Shedding Empirical Light on Complex Dynamic System Theory

We recently published Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System edited by ZhaoHong Han. In this post the editor explains why the book is important.

Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System was born out of an intense interest in contributing to the empirical basis in SLA of the new theoretical paradigm now known as Complex Dynamic System Theory (CDST) (de Bot, 2017; Larsen-Freeman, 2017; Lourdes & Han, 2017). Much of the work so far on CDST has remained rhetorical, and while a concerted effort has been made to push for empirical understandings, methodological insights are as yet incipient, though broad pointers are on the horizon. For example, the study needs to be longitudinal, and should focus on individual learners.

Many of the extant empirical studies have, however, tended to narrowly focus on one or a small number of linguistic elements, taking, a priori, each as part of a (sub)system, producing findings that are limited in scope and do not convincingly demonstrate, in one breath, the ‘complex,’ ‘dynamic,’ and ‘systemic’ nature of learner language.

This book seeks to help fill some of these gaps, by subjecting individuals’ systems to multiple lenses. Recognizing that revealing these properties necessitates a much larger undertaking than an individual study, the book has its five main chapters each target a particular aspect of interlanguage, traversing the domains of morpho-syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. The uniqueness of this approach lies also in employing the same longitudinal corpus involving two dyads interacting over a shared course requirement. The data analyses tracked both within-dyad and between-dyad similarities and differences, yielding both general patterns and idiosyncrasies. Together, the five sets of data analyses shed light on, and even go beyond, core claims of CDST.

For more information about this book please see our website.

 

If you found this interesting, you might also like Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry.

Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning

This month marked the publication of Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter MacIntyre and Alastair Henry. In this post we find out how the book came together.

9781783092550That Zoltán Dörnyei and Peter MacIntyre would embark on a project of putting together an anthology of papers applying dynamic principles to the investigation of motivational phenomena is perhaps not surprising. For some time both had been shifting their research interests in dynamic directions. While in his 2009 book The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition Zoltán mapped out the ways in which CDST (Complex Dynamic Systems Theory) could provide an important, game-changing approach to the study of individual differences, Peter had begun work developing pioneering methodologies that could capture moment-by-moment fluctuations in motivation. Both were also very aware that while most of the cutting-edge theorizing in SLA took it for granted that the future lay along the dynamic path, empirical research had lagged behind and continued to follow traditional, non-dynamic research approaches. Quite simply the time was right for a collection of papers investigating the dynamics of L2 motivation and drawing on CDST principles in such research.

Testing the water, Zoltán first broached the idea of a CDST-inspired motivation anthology with Tommi and Laura at the 2012 AAAL conference in Boston. Buoyed by their enthusiastic response, the ball started to roll. Shortly thereafter invitations to contribute were sent out to over 40 researchers working with L2 motivation and here too responses were overwhelmingly positive. To keep the momentum for the project growing, Zoltán and Peter organized a well-attended colloquium at the 2013 AAAL gathering in Dallas where John Schumann provided an inspiring introduction and, in her role as discussant, Diane Larsen-Freeman assessed the contributions, arguing persuasively that motivation researchers should continue the journey now started along a CDST pathway. The energy generated by the symposium was sustained at a subsequent reception hosted by Multilingual Matters at the convention center where many of the book’s contributors met to enjoy a drink (thanks Tommi and Laura!) and to discuss ways forward.

However, while Zoltán and Peter were delighted at the enthusiasm generated by the project, privately they were concerned about the scope of the undertaking and the time investment that the putting together of such a large and pioneering collection of papers would demand. Realising that, unless the editorial team was expanded, they would be locked to their desks for next eighteen months, they invited Alastair to breakfast the day following the colloquium and, in true Godfather style, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

With Alastair on board and chapter drafts beginning to arrive, the following eight months saw the team working intensively with the submissions, hardly a week going by without flurries of email correspondence. At the most crucial moments, skype meetings were held early morning (for Peter in Canada) and late afternoon (for Alastair and Zoltán in Europe). Difficult editorial decisions were discussed among the three editors over skype. Whereas the quality of the papers was uniformly high, not all could be included in the volume. Not because Multilingual Matters had any upper limit (Tommi had even promised Zoltán that the book could stretch to two volumes if necessary!), but because early on the editors realised that for the book to be a success – i.e. that it could provide a series of research blueprints that would enable graduate students and established researchers alike to embark on CDST-inspired projects – it was imperative that only those papers that truly instantiated dynamic approaches could be included. Making these decisions was by no means an easy task and several high quality papers that have now been published (or are in press) in other forums were turned down.

After another intensive period of editing, the manuscript began to take shape. In the summer of 2014 a final draft was sent to Multilingual Matters. Not only had an impressive range of empirical studies been put together (many employing novel methodologies), but the manuscript also included a series of conceptual papers dealing with CDST concepts and terminology. Contributions from leading scholars such as Diane Larsen-Freeman, Kees de Bot and Marjolijn Verspoor map out some of the fundamental principles of CDST, such as the role of attractor states, timescales, initial conditions and context. These concepts will be new and unusual to some readers of the volume, so the 10 introductory chapters were designed to provide ‘one stop shopping’ for readers entering the CDST field.

The empirical section of the book features a dozen highly original empirical studies. Motivation-related concepts that are familiar to teachers and researchers alike are dealt with from a dynamic perspective. These concepts are studied with a series of innovative and creative methodological approaches that provide richly detailed information about motivational processes. Although there are a number of ground-breaking ideas that emerge from these empirical investigations, the fact that so many types of studies are possible surely bodes well for the future of the dynamic turn in SLA. The empirical studies included in the volume demonstrate how to do research under a CDST umbrella.

The book (which, much to the relief of MM remained a single volume!) is not just the product of the dedication and hard work on the part of the contributors. It is also a statement of intent. As one of the contributors put it, “once a researcher understands the complexity worldview, in a sense there is a transformation in thinking. Everything you observe and experience from then on – whether it involves personal relationships, parenting concerns, events unfolding in contemporary society, to say nothing of SL classroom phenomena – is nothing if not complex and dynamic”. The social world around us is dynamic and, even though CDST inspired research is more challenging (empirically and conceptually), once such a transformation in thinking has taken place, turning back it isn’t always that easy.

When Zoltán, Peter and Alastair set out on this project they set themselves a challenge; they could either initiate a robust research project that took well-established motivation constructs and, by applying dynamic principles to their investigation, produce convincing empirical evidence for the sustainability of the approach, or they would need to come to terms with the fact that the dynamic approach in SLA might be an attractive but ultimately unrealisable idea. The production of this volume has served as this testing ground. If nothing else, the research collected here is a sign that some researchers have found the CDS approach both ‘cool’ enough to explore in a research project and ‘hot’ enough to inspire new ideas.

Capitalizing on Language Learners' IndividualityMotivation, Language Identity and the L2 SelfMotivational Dynamics in Language Learning is now published – more information is available on our website. You might also be interested in Zoltán and Peter’s other books: Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self and Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality.

 

The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning

We recently published The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning edited by Kata Csizér and Michael Magid. Here, they give us a bit of background on their innovative volume.

The Impact of Self-Concept on Language LearningDespite the fact that there is an abundance of self-related research studies nowadays, we think that our book managed to carve out a unique niche in the field of Applied Linguistics for a number of reasons. Firstly, we provide an up-to-date and easy-to-follow theorerical background to self-related investigations. Secondly, we contribute to the discussion by publishing original empirical studies on self-related topics concerning both students and teachers. Thirdly, we have included the results of several intervention studies that looked into the classroom and investigated in what ways students can be motivated to learn by developing their selves. Last but not least, we also provide insight into how the self-concept may be researched in the future by outlining the most promising avenues.

As the editors of this book, we were inspired to create a volume on the impact of self-concept on language learning by Professor Zoltán Dörnyei. This volume deals with the following major themes: 1. Second language learning motivation and its relation to vison and mental imagery. 2. The relationship of one’s self and one’s network. 3. The impact of self on self-regulation and autonomy. 4. Age-related differences in self. 5. The development of students’ identities in various contexts including Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia. 6. The dynamically changing motivation of teachers. 7. The strengthening of students’ ideal self and motivation through different intervention programmes.

We sincerely believe that our collection of chapters clarifies the meaning of various self-constructs in order to highlight how the self-constructs may be researched. It also specifically focuses on research that illustrates the effects of self-concept on language learning including the practical applications of the research findings in order to motivate language learners.

Motivational Dynamics in Language LearningIf you would like more information about this book please see our website. You might also be interested in our recently published title Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei et al.

Motivation, Self and SLA

Measuring L2 ProficiencyOur SLA series brings together titles dealing with a variety of aspects of language acquisition and in situations where a language or languages other than the native language is involved. It is an inclusive series that embraces books written from a range of theoretical stances and perspectives and accordingly recent titles have ranged from Measuring L2 Proficiency to Discontinuity in Second Language Acquisition and Studies in Second Language Acquisition of Chinese.

That said, for the Multilingual Matters SLA series, this year has seen a bit of a boom in the areas of motivation and the self.  You may have read our blog posts about Laura’s trips to Nottingham for the International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and Second Language Acquisition in August and to the Psychology and Language Learning Conference in Graz earlier in the year.

Motivational Dynamics in Language LearningAlongside these conferences, the publications in our SLA series on these topics are really flourishing.  We started the year with the publication of Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA (edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams) and recently followed it up with The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning (edited by Kata Csizér and Michael Magid). We are soon to follow these two collections up with the exciting addition of Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry to the series.  And of course, I shouldn’t forget to mention our numerous previous publications on this subject area (Gregersen and MacIntyre (2014), Apple et al (2013), Taylor (2013)…) which are all well worth discovering.

Motivational Dynamics

9781783092550To start our autumn conferences, Tommi and Laura headed north-east to the International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and Second Language Acquisition which was hosted by Zoltán Dörnyei and the University of Nottingham. This was a special one-off conference to celebrate the exciting work which is currently being undertaken in the field, some of which we are publishing in the forthcoming book Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning. We were proud to be in attendance not only as a publisher but also as the sponsor of the conference dinner (which was thankfully delicious!).

Nottingham University Campus
Nottingham University Campus

The University of Nottingham offered a fantastic location for the gathering – the conference facilities are new and custom built and the centre is set in the striking grounds of the university. The university is one of the most attractive university campuses in Britain thanks to the interest of Sir Jesse Boot, the founder of the Boots pharmacy chain and the university’s main benefactor, in green spaces and fresh air. The university has continued to embrace this and so the campus was a truly beautiful location for the gathering.

On paper the conference schedule looked rich and interesting, and the talks did not disappoint when they were delivered. The keynote speakers, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Ema Ushioda, Kim Noels, Peter MacIntyre and Zoltán Dörnyei, provided plenty of food for thought and the symposium was brought to a close with a panel discussion where the speakers were joined by Martin Lamb and Judit Kormos to answer questions from the delegates.

Jian-E Peng and Laura
Jian-E Peng and Laura

As ever, Tommi and I especially enjoyed meeting many of our authors and contributors and catching up with them in person.  We were very pleased to deliver the first copy of The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning to one of the book’s editors, Kata Csizér, in person, just a day after we received it from the printer! I was also happy to meet many people for the first time, including Jian-E Peng, author of Willingness to Communicate in the Chinese EFL University Classroom, with whom I exchanged many emails prior to the book’s publication earlier this year.

Alongside the academic programme, the social programme was also a real highlight. The conference dinner on the Friday night was a lively affair as we were treated to a string quartet, which not only played during the pre-dinner reception but also ran a musical quiz! They played samples of music from around the world and our job was to guess either the nationality of the composer or the film in which the piece appears. I struggled with a lot of the classical pieces but was pleased to at least be able to spot the Harry Potter theme tune!

I had the opportunity to talk at the conference dinner and I was really pleased to have the chance to speak a bit about the forthcoming book and to thank the editors and contributors for delivering a manuscript which is every bit as exciting as we had been promised. To my horror I saw that my speech had been billed as “rousing and life-changing” in the programme…while I don’t think it was either of those I was at least able to get the audience to give a rousing round of applause to thank the conference organisers for all their hard work in pulling off such a wonderful event!

Southwell Minster
Southwell Minster

After the conference had officially closed there was a trip to Southwell Minster and Sherwood Forest for those of us who didn’t have to rush off home. We were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a wedding coming out of the minster before we went inside, which made the visit even more special! We drove on through Southwell, and past the pub where King Charles I spent his last night before arrest and past the pub where the first Bramley apple was ever grown, to visit the Major Oak at Sherwood, where Robin Hood is rumoured to have met his band of Merry Men. The tree was every bit as remarkable as we expected, and there were many merry men and women aboard our bus as we reflected on a wonderful few days at the conference!

Applied Linguistics conferences coming up…

Over the next few weeks we’re going to be very busy at several conferences. If you’re going to be attending any conferences where we have a stand please come and say hello as we always like to meet people face-to-face and we’ll also have displays of our books available to buy at a special discount.

Motivational Dynamics in Language LearningFirst up is Motivational Dynamics and Second Language Acquisition in Nottingham which Tommi and Laura will be attending. This symposium is organised by Zoltán Dörnyei, one of the editors of our forthcoming title Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning. Zoltán, as well as several other MM authors such as Ema Ushioda and Peter McIntyre, will be giving keynote speeches at the symposium.

Following this, Laura will be heading up to York for EUROSLA while Tommi will travel to Warwick for the BAAL conference. Both of these conferences are regulars on our conference schedule and we wouldn’t want to miss them!

Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic LandscapesThis year we are particularly excited to announce that Jan Blommaert’s book Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes has been shortlisted for the BAAL Book Prize. We’re really looking forward to the announcement of the winner and have our fingers crossed for Jan!

The following week in September Kim is heading to the Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication conference in Manchester. Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication is a biannual conference associated with the Linguistic Ethnography Forum, a Special Interest Group of BAAL. This is the first time we’ve attended this conference so we’re hoping to make some useful new contacts. If you’re going to be there, please come and say hello to Kim, she’ll be very pleased to meet you.

After all these conferences, we’ll all be back in the office for a while to catch up before heading to Germany in October for our annual trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair.