ICFSLA 2019 Conference in Szczyrk

Earlier this month, I travelled to the small Polish mountain resort of Szczyrk at which the annual ICFSLA conference takes place. As usual (or so it seems!) delegates were welcomed with cold rain, which made a dramatic change from the glorious weather that the UK was enjoying.

Szczyrk – host town to the annual ICFSLA conference

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘translanguaging’, a topic which has sparked much interest and debate recently and these conversations were continued at the conference. The conference was opened by Angela Creese and Adrian Blackledge who introduced the audience to the research that they have been undertaking on translanguaging in Birmingham. We listened to speech of a member of staff serving a visitor at Birmingham Library and a mother and daughter in a home setting, which were both insightful and charming. They spoke about what can be learnt from ethnography for education and rounded up by speaking about the implications such research can have on classrooms, such as designing curriculum with changeability and unpredictability in mind, the social responsibilities of teachers and teacher development and making the school a welcoming environment.

The conference hotel

David Singleton then provided his theoretical perspective on the term and spoke about the importance of context, the purpose of the researcher and thinking about language in the broad, macro sense and also at the individual particle level. Thereafter followed a discussion between the plenary speakers of the day and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives on the topic, as it was approached from both sociolinguistic and language acquisition backgrounds. We were left with the thought that lots of interesting work is currently being undertaken but that more empirical research is needed in different contexts and settings, from traditional classrooms to endangered language settings and out in the community.

Simone E. Pfenninger opened the second day with her plenary in which she spoke about random and non-random data and complexity and presented both the appeal and criticism of the topic. She followed this by introducing us to her latest study on age and immersion in Swiss schools and the quantitative and qualitative data that she has collected and is analysing. David Lasagabaster followed up with his presentation on CLIL in the Basque Country. His discussion groups in schools revealed that teachers and senior leadership initially wished to maintain a strong ‘English only’ policy and had a negative attitude to the use of other languages in the classroom, however later on in the study they acknowledged that flexibility was important and experience led to a change in this stance. He then moved on to discuss his new research which looks at whether beliefs, attitudes and realities in universities are similar to those found in schools.

‘Translanguaging’ mindmap

The final plenary was given by Eva Vetter who started with an interactional activity during which we completed a survey on our phones and the results were posted live onto the screen. It was the first time that I had witnessed this use of technology and I found it to be an excellent way to engage and involve the audience. In the final question we were asked which words come to mind when we think of translanguaging and our input was summarised on the screen in the form of a word cloud, with the words multilingualism and communication being the biggest features.

And then, finally, before it was time to go home, the sun came out and we enjoyed a gloriously sunny end to the conference. I even had the opportunity to go up the mountain in the famous cable car, something that has become a bit of an office myth as we have never had weather good enough on previous conference trips! 

Laura

Language, Identity and Education in Multilingual Contexts conference in York

I recently attended the Language, Identity and Education in Multilingual Contexts conference in York. The papers at the conference considered all aspects of the linguistic and sociolinguistic competences and practices of bi-/multilingual speakers and the keynote addresses were given by Simone E. Pfenninger, Andrea Young and David Singleton.

Laura at the stand with the conference organisers

Simone Pfenninger highlighted to the audience that older learners are among the least studied groups, yet they are also one of the fastest growing as societies are changing and ageing. She discussed how the profile of older learners is also changing as there are increasing numbers of older, new migrants; increasing numbers of migrants ageing in their ‘new’ country and increasing numbers of healthy older adults who are taking on new (language learning) challenges. She talked about the extent to which research on older language learners has been successful thus far and where it might go in the future.

Next, Andrea Young presented her work with emergent bilinguals and spoke about how deficit discourse is still common in French schools, where terminology such as ‘non francophone’ is widely used rather than the more positive term ‘emergent bilingual’. She discussed translanguaging and how it can be used as an inclusive pedagogical tool; we watched a number of insightful videos which showed that when a teacher makes an effort with the child’s mother tongue, the child is inspired to make an effort to learn French.

David Singleton giving his keynote

David Singleton, who stepped in at the last minute due to another speaker pulling out because of illness, also touched on the topic of translanguaging and shared his opinion that it can be a positive pedagogical tool but that the term is too widely used in other contexts. His talk was followed by several interesting questions and some discussion on the topic. After the morning sessions it was no surprise that our books on translanguaging were keenly sought out!

I spent the rest of the conference selling books and attending a range of interesting sessions. Local Bristol author and series editor, Jane Andrews, presented the research that she is undertaking together with Maryam Almohammad on using visual arts and crafts to support creative welcoming. They explored issues of language, identity and belonging within communities and explained to us how they are taking a new materialistic approach to their applied linguistics research.

Another memorable session was that of Anita Bright who presented an interesting and interactive talk about ‘trigger words’. These are words that we may use in our everyday speech without perhaps thinking about the background to these words, their connotations and the reaction that they may provoke in the listener. She situated her talk in research on language power and prestige and encouraged us to think about the language we use in educational settings. One example we discussed was that of the word ‘master’ often used in educational settings in terms such as the ‘master timetable’ or the ‘master copy’ but how this term has connotations of gender and slavery.

Aside from the interesting conference, the city of York was a fantastic destination for a conference and I enjoyed wandering the medieval snickelways of the city and eating local fare, especially Yorkshire rhubarb and parkin.

Laura

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.

Multilingual Matters at the International Symposium on Bilingualism 2017

Earlier this month, Anna and Laura left Bristol in the midst of a heatwave for rainy Ireland and the biennial International Symposium on Bilingualism, which was hosted this year by the University of Limerick. In this post Laura tells us what they got up to.

A very busy coffee break

The theme of the International Symposium on Bilingualism conference this year was ‘Bilingualism, Multilingualism and the New Speaker’ and delegates enjoyed a packed schedule of presentations, either linked directly to the theme or to any other aspect of bilingualism and multilingualism research. Clearly the topic of the conference lies right at the heart of Multilingual Matters and we were pleased that there was plenty of interest in our books. So much so that we often had a queue of keen customers at the stand during the breaks and were very glad to have each other to share the workload.

Naturally, the 6th edition of our bestselling textbook, Foundations of Bilingualism and Bilingualism by Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright, was a popular choice but it was matched in popularity by New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. All the authors of other bestsellers, Raising Multilingual Children, by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele and Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning by Simone E. Pfenninger and David Singleton, were present to talk to readers about their work. Another hot title was New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele, who was one of the keynote speakers.

Accompanying Jean-Marc Dewaele as other plenary speakers were Ana Deumert, Alexandre Duchêne, Elizabeth Lanza, Tina Hickey and Lisa Lim. The keynotes were all very well-attended and we were glad to be able to slip away from a quiet stand in order to hear them.

Laura and Anna putting their free conference umbrellas to good use

Aside from the packed academic schedule, delegates were treated to a drinks reception, Irish BBQ with traditional Irish music and dancing and a Gala Dinner, featuring a live band and welcoming dance floor. Needless to say, we returned home utterly exhausted from an excellent and enjoyable conference and already looking forward to the next one in Canada in 2019!

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.