lin, Department of English, Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages, Taiwan

97072@mail.wzu.edu.tw

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Soft Power and the Worldwide Promotion of Chinese Language Learning by Jeffrey Gil.

“As Diversity Grows, So Must We”: Teaching and Learning in the Multilingual Classroom

This month we published Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms by Roma Chumak-Horbatsch. In this post the author tells us what to expect from the book.

“You can banish the mother tongue from the classroom – but you cannot banish it from students’ heads.” [1] 

Schools, early learning centres and educational programs worldwide are becoming increasingly language-rich. This means that learners in these contexts come from a variety of language backgrounds. It also means that many have little (or no) proficiency in the language of program or curriculum delivery. In response to this linguistic diversity, teachers are reviewing and rethinking their tried-and-true teaching strategies and asking the following questions:

  • What is the best way to teach learners from different language backgrounds?
  • I am not a language teacher. What do I do?
  • How do I communicate with silent newcomers?
  • How can I integrate them into the life of the classroom?
  • How can I help them learn the school language and participate in the curriculum?

This book directly addresses these questions and provides teachers with direction and concrete guidance. It builds on and extends the original Linguistically Appropriate Practice, or LAP[2], a multilingual teaching approach that upsets and challenges the traditional separation of languages, restores home languages to their rightful place as important language learning “allies”[3] and uses learners’ prior knowledge as a starting point in learning.

Here are the highlights of Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classroom.

  • Explains multilingual pedagogy, provides LAP basics and characterizes the LAP teacher
  • Helps readers better understand the theory-practice connection: a tree image (LAP Tree) is used to explain the link between multilingual practice and the language and learning theories that support this inclusive and open teaching approach.
  • Includes voices from the field: the numerous testimonials, journeys and classroom experiences of over 50 professionals (teachers-in-training, classroom teachers, special program teachers, school principals and a language consultant), working in language-rich schools and specialized programs in seven countries (Canada, Finland, Germany, India, Luxembourg, Iceland and Sweden) showcase how multilingual teaching plays out in real learning contexts
  • Invites teachers working in language-rich classrooms to rethink and review their current practice, shift their teaching from the local to the global and adopt Linguistically Appropriate Practice
  • Facilitates the adoption of multilingual pedagogy: the LAP guide is intended to help teachers identify, position and plan their multilingual work. Each of the six blocks of the guide includes “how to” suggestions and tips. Beginning with practice review and reflection, the LAP map guides teachers to retool their teaching, move away from monolingual practice and take the multilingual turn
  • Provides invaluable discussion about the following issues and challenges identified and raised by multilingual teachers: the “silent period”, a largely misunderstood and never-before explained behaviour of newcomer learners; engaging all children in the multilingual agenda; children’s unwillingness to use their home language in the classroom; understanding speakers of “little known” languages and partnering with families
  • Contains a treasure trove of resources: the book’s lists, websites, suggestions and ideas found in the Resources chapter and also in the Appendix will enrich and extend teachers’ multilingual agendas

This is an exciting time to be a teacher! The language richness found in schools is changing the way teaching and learning happen. It is a call for action, inviting teachers to review their current practice, discover the language richness of their learners, change their teaching direction, open their hearts and their doors to languages and transform their classrooms into multilingual hubs where the languages of all learners are seen, heard and included in the curriculum. Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms is a teaching tool that will help teachers in this multilingual teaching adventure.

Share your multilingual journey with the author:

Roma Chumak-Horbatsch – rchumak@ryerson.ca

[1] Butzkamm, W. (2003). We only learn language once. The role of the mother tongue in FL classrooms: death of a dogma. Language Learning Journal, 28, 29-39.

[2] Chumak-Horbatsch. R. (2012). Linguistically Appropriate Practice: Working with Young Immigrant Children.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

[3] Butzkamm, W. (2003). We only learn language once. The role of the mother tongue in FL classrooms: death of a dogma. Language Learning Journal, 28, 29-39.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker.

Language Learning Strategy Instruction

This month we are publishing Learning Strategy Instruction in the Language Classroom edited by Anna Uhl Chamot and Vee Harris. In this post Vee explains the inspiration behind the book.

The inspiration for this book emerged from a chat with some colleagues at the end of a busy day. The discussion centred around research into language learner strategies: those internal tactics that people use to help them memorise vocabulary in another language or to make themselves understood, for example. Thinking perhaps there was something we both had missed, we tentatively suggested that there was a lack of research into how to actually teach these strategies. In the course of our classroom-based research, we had been struck by the way studies into Language Learning Strategy Instruction (LLSI) described in detail research methods and results but said little about the rationale underlying the teaching activities and approaches used. To our surprise, our colleagues shared our concern and we agreed that a book devoted uniquely to this area would be a valuable resource for both researchers and teachers alike. We decided to widen our enquiry to colleagues in a range of other countries and contexts, inviting them also to contribute a chapter on a topic of their choice. Committed to bridging the gap between research and practice, we stressed that their chapters could deal with the theoretical issues LLSI raised but could equally well describe concrete materials for teaching strategies to different age groups.

We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm to participate whether from colleagues in the USA, New Zealand, Canada, or the UK. However two further areas emerged from their suggestions. The first was to have a section on those strategies that have been under-researched and therefore not frequently taught, such as strategies for learning grammar or developing Critical Cultural Awareness. The second would address the lack of guidance on integrating LLSI into pre- and in-service teacher education. Hence there are four parts to the book: parts 1 and 2 deal with issues such as the range of approaches to LLSI, and identifying and teaching the under-researched strategies. Parts 3 and 4 focus on the implementation of LLSI whether through the use of technology and the coursebook or through engaging with teachers.

Our book draws on scholars with a long-established, international reputation such as Andrew Cohen, Rebecca Oxford and Joan Rubin as well as new researchers and practising teachers. The contributors use their extensive knowledge and experience to present a ‘state of the art’ picture of Language Learning Strategy Instruction. However the book also looks to the future; so each chapter ends with key questions to be resolved within that topic area and the book concludes with a chapter that offers a map for future research directions.

The book will be an important resource for researchers both for its critical perspectives and for supporting them in designing interventions to implement LLSI. It should prove equally valuable to all informed languages teachers and students studying to become languages teachers, since it is one of a very small number of publications to include detailed teaching materials and activities. Although many of the illustrations are for ESL/EFL students, some are in French and German.

Finally it should also be relevant to all those with an interest in Second Language Acquisition since the mental and social processes of language learning, the reasons for differences in the rate and route learners take, and why some learners do so much better than others lie at the heart of our understanding of language learning strategies.

Vee Harris

This book is published in memory of Anna Uhl Chamot, who sadly passed away during the publication process.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

10 Tips for Teaching Multilingual Learners

This month we published Language Learning and Teaching in a Multilingual World by Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes, Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes, Julie McAllister, Malory Leclère and Grégory Miras. In this post the authors give us some advice for teaching multilingual learners.Teaching a language or content in a multilingual classroom (or any type of learning environment, such as telecollaboration or distance learning) is becoming the norm as well as a challenge faced by more and more teachers. But it is also an asset, as learners have opportunities to communicate with peers of different origins, cultures and backgrounds and thus develop tolerance and respect for others. To maximise the benefits of these opportunities while minimising the potential threats, here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Take each learner as he/she is, as a unique, complex and multifaceted individual who brings their knowledge, skills and cultural understandings to the learning situation. A one-size-fits-all approach is likely to prove ineffective in a multilingual environment (and in other environments too).
  2. As a teacher, always be kind and supportive and learn why you should be.
  3. Value (and use) all the languages of each learner in the classroom equally. No language should be ruled out.
  4. Propose clear and realistic learning goals and ensure that learners understand them. To that effect, use the language resources available (virtual or physical).
  5. Adapt the work to the needs which emerge as the project moves forward instead of following a predefined sequence. However, never lose sight of the initial goal: it can be reached in many different ways.
  6. Propose meaningful tasks that are connected to the world outside school. By doing so, the learners will get involved in the activities, which in turn will foster learning.
  7. Arrange for the learners to communicate and interact in the target language with people from other countries, as a meaningful way to use and practise the language they need for their schooling.
  8. Identify all the tools that can be made available to students to help them become independent language learners and users. A teacher does not have all the solutions, but learners can be resourceful and incredibly helpful when trusted. Resources can be available in the learners’ original language and connected to their culture.
  9. Encourage peer collaboration and interaction: see number 7. Interaction helps students make meaning and learners’ explanations are often more understandable to their peers than the teacher’s. In a multilingual class, learners who have the same original language could work together.
  10. Work to foster learner creativity and engagement by providing stimulating learning environments.

Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes, University of Nantes
Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle
Julie McAllister, University of Nantes
Gregory Miras, University of Rouen
Malory Leclère, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle

Contacts

mf.narcycombes@wanadoo.fr

julie.mcallister1@univ-nantes.fr

 

For more information about the book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Multilingual Reality by Ajit K. Mohanty.

Taiwan’s Gendered Language Learning Ideologies

This month we published Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital by Mark Fifer Seilhamer. In this post the author talks about the research that informed the book.

The title of my new book just out this month is Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital: Taiwanese Narratives of Struggle and Strategy, with ‘Gender’ prominently foregrounded as the first element of this title. But while ‘Neoliberalism’ and ‘Distinction through Linguistic Capital’ had been dominant themes since the very beginning of the manuscript’s preparation, the extent to which my focal participants’ (female) gender impacted their experiences is an issue that was addressed only fleetingly in the manuscript I originally submitted to Multilingual Matters back in 2016. This early version featured a fairly straightforward class-focused Bourdieusian analysis of my participants’ narrated experiences, seemingly (in retrospect) oblivious to the fact that gender does indeed play an outsized role in my participants’ stories, as well as in the dynamics of multilingualism in Taiwan more generally.

The centrality of gender to my participants’ experiences as language learners was pointed out by a reviewer, who asked what I made “of the fact that some students are quite successful at making friends with foreigners, getting free language practice, lining up Skype partners, having boyfriends to talk English with and to pay for trips abroad”. This reviewer went on to pose other questions that served to guide my radical overhaul of the manuscript: “Are young women considered ideal candidates for the sorts of international marketing/public relations/sales jobs many of the women get? How are ideologies of language acquisition gendered in Taiwan, and are these women seen as compromised in terms of their relationships and friendships with foreigners?”

Ideologies of language acquisition are indeed highly gendered in Taiwan, with the idea that males are simply no good at learning languages regarded by many as a commonsensical notion. This common belief results, of course, in language study beyond minimum requirements being almost exclusively the preserve of females. At the start of this research, I did not set out to include only female participants. In the junior college program specializing in languages that I was recruiting participants from, male students were, however, very much in the minority and my pool of possible participants consisted almost entirely of female students. Because it is commonly believed that female brains are specifically wired for learning languages, young women are encouraged to study foreign languages and pursue careers in international marketing, public relations, and interpreting – the sorts of occupations that my participants did, in fact, wind up in. My participants, in their interviews, had indeed addressed Taiwan’s gendered language learning ideologies and the notion of gendered language work, as well as positioning by others due to their relationships with foreigners. In my revisions, the focus on gender and the intersectional questioning that this focus necessitated really did change the fundamental character of the book.

In what now seems to be a glaring omission, I neglected to include an ‘Acknowledgements’ page for this book. This can be attributed to the extreme sense of relief I felt when the editors allowed me to go over the stipulated word limit with my final revised manuscript. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure they would have had no problem with my adding an ‘Acknowledgements’ page, but at the time, I was reluctant to request any more words for anything. I will take this opportunity now then to acknowledge the assistance and contributions of numerous individuals: my study’s participants, without whom the research and book would not have been at all possible; my doctoral thesis supervisors, Lionel Wee, Joseph Sung-Yul Park, and Mie Hiramoto; and everyone at Multilingual Matters, who were all incredibly patient with me, granting me extension after extension as I struggled to address reviewer concerns. And I am also immensely grateful to the anonymous reviewer who alerted me to the inadequacies of the earlier version of my manuscript – before gender was prominently brought to the fore.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio.

How to Give Your Child the Best Chance of Learning a Second Language

This month we published Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition edited by Joanna Rokita-Jaśkow and Melanie Ellis. In this post the editors suggest the best ways to teach your child a foreign language.

Knowing I am an expert in teaching English to young learners, many parents approach me asking, WHEN is it best to start teaching their child a foreign language?

And of course they would like to get a clear-cut answer, which would help them to make the best decision. They are usually very ambitious, conscious parents, often middle-class, who are focused on bringing up children and willing to do their utmost to make the best of their young child’s ‘window of opportunity’ for language learning.

However, the answer to when a child should start is not that simple. First of all, you need to know that if you don’t start teaching your child a foreign language early, it does not mean that your child will miss the learning opportunity. You can compensate for a later start by having more classes more often at a later age, living abroad or by using out-of-class learning opportunities such as the internet. Foreign language (FL) instruction is a part of school curricula in many settings, and if the teaching is high quality, your child will benefit from instruction at school too.

Rather than asking when learning a foreign language should start, if you decide to enrol your child in early FL instruction (which you usually have to pay for), you should rather ask HOW the language should be taught to get the best learning outcomes. Popular demand from parents has seen the rise of numerous private schools which are flourishing, but which do not always offer high quality teaching.

  • First of all, you should aim to give your child as many opportunities to learn the language as possible, remembering that they forget quickly and learn slowly, and need frequent revision and contact with the language. For this reason, choosing a bilingual or immersion type of nursery or school may be the best option, as instruction there takes place most of the time in the foreign language.
  • If this type of schooling is not available in your area or is too costly, do not forget about your own knowledge of the FL and use it as an asset to support your child in foreign language learning. You can revise the FL class material with your child, play simple games in an FL, join them in playing online games or watch cartoons in an FL with them. A parent must be present to keep the child focused on the task and explain words and expressions that they don’t understand.
  • Reading in the FL is the key to speaking in the FL. Reading a picture book together with the child in an FL helps visual and critical literacy to grow along with competence in the FL. Likewise digital books on apps or on websites are freely available and can be used for parent-child reading.
  • It could be a good idea to design an FL corner with self-access material (books, toys, board games, tablet etc.) both in the school/kindergarten and at home. Children could freely reach for FL materials for play, and in this way may act out the FL lesson.
  • Finally, parents need to take an interest in what happens in the language class, not only to keep track of what the children learn, but to be aware how the lessons are taught, particularly in the private sector. The teaching should emphasise play and using the language for communication, but it will only be successful if the teacher is able to control the group of children and at the same time communicate with ease in the FL. So the teacher needs really good managerial, teaching and language skills. Unfortunately, such teachers are difficult to find, which calls into question whether a very early start is the best idea.

Our book looks at these aspects from a research perspective. It outlines critical issues that influence the learning outcomes in young and very young learner classrooms that should be looked into. It will be of interest to teachers, teacher educators, researchers and also parents, who are keen to get more information before making any decision about provision for an early start.

Additionally, it should be remembered that the learning trajectories of early starters vary considerably throughout their lives due to the impact of various social, affective and cognitive factors and go beyond the impact of the starting age. Thus there are many pathways from an early start and not all young learners will reach the same competence in the foreign language.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren.

Bilingualism Matters: The East of England Branch

Bilingualism Matters East of England is the newest UK addition to the Bilingualism Matters team and is based at the LaDeLi research centre at the University of Essex in Colchester. 

Bilingualism Matters is an international network of centres and information services run by experts on bilingualism and language learning. It was originally established at University of Edinburgh in 2008 by Professor Antonella Sorace and is now an official Centre in the school of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences. Since then, more than 20 branches have opened in 13 different countries, including several EU member states, Israel, USA, and Norway.

The East of England branch, one of the three UK-based branches of Bilingualism Matters, was founded in March 2018 as a part of the Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi) at the University of Essex. This branch particularly focuses on promoting bilingualism across the lifespan, educating and encouraging the wider public to make informed decisions on bilingualism and language learning, and providing advice, consultancy, and information sessions about bilingual development for parents, teachers, nursery staff, and speech language therapists. Its outreach work is mainly set in East Anglia and London.

One of the most recent events organised by the branch was We are what we speak, an interactive workshop for children and adults held on 3rd November in Colchester as a part of the nationwide Festival of Social Science hosted by ESRC. Its purpose was to allow people to discover more about language and identity through a series of games and short talks hosted by lecturers and researchers in the field of language development from the University of Essex.

Dr Ella Jeffries at We are what we speak

Another recent event BM East of England was present at was the Language Show at the Olympia exhibition centre in London, where the branch staff promoted Bilingualism Matters as one of the language services offered at the University of Essex and in the region of East of England as a whole.

Karla Drpić (left) and Dr Coralie Hervé (right) from BM East of England with Professor Antonella Sorace (middle) from Bilingualism Matters’ Edinburgh headquarters

The staff at Bilingualism Matters East of England believe that bilingualism is for everyone, not just those who grew up in bilingual households, and that investing in language learning at school or nursery is a great chance to give children the best possible future. Therefore, they are open to providing accessible and informative talks about bilingualism and second language learning with community groups and parents’ associations, state-run primary and secondary schools, nurseries and early years centres, and private schools, colleges or venues based in London and East of England (Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk etc.). You can follow or contact them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or e-mail.

What Does Language Learning Outside the Classroom Look Like?

This month we published Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba. In this post the author explains what inspired this study and how she carried out her research.

I first became interested in out-of-class language learning more than 10 years ago when I had just started my career as a teacher of Japanese at a university in Sweden. I vividly remember how in my very first week at the university, some of my students told me about their favourite Japanese pop culture, such as anime (Japanese cartoons), manga (Japanese comic books) and movies. It was shocking to me at that time – I wondered how they could know Japanese pop culture better than me even though they were on the opposite side of the planet. I was also surprised by the fact that they could speak Japanese even before completing beginner level. It all started from there.

I then started asking my students what they had done in Japanese outside the classroom and realised that almost all do something extra in Japanese alongside their classroom-based study. At the same time, I started wondering what I could do to support their study as a teacher of Japanese. This question motivated (and still motivates) me to dig into out-of-class language learning for my research.

One big challenge when conducting this research was to decide which data collection methods to use. Out-of-class literacy practices are usually ‘hidden’ from teachers, and students undertake such activities irregularly. The very nature of out-of-class language learning might make the research on this topic complicated. However, when considering the different data collection methods available, I came across the ‘diary study with photos’ method in several papers in the field of literacy studies. Visual information is crucial to be included because one feature of literacy in this digital age is its multimodality.

In the end, I decided to employ this diary study with photo method alongside interviews, and asked the participants to include visual information as much as possible, for example, screenshots of websites and photos of books that they had read. I also asked them to bring paper-based materials to class (e.g. their books and essays for the Japanese classes) if possible. In the interviews, I used such visual materials to trigger the students’ memory when they engaged in particular literacy activities in their diaries. They sometimes even used my computer to demonstrate how they utilised online tools and websites. I think this method enabled me to collect rich data in a less intrusive way than either observations or video recordings and also helped me to understand the contexts of their literacy practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.