IATEFL in Liverpool 2019

Janet Enever's opening talk
Janet Enever’s opening talk

The conference started for me with the pre-conference meeting of the Young Learners SIG at which Janet Enever, series editor for our Early Language Learning in School Contexts (ELLSC) series, gave the opening keynote. Her talk was entitled ‘21st Century ELT for 3 to 10-year olds’ and she tackled many current issues in working and researching with young language learners, such as the age factor, assessment and native/non-native speaker teachers. She stressed the importance of making sure that the conditions are right to ensure the development of language proficiency in children. Among the other speakers of the day was Shelagh Rixon, one of the editors of our forthcoming book Integrating Assessment into Early Language Learning and Teaching Practice, who presented her work with her colleague Amanda Davies: ‘Primary learning: borrowing the best from ELT and the mainstream’.

The Royal Albert Dock near the conference centre
The Royal Albert Dock near the conference centre

Another of our series editors, Sarah Mercer, who, together with Stephen Ryan, oversees our Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT) series, was also present at the conference. Her latest book Language Teacher Psychology (edited with Achilleas Kostoulas) was very popular with the delegates, as was her older title Positive Psychology in SLA (edited with Peter D. MacIntyre and Tammy Gregersen). The second book in this new PLLT series Visualising Multilingual Lives (edited by Paula Kalaja and Silvia Melo-Pfeifer) was published just last month and was also a real hit. Many delegates found not only the content very appealing but also appreciated the full colour printing throughout the book.

Down in the exhibition hall, I had a very busy few days, with many of our books attracting attention from the IATEFL crowd and plenty of authors and familiar faces stopping by to say hello and browse our new titles. Aside from the books in our PLLT and ELLSC series, highlights for the delegates included Creativity and Innovations in ELT Materials Development edited by Dat Bao, Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen, Spirituality and English Language Teaching edited by Mary Shepard Wong and Ahmar Mahboob and Language Learning and Teaching in a Multilingual World by Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes et al.

The Royal Liver Building
The Royal Liver Building

The conference was held in the Liverpool Arena, which was totally transformed and unrecognisable from when I last came to it, to watch England play an international netball match. It was funny to be in the same venue with our books! The arena is situated on the waterfront and I enjoyed walking every morning along the docks, despite the blistering cold and wind. The docks are also home to Liverpool’s Three Graces and many museums, the Tate gallery and plenty of restaurants and cafes. Luckily I had some free time before I left the city and my favourite visit was to the Open Eye Gallery, where there is a striking exhibition of portraits of female UK MPs. Liverpool is certainly somewhere I’d like to return to for a holiday.

Laura

Multilingualism As Lived Through Visual Means

This month we published Visualising Multilingual Lives edited by Paula Kalaja and Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer. In this post the editors explain how they used visual methodologies to examine multilinguals’ emotions and their expression of those emotions.

It is only gradually being acknowledged that multilinguals, or people who use more than one language, form the majority of people in the world, not monolinguals. However, multilinguals find themselves in different contexts and for different reasons, and their knowledge of the languages varies. In addition, becoming and being multilingual are quite heterogeneous and individual achievements are experienced very differently by subjects, depending on their contexts and life trajectories.

There are two approaches to multilinguals. The objective approach attempts to figure out the mechanisms inside a multilingual’s mind and trace developments in his or her knowledge of any language (and possible stages in the process) in terms of mastery of a linguistic system or in terms of an ability to communicate or interact with others in the language. In contrast, the subjective approach attempts to find out how a multilingual feels about becoming or being multilingual, or what the different languages and their use mean to him or her personally. In other words, the second approach focuses on multilinguals and their lives as subjectively experienced or as lived, including positive and negative emotions, attitudes, beliefs, visions and identities.

Traditional methodologies (such as questionnaires, interviews and observation) may not be the most suitable options when tackling issues like this, as they may suffer from a “linguistic bias” in their attempts to describe or explain emotions, which are not always easy to put into words. So, to address these sensitive issues, we decided to make use of visual methodologies of various kinds, including drawings and photographs, as mediators between emotions and their expression by multilinguals. However, as a rule, visual data were complemented with other types of data, and the starting points and ways of analysing the pools of data for form and/or content vary from one study to another. But even if visual materials are not always used as the only pool of data, they bring to the foreground aspects that individuals choose to visually represent and comment on. So, using visual methodologies may also be about what is not visible, not represented or not valued by the multilingual subject.

As editors of Visualising Multilingual Lives, we invite the readers to learn about visual narratives accounted by multilinguals in different parts of the world, printed in full color. The different chapters of the book offer coherent, original and individualized insights into multilingualism as experienced in three domains: the multilingual self, the multilingual learner and multilingual teacher education. With a preface by Claire Kramsch, the volume acknowledges the potential of arts-based methodologies in grasping the singularities of multilinguals and their linguistic biographies.

Paula Kalaja paula.kalaja@jyu.fi
Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer silvia.melo-pfeifer@uni-hamburg.de

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

Laura’s Trip to Japan

This June, the third Psychology of Language Learning (PLL3) conference took place at Waseda University, Japan.  Japan is one of our biggest markets and a country that we try and visit every few years in order to stay in touch with what’s happening in the Japanese academic book sector. PLL3 therefore gave me the perfect excuse to make my first trip over. As I have recently moved into my new job as Head of Sales, I am keen to learn all about the different markets in which we sell our books, how they differ and the challenges and prospects for each one. I structured my trip with the first part comprising sales meetings, and the conference making up the final (but by no means lesser!) few days.

Koro on the way to a meeting at the National Ethnology Library in Osaka

The first part of the trip provided an ideal opportunity for me to meet our key contacts, ask zillions of questions and to get the kind of understanding of the market that it is impossible to do by email from our office in Bristol. As with several territories, we have a local Japanese rep, Koro, who looks after our key accounts on a day-to-day basis. Having been emailing Koro for the past 8 years, it was great to finally put a face and a personality to an email address.  Koro arranged numerous visits for me during my stay, in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, and was a fantastic source of knowledge of the market. We also bonded over a love of music and fresh air and not panicking when we couldn’t find the right building for a meeting (Japanese maps are a complete mystery to me)!

Spot some of our books in Kinokuniya’s central Tokyo academic bookshop!

We met with booksellers (including our biggest customers Kinokuniya, Maruzen and MHM), librarians, academics and subject specialists, in both linguistics and tourism studies. We have a number of exciting titles which were of specific interest to the contacts, most notably the forthcoming book on akogare (desire) by Japanese author Chisato Nonaka and the recently published 3rd edition of Sport Tourism Development which sparked interested because of the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and Tokyo 2020 Olympics. As well as meetings by day, we went out for drinks and dinner with a number of our contacts, at which I learnt a lot about Japanese culture, food and alcohol!

After the sales part of my trip, I took a day off to reset my brain from sales to editorial work and to enjoy the sights of Tokyo. Sadly, it was a wet break (the rainy season had just begun), but as I had been fortunate enough to enjoy some sunshine the previous weekend, I was not too disheartened to have to spend the day browsing cookware shops on the famous Kappabashi Street and enjoying tea and cake in various tea shops when I needed a break from the torrential downpours!

Laura at the PLL3 conference

The PLL conference is now in its third meeting and I am fortunate to have been able to attend all three (you can also read about previous conferences in Graz and Jyväskylä on our blog) and to see the event evolve and thrive over time. This year, Waseda University welcomed 375 delegates from both across Japan and around the world. Stephen Ryan and his colleagues and students meticulously organised and hosted a conference that both lived up to and went beyond previous editions.

Richard Ryan giving his opening plenary

Among the highlights of the gathering were the plenaries which were always packed and stimulating. Richard Ryan opened the conference with a talk on self-determination theory and Ema Ushioda ended the first day with a thought-provoking talk questioning the social purpose of academic research. The plenaries of the second day saw Mimi Bong introduce her work on achievement goals and Lourdes Ortega asked how the field of PLL can address issues of social justice. On the final morning, Jean-Marc Dewaele gave a rousing introduction to the closing speaker, Zoltan Dornyei, who focused on the topic of perseverance within the domain of motivation. The final slot is always a tough one (especially the morning after the conference dinner!) but it certainly enthused and engaged delegates who hung around in the entrance foyer long after the conference was officially over.

Multilingual Matters book display

Alongside the plenaries, the programme was packed full of sessions and social events. And of course, I was kept busy in the book exhibit. Popular titles included Language Teacher Psychology (edited by Mercer & Kostoulas), Language Learner Autonomy (Little et al), Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning (Miyahara) and Portraits of Second Language Learners (Muramatsu), which was so hot off the press that I had had to bring copies straight from the office in my suitcase!

The conference was also a good platform for the new IAPLL association to be launched and for delegates to hear more about the benefits of membership. With the new association and another successful conference gone by, the stage is now set for the continued development of this subsection of the field and I am already looking forward to PLL4, which is due to take place in June 2020 in Canada.

Laura

Flo’s Trip to ICFSLA 2018 in Szczyrk, Poland

Last week I attended the 30th annual International Conference on Foreign and Second Language Acquisition (ICFSLA) conference in Szczyrk, Poland. This conference is well-loved by those who’ve attended regularly over the years, and upon arrival I was struck by how welcoming everyone was and what a warm and friendly atmosphere the organisers had created, despite the unseasonably chilly, rainy May weather!

As Multilingual Matters hadn’t been to this conference since 2015, the delegates seemed pleased to see us and find that they could actually buy the books we were displaying. Our SLA series was so popular among the conference-goers that a few of them assumed that was the name of the publisher, not realising it was just one of a number of our series! Alongside the SLA books, the first book in our new PLLT series, Language Teacher Psychology (coedited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas), was a particular favourite, selling out on the first day.

David Singleton giving his plenary

The theme of this year’s conference was “Identity in Second Language Acquisition and Foreign Language Learning” and I was able to take some time out from manning my stand to go to the plenaries by our authors and series editors Rod Ellis, David Singleton, Sarah Mercer and Simone Pfenninger. Topics discussed included social identity and language development in study abroad, bi-/multilingual communication and identity, language teacher identity and third age identity, and it was nice to have the opportunity to see our authors in action!

Apart from a packed programme of plenaries and sessions, the conference organisers also put on some great entertainment in the evenings. First up was an “Evening of Memories” in which ICFSLA enthusiasts past, present and regretfully absent reminisced (some by audio/video!) about the past 30 years, accompanied by a slideshow of ICFSLA conferences gone by, and with many fond memories of the late Janusz Arabski, the conference’s founder.  A special surprise was saved for the last night, when, following the conference dinner, we all trooped up to the bar, where the conference organisers had arranged a concert by Polish a cappella sea shanty band, Banana Boat. The band was brilliant, and somehow I found myself singing along, despite most of the songs being in Polish! The disco at the end of the night rounded off the conference nicely, with some serious dance moves being exhibited well into the early hours.

Flo

IATEFL 2018 – Laura’s trip to the conference in Brighton

Last week I attended the annual International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) conference in Brighton. It’s 7 years since we last attended the conference, and the first time I had been myself, so I was interested to see what it would be like.

Laura on the MM stand at IATEFL

It was clear from the opening evening exhibit hall preview that it was going to be a busy conference and that three of our titles would be vying for the spot of our conference bestseller.  They were:

Creativity and Innovations in ELT Materials Development, edited by Dat Bao. Fresh off the press (published just last month), this title was really popular with educators and academics, looking for the latest research on ELT materials design.

Language Learner Autonomy, by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen. The latter two authors were at the conference and as active members of the IATEFL LASIG they were busy letting delegates know about their new publication.

Language Teacher Psychology, edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. Sarah Mercer had been the plenary speaker at last year’s conference and many delegates were already aware of this exciting new book. I especially enjoyed meeting friends and colleagues of the editors, who were happy to let them know the good news of the book’s popularity, sometimes by taking a photo of the book at the stand to send to them!

Laura beside the Brighton Pier

Having not been to this conference before, many of the delegates were unknown to me and it was great for us to be able to reach a new audience, especially one that is so teacher focused. I was, however, also pleased to see a few familiar faces in the IATEFL crowd, including Janet Enever, the series editor of our new Early Language Learning in School Contexts series and author Carol Griffiths, whose new book is so new that I had to bring copies straight from the office.

As well as being my first visit to IATEFL, it was also my first trip to Brighton. As someone who loves the sea, I thoroughly enjoyed getting a good dose of sea air on my way to the conference every morning and treating myself to fish and chips on the beach at the end of the busy week. I managed to explore a bit of Brighton on the one dry and sunny evening of the week and loved what I saw…Brighton is definitely a UK city I’d love to return to for a holiday (ideally when the weather is a bit better!)

Laura

The Importance of Language Teacher Psychology

This month we published Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. In this post, the book’s editors introduce us to the collection.

Language learners are the end recipients who should benefit from everything we do, so it is perhaps unsurprising that they have been the focus of much of our work as language educators. However, as we explored the teacher-learner relationship, we have become aware that teacher psychology can also have considerable influence on the teachers’ ability to teach as effectively and creatively as possible, as well as on their learners’ psychology. But what do we really know about teachers’ motivations, their emotions, wellbeing, and thinking?

As we looked more closely at what has been published to date, we did find some fascinating, relatively well-explored lines of inquiry, but we also discovered that there was not nearly the same depth, breadth or complexity of research that exists for learners and their psychologies. We felt that this gap was disconcerting, especially in the light of the challenges within the teaching profession, and we were keen to explore how the constructs that were being used in language learner psychology might also apply to teachers. It was encouraging that our concerns and motivations for this volume were shared by other scholars in the field, whose enthusiastic response to our invitation has helped to make this such a rich and diverse collection.

The structure of this book reflects these concerns and attempts to address them. The first few chapters offer new insights into aspects of language teacher psychology that have already received some attention in research, such as motivation and identity. The next set of contributions broadens the agenda by looking into aspects that have only more recently begun to be examined. The third part of the book explores a relatively new line of inquiry considering how insights from positive psychology can be applied to language teaching. The final chapter illustrates how language teacher psychology can be studied as an integrated whole and not just as a collection of fragmented constructs.

As editors, we feel privileged to have worked with such great scholars who contributed their time and insights to the collection. We hope that readers derive as much enjoyment as we did by engaging with the chapters that make up the book. We also hope that it generates more research, more discussion, and more awareness of the importance of language teacher psychology. Indeed, the new book series Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching, would welcome contributions that extend this discussion. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the book, you might want to take a look at the table of contents which are found at the bottom of this page.

Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas

If you found this interesting, you may be interested in Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. You can also find more information on Language Teacher Psychology on 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.

New series: Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching

In January 2018 we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas, which is the first book in our new series, Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching. In this post, series editors Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan introduce the new series and explain the inspiration behind it. 

Both of us started our careers in the classroom as language teachers and it was there that we first developed our fascination with the differences we noted in how our learners approached their learning … or did not, as the case may be. Little did we know back then just where that fascination would take us. From those initial sparks began an ongoing interest in language learning psychology. Our curiosity led us to seek ways to understand what made our learners tick and, somewhat inadvertently, into the exciting world of educational psychology. Once exposed to these – at least to us – new ideas, we then became interested in how best to apply these insights in our teaching. It was classroom practice that triggered our early interest and that practical focus continues to be a key driver for us in our research and we hope in this new Multilingual Matters series too.

Over time, our own understandings of psychology have grown and become – we like to think – more nuanced. In the same way, and over a similar timeframe, a new academic field has grown, both in scale and sophistication, around in interest in the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT). One of the great joys for us in recent years has been the discovery of many like-minded, curious teachers/teacher-researchers/researchers looking to explore the potential of educational psychology theory and research in an attempt to better understand language teaching and learning. For many years, discussions of psychology in language education were dominated by the concept of learner motivation and while that remains a key area of inquiry, we are now seeing a whole range of other topics moving into focus. In addition to motivation, the new field covers various dimensions of the self, identity, affect, cognition, attributions, personality, strategies, self-regulation, and agency among others. A distinguishing trait of this new field is that it seeks to explore the connections between these concepts as opposed to separating them from each other and attempting to analyse them in isolation. Another key shift has been a growing attention to teacher psychology. While there is a strong body of research in certain areas, large domains of teacher psychology have remained almost completely unexamined in the field of language education. Given the tight connections between learner and teacher psychology, it is surprising we know so little about what makes such key stakeholders in classroom life function and potentially flourish in their professional roles.

The first book in the series, Language Teacher Psychology

As a part of the emergence of this new field, there has been an accompanying increase in the number of publications with a PLLT focus. At first, these were scattered across publishing houses, but we felt that there was a need to bring them together under one roof to make it easier for people to find related works, to see connections across areas of research and practice, and to foster cooperation rather than further fragmentation. Multilingual Matters already housed many key PLLT publications within its broader SLA series and it is from that highly successful series that the new PLLT was born. The birth of the new PLLT series has coincided with the further growth of a biennial conference dedicated to the field as well as the formation of a professional association for those working in the area. It is tremendously exciting to witness the new series taking shape and we feel enormously privileged to be a part of this innovative new project. We can already see some thrilling publications on the horizon as academics from across the globe come forward to share their work on PLLT through the series. We hope you will enjoy reading the books that will make up the new series and we also hope that some of you may consider making your own contribution in the future.

For more information about the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series, please see our website. Book proposals for this series should be sent to Laura Longworth.

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.