How Has Language Education Changed Over Time?

This month we published Language Education in a Changing World by Rod Bolitho and Richard Rossner. In this post the authors explain what inspired them to write the book and why they think it is needed.

We’re pleased: after a long period of gestation and writing we’ve just received copies of our new book Language Education in a Changing World.

So what inspired us to write the book, and why do we think it is needed? Combined, our experience in language education spans 100 years. We have become increasingly aware that the time-honoured segmentations of foreign language education, teaching and learning of the language of schooling, language sensitive subject teaching and so on are no longer meaningful, if they ever were.

We have tried to take stock of how language and communication permeate and impact on all education at all ages, and in the book we review some of the thought-provoking work done by the Council of Europe and specialists in the fields of educational applied linguistics, multilingualism and pluralistic approaches. How have these perspectives impacted on learning in the classroom over the last 40 years? What is being done around the world – or at least in the parts of the world where we have been able to glean information – to incorporate holistic views of language and students’ language repertoires in education, and in teacher education? What could be done to foster dynamic collaboration among teachers and teacher educators across the curriculum? These are some of the questions we have addressed. It was quite a learning experience for us!

In the book we take a fairly close look at four or five areas in particular. We start with an exploration of the role of language and languages in learning and teaching, before going on to look at the recent history and current state of foreign language education and the somewhat controversial impact of English in education. In the second part of the book, we examine teacher education, both pre-service education and continuing professional development for teachers of languages, as well as the extent to which language and communication issues are addressed in the education of teachers of other subjects. The third part of the book focuses on policy around language in education and the roles various stakeholders play in influencing and implementing – or resisting – change. Then we end with our own wish list of future developments in policy around language in education and teacher education.

As potential readers, we had in mind education professionals of all kinds who are interested in exploring the role of language in the teaching of all subjects across the curriculum, including teachers of language, other teachers as well as teacher educators. We hope policymakers, textbook writers, curriculum developers and researchers will also find the book useful. Whatever their role and specific interests, we would welcome readers’ reactions to the contents of our book, and the policy recommendations we have made.

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Does a Language Teacher’s Identity Matter?

Next month we are publishing Language Teacher Recognition by Alison Stewart. In this post the author explains how the book came about and what readers will learn from it. 

Does a language teacher’s identity matter? What about the case of Filipino teachers of English working in Japan?

Filipinos used to be denied access to jobs as English teachers in Japan because they weren’t regarded as “native speakers”, and hence not the right kind of people to teach English. Nowadays, they are being hired in large numbers to work across the range of public and private schools, particularly in elementary and preschool education. What has changed? And how has this affected the lives of Filipinos living in Japan?

I first came across a group of Filipino English teachers a decade ago and have been following the group’s activities and progress since then. The successes of many of the group’s members inspired me to start collecting their stories. Through the narratives of eight women and one man, we can see how the changing social conditions of Japan – from migration patterns to educational reforms to shifts in ideologies about language and identity – are reflected in the career paths and aspirations, the disappointments and the triumphs, of Filipino teachers in Japan.

Seven of the teachers belong to an organization, Filipino English Teacher in Japan (FETJ), which supports and trains would-be English teachers. The different narratives allow us to trace the various, at times conflicting, interests and motivations that have propelled the rapid growth of this organization from informal study group to social activism on behalf of a marginalized minority in Japan to teacher training NPO and conduit to potential employers.

Identity is a hot topic in language education research these days, but this is the first time that it has been explored through the lens of Recognition Theory. In the book I’ve attempted to explain why recognition deserves our attention, how it differs from the poststructuralist approach that currently dominates the field, and how it can underpin a “moral turn” in the field. A focus on mutual recognition in different social domains – between those we care for, in large social groups, and in society at large – places social justice firmly at the center of our research endeavors.

The narratives of the nine Filipino teachers, and my own story as well, are presented in their entirety. This too is a break away from current research practices. Readers will find their own resonances in the stories, but I have used them as stepping-stones into discussions on privilege and marginalization, on language teacher associations, on language teaching as a career, and on the very language that we use to talk about identity in language education research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan by Diane Hawley Nagatomo.

Exciting New Multilingual Matters Titles for 2020

We can’t believe the first month of 2020 is almost over! It seems like only yesterday we were decorating the office and singing along to our Christmas playlist. However, if January has seemed like a very long month to you, we have plenty of exciting new titles coming up to fend off the winter blues. Here’s a selection of what we’ve got in store for you this spring…

Global TESOL for the 21st Century by Heath Rose, Mona Syrbe, Anuchaya Montakantiwong and Natsuno Funada

This book explores the impact of the spread of English on language teaching and learning. It provides a framework for change in the way English is taught to better reflect global realities and to embrace current research. The book is essential reading for postgraduate researchers, teachers and teacher trainers in TESOL.

Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman

This book introduces readers to basic concepts of sociolinguistics with a focus on Spanish in the US. The coverage goes beyond linguistics to examine the history and politics of Spanish in the US, the relationship of language to Latinx identities, and how language ideologies and policies reflect and shape societal views of Spanish and its speakers.

Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten

This book aims to empower teachers working with adult migrants who have had little or no prior formal schooling, and give them the information and skills that they need to reach the highest possible levels of literacy in their new languages.

Essays on Conference Interpreting by James Nolan

This book, drawing on the author’s 30-year career, seeks to define what constitutes good interpreting and how to develop the skills and abilities that are conducive to it. It places interpretation in its historical context and examines the uses and limitations of modern technology for interpreting.

 

The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett

This book contributes new perspectives from the Global South on the ways in which linguistic and discursive boundaries shape inequalities in educational contexts, ranging from Amazonian missions to Mongolian universities, using critical ethnographic and sociolinguistic analyses.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching edited by Christina Gkonou, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Jim King

This book focuses on the emotional complexity of language teaching and how the diverse emotions that teachers experience are shaped and function. The book covers a range of emotion-related topics on both positive and negative emotions, including emotional labour, burnout, emotion regulation, resilience, emotional intelligence and wellbeing.

 

Seen something you like? All these titles are available to pre-order on our website and you can get 50% off this month when you enter the code JANSALE at the checkout!

Using Ethnomethodological Conversation Analysis in Research on Teaching

Next month we are publishing The Embodied Work of Teaching edited by Joan Kelly Hall and Stephen Daniel Looney. In this post the editors tell us more about the methodology used in the research for this book.

The Embodied Work of Teaching is based on the premise that language teaching is sophisticated, professional work. Such work has typically been represented in the literature as propositional knowledge about teaching. Numerous essays and books exist that tell teachers how they should teach, e.g. ‘connect to students’ experiences’, ‘maintain everyone’s attention’, ‘promote student participation, and ‘be prepared for contingencies.’ Missing from this abundant literature, however, are studies on how teaching is actually accomplished. This volume addresses this gap by showcasing studies that document in rich empirical detail the complex, embodied achievement of language teaching in a variety of instructional settings.

The studies draw on the theoretical foundations and methodological tools of ethnomethodological conversation analysis (EMCA). A dominant approach to the study of social action, EMCA considers the nature and source of human sociality to be fundamentally cooperative, locally accomplished, and grounded in real-world activity. The purpose of EMCA research on teaching is to describe the natural features of classroom life as they are actually produced by teachers and students without reducing them to collections of discrete, insignificant acts. Data-driven and analytically inductive, EMCA relies on a set of robust transcription conventions to identify and describe the fine-grained details of the specialized actions of teaching, the learner actions they engender and the larger pedagogical projects they accomplish.

As demonstrated in the studies in this volume, in addition to instructing or directing others, language teaching involves the ongoing management of alignment, affiliation and multiple participant frameworks through the simultaneous and sequential coordination of numerous embodied resources in addition to language, including body positions, facial expressions, gaze, gesture, and objects in the environment. The studies are not offered as exemplars of best practices; that is, they do not claim to showcase how teaching should be accomplished. Rather, they demonstrate how it is accomplished in particular settings, by particular teachers with particular pedagogical goals and with particular students. As instructive descriptions of the interactional, embodied achievement of teaching, the studies offer to scholars of teaching, teacher educators, teachers and other stakeholders the opportunity to see and understand the sophisticated practices of teaching in new and potentially transformative ways.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting you might also like Objects, Bodies and Work Practice edited by Dennis Day and Johannes Wagner.

What is the Action-oriented Approach to Language Education?

We recently published The Action-oriented Approach by Enrica Piccardo and Brian North. In this post the authors explain what is meant by the action-oriented approach.

Many people seem to be convinced that language methodologies have not progressed beyond the communicative turn, and that all more recent developments are just a refinement or extension of the communicative approach. In particular many who are familiar with the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) think that it simply promotes the communicative approach and provides a set of levels to define competence in the four skills. In fact, by seeing the user/learner as a social agent engaging in different types of language activities, the CEFR introduced rich concepts like the action-oriented approach, mediation and plurilingualism, which called for further development.

Our book The Action-oriented Approach explains the distinct characteristics of the approach and shows the way in which, over the past thirty years, different complementary theories and bottom-up experimentation have enabled the development of an innovative, holistic form of language education.

The action-oriented approach is growing significantly on the ground as a means to provide motivating, realistic, project-based language teaching linked to the promotion of interculturality and Competences for Democratic Culture (CDC).

 Whilst it is difficult to summarise the action-oriented approach in a few lines, and not all aspects listed below are present in all examples, the main tenets of the overall approach are:

  • Backwards design of teaching modules (3-10 lessons) working towards ‘can-do’ aims (learning outcomes)
  • Acceptance rather than avoidance of complexity, with scaffolding as necessary
  • Authenticity/credibility of the scenario for the task/project in the module, with a focus also on the authenticity of materials, and autonomy to research different source materials
  • A unifying task at the end of the module, which probably contains several phases including: reception, interaction, mediation, and the (co-)production of an artefact, plus a reflection phase at the end
  • A pluri-/ inter-cultural focus at some point in the module
  • Agency to decide how to go about accomplishing the task/project; collaboration: and co-construction of meaning through the mediation of concepts and/or communication
  • Increasing language awareness
  • Integration of additional languages, in terms of openness to learners’ linguistic (and cultural) resources and support to plurilanguaging within and beyond the language classroom
  • Feedforward and feedback in a iterative approach adopted to build self-efficacy
  • (Self-)assessment of the outcomes, informally, both at the level of the individual user/learner and as regards the scenario/module itself

The recently published CEFR Companion Volume with new descriptors has further supported the definition of the Action-oriented approach with its focus on mediation, strategic learning and plurilingualism.

Further information can be found on the following Council of Europe websites:

Language Policy

CEFR

Enrica Piccardo: enrica.piccardo@utoronto.ca

Brian North: bjnorth@eurocentres.com

 

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like From Principles to Practice in Education for Intercultural Citizenship edited by Michael Byram, Irina Golubeva, Han Hui, Manuela Wagner.

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.

What is “The Tornado Effect”? Successful Language Learning and Strategy Use and Development

We recently published the second edition of The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning by Carol Griffiths. In this post Carol explains how the new edition builds on the first and introduces us to the new concept of “The Tornado Effect”.

The book begins with the author explaining why, from personal experience, she believes learning strategies to be important, and a number of other personal narratives from well-known people in the learning strategy field are also quoted. This second edition builds on the material in the first edition, but with a number of important additions. In particular:

  • The existing literature has been updated, since quite a lot has been written in the five years since the first edition was published.
  • The conceptual perspectives have been refined and extended. The issue of strategy definition has been tackled again, and some adjustment made in light of the ongoing debate. The underlying theory has also been re-examined and extended, along with issues of strategy classification. Issues of strategy effectiveness have been considered, especially in light of contextual, target and individual differences. And research methodology, which has attracted criticism in the past, has also been addressed, with suggestions added for data collection and analysis.
  • In the section dealing with quantitative perspectives, new studies have been added and the old studies have been re-analysed.
  • The qualitative section, which examines interview data obtained from students of different levels of proficiency, ages and genders, and varying learning strategy use has been updated and extended
  • The section on pedagogical perspectives has also been considerably extended, with further consideration of issues of strategy instruction. Most notably, strategies appropriate to different knowledge areas (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and function/pragmatics) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) have been added and/or extended
  • In addition, the glossary, which received much positive appraisal in the first edition for its helpful definitions of key concepts, has been updated and extended.

So, why the Tornado Effect? The Tornado Effect hypothesises that learning is not a linear process: it is spiral, with one piece of knowledge or skill helping to support the next, and so on, in an ever-increasing spiral, much the way a tornado expands into a powerful force. As the section on pedagogical perspectives concludes: “If we could only discover how to harness the power of this Tornado Effect, what a wonderful teaching/learning tool we would have!”

For more information about this book please see our website.  

Making an Impact: Language Teachers that Left an Impression

Next month we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. The book begins with an invitation to the reader to reflect on their own memories of language learning: “If you think back to your language learning at school, you might remember specific tasks or projects you did, but, even more likely, you will remember your teachers.” This sparked a conversation in our office about language teachers we’ve encountered over the years, which we thought would make for an interesting blog post. Here are some of Laura, Flo and Tommi’s reflections on the language teachers that have stuck with them. 

Laura

My first ever French teacher was obsessed with songs. Every single unit of vocabulary was accompanied by a song and action routine that we all had to learn and perform to the class. I imagine that for the quieter students that must have been a terrifying experience but for the rest of us it was great fun. The songs were incredibly catchy and have stuck with me and my school friends…so much so that we can still recite them off by heart, even 20 years later!

When I was in 6th Form I had French first thing on a Monday morning – not the best time of the week for teenagers! Our teacher came up with the idea that we’d take it in turns to bake a cake over the weekend and bring it in to share with the class that lesson. It was a brilliant idea – not only were we more enthusiastic about coming to class but it also brought us closer together as a group as we were more relaxed while chatting over cake. Some even tried their hand at baking French specialities!

My school German teacher made sure that lessons went well beyond the syllabus. She took the time to get to know us as individuals and often recommended German films and books that she thought we’d like. She made me realise that there’s so much more to studying a language than the topics in the textbook and that languages stretch far beyond the classroom walls. It was also a very good way to get us to engage with German outside lesson time too!

When I was on my year abroad in France I lived with some Spanish students. Over the course of the year they made sure that I learnt basic Spanish, not through formal instruction, but by making sure that they used Spanish as we did things together, such as cooking. Over time I picked up all sorts of vocabulary which has stuck with me since, including the phrase “¿Dónde están mis llaves?” (“Where are my keys?”) which was used on a near daily basis by one forgetful housemate!

Flo

During my year abroad I studied Russian at a French university. The course was taught by two teachers – the first was terrifying: incredibly strict with zero tolerance for mistakes. She called me “the foreigner” for the first few weeks, until I got so fed up I wrote my name in huge letters at the top of my essay in the hope she would get the hint. This was juxtaposed completely by the other teacher, who was kind, patient and very understanding of my predicament as a British student in a French classroom learning Russian! He made many allowances for my odd-sounding Russian to French translations and always made sure I understood definitions, often asking me to provide the class with the English translation, which helped me feel less useless! I really appreciated his acknowledgement and thoughtfulness, which meant I never felt lost or excluded from his lessons.

I have French lessons once a week and it’s probably my best language learning experience so far. My teacher has a great sense of humour, is patient, reassuring, and full of praise but never lets mistakes go unchecked. He’s obviously passionate about French culture and during our conversations he often plays us clips from French films, shows us books and photographs or plays songs. The atmosphere in his classroom is very egalitarian – there’s no tangible student/teacher divide and he is quick to be self-deprecating about his own English, which levels the playing field and reminds us that actually we’re all learners.

Tommi

My A-Level German teacher at school recognised that I hated grammar tables and all of that formal language learning. He would quite often set the class an exercise to do with “der, die, das, die” or whatever. Noticing that I could never really get going at all, he would then come over and chat to me (in German) quite casually for 5-10 minutes, then he would finish with “right, you are now 10 minutes behind the rest of the class, you’d better get some work done”. I suspect I learned more German in those chats than I ever did from grammar tables…

My Italian teacher at Cultura Italiana in Bologna sat with me one day for a private lesson. During the lesson, she would talk, and I would sit leaning back with my arms folded across my chest. Eventually she grew exasperated and said “Tommi, do you care about any of this?” to which I replied “of course I do! I am listening very carefully!” “Argh, no, if you want to learn Italian you mustn’t listen, you need to lean forward, interrupt me and talk over me, that way I will know you want to be part of the conversation! We often go out, everyone talks at the same time, if you are not always saying something I will just assume you are bored and want to be somewhere else!”

For more information about the book that inspired this post, please see our website.

Part 3: Anxiety as a Travelling Companion

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

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.