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.

Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language Contexts

This month we’re publishing Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language Contexts edited by Rémi A. van Compernolle and Janice McGregor. Their book is the first in this area and brings together research from different contexts. In this blog post, the editors tell us a bit more about the book.

Authenticity has been a central concept in applied linguistics in general and in second language learning in particular for several decades. And yet, there has been no consensus on what authenticity actually means in research and practice. Most people typically think about whether, and to what extent, language (e.g. as used by a learner, as represented in pedagogical materials) corresponds to native speaker conventions, while some have argued that learner language should be considered authentic in its own right because it is authentically the learner’s way of communicating. To date, little work has attempted to unify the two perspectives in a more holistic way.

Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language ContextsThis book is the first of its kind. Motivated by our own interest in what authentic language is, who can be counted as an authentic speaker, and how authenticity can be achieved, we invited diverse scholars working on a variety of languages, in formal and informal learning contexts, and from different theoretical and methodological frameworks to contribute chapters. We asked our authors to explicitly address the relationship between appropriating community-wide or native-speaker norms on the one hand, and the genesis of authenticity in the learner on the other.

The chapters explore such topics as pragmatic and sociolinguistic variation, interactional and grammatical competencies, language socialization and the negotiation of expertise and epistemic statuses. The end result of the book is a multifaceted understanding of authenticity and authentication in second language contexts that compels us to consider issues as diverse as online processing constraints, identity construction, social relationship maintenance and sociocultural linguistic norms. And, as Alan Firth wrote in his endorsement of the book, the collection “addresses the pressing issue of how we should do Applied Linguistics in the 21st century.”

We hope readers will find the book to be a useful resource for understanding the nature of authenticity in second language contexts, for researching the various ways in which authenticity is achieved between people, and for designing pedagogical materials and tasks.

Pinner-TaguchiFor more information about this book please see our website.

Other recent titles include: Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global Language by Richard S. Pinner and Developing Interactional Competence in a Japanese Study Abroad Context by Naoko Taguchi. 

Is corrective feedback effective for L2 learners?

Last week we published Written Corrective Feedback for L2 Development by John Bitchener and Neomy Storch. Here, the authors introduce their book and examine the importance of corrective feedback in L2 learning.

Written Corrective Feedback for L2 DevelopmentJudging by the large and growing number of research articles, theses and conference presentations, the feedback that second language (L2) teachers provide L2 learners on their writing is clearly a topic of great interest. This interest can be partly explained by the amount of time that writing teachers spend on providing feedback, particularly feedback on language use, termed corrective feedback (CF). The underlying assumption of CF, held by many teachers and indeed L2 learners, is the belief that the feedback will lead to improved accuracy. While research findings on the potential of written CF to facilitate improved accuracy and L2 development has been consistently positive, there is more uncertainty about the conditions and circumstances under which the type and delivery of written CF may aid such development.

Our goal in this book is to consider the body of research on written CF, but to do so from a theoretical perspective. This is because we believe that theories can provide us with insights about why written CF may or may not be effective for some students or in some L2 learning environments.

We focus in this book on two major theoretical paradigms in the field of second language learning: cognitive and sociocultural. The two paradigms present different perspectives on the process and the factors that lead to L2 development and thus provide different explanations about the potential role that written CF may play in L2 development. Two chapters are devoted to each of the paradigms: Chapters 2 and 3 discuss cognitive perspectives and Chapters 4 and 5 sociocultural perspectives.

Chapter 2 discusses the nature and conditions of cognitively processing L2 information, including the information provided by written CF. Chapter 3 follows with a critical review of research on written CF informed by cognitive perspectives. Chapter 4 discusses the social nature of all cognitive development, including L2 learning, as explained by sociocultural theorists. It discusses key constructs such as scaffolding, mediation and the notion of activity and how these constructs apply to written CF. Chapter 5 provides a critical review of the relatively modest body of research that has been informed by this perspective.

By using theories of second language development to frame the discussion of written CF and of research on CF, the book provides the reader with insights about both leading theories of second language development and empirical issues in research on CF. We conclude in Chapter 6 with a discussion of future theoretical and research directions as well as a consideration of how the two major theoretical perspectives can complement each other in pedagogical practice. In this sense, the book can serve as a valuable reference for theorists, researchers and L2 instructors.

Collaborative Writing in L2 ClassroomsFor further information about this book please see our website. You might also like Neomy Storch’s previous book Collaborative Writing in L2 Classrooms.

New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning

This month we published New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning edited by Liming Yu and Terence Odlin. Here, Terence tells us a bit more about language transfer and the issues examined by the book.

New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language LearningLanguage transfer research looks at the influence of one language upon another. When learners try to acquire a new language, the knowledge they already have (as in the knowledge of their native language) can influence what they produce or understand inside or outside the classroom. Consequently, experienced language teachers often seek to understand better how transfer works and what they may do to deal with the reality of such influence.

Our volume brings together several innovative studies that shed light on transfer or, as it is also known, cross-linguistic influence. The studies brought together in the book consider such influence in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation as well as topics such as comprehension and social setting in relation to transfer.

Researchers as well as teachers will find a wealth of new insights on several topics including ones that have long been discussed. For example, the introductory chapter shows that the term transfer itself has had a long history in linguistics and was not introduced, as some conventional wisdom would have it, in the 1950s. The same chapter also provides new insights about the issue of predictions of transfer, offering a more optimistic outlook on the issue than is often found in other discussions.

The volume also presents several detailed analyses of transfer involving language contact in China, with most of these studies focusing on the influence of Mandarin on the acquisition of English. However, there is also one study involving the converse type of influence, that is, of L1 English on L2 Chinese. ESL or EFL teachers who are curious about, for example, the prepositional choices made by Chinese students will find an empirical analysis of particular cases, while another chapter investigates why ill-formed sentences such as “The Eiffel Tower sees easily from this window often seem acceptable to Chinese students.

Along with the empirical studies are ones looking at the broader picture, as in Chapter 2 by Scott Jarvis, which reviews (among other topics) some pioneering work using methods such as eye-tracking technology that suggest new insights about cross-linguistic influence. Considering the broader picture from a different perspective, Chapter 12 by Chuming Wang emphasizes the importance of the contexts in which learning occurs. The diverse perspectives of the volume are considered globally in the final chapter (by Terence Odlin), which discusses questions such as whether some linguistic-processing is language-specific. Although it may seem self-evident that people inevitably “think” in English, in Chinese, in Arabic, or in some other language, the notion of language-specific cognitive processes has proven controversial. What is clear, however, is that language transfer has a special relevance to the controversy and the new volume offers much to show that relevance.

Terence Odlin, Ohio State University
odlin.1@osu.edu

If you would like any further information about this book please see our website or contact Terence at the address above.

Simone Pfenninger joins David Singleton as joint Series Editor for our SLA series

Recent books published in our SLA series
Recent books published in our SLA series

A couple of years ago readers of the blog may have seen our piece Random thoughts on the SLA series – now a vintage product which David Singleton wrote to celebrate 10 years of the Multilingual Matters Second Language Acquisition series.  Since then, the series has continued to grow and recent exciting additions to the series include Theorizing and Analyzing Agency in Second Language Learning edited by Ping Deters et al, Consciousness and Second Language Learning by John Truscott and Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry.

Simone Pfenninger
Simone Pfenninger

However, recent exciting additions to the SLA series do not stop at books!  We are delighted to announce that Simone Pfenninger has accepted our invitation to join David Singleton as Co-editor of our Second Language Acquisition series. Simone works in the English Department at the University of Zurich and researches in the areas of multilingualism, psycholinguistics and the age factor in SLA, especially in regard to quantitative approaches and statistical methods and techniques for language application in education. She is currently conducting research into early vs. late learning of multiple foreign languages and the cognitive and psycholinguistic mechanisms that drive language change. To better understand the contextualized processes involved in the learning of several languages over the course of mandatory school time, she typically uses longitudinal designs and multilevel modeling. She has been involved in EFL in Switzerland for ten years at different levels: secondary school, adult education, higher education, language policy, and assessment of processes and outcomes in language education.

David Singleton
David Singleton

I first met Simone in person at the Psychology and Language Learning Conference in Graz last year but David and Simone have known each other longer than that. They became acquainted in recent years at international conferences on second language learning and on multilingualism. With their research interests converging around such topics as age factor and cross-linguistic influence, they have in the last few months had a joint book proposal accepted and have been collaborating on several articles and plenary conference papers. They have also co-operated in the area of teaching and plan to expand this domain of their work together.

We are delighted that Simone has joined David on the SLA series and we are hoping that their strengths and interests will both complement each other and diversify our list. We are all looking forward to working together as the series continues to grow and flourish.

We would love to hear from anyone who is working in the field of SLA and who might be interested in writing a book for our series.  Please visit the proposals section on our website and contact Laura Longworth, the in-house acquisitions editor, directly.

Laura

Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality

As we are publishing Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality by Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre next month we asked them to tell us a bit about how the book came about.

Capitalizing on Language Learners' IndividualityWe are both teachers at heart, so in many ways this is the book we’ve always wanted to write as it combines a meaningful review of theory and practical applications for teachers. As university professors, we feel fortunate to have jobs (and the inner passion) that inspire us to combine teaching and research, to play with ideas for a living; it really is a match made in heaven. We have found that most teachers, at every level of the education system, are at their creative best when they play with ideas, apply theory to specific cases, look for new approaches to age old questions, and have enough background information to get their creative juices flowing. This process fires their enthusiasm, which ultimately engages learners even more!

This book offers a chance for teachers and learners to play, apply, discover and let their imaginations flow. We don’t get into esoteric theoretical debates or outline the historical positions within this or that school of thought. Our book is made for teachers who are curious about what makes their students tick. Parker Palmer, in his book The Courage to Teach, says that: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” After all, it is teachers who know their students best, and good teachers bring with them training in a background of theory and methodology to really apply and test concepts. We firmly believe that teachers who seek to actualize the potential of their students benefit from suggestions for activities to try, the reasons why they should work, and then the courage to go for it in real life, to succeed or fail with integrity. Master teachers are born to teach and their passion for reaching their learners at their deepest, emotional and individual levels emanates from their souls. Given the experimentation that goes on in every good classroom, we believe that all teachers are active researchers, open to new ideas and constantly asking “what if?”

Peter’s Journey: The writing process was more fun than most readers of the blog can imagine. When Tammy first asked me to join her in writing this book, I had said that I did not have the time – too many other items pressing for attention. But I was intrigued and wanted to help. So, initially I was a consultant of sorts, a sounding board for ideas. As we went along, usually talking at length over Skype or in exchanging documents, I came to see the awesome potential of the project more and more. Tammy’s approach to teaching and learning is very similar to mine – we both see students as individuals, with hopes and fears, dreams of the future and a collection of unique past experiences. The idea of the perfect teaching method, a ‘one size fits all’ solution in the classroom, is quite foreign to both of us. So as we went along sharing research and theory for this and other projects, and tossing around ideas about how to teach, how to find what students are capable of doing, it became very clear to me that at some point, I had already joined the project. I was hooked! So before too long the informal became formal and my wife Anne and I found ourselves near a lake in Northern Iowa, with Tammy and her husband, Mario, ready to sign a contract with Multilingual Matters. Signing the contract was easy – the book was already written!

Tammy’s Journey: Carl Jung once wrote, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Through our book, we may have provided a bit of what Jung called the “necessary raw material” but it will be up to you, our fellow teachers, to touch your learners’ human feelings and provide the warmth to grow their souls.  Working (…well, more like “playing”) with Peter in the sandbox called Skype was a real hoot! Our collaboration never really felt like “work” to me. We often felt like we were in each other’s heads (a much more dangerous place for Peter than me!), tossing around ideas and laughing a lot. Not only do I think that the wedding of theory with practice was a match made in heaven, but so too was Peter’s psychological bent with my applied linguistics leanings.

Tammy and Peter with their signed contract
Tammy and Peter with their signed contract

Peter reminisced in his journey about the way that we – together with our spouses – got together in Iowa as a culminating event where we jointly signed our contract. I also have fond memories of the initiation of our first collaborative efforts when Mario and I traveled to Cape Breton. I will never forget lounging in the Governor’s Pub in Sydney, Nova Scotia with Peter and Anne, the evening we first discussed the idea of this book. “Busy Betty” was sitting at the next table intently (and yes, somewhat impolitely) listening, scrutinizing what Mario and Peter were talking about, bent over and scribbling equations on a piece of paper as they excitedly discussed the dynamic complexity and physics of emotion in language learning. To Betty’s L1 English ear, my husband’s accented English (he’s Chilean) sounded deeply suspect, so she strutted over wanting to know exactly what they were designing with all that math!  Did they have sinister intentions? Were we all in danger? After a good laugh, she ended up joining our little party and gave us some great advice on what to put into our book! So here’s a big shout out to Betty and her insight!

This book has been one of the most tangible outcomes of our collaboration. Readers of the blog might also want to check out our virtual seminar for TESOL on December 4, 2013 called “Talking in order to learn.” We will be discussing some of the theory and activities found in the book. We hope you can join us live from wherever you happen to be. If you miss it, the webinar will be archived on the TESOL International site shortly after it is complete.

Finally, we must mention that we are so pleased and honoured that colleagues we deeply respect, Zoltan Dornyei and Andrew Cohen, agreed to help us by writing for the cover. Rebecca Oxford and Elaine Horwitz wrote a preface that told us we had found a sweet spot with the book. All of these people have earned their reputations as teachers and researchers; we thank them for their kind words and for taking the time to write them.

You can find further information about the book on our website.