Investigating the Place of Mission Work in English Language Teaching

Recently we published English Teaching and Evangelical Mission by Bill Johnston. In this post, Bill talks us through what inspired him to investigate the place of mission work in English Language Teaching and the message his book aims to communicate.

 English Teaching and Evangelical MissionThis book is the culmination of my many years of interest in the intersection of language teaching and teachers’ religious beliefs, particularly those of evangelical Christians who use language teaching as a platform for mission work. In recent years many non-evangelical TESOL professionals, myself included, expressed concern over this practice. Such concerns seemed potentially valid, yet they were not informed by any in-depth empirical research. To cut a long story short, I decided to go “into the field” and take a close look at a language school in Poland that explicitly offered “Bible-based curriculum” in its classes. What I found very much surprised me – a school with a warm and open atmosphere in which evangelicals and Catholics learned English side by side. That’s not to say there were not more questionable aspects of the school’s work. These, though, were by and large subtler, and it took painstaking ethnographic work to tease them out.

I don’t regard this book as the last word on the topic – quite the contrary, I see it very much as an exploratory study that, I hope, will encourage other researchers, especially those who are not evangelicals, to gather extensive data in other settings. My biggest hope is that the book will encourage a respectful and open exchange between evangelicals and non-evangelicals working in TESOL. We live in times in which political, cultural, and religious divisions seem to be becoming more and more sharply delineated, often to the consternation of those who find themselves on one side or the other of a supposed demarcation line. My experience collecting data for this book taught me that there is a lot less dogmatism than one is led to imagine. During the data collection period the evangelical teachers and missionaries I spoke with expressed an often vivid curiosity about my beliefs and motivations, and presented their own with conviction but also with humility. Our positions remained profoundly different; yet connection and even friendship was possible.

If my book has one overall message, it is that listening carefully and respectfully to those whose views are radically different than your own is a much preferable alternative to the strident, doctrinaire shouting down of one’s “opponents” that is increasingly evident in the media – on all sides of the political landscape, I might add. This is certainly true today in Poland, in my adopted country of the United States, and in many places in Europe, the continent I come from. I would wish my book to offer a small, quiet voice arguing for calm and for dialogue.

For more information about this book, please see our website.  

Positive Psychology and Second Language Acquisition – Conference in Poland

Ever since I first started working on our SLA list people have raved to me about the International Conference on Foreign and Second Language Acquisition (ICFLSLA) and recommended that I attend.  This year I finally found time in our busy conference schedule to go.  En route to the conference venue in Szczryk (the seemingly unpronounceable Polish village whose spelling I have to check every time I write it!) I wondered if the conference would live up to its reputation.

The beautiful setting for the conference
The beautiful setting for the conference

Within moments of arriving any fears I had had were allayed.  The organisers Danuta Gabryś-Barker, Adam Wojtaszek and Dagmara Gałajda were incredibly welcoming and ensured that everything related to our book exhibit went smoothly.  The conference hotel itself was nestled at the foot of some mountains which provided luscious green views, when not obscured by low cloud and heavy rainfall!  The mountain air certainly seemed to provide the delegates with plenty of breathing space and inspiration as the talks centring round this year’s theme of positive psychology were full of energy, ideas and optimism, so much so that we could easily forget the miserable weather outside!

As usual I had a table with a good array of our latest and related titles for the delegates to browse and buy.  The most popular title of the conference was Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality by Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre which weds theoretical implications with practical application in affective teaching.  Other popular titles included Cook and Singleton’s textbook Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition and our latest collection edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry, Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning.

Alison Phipps beginning her keynote
Alison Phipps beginning her keynote

Throughout the course of the conference I attended a range of sessions plus the keynotes given by Peter D. MacIntyre, Rebecca Oxford, David Singleton, Simone Pfenninger, Hanna Komorowska, Tammy Gregersen, Sarah Mercer and Alison Phipps.  The speakers all spoke passionately about their work, views and experiences and provided plenty of food for thought.  And as for real food, we delegates were truly spoilt with wonderful Polish cuisine throughout our stay.  So much so, that I felt obliged to find some time out during the conference to go for a run ahead of the Channel View team entering the Bristol 10k run this weekend.  The temptation of a stunning view from the top of the mountain lured me into trying to run up it, a very bad idea that I rapidly neglected!  If I return to another ICFSLA conference I will certainly take the chairlift up to see the full view that I missed out on seeing.


Pronunciation in EFL Instruction

Pronunciation is a difficult but essential part of language learning and this month we are publishing Pronunciation in EFL Instruction by Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska which examines the issues and controversies of English pronunciation teaching. Here, Jolanta describes how the book came about and why pronunciation is an important aspect of teaching English.

Pronunciation in EFL InstructionWhen some years ago I was asked to devise a syllabus for a course in English pronunciation for Polish students at a teacher training college, looking for helpful guidelines, I consulted several well-known books on phonetic instruction. My first observation was that they were full of advice for what to do and what to avoid doing, usually either without any or only very little empirical evidence to support various proposals. Moreover, it was striking that the majority of the sources I consulted dealt with pronunciation instruction to immigrants in English-speaking countries and were therefore of limited use in those educational contexts, such as Poland, where English is a foreign language and where pronunciation teaching and learning takes place in very different circumstances. Consequently, as I could not find the sufficient help I needed, a certain degree of disappointment with the available textbooks was inevitable.

Several years later, filled with intensive research into various aspects of English pronunciation teaching and learning carried out by me and my colleagues, the present book came into being. It attempts to address the most vital issues regarding contemporary pronunciation instruction aimed specifically at EFL learners and based on relevant empirical studies. These two concerns have determined the structure of the book with the division of each chapter into Part A, with a general discussion of key problems, and Part B, which provide selected research-based evidence for the claims advanced in Part B. In other words, Pronunciation in EFL Instruction approaches English phonodidactics both from the global and general, as well as local and more specific perspectives. Moreover, as it has grown out of the author’s experience as a theoretical linguist (a phonologist), experimenter (mainly in phonetics and acquisition of EFL pronunciation) and English language teacher (predominantly of Polish college and university students of English), the book tries to combine up-to-date phonodidactic theory, empirical research and teaching practice, all, in my view, being essential ingredients of a publication that can be useful to a competent EFL instructor.

In order to provide English pronunciation teachers with the necessary know-how, two major questions should be answered, namely, what to teach and how to do it effectively. The first of them involves two key issues: a complex and controversial problem of the choice of an appropriate pronunciation model for EFL learners, recently made particularly acute by the concept of ELF (English as a Lingua Franca), and determining a set of phonetic priorities for foreign students (Chapters 1 and 2). Just as important is the selection of effective and attractive instructional procedures and proper teaching materials to be employed in the course of phonetic training (Chapter 3). The book offers many novel theoretical and practical solutions to all these problems, such as, for instance, the idea of NELF (Native English as a Lingua Franca), a new approach to pronunciation priorities and proposes a holistic multimodal phonetic training which, catering for various learning styles, combines articulatory, auditory, cognitive and multisensory activities.

If you would like more information about this title please see our website.

Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community

Earlier this month we published Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community edited by David Singleton, Vera Regan and Ewelina Debaene. We asked the editors of the book to tell us a little about the background to the book and how it came together.

Ireland has not been used to people coming to live on its shores. Irish people on the contrary have been more used traditionally to outward migration. Today however, it is noticeable that people from many parts of the world live in Ireland. The Polish community is the largest of the many non-Irish groups in Ireland today. We often meet Polish people in the course of our daily lives in Ireland, and Polish has become a language that we often hear in the street and see featured on public signs in the urban and rural landscape.

Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant CommunityThis volume is the result of a project largely funded by the Irish Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, on language and the Polish community in Ireland, France and Austria. The project first originated in a conversation some of us had at the Sociolinguistics Symposium in Limerick in 2006. Its aim was to focus multiple perspectives on the relationship between language, culture and the lives of Polish migrants settling into a new country. The story of the Polish diaspora in different countries, ‘old’ migration countries (Austria and France) and a ‘new’ one (Ireland), is told in the interviews with the Polish participants in all three.

Contributors to the volume are established researchers as well as early-stage scholars. The composition of the research group was multidisciplinary as well as interdisciplinary, resulting in a rich exchange of ideas at project meetings. The group was also multilingual, comprising English L1 speakers as well as Polish L1 speakers and a Czech L1 speaker, who also all speak other languages. The English and Czech L1 speakers all learnt Polish throughout the period of the research project. This meant that the richness of the linguistic situation under investigation was always present to everyone’s mind. Psycholinguistic as well as sociolinguistic aspects were investigated in order to arrive at as full a picture as possible of the lives of the participants, their views of their current lives and their future, and their process of acquiring the language of their new context, whether in Ireland, France or Austria. The interviews with the Polish participants out of which the book first sprang, give us insights into language use as well into people’s lives and the events relating to their experience of migration.

For more information on this book click here. You can also find out more about our Second Language Acquisition series on our website.

EUROSLA 2012: Fun in Poznań

The conference venue

This year’s EUROSLA conference was held at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań.  The venue was the stunning Collegium Iuridicum Novum building, a brand new facility for the university’s Faculty of Law and Administration.  The conference was its usual bustling self with many people commenting on the range of interesting paper themes and the trouble in finding the time (and sometimes energy!) to get to them all.

The University Choir

The welcome reception consisted of a concert and drinks reception in a hall in one of the older parts of the university.  The performance was given by the university’s academic choir, who have toured all over the world and who had returned to Poznań before the start of term especially to sing for us. It is some time since I have been to a choral concert and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The choir sung a range of pieces including traditional Polish songs and their own takes on popular music.  My favourites were their version of “Chili con Carne”, complete with vocal percussion, and a choral rendition of the “William Tell Overture”, which included the choir trotting across the stage while singing!  After the concert I thoroughly enjoyed chatting, sampling the mysterious foods and even drinking the local vodka! The choir’s motto “bringing joy through singing” certainly rang true that night.

Delicious kasha!

As mentioned above, a personal highlight of my time in Poland was certainly trying a range of foods I’d never eaten, or even heard of before.  I gradually worked my way through the different types of pierogi (Polish dumpling), trying both savoury and sweet ones; the best one I ate was a chocolate and peanut one, yum!  I also discovered kasha, a savoury dish made from buckwheat groats and served with a delicious creamy, cheesy sauce and enjoyed some bigos, a stew which I had memory of some Polish friends making when I lived in Germany.  It was as good as my memory told me it would be!

The Market Square

Having not been to Poland before I thought I’d take the opportunity to take some days holiday, so I not only visited Poznań but went on to spend the weekend in Wrocław and a few days in Kraków.

Jezyk Polski – Polish, our “Language of the Month”

Polish flag

After a hiatus due to our busy conference season, we have resurrected our office “Language of the Month” scheme.  Today, Kasia, a Polish colleague of Sarah’s sister, was roped in to give us an hour of Polish over lunch.  We were particularly interested in learning Polish as we shall be hearing a lot about it over the next few months what with the European football championships taking place in Poland and Ukraine in June, and EUROSLA being hosted by the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznán in September.

Kasia started the session teaching us common everyday phrases as “Dziekuje” (“Thank you”) and “Jak sie masz?” (“How are you?”) as well as numbers and some useful questions.  Unsurprisingly, particular challenges for us were mastering sounds which we don’t have in English and trying to work out how things might be pronounced by looking at the spellings.

Joanna Nijakowska’s book

We then were able to ask Kasia how we should pronounce our many Polish authors names correctly.  We often find names such as Piotr Kuhiwczak and Adam Wojtaskez especially difficult to get right, so we are pleased to know how to say them properly now.  I am very much looking forward to attending EUROSLA in Poznán and will be doing my best to attempt to speak a bit of Polish while I’m there.

Kasia also gave us some helpful tips for visiting Poland, such as not waiting for people to form an orderly queue and not being surprised if we get a full health history when asking “How are you?”!