Why Task-based Language Teaching? A Personal Statement

This month we are publishing Reflections on Task-Based Language Teaching by Rod Ellis. In this post Rod explains what led him to pursue this line of research.

My interest in task-based language teaching has two sources. One is my own experience many years ago of teaching English in a rural secondary school in Zambia. The other is my ongoing research into second language acquisition.

As a teacher, the approach I followed in Zambia was not task-based. But it did involve the use of tasks and my memory is that some of the most successful lessons I taught were those involving tasks. I recall an activity where the students read a passage about a famous person. One student was chosen to role-play this person with the rest of the class firing questions at him/ her which the student tried to answer in character. This activity – which I would now call a ‘task’ – proved highly motivating and generated spontaneous interaction among the students in a way that was clearly very different from the more traditional types of lessons I was also teaching at that time.

My interest in second language acquisition also grew out of my experience as a teacher in Zambia. I was puzzled why students continued to make the same grammatical errors after what I felt were successful lessons designed to eradicate them. The students would use the correct grammatical structures in drills and written exercises but fail to do so in their spontaneous speech. Through studying second language acquisition research I came to understand the limits of direct instruction and see the advantages of instruction that enabled students to acquire a language in their own way. Task-based language teaching seemed the best way of helping students develop the kind of knowledge of a language needed to communicate effectively.

More recently my professional life has given me experience of Asia – a situation very different from Zambia as English played no role in students’ lives once they left the classroom. I saw that too many students in countries like Japan and China left school after years of studying English with little ability to use the language they had been learning in every day communication. I believe that task-based teaching is the best way of avoiding this unfortunate state of affairs.

My new book, Reflections on Task-Based Language Teaching, draws on both my professional experience as a teacher and a teacher educator and my work in second language acquisition research to present a case for task-based language teaching and also to reflect on the issues about this approach that need further consideration.

Rod Ellis

For more information about this book please see our website.

Our Series Editor and Author, Simone E. Pfenninger, Wins Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize

This month we were delighted to hear that co-editor of our series Second Language Acquisition, co-editor of Future Research Directions for Applied Linguistics and co-author of Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning, Simone E. Pfenninger, has been awarded the 2018 Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize.

The Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize is a Swiss prize that is given annually to up to three recipients (an artist, a literary author and a scientist). Simone received the award for her work on the project “Beyond Age Effects”, which she conducted in Switzerland between 2008 and 2017. Parts of the results of this project were published in her 2017 book with David Singleton, Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning.

The large-scale longitudinal project, undertaken in Switzerland between 2008 and 2017, focused on the effects of age of onset (AO) vis-à-vis the learning of English that manifest themselves in the course of secondary schooling. The two main goals of the project were to identify factors that prevent young learners from profiting from their extended learning period, as documented in numerous classroom studies, as well as to understand the mechanisms that provide late starters with learning rates in the initial stages of learning which enable them to catch up relatively quickly with early starters. These are questions of considerable theoretical and practical significance, since they are at the heart of debates revolving around age – one of the most controversial variables in foreign language (FL) learning and teaching research.

Over 800 secondary school students (636 of them longitudinally over a period of five years) were tested, who had all learned Standard German and French in primary school, but only half of whom had had English (their third language, L3) from third grade (age 8) onwards, the remainder having started five years later in secondary school. This constellation provided a unique window into the benefits of early versus late FL learning.

Advanced quantitative methods in classroom research (e.g. multilevel modeling) were combined with individual-level qualitative data, rather than examining the relationship between well-defined variables in relative isolation (as in ANOVA-type analyses). The findings cast some doubt on the importance of maturational and strictly durative aspects of FL instructional learning: success mostly does not relate to AO or length of the exposure. Close analysis of the interplay of variables showed that a number of variables are much stronger than starting age for a range of FL proficiency dimensions, e.g. (1) effects of instruction-type, (2) literacy skills, (3) classroom effects, (4) extracurricular exposure and (5) socio-affective variables such as motivation. The findings also suggest that different learner populations (monolinguals, simultaneous bilinguals, sequential bilinguals) are differentially affected by L3 starting age effects, partly due to individual differences (e.g. (bi)literacy skills), partly due to contextual effects that mediate successful L3 outcomes (e.g. language environment at home, classroom effects and teaching approach).

Congratulations to Simone for this brilliant achievement!

If you found this interesting, you might like to read Simone’s book co-authored with David Singleton, Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning.

The Development of the Field of Norwegian Second Language Acquisition

This month we published Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord. In this post, the editors discuss the development of the field of Norwegian second language acquisition.

The studies presented in the book Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning: Findings and Insights from a Learner Corpus all concern Norwegian as a second or later-learned language, and in this blog we thought it would be useful to put the book into its proper context by saying a few words about the development of the field of Norwegian second language acquisition (SLA). This will help readers of the book not only to understand the position and impact of the field of Norwegian SLA on the teaching of Norwegian as a second language, but – perhaps even more importantly in the present context – also help them to understand why the effects of learners’ native language (L1) on their L2 learning have never been abandoned by Norwegian SLA researchers, contrary to what has happened in many other parts of the world.

In this short blog, we will say a few words about each of the following:

  • modern migration to Norway starting around the 1970s
  • the close connection between schools, teachers, and learners, on the one hand, and the development of SLA as a recognized field of science at Norwegian universities, on the other
  • the strategic decision in the early 2000s to build a learner corpus dedicated to the exploration of L1 influence in learners’ acquisition and use of Norwegian as a second language

The fact that Norwegian is among the less commonly taught languages around the world is not hard to understand since Norway has a relatively small population. As of 2017, the overall population of Norway is about 5 million inhabitants, of which about 880,000 are immigrants. The overall population of Norway has grown by about 35% since 1970, but its immigrant population has grown by more than 1000% (from about 60,000 in 1970). In the 1970s, large groups of foreign workers mainly from Turkey, Morocco, and Pakistan, as well as refugees from Chile and Vietnam, arrived in Norway. The Norwegian schools were not prepared to receive or educate these new immigrant populations, and this crisis created a sense of urgency among teachers and the entire educational system that forced the universities to take action to address the problem. To be clear, SLA did not emerge as a field of science at Norwegian universities as a natural outcome of organically evolving scientific discoveries and practices; rather, it was deliberately developed in response to the urgent external needs and experiences expressed by teachers in the public schools.

Teachers’ everyday encounters with different groups of immigrant pupils led unmistakably to the observation that speakers of different L1s experience different types of challenges in learning L2 Norwegian. The different needs and challenges of different L1 groups soon became widely recognised among educators in Norway, and the specific challenges of the different groups were also made explicit. The first Norwegian Master’s thesis (1980) in the field of SLA investigated the effects of the L1 on L2 learning, and it is important to note that many of the subsequent SLA theses were written by students who were motivated by their prior experiences as teachers of L2 Norwegian. Looking back, it is easy to see that it was the close contact between the schools and teachers who worked closely with learners from different L1 backgrounds that led to a condition – including at Norwegian universities – where the effects of the L1 on L2 learning were never in doubt.

Critical to the background of our new book is the ASK corpus, which was designed and compiled specifically for the purpose of conducting research on crosslinguistic influence. The texts in the corpus are essays written as part of an official test of Norwegian language ability by L2 learners of Norwegian (mostly immigrants) representing ten of the largest L1 groups in Norway around the year 2000 and the Polish group is now the largest immigrant group in Norway. The ASKeladden research project – funded by a grant from the Research Council of Norway – was the vehicle that ultimately made the studies presented in this book possible.

For more information please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.

The Japanese writing system and the difficulties it poses for second language learners

This month we are publishing The Japanese Writing System by Heath Rose. In this post, Heath reveals how his own struggles with studying the written language inspired him to write the book.

The Japanese writing system has fascinated me since I first began learning it as a high school student in rural Australia. This captivation remained with me when I became a teacher of the language, and later as a researcher of it. However, my relationship with Japanese is somewhat multifarious; while I have always appreciated the beauty in its complexity, I can be simultaneously frustrated with it and enamoured of it. Still to this day, I do not know any other language that mixes so many types of scripts within a single writing system. Japanese consists of two phonetic scripts (hiragana and katakana) that represent syllables in the language, a character-based script (kanji) that represents meaning-based units, and an alphabetic script (Romaji).

When I first learned kanji, I found the writing system to be a great source of motivation to study. There was beauty in the physical form of the scripts and I could see progress being made in my learning of the hiragana and katakana scripts, and the first few hundred kanji. This motivation slowly dissipated in later years of study, as I realised that I needed to learn many more thousand kanji, which seemed to represent the language in a haphazard manner. A learner must know more than 2000 kanji to be literate in the language, and many more thousand to develop a high level of expertise in it. What was once a source of joy, had developed into a laborious task of memorization that extended over a decade of intensive study.

I was fortunate to be able to live in Japan for eleven years. While I saw my spoken Japanese improve effortlessly during this time, my written Japanese still required formal classes, and daily self-study. When I lacked the time to devote to reviewing kanji, my proficiency was adversely affected. At that time it dawned on me that the written Japanese language and the spoken Japanese language were completely separate beasts; it was possible to advance in one and decline in the other.

My interest, as a researcher of the processes by which second language learners acquire written Japanese, grew from my own struggles with learning the language. In my research, which spanned a decade, I discovered patterns in learning that were indicative of good and bad practices. Some successful learners applied strategies to memorize kanji, such as making associations with their shape, components, or meanings. However, I concluded there was no definitive “magic” strategy for success. Rather, successful learners tended to cope with the magnitude of learning via successful self-regulation of their learning goals, and their learning behaviours.

I sum up my research (and the research of other linguists) in my new book titled The Japanese Writing System: Challenges, Strategies and Self-regulation for Learning Kanji. In this book research is discussed in terms of their implications for second language learners, teachers and researchers alike.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Writing Systems edited by Vivian Cook and Benedetta Bassetti. 

A Fresh Look at an Old Question: The Age Factor in a New Methodological Light

This month we’re publishing Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning by Simone E. Pfenninger and David Singleton. In this post Simone and David discuss the controversial topic of the age factor in second language learning, as explored in their book.

Both of us – from the beginning of our respective careers – have been fascinated by the question of the age factor in second language learning. As we all know, this is a controversial topic; for example, the debate surrounding the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) has not gone away and is not likely to any time soon. There is, however, more consensus than many people realize between CPH sceptics (like Carmen Muñoz) and CPH advocates (such as Robert DeKeyser). The area in which this happy consensus reigns is that of the effects of an early start to L2 instruction in school, which most SLA researchers of all affiliations have for many decades agreed does not yield the advantage one might expect.

There is a sharp difference between the CPH debate and the discussion concerning the optimal age in a formal, educational context. Whereas the CPH question is interesting theoretically, the issue of the best age for starting a foreign language in school (to which, for various reasons, most CPH supporters these days see the critical period notion as irrelevant) is not just intellectually teasing but is also heavy with practical, socio-economic, political and ideological implications. Clearly, for educators, teachers and policy-makers it is of compelling interest to know more about the end state of foreign language instruction, since such research has important implications for multilingual education when making decisions about (1) early teaching of different languages in elementary school and (2) later instruction in different languages in secondary school.

Our book reports on some further long-term findings to this effect, which we explore and expatiate on in relation to a range of variables which, in the instructional context, turn out to be markedly more influential than age. We talk about recent developments and improvements in the methodological aspects of investigating individual difference variables such as age, as well as our observation that in the formal educational setting the age variable is overshadowed to the point of invisibility by other factors. Such factors include contextual effects (e.g. school effects and the transition from primary to secondary school), the effects of instruction-type and intensity of instruction, effects of extracurricular exposure, the influence of literacy and biliteracy skills, and the impact of socio-affective variables such as motivation. A role for starting age is in fact extremely hard to establish. With regard to the school situation, in other words, we can blithely put aside the maturational question, and all agree that when instruction happens is incomparably less important than how it proceeds and under what circumstances.

Actually such findings regarding the effects of early instruction go back a long way. Thus the idea of introducing L2 instruction into primary/elementary schools in the 1950s and 1960s was dealt a severe blow by the findings of research in the 1970s which cast doubt on the capacity of early instruction to deliver higher proficiency levels as compared with later instruction (e.g. Burstall, Jamieson, Cohen, & Hargreaves, 1975; Carroll, 1975; Oller & Nagato, 1974). The disillusionment occasioned by such findings seems, however, to have been rather short-lived, and more recent and continuing negative results in this connection have also been largely ignored. Our own endeavour has been (1) to try to convince the members of the general public that the time is ripe for closer integration between SLA research and L2 pedagogy and (2) to educate them about recent trends in the age factor tradition in SLA research. Our strong view is that consistent and intensive collaboration between practitioners, politicians and researchers is needed in order to understand and address mutual interests and concerns through shared discussions, data collection, analysis and interpretation.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you liked this, you might also be interested in Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition by Vivian Cook and David Singleton and Future Research Directions for Applied Linguistics edited by Simone E. Pfenninger and Judit Navracsics.

Willingness to Communicate in Instructed Second Language Acquisition

This month we published Willingness to Communicate in Instructed Second Language Acquisition by Anna Mystkowska-Wiertelak and Mirosław Pawlak. In this post the authors tell us what inspired them to write the book and explain the process involved in their research.

Willingness to Communicate in Instructed Second Language AcquisitionThe main inspiration for writing the book was the conviction that learners’ willingness to speak in the foreign language classroom has to be investigated from both a macro- and micro-perspective. The first task was relatively easy because a number of tools were available. While there were hurdles in obtaining the right amount of data, all it took was to put together the requisite scales, introduce the modifications we deemed necessary, and apply required statistical procedures. The second task was much more challenging because it is not easy to register changes in readiness to communicate in real time.

It was clear to us from the very outset that we wanted to focus on changes in students’ willingness to communicate as they occur in regularly scheduled classes and to identify factors responsible for such changes. Such an approach was intended to capture classroom reality and make the findings relevant to everyday concerns of practitioners. It meant that we could not rely on sophisticated software that allows tapping into changes in willingness to speak on a second-by-second basis in the performance of specific tasks because this would have entailed pulling individual students out of intact groups.

Thus we decided to use a grid on which participants indicated their willingness to speak on a scale from -10 (total unwillingness) to +10 (total willingness) at five-minute intervals. The data from these grids, augmented by information gleaned from detailed lesson plans and questionnaires the students filled out at the end of each class, helped us establish changes in readiness to speak at both the class and individual levels and to establish reasons for these fluctuations.

Although this procedure is not free from shortcomings, one of which is some degree of intrusiveness in the tasks performed, it is difficult to think of a better way to tap the dynamic nature of readiness to speak. There is also a possibility of getting a much finer-grained view of such changes if students indicate their willingness to speak at shorter time-intervals (e.g., every 10 seconds). Clearly, there is a need to further refine this procedure but it is difficult to offer alternatives for the investigation of the dynamic nature of willingness to communicate in the classroom.

Willingness to Communicate in the Chinese EFL University ClassroomFor more information about this book, please visit our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Willingness to Communicate in the Chinese EFL University Classroom by Jian-E Peng.

Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals

Earlier this month we published Wai Lan Tsang’s book Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals which studies Cantonese, English and French multilinguals in Hong Kong. In this post, Wai Lan tells us how her own experience as a multilingual learner inspired further examination of the influence of other languages on the language being learned. 

The fact is that if you have not developed language,
you simply don’t have access to most of human experience,
and if you don’t have access to experience,
then you’re not going to be able to think properly.
Noam Chomsky

Chomsky’s quote tells us how important human language is in formulating our experience and thoughts. But what happens when we know more than one kind of human language? How do we think these different human languages influence or interact with each other?

Born into a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, I have the privilege of being exposed to different languages. As a native speaker of Cantonese (a variety of Standard Chinese), I have acquired English, French and Japanese. During the acquisitional process, I have become more and more aware of how the languages I know might influence each other – as expected or to my surprise. For example, once in a Japanese course I was taking, my French was activated quite a number of times when I was trying to figure out the pronunciation of some Japanese words. It was a surprise to me because those moments of activation came unconsciously, and I would expect languages similar to Japanese, for example Chinese, to be activated, but it was not. This kind of amazing experience has inspired me to explore more about how different languages in a multilingual’s mind may interact with each other.

Crosslinguistic Influence in MultilingualsThis book on crosslinguistic influence among three languages, namely Cantonese, English and French, in multilinguals, draws on the notions of ‘interface’ and ‘reverse transfer’ in second language acquisition. In particular, it addresses the possible positive or negative transfer effect from French as a third language (L3) to English as a second language (L2):

Does the acquisition of a later acquired language (i.e. French) have any effect on the reception and production of an earlier acquired language (i.e. English)?

The answer to the above query is not an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’, possibly because of a number of factors at play: L3 proficiency, linguistic feature or structure involved (which in turn relates to the notion of ‘structural linguistic complexity’), typology/ psychotypology and receptive and productive use of L2. These factors may in turn make the acquisitional process most intriguing.

In order to relish and excel in this fascinating acquisitional process, both language learners and language educators are encouraged to become more aware of the different factors and the resulting potential interaction among languages. The book will show them how those factors might have worked among a group of speakers of Cantonese with knowledge of English and French. The discussions in the book will also highlight other issues that are worth investigating in our quest for how crosslinguistic influence among three languages may take place.

Hope you all enjoy reading it and find it useful!

Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language AcquisitionFor more information about the book, please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.

L2 Learning, Teaching and Assessment

This month we are publishing L2 Learning, Teaching and Assessment by Nihat Polat which explores second language learning, teaching and assessment from a comprehensible input (CI) perspective. In this blog post, Nihat writes about what inspired him to put the book together.

L2 Learning, Teaching and AssessmentGrowing up in the bilingual context of eastern Turkey, I struggled with understanding and communicating messages with different audiences on a daily basis. Some of these difficulties could be attributed to not knowing the vocabulary or the grammatical structures, which is not surprising for any bilingual person. Yet, often I knew the words and/or the grammar but I still had difficulty understanding what my Turkish or Kurdish family members or my friends or teachers were trying to tell me. For me, this was quite interesting. I became even more interested in ‘what it means to understand a particular linguistic sample’ or ‘know a foreign language’ while I was learning English at high school. However, my interest in technical aspects of ‘comprehension’, ‘comprehensibility’, and ‘input’ in second language (L2) learning, teaching and assessment peaked when I met Stephen Krashen at a conference in graduate school. Being on the conference organizing committee gave me additional ‘opportunities of exposure’ to Professor Krashen. As a big fan, I got to ask him a lot of questions to which he kindly offered detailed answers, often with a wonderful sense of humor.

In the process of doing research on different aspects of second language acquisition (SLA) and teaching graduate courses on SLA and L2 teaching and assessment it became clearer and clearer to me that the term ‘comprehensible input’ (CI) is used rather loosely in the field. Thus, I decided that a need is warranted (1) to define the term in light of current SLA research, and (2) explore SLA and L2 teaching and assessment from the perspective of CI. Taking a compressive blended approach that champions the intertwining of theory (Part I) and research (Part II) with L2 pedagogy and assessment (Part III), I particularly focused on the following questions:

  • What is the conceptual foundation of CI?
  • What are CI’s linguistic, cultural, semiotic and stylistic elements?
  • What are CI’s multimodal and dynamic interpretations in the subfields of psychology, anthropology and linguistics?
  • How is CI used/discussed in different SLA theories and research?
  • As far as its role in L2 teaching is concerned, what role do multimodal forms of CI play in different discourse and interaction patterns in different teaching settings around the world?
  • What factors (e.g. curriculum, learner, teacher, setting-related) do the classroom teachers need to consider in modifying CI for pedagogical purposes in different settings?
  • What role does CI play in terms of assessment modifications in different kinds of test techniques for receptive and productive skills?

In short, I hope this book helps students, teachers and researchers in the field to have a better understanding of L2 learning, teaching and assessment from the perspective of CI. I would like to conclude with this caveat that I highlighted in the Conclusion section: “If the ultimate goal of L2A is ‘authentically languaging one’s L2 self’, offering straightforward remedies as to how it happens would be no less unwise than trying to take a still picture of a constantly self-organizing dynamic system with countless elements.”

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

Working Memory – The Ultimate Second Language Learning Device!

Last week we celebrated the arrival of the 100th volume in our Second Language Acquisition series. This new book, Working Memory and Second Language Learning written by Zhisheng (Edward) Wen is the second volume of his in the same series. Last year we published Edward’s co-edited volume with Mailce Mota and Arthur McNeill on the  same topic (Working Memory in Second Language Acquisition and Processing). In this post, Edward shares with us his decade-long passion and unceasing enthusiasm for the Working memory – Second Language Acquisition (WM-SLA) concept. 

9781783095711When I was finally able to touch and feel with my very own fingers the first copy of my book that I had just received (hot off the press) from Multilingual Matters, I simply just could not let go of it from my hands. This little purple book, thin and light as it may feel, had occupied such a great proportion of my life over the past 10 years. It has virtually dominated much of my thinking and writing (and countless re-writings), relentlessly forcing me into this weird habit of tracking and consuming an enormous amount of literature from multiple disciplines straddling applied linguistics, educational psychology, cognitive science, and even neuroscience (as long as this buzzword of ‘working memory’ appears in their keyword list). I have since posted this extended list of over 100 pages of references on my personal academic website for interested readers to download freely (and I promise to keep updating it frequently to include whatever new entries I come across on my way).

This latest book is actually my second in Multilingual Matters’ Second Language Acquisition series. My previous one, that I co-edited with Mailce Borges Mota and Arthur McNeill, Working Memory in Second Language Acquisition and Processing was published in May last year. In essence, the edited volume featured theoretical and empirical chapters contributed by leading scholars in both working memory (e.g. Alan Baddeley, Nelson Cowan, and Randall Engle etc.) and second language acquisition (e.g. Alan Juffs, Peter Skehan, John Williams etc.), whereas this new book represents my own personal understanding and theoretical account of the pivotal role of working memory in first and second language learning and processing.

9781783093571Given the different formats and genres of these two books, readers are encouraged to read both of them together, as they are actually meant to be complementary rather than competing with each other. Details of how to order the books at a discount price can be found at the bottom of the post. Overall, these two books should present a more comprehensive and in-depth account of the intricate relationships between working memory and second language acquisition, processing and development. That said, I will now just focus on my second book in this post and highlight its major themes and key features. (For those who also wish to read my blog post written for the co-edited volume, you can find it here).

Getting down to business then, this new book is divided into three parts. The first two parts are devoted to the extensive literature reviews of both working memory research in cognitive science (addressing such fundamental issues as working memory theories, models, and measurement) and applied linguistics research (synthesizing second language studies exploring working memory effects). Building on these cumulative research findings and emerging insights, the third part of the book proposes an integrated perspective on theorizing and measuring working memory in SLA, which culminates in the formulation of the Phonological/Executive (P/E) model. As such, the P/E model is inspired by three major sources based on research syntheses of multiple lines of inquiry.

To begin with, an extensive literature review in cognitive science gives rise to unified theories of the working memory concept as a precursor to the P/E model of WM and SLA proposed in the book. Namely, working memory is a memory sub-system that (a) has limited capacity in holding information and duration; (b) has multiple components and multiple cognitive mechanisms and functions embedded within each component; (c) acts as the interface/gateway for information flow between short-term memory and long-term memory.

Then, there is also the second line of research lending support to the P/E model, which concerns the substantial literature of studies conducted by cognitive psychologists and psycholinguists (from both sides of the Atlantic) that have explored the implications of working memory components/functions for first language acquisition. This research synthesis gives rise to the identification of two key working memory components (together with their associated mechanisms) found to be most directly relevant for language acquisition, i.e., phonological working memory (PWM) and executive working memory (EWM) that are related to various learning domains and processes in first language acquisition and processing.

Finally, as the two key working memory components (PWM and EWM) have been pinned down, together with their associated mechanisms and functions, what we need (and lack) is an effective framework to integrate these established working memory theories with SLA theories. Before such integration can take place, however, it is important to first identify what similarities and differences may exist between first language acquisition and SLA. Building on this premise, I propose in the book to re-conceptualise SLA in more specific terms of representation (e.g., vocabulary, grammar), skills (e.g., L2 sub-skills learning, processing and performance) and development (e.g., L2 proficiency growth), so that each of these domains/skills can be examined through the new lens of these two working memory components (PWM and EWM) in light of their potential mechanisms and functions.

As can be expected, the final outcome of this step-by-step procedure culminates in a general conceptual framework of WM and SLA, and from it, the Phonological/Executive (P/E) model naturally emerges and gradually takes shape. More specifically, PWM is posited to underpin those chunking-based acquisitional and developmental aspects of SLA domains (such as vocabulary/lexis, formulaic sequences and morpho-syntactic constructions/grammatical structure). Informed by these theoretical links, it is better to interpret PWM as the second language acquisition device.

On the other hand, EWM is postulated to underpin some selective offline processes in L2 sub-skills learning and processing, as well as some real-time performance areas during L2 comprehension (listening and reading), interaction (e.g., noticing, focus on form etc.) and production (and here translation/interpreting can also be included as a special case of combining L1 comprehension and L2 production). Given these theoretical links, EWM is best interpreted as a second language processing device or simply, a second language processor.

By now, I do hope that I have given readers a glimpse into the many ideas discussed in my latest book. Other ideas that I have explored in more detail in the book include the relationship between working memory and foreign language aptitude as well as their configured positions in L2 development. There is also an in-depth discussion of the implications of the P/E model for L2 task-based planning and performance. To sum up, I have a strong conviction and equally strong evidence to support my personal understanding and positioning of working memory in second language acquisition and processing. And that is, I consider working memory, as shown in the title of this blog post, to be the ultimate second language learning device! In other words, without working memory, simply nothing can ever happen in SLA!

Zhisheng (Edward) Wen, Macao Polytechnic Institute, edwardwen@ipm.edu.mo
Edward’s website

If you would like more information about Edward’s research monograph and his co-edited book, please see our website or his personal homepage or just contact him directly at the email address above. 

To buy both books at 50% discount please use the code PREORDER50 at the checkout on our website. This discount is available until the end of September.

The Quest for Authenticity in Japan

This week we are publishing Richard S. Pinner’s new book Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global Language which examines the idea of authenticity in English language learning. In this blog post, Richard  explains how his quest for authenticity developed.

Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global LanguageWhen I came to Japan, I had no idea that I was beginning a quest for authenticity. Before moving to Japan, I worked in London. If I wanted to give my students an authentic experience of the English language in use, I just had to ask them to look out of the window. Their lives were inherently entwined with meaningful interactions in English, because they were living in an English-speaking environment. Authenticity seemed to be part of the package.

However, when I moved to Japan I realised that things are not so straightforward for the majority of English learners around the world. Creating meaningful and relevant experiences of using English became my number one challenge. I also became much more aware of the ‘soft power’ effect my cultural upbringing was now having on my students, as I selected materials which presented certain worldviews and ideologies. Things I had not previously considered became problematic issues. In London I represented the local; the one with insider knowledge, links and cultural connections. Working in Japan I was now an outsider, and I had to adapt myself just as much as the materials I was planning to use for my lessons.

My research into authenticity grew out of my research into motivation, and hence I approach the subject from a complexity theory perspective. What this means is that I now try to avoid over-simplifying or compartmentalising things, and I try to make my teaching about contextualised experiences rather than about materials. In order to do this, I have to focus on the individuals in my class and help them to find their own authentic voice in English. I also have to find a way of helping these individuals to bridge their way into a social community of English users.

Japanese learners are often written about in terms of motivation (or lack thereof) and there are many workshops held at conferences in Japan which address issues such as ‘silence’ in the classroom. The stereotype is that it can be hard to encourage Japanese learners to speak as themselves. In my own experience, I think this is an issue related to authenticity, and overcoming such obstacles is as much about the teacher changing their perspective as the students learning new skills. In the book, I try to explain the global situation of English language education as it relates to the construct of authenticity, while providing relevant examples from my own experience as a language teacher. I hope that anyone who reads it will find it interesting and empowering, because authenticity is a central component to successful second language acquisition.

Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language ContextsFor further information about this book, please see our website. You might also enjoy another recent title Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language Contexts edited by Rémi A. van Compernolle and Janice McGregor.