Internationalisation and EAP: Transforming the Academy through a Focus on Language

This month we published Making Language Visible in the University by Bee Bond. In this post the author explains the context in which her book was written.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and the (neoliberal) Higher Education policies of internationalisation have an ‘elective affinity’ (Zepke, 2015). In other words, the exponential growth in the demand for EAP is directly linked to an increasing focus on marketing Higher Education study to an international market. EAP as an emerging field of study and practice would not have been afforded as much space to grow and develop had it not been for global Higher Education policies that encouraged student mobility across borders and the increasing stronghold of English as the accepted norm for most academic communication. EAP and its practitioners directly benefit from this growth.

However, for most EAP practitioners, the neoliberal focus of such policies sits uncomfortably with their world view and their professional practices. The connection between the international student and financial gain for an institution works to the detriment of a focus on the intellectual, cultural and social benefits that come from studying in a global community and does not sit well within the epistemology of those involved in the study and teaching of languages.

Furthermore, there is a tension between EAP and the rest of the academy due to the frequent framing of international students as being in deficit. This perception positions those whose work is focused on supporting English language learning students to find ways of accessing academic content in English as being on the edges of academia – acting as a bridge to the real work rather than an integral part of academic life. This is also connected to the invisibility of language within the academy which, as Turner argues (2004) only becomes visible when it is viewed as a technical problem that then needs to be ‘fixed’ by an EAP practitioner.

It is these intersections and misconnections between internationalisation, the EAP practitioner and the view of language as either an invisible or a technical aside to the real academic work of disciplinary content knowledge development that provide the context for my book. In order to address these issues, and move EAP away from the ‘edges of academia’ (Ding & Bruce, 2017) it is clear that it is necessary to work within this context; to embrace the ‘elective affinity’ that EAP  has with internationalisation policies and to work through them to effect change rather than to ignore or resist from the margins. By engaging in scholarship; acting as ethnographers of the academy to better understand the role of language within specific disciplines and contexts, and then communicating and highlighting this understanding beyond the EAP community, I believe it is possible for EAP practitioners to work in partnership with international students as agents for change.

International students have the potential to positively transform higher education practices, forcing a reflexive, shifting awareness of pedagogy, academic practices and the disciplinary canon. EAP practitioners, fully embedded and accepted within their institution as valued scholars, should work as advocates and allies for these students, pushing for structural change through policy decisions. In this way, EAP practitioners can become agents for positive change rather than marginalised technicians who are exposed to the political and structural decisions made around them.

Bee Bond, The University of Leeds

b.bond@leeds.ac.uk

@BeeBond1

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like International Student Engagement in Higher Education by Margaret Kettle.

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.

The Impact of Neoliberalism on Education and Language Learning

This month we are publishing Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and touch on its main themes.

Nowadays cuts in spending, austerity plans and restructuring of the public sector have become commonplace for a large part of the world population. This development is far from new, but rather stands in the tradition of neoliberalism, as introduced on both sides of the Atlantic by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

In the context of education, central elements to these reforms have been privatisation, competitiveness and marketisation. The colonization of education by market principles has introduced a paradigmatic change which has resulted in an abdication of a Humboldtian education model to one which favours ideas of employability and profitability. This change proves problematic for most humanities, social sciences and language studies which have to legitimise their worth. The neoliberal austerity measures thus also have a very direct impact on us as researchers and teachers alike.

Against this backdrop, we wanted to engage in an empirical discussion on the interplay and effects of the implementation of neoliberal policies, the increasing hegemony of neoliberal governmentalities on education and on language learning and teaching. In short, as we, the editors of this volume argue, the current political economic conditions bring about a resignification of education, language, and the self that fits the neoliberal agenda, which pushes, among other things, the turning of language into skills and items of branding, the responsibilisation of individuals and the turning of them into entrepreneurs of themselves.

We follow the trajectories of students, teachers and educators as well as of institutions that are subjected to these political economic transformations. Touching upon a variety of geographical, social, and linguistic contexts, the researchers contributing to this book will provide first-hand accounts and critical inquiries into issues that range from the detrimental ideologies of self-deprecation of South Koreans in the face of hastily implemented English as the general medium of instruction for higher education, to efforts of the Chinese government to commercialise the teaching of Mandarin and the contradictory effects this has on notions of linguistic authenticity and legitimacy.

Further insights are offered in terms of language teaching, i.e. the neoliberal conditions teachers of English for Academic Purposes have to face, due to which they turn to veritable “resource leeching” or the joint-initiative of teachers and parents to support their refugee children, left behind in official US school policies that is entirely output-oriented. University students also form the object of interest in this volume, as conscious agents trying to accumulate linguistic capital even if only for symbolic reasons, both Italian-speaking students in German-speaking Switzerland or Brazilian students in Anglo-Canada. A third stream brings contributors to discuss minority languages in educational settings in the US (Spanish-English dual bilingual and Mexico and their recalibration along neoliberal ideas of commodification and valorization). A final focus centres on language teaching for vocational purposes.

Come and join us on this journey – even if you might not like what you see.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like A Post-Liberal Approach to Language Policy in Education by John E. Petrovic.