How to Give Your Child the Best Chance of Learning a Second Language

This month we published Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition edited by Joanna Rokita-Jaśkow and Melanie Ellis. In this post the editors suggest the best ways to teach your child a foreign language.

Knowing I am an expert in teaching English to young learners, many parents approach me asking, WHEN is it best to start teaching their child a foreign language?

And of course they would like to get a clear-cut answer, which would help them to make the best decision. They are usually very ambitious, conscious parents, often middle-class, who are focused on bringing up children and willing to do their utmost to make the best of their young child’s ‘window of opportunity’ for language learning.

However, the answer to when a child should start is not that simple. First of all, you need to know that if you don’t start teaching your child a foreign language early, it does not mean that your child will miss the learning opportunity. You can compensate for a later start by having more classes more often at a later age, living abroad or by using out-of-class learning opportunities such as the internet. Foreign language (FL) instruction is a part of school curricula in many settings, and if the teaching is high quality, your child will benefit from instruction at school too.

Rather than asking when learning a foreign language should start, if you decide to enrol your child in early FL instruction (which you usually have to pay for), you should rather ask HOW the language should be taught to get the best learning outcomes. Popular demand from parents has seen the rise of numerous private schools which are flourishing, but which do not always offer high quality teaching.

  • First of all, you should aim to give your child as many opportunities to learn the language as possible, remembering that they forget quickly and learn slowly, and need frequent revision and contact with the language. For this reason, choosing a bilingual or immersion type of nursery or school may be the best option, as instruction there takes place most of the time in the foreign language.
  • If this type of schooling is not available in your area or is too costly, do not forget about your own knowledge of the FL and use it as an asset to support your child in foreign language learning. You can revise the FL class material with your child, play simple games in an FL, join them in playing online games or watch cartoons in an FL with them. A parent must be present to keep the child focused on the task and explain words and expressions that they don’t understand.
  • Reading in the FL is the key to speaking in the FL. Reading a picture book together with the child in an FL helps visual and critical literacy to grow along with competence in the FL. Likewise digital books on apps or on websites are freely available and can be used for parent-child reading.
  • It could be a good idea to design an FL corner with self-access material (books, toys, board games, tablet etc.) both in the school/kindergarten and at home. Children could freely reach for FL materials for play, and in this way may act out the FL lesson.
  • Finally, parents need to take an interest in what happens in the language class, not only to keep track of what the children learn, but to be aware how the lessons are taught, particularly in the private sector. The teaching should emphasise play and using the language for communication, but it will only be successful if the teacher is able to control the group of children and at the same time communicate with ease in the FL. So the teacher needs really good managerial, teaching and language skills. Unfortunately, such teachers are difficult to find, which calls into question whether a very early start is the best idea.

Our book looks at these aspects from a research perspective. It outlines critical issues that influence the learning outcomes in young and very young learner classrooms that should be looked into. It will be of interest to teachers, teacher educators, researchers and also parents, who are keen to get more information before making any decision about provision for an early start.

Additionally, it should be remembered that the learning trajectories of early starters vary considerably throughout their lives due to the impact of various social, affective and cognitive factors and go beyond the impact of the starting age. Thus there are many pathways from an early start and not all young learners will reach the same competence in the foreign language.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren.

It Takes a Village to Write a Book: Mastering Idiomatic Expressions

This month we published Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language by Monica Karlsson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book and talks us through the thinking behind each chapter.

Some years ago I was teaching a proficiency class, when my student teachers and I came across some idiomatic expressions in a text that one of my students had brought with her. Her intention was to use the text in one of her own teaching sessions as it dealt with a topic relevant to a particular lesson, but she had problems understanding a few sections of it. Quite a long discussion ensued which, to begin with, was concerned with meaning only, but, when meaning had been resolved, came to be more about how exciting it would be to deal with such vocabulary on a more regular basis. This discussion with my students was the very first step in an extended process that has now resulted in the book Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language.

Setting to work, the first thing I did was to explore differences between comprehension in a first and second language, so that I would get a better understanding of problems related to second language acquisition specifically. In this respect, the research literature clearly shows that there are four main facilitators: age, context, transparency and frequency, and so the second chapter came to deal with these basic concepts, as well as exploring L1 and L2 quantitative and qualitative differences.

Next I wanted to investigate how I could teach these kinds of items in a way that would promote both comprehension and retention, as well as give an understanding of how my students could approach these kinds of expressions in their own L2 classrooms in the future. Chapter 3 is therefore concerned with multimodal and visualization techniques that may help L2 learners of different ages and proficiency levels.

One of the idioms found while searching for suitable scenes from various TV shows to be incorporated in the multimodal tests implemented in the third chapter was paint the town beige. During testing, I realized that this type of manipulated idiom warranted its own chapter, as it caused students to experience quite a few additional problems. The fifth chapter hence deals only with L2 learners’ comprehension of these twisted relatives.

While testing groups of informants, I also noticed that even if many of the expressions were understood and remembered with the help of multimodal and visualization techniques, many more idioms regrettably remained very difficult to grasp, and so, to enhance learning further, it also felt important to deal with persisting ignorance and various types of misinterpretations in a structured way. Chapter 4 is thus dedicated entirely to these tokens.

Presenting my results on L1 and L2 idiom comprehension to a group of other researchers, the last part of a discussion with them came to be about idiom production, at which point I felt I had more to learn. Reading up on the research literature, I found that while sentence completion tasks have been comparatively frequently researched, very little has been done in connection with free composition writing. The sixth chapter therefore focuses entirely on an analysis of L2 learners’ use of idiomatic expressions when writing essays, often considered one of the last frontiers of L2 mastery.

Lastly, it is usually said that it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the above, I now realize that the same can be said about writing a book, during the process of which comments, ideas and input from students, colleagues and friends certainly help decide what would be important parts of a book on a specific topic. I sincerely hope that you will find this book as interesting to read as I found it interesting to write.

Monica Karlsson
monica.karlsson@hh.se

For more information about this book please see our website

The Motivations of Adult Language Learners in Continuing Education Settings

We recently published Identity Trajectories of Adult Second Language Learners by Cristiana Palmieri. In this post the author explains what inspired her to conduct this research.

The reasons I became interested in conducting the study presented in my book are connected to both my professional and personal life. Having an academic background in social sciences with a specific interest in the nexus between languages and cultures, I have always been very interested in the relation between L2 language learning and processes of identity development, to better understand how languages influence the way we think and interact with other people. My interest in this area has been compounded by my personal experience as a second language speaker and my professional practice as a teacher. In my role as an educator I have taught a variety of subjects, including Italian language and culture, both in Italy and Australia. When I started teaching Italian as a second language in Australia I realised that the Australian sociocultural context presented specific characteristics connected to the history of Italian migration to this country. I was surprised to discover that my native language is one of the most widely-studied languages in Australia, in spite of the large geographical distance that separates the two countries. What makes this finding particularly remarkable is the fact that Italian is spoken by a relatively small percentage of the world population, about 64 million speakers in Italy and in a few other countries in Europe and Africa, which equates to less than 1% of the world population. Moreover, it is not considered a language of business, and its command it is not an essential requisite for Australian travellers visiting Italy.

Having been myself a second language learner, I am very well aware of the fact that strong motivation is needed in order to sustain the effort and to cope with the frustration that the learning process sometimes brings about. In my case, my motivation was relatively easy to frame: I wanted to learn English, a global language, to be able to live and work in English-speaking countries, and to travel the world with an international language as a passport at my disposal. While teaching Italian to adult learners in Australia, looking at my students, highly committed individuals striving to master a second language which is not an international language, I could not stop wondering about the factors sustaining their motivation.

This book explores the motivations of adult second language learners in continuing education settings. It focuses on their learning trajectories and related dynamics of identity development triggered by the learning process. By presenting an in-depth analysis of motivational drives and their interconnectedness with the sociocultural settings in which the learning process occurs, the book contributes to boosting our understanding of adult second language learning, a rapidly expanding field of research of language and identity in multicultural contexts. In a nutshell, this book is about the fascinating experience of learning another language and understanding another culture.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teaching and the Older Adult by Danya Ramírez Gómez.

What Does Language Learning Outside the Classroom Look Like?

This month we published Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba. In this post the author explains what inspired this study and how she carried out her research.

I first became interested in out-of-class language learning more than 10 years ago when I had just started my career as a teacher of Japanese at a university in Sweden. I vividly remember how in my very first week at the university, some of my students told me about their favourite Japanese pop culture, such as anime (Japanese cartoons), manga (Japanese comic books) and movies. It was shocking to me at that time – I wondered how they could know Japanese pop culture better than me even though they were on the opposite side of the planet. I was also surprised by the fact that they could speak Japanese even before completing beginner level. It all started from there.

I then started asking my students what they had done in Japanese outside the classroom and realised that almost all do something extra in Japanese alongside their classroom-based study. At the same time, I started wondering what I could do to support their study as a teacher of Japanese. This question motivated (and still motivates) me to dig into out-of-class language learning for my research.

One big challenge when conducting this research was to decide which data collection methods to use. Out-of-class literacy practices are usually ‘hidden’ from teachers, and students undertake such activities irregularly. The very nature of out-of-class language learning might make the research on this topic complicated. However, when considering the different data collection methods available, I came across the ‘diary study with photos’ method in several papers in the field of literacy studies. Visual information is crucial to be included because one feature of literacy in this digital age is its multimodality.

In the end, I decided to employ this diary study with photo method alongside interviews, and asked the participants to include visual information as much as possible, for example, screenshots of websites and photos of books that they had read. I also asked them to bring paper-based materials to class (e.g. their books and essays for the Japanese classes) if possible. In the interviews, I used such visual materials to trigger the students’ memory when they engaged in particular literacy activities in their diaries. They sometimes even used my computer to demonstrate how they utilised online tools and websites. I think this method enabled me to collect rich data in a less intrusive way than either observations or video recordings and also helped me to understand the contexts of their literacy practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

The Amazing Mind of the Multilingual Language User

We recently published Mind Matters in SLA edited by Clare Wright, Thorsten Piske and Martha Young-Scholten. In this post the editors discuss what is unique about the book.

“I really love the cover of Mind Matters in SLA, but why do you have jugglers and acrobats?” – this was one of the most frequent comments we heard around the Multilingual Matters stands at conferences this autumn. This book is the companion volume to Input Matters in SLA, published by Multilingual Matters in 2009, with a similar cover by the wonderful artist Ellen Harris. The beauty but also the hard work that underpins successful acrobatics seems to us an ideal way of picturing the complex and amazing processes in the mind of the multilingual language user.

We wanted our volume to go to the heart of the debates that still go on around what the nature of language knowledge is, and – more importantly for us – how that knowledge develops and can be used. So we invited authors who are an eclectic mix of established leaders in their field and rising star researchers to create a well-rounded resource, which we hope will inspire readers, particularly those new to language acquisition, to think in new and exciting ways about second language teaching and learning.

The book is unique in some ways providing a bridge between formalism and functionalism, allowing the reader to explore points of convergence between Minimalist accounts and emergentist/processing accounts, and providing access to cutting-edge research on how learners make transitions during linguistic development. The book is also unique in being committed to being accessible to non-experts. We’ve ensured the volume is easily readable by those who will benefit from it most, i.e. students training to be language teachers, students on postgraduate programmes and professionals keen to reflect on their language teaching practice.

Another unusual aspect of the book is its historical range over what may lie behind modern theories and debates. We highlight just how long some of these questions have taxed scholars – we specifically include a chapter on language evolution, and other chapters make reference to the centuries of thinking about language, dating back to antiquity. The first section of the book focuses on issues that relate to our current understanding of language in general, to acquisition and to second language acquisition, including why human language (particularly syntax) is special, from both generative and non-generative perspectives. The second section includes work on issues currently debated in property-theoretic work in SLA on L2 morpho-syntax, phonology and speech perception, the lexicon and attrition. The third section, focusing on transition research, covers psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic research impacting L2 development, including models of L2 acquisition in and out of the classroom. As with Input Matters in SLA, we’ve included a glossary to define complex terms, and we have ensured chapters can be related to real-world settings to help the reader understand at least some of the possible reasons behind of the old mystery of “why don’t learners learn what the teacher teaches?” (Allwright 1984).

As with all edited volumes, there can be unexpected delays along the way, and we are grateful to Multilingual Matters for their support during the long process of finally getting this one out – to the delight (and relief) of contributors and editors when they saw it on the conference stand!

References:

Allwright, R. (1984) Why don’t learners learn what teachers teach?  The interaction hypothesis. In D.M Singleton and D.G. Little (eds) Language Learning in Formal and Informal Contexts (pp 3–18). Dublin: IRAAL

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Working Memory and Second Language Learning by Zhisheng (Edward) Wen.

Emotion Research in Multilingual Contexts: Why it Interests Me and What my Research Shows

We recently published Multilinguals’ Verbalisation and Perception of Emotions by Pia Resnik. In this post Pia explains how she came to be interested in researching emotion in multilingual contexts.

My interest in research into multilingualism was sparked during a research visit at Newcastle University, where Vivian Cook familiarised me with his idea of linguistic multi-competence. The languages known by a speaker mutually influence each other and interact with other mental processes, leading to a unique way of language use? Seemed reasonable. The complexity and dynamics of linguistic multi-competence have fascinated me ever since, especially as at the time I was investigating Chinese, Japanese and Thai users of English which required thinking outside the box and familiarising myself with, among other things, new concepts of self and other.

It was then that I also experienced what multi-competence means regarding the communication of emotions: be it my participants not sharing my sense of humour, or me not being able to ‘translate’ jokes from my L1 (German) into English, or a friend from Austria uttering the f-word a million times when walking down a street in Newcastle, nearly giving an elderly British woman a heart attack. I also noticed that British tend to use “I love you” quite differently from Austrians and how easily you can get it wrong in a language other than your first (the consequences of which can be quite severe). All these experiences made me want to explore the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic verbalisation and perception of emotions more closely.  A few years later, I collected my data during a research visit at Birkbeck College, University of London. Little did I know back then it would turn into this book.

In this book, I try to provide an exhaustive, up-to-date review of previous work in this field and also present the findings of two studies in which I investigated the topic on a meta-level of self-reflexivity and on the level of performance. Not only did my data show that emotions often do not go as deep in a foreign language (LX) as in one’s first but also that differences in emotionality (besides many other influential variables) have an effect on the frequency of verbalising emotions in an LX. This effect can be twofold: it can prevent us from expressing them in the LX, but it can also encourage us to express them more openly and frequently in the LX. Especially in the context of swearing, for instance, LX users often have difficulty judging the emotional force of swear words, which often leads to them using them differently from L1 users and also to conveying the intended meaning more or less drastically in the LX than in the L1. When comparing LX users from the Eastern world with those from the West, it was frequently shown that verbalising emotions in English (their LX) also allows the former to escape social constraints experienced in L1 contexts and it also seems to be the case that cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences are greater in their case.

In a nutshell, the book not only shows that multilinguals tend to verbalise and perceive emotions differently in the L1 and LX but also that many variables simultaneously play a role in the verbal expression and understanding of emotions. Even though there is great individual variation, I believe that only taking a ‘Western’ perspective does not suffice and that insights into Eastern backgrounds are much needed too to ensure mutual understanding – also in typical ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) contexts, for instance.

Even though a vibrant field of study, much is still to be discovered due to the topic’s complexity. I hope that my contribution will generate ideas for future study designs and research directions and that researchers as well as anyone teaching or learning multiple languages finds it useful. After all, globalisation and, along with it, migration frequently require expressing emotions in an LX. Emotions are also the driving force underlying successful or unsuccessful LX acquisition and, besides language, they are what makes us fundamentally human – something worth investigating!

Pia Resnik, Department of English and American Studies, University of Vienna

pia.resnik@univie.ac.at

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning by Masuko Miyahara.

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.

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.

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.

Why use mixed methods in early language learning research?

This month we published Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren, the first book in our new series, Early Language Learning in School Contexts. In this post the editors discuss the use of mixed methods in their research.

Understanding how young children learn additional languages in classroom environments is complex. Children learn how to speak, interact, read and write with help from teachers, peers and parents. The surrounding world, as well as themselves, influences their motivation to learn, their self-concept and their attitudes, all of which are important for their learning of an additional language. This wide range of factors with the potential to impact on children’s learning presents serious challenges to traditional research methods. For example, can a qualitative study of say, the oral language production of four children in a few lessons provide us with any clarity as to how young children in general learn additional languages at school? Similarly, can a quantitative study of the oral language production of a whole cohort of children learning an additional language at school provide us with a nuanced understanding of how development for each individual child occurs? Both set-ups could include a variety of factors, in depth analyses in the qualitative approach and advanced statistical methodologies in the quantitative approach, but regardless of which approach is taken, it seems likely that neither will provide very satisfactory answers. For these reasons and many more, we have become interested in adopting a mixed methods approach to our research, with the idea that it might provide a more comprehensive view of how language learning unfolds in classroom environments.

As a theoretical frame, mixed methods research (MMR) is regarded as relatively new, although there is evidence of research approaches that have adopted some form of ‘mixing’ for centuries (Maxwell, 2016). Given current developments in the field, it is unsurprising that views differ on exactly how MMR might be conceptualised. However, recent understandings seem to be moving towards the idea that it can be understood as bringing together all dimensions ‘as an over-arching concept (…) at the philosophical, methodological, and methods levels’ (Fetters & Molina-Azorin, 2017, p.293). Arguing for a framework of integration, they propose an ‘MMR integration trilogy’ outlining the possible dimensions that may be integrated, including: the philosophical, theoretical and researcher positioning; the rationale, aims, data collection and analysis dimension; the approaches to interpretation, dissemination and research integrity. Their suggestion is that if researchers are attentive to all dimensions then ‘more advanced and sophisticated mixed methods studies’ will result (p.303).

As researchers interested in working with MMR we recognise that we are a long way from addressing such a strongly integrated approach at the outset of framing our research plans. Indeed, it may well be that a more fluid approach which allows for the emergence of some form of mixing during the research process may allow for greater creativity in some instances. The variety of research studies contained in our edited volume Early Language Learning reflect a good proportion of the approaches to MMR currently in use in the field of early language learning. As such, we hope they set the bar for future exploration of this research paradigm that may help to clarify whether a more strongly integrated approach to this field of research can contribute to an enhanced quality of research.

References

Fetters, M.D. & Molina-Azorin, J.F. (2017). The Mixed Methods Research Integration Trilogy and Its Dimensions. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 11(3) 291–307.

Maxwell, J.A. (2016) Expanding the History and Range of Mixed Methods Research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 10(1), 12–27.

For more information about this book, please see out website. The editors have also produced a video in which they introduce their book, which can be watched here. If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School edited by María del Pilar García Mayo.