Why use mixed methods in early language learning research?

27 July 2017

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.


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

8 June 2017

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. 


Part 3: Anxiety as a Travelling Companion

5 May 2017

Last month we published New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In the last of three posts, one from each of the editors, Mark discusses his personal experience of language anxiety and how we can learn to manage it.

Attempts to understand foreign language anxiety (FLA) often resort to the explanatory power of metaphor. Arnold and Brown (1999) liken the vulnerability and anxious efforts of learners endeavouring to express themselves in the target language to moving along in ‘a shaky linguistic vehicle’ (p.9). ‘A map of the terrain’, the title given to their overview of affective factors, in Arnold’s landmark publication, is a fitting one, evoking images of a fragile vehicle tentatively making its way across unchartered territory. In Young’s (1999) bespoke volume on how to reduce anxiety in pedagogical contexts, anxiety, on one page, is rendered in pictorial form as rocks falling towards a startled climber as he or she moves towards the summit of a mountain. In Jean-Marc Dewaele’s contribution to this blog, anxiety is likened to ‘snow’. All these are creative comparisons that allow us to think about anxiety from different perspectives, thereby aiding our understanding of this complex emotion.

Another metaphor that might shed further light on anxiety and its influence is to view language learning as a series of interconnected phases on an ongoing journey: stops made along the way to take in the wonderful views before us and to feel proud at the progress made; short breaks taken to catch a breather or to rest after difficult moments; longer breaks to consider one’s options and how to avoid the bad weather ahead or actively seek out sunnier climes; tough decisions to be taken on whether to choose a different route, abandon the journey altogether or to soldier on with determination, selecting other resources and drawing upon the help and good will of fellow travellers to better negotiate the landscape and the prevailing climatic conditions.

Whether we, as language learners, are able to transform our shaky vehicle into a sturdier means of transport capable of adapting to these phases of a journey, depends on a number of factors. Not the least of these is how learners (mis)manage their emotional reactions – including anxiety. Because anxiety can lead to a heightened sense of appreciation of the journey, but it can also bring about worry, resignation and a hive of buzzing self-doubts that may significantly hinder or bring our journey to a sudden halt.

It ‘depends’ because, like snow, anxiety is truly ‘slippery’. As a successful language learner, but someone who has experienced language anxiety, I am familiar with various phases of the language learning journey mentioned above. Indeed, my experience of anxiety first triggered my interest in research. Did my own students – future EFL teachers, no less – also have these perplexing, uncomfortable feelings – especially when speaking the target language? And if they did, how could I help them to overcome such discomfort? I set about trying to find out. A significant number of teachers did, indeed, experience FLA, so one myth that can be dispelled is that proficient learners cease to experience FLA. Nonetheless, it remains vital that learners starting out on their journeys receive informed support on how to guide their vehicles around emotional ‘potholes’.

To continue with metaphor, my experience of anxiety was, at times, like getting a flat tyre, literally a deflating experience that often punctured any sense I had of making any progress. There I was, left on the side of the road and waiting for help, while other cars zipped by. During other periods, however, anxiety seemed to be the key factor underlying my desire to improve. I was determined to patch up my own car and catch up with the others. It helped me to reflect on aspects of my own learning and teaching beliefs, and I came to realise, in a deeper sense, how language learning is much more than learning a new code with which to communicate.

At times like these, learners often need to verbalise both their positive and negative emotions, and they can benefit from relativizing their often exaggerated reactions to events with classmates and/or the teacher. Finding a sympathetic ear helps, but self-denial may be the first barrier to overcome. Learners can be reluctant to admit and talk about what they see as their own weaknesses. This is why it is important that teachers are aware of the emotional nature of language learning, and have strategies in their toolbox to help repair ‘faltering vehicles’.

Yet FLA is fascinating – precisely because it is slippery and complex. Talkative learners may be anxious, reluctant speakers may not be. While anxiety is a negative emotion, can it have positive as well as negative effects? The causes of anxiety are not singular or clearly identifiable, and the experience of anxiety leaves us unsure, dogged by uncertainty as to what exactly is coming our way and why. Unlike the falling rocks, which represent a clearly identified threat, and therefore more accurately capture fear, anxiety often leaves us scanning the road ahead, with a vague sense of foreboding. Anxiety likely arises from the realisation that our L2 means of transport is far less reliable in comparison with our solid and trusty L1 performer. It can leave us frustrated and feeling inadequate in public settings. This is why anxiety is often associated with speaking, but it may also arise when learners are listening, writing or reading.

These emotional experiences might be related to one’s own personality, the degree to which you have a healthy relationship with your classmates and/or teacher, whether the classroom activities capture your interest and make the learning experience an enjoyable one, or your levels of motivation and the way you see yourself as a language learner. Or, more likely, the dynamic interplay of all these and other factors.

Yet such complexity should not leave us despondent. The most memorable journeys are usually made up of emotional highs and lows. The former often embody the excitement and deep satisfaction of being able to communicate in an L2. Further, language learning is often punctuated with serendipitous events. For example, chance meetings with people – in or outside the classroom – can spur us on to improve our L2 skills. The lows provide for reflection, and can sow the seeds of resilience needed for the long haul. Looking back, these lows can be kept in perspective, and give us satisfaction that we dealt with these and kept on going. They also feed into our knowledge and experience of how to better prepare for the ongoing journey.

Getting our linguistic vehicle into shape, then, partly depends on how we deal with anxiety as a companion on our journey. At times, we may experience anxiety as a positive factor, with it keeping us on our toes as we try to achieve our objectives; at others, it may grip us as a negative force, scrambling our thoughts and making it more difficult to keep the car on the road. Its influence will wax and wane. Learning to manage this unpredictable companion in a way that bolsters our confidence and enables us to exert greater influence over how we feel and what direction to take is crucial for us to stay on the right track.

Mark Daubney

References

Arnold, J., & Brown, H.D. (1999). A map of the terrain. In Arnold, J. (ed.). Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-24.

Young, D. J. (ed.). (1999). Affect In Foreign Language And Second Language Learning: A Practical Guide To Creating A Low-Anxiety Classroom Atmosphere. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

For more information about this book, please see our website and check out Part 1 and Part 2 from Mark’s co-editors. If you found this interesting, you might also like Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer.


Part 2: In Search of Peace of Mind: Anxiety and Language Education

3 May 2017

Last month we published New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In the second of three posts, one from each of the editors, Christina discusses her personal experience of language anxiety and the inspiration behind the book.

My own journey towards attempting to understand language anxiety and emotions began almost fifteen years ago when at school I read the works of Plato and his most famous student, Aristotle. Both suggested that emotions are largely controlled by our mind and are autonomous from physiology and the body. Aristotle in his treatise On the Soul introduced the notion of ‘catharsis’, which highlights the importance of undermining negative and unpleasant emotions, a process which would lead to the purification of the human psyche. Later on, in reading Sigmund Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, I came across the following inspirational quote: “There is no question that the problem of anxiety is a nodal point at which the most various and important questions converge, a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood of light on our whole mental existence”.

But what is language anxiety in particular? How best could we possibly theorise and conceptualise language anxiety? How pernicious could it be for learners and teachers? And how could it be mitigated in the best possible way to ensure academic achievement and personal well-being? My research along with my experience first as language learner, then as language teacher and currently as teacher trainer has offered me invaluable insights into these questions. I have come across students who are paralysed with anxiety, students who feign their true emotions such as anxiety (whilst also undertaking emotional labour in class), trainee teachers who are anxious about the lessons they will deliver thus facing nervous breakdowns in class, experienced teachers who develop their own strategies to deal specifically with highly anxious learners in their classes, and so forth. All these situations depict anxiety as a negative emotion; and it truly is a negative emotion which takes its toll on learners’ and teachers’ psychological well-being. However, we should not be painting a totally gloomy picture of language anxiety; although it is a negative emotion, there are individuals who after long-standing battles with anxiety, have managed to significantly control it and overcome it. Or according to the Aristotelian view on negative emotions and the recent upsurge of interest in positive psychology in SLA, they have managed to turn a negative situation and/or emotion into a positive one and reap the benefit of adopting a different mindset.

And now the big question emerges: So what? How could all this inform learning? Looking at the psychological dimension of our classrooms will help us to understand how we teach and how our students process information and learn. Emotional self-awareness and self-realisation are key factors in regulating anxiety. Learners should be given opportunities to discuss their anxieties in class, share their concerns with their classmates and the teacher and thus feel a stronger sense of community within their immediate academic setting. If learners (and individuals in general) realise that it is not just them who struggle emotion-wise but others are also emotionally challenged, they will most likely be relieved! They would also need to be told explicitly that anxiety can be overcome. As Jean-Marc Dewaele suggests, anxiety is like fresh snow: you can ski over it, it is soft so even if you fall you won’t get hurt, and if there are any icy patches along the way you might slip or you might find a way to avoid such obstacles. You will, however, manage to ski down the mountain in the end and in any case you won’t be expected to ski steep slopes right from the start!

Anxiety is a pervasive affliction but is often misunderstood. We should not be looking just at its biological dimension, but also bear in mind that it fluctuates and is largely context-bound and complex. All these points and many more are addressed in our recent anthology, New Insights into Language Anxiety, which we as editors started compiling at the international conference, Matters of the Mind: Psychology and Language Learning, held in Graz, Austria, in May 2014. We were lucky enough to meet all our illustrious contributors at the conference and discuss the book. We hope that our blog pieces will entice you to read the book and better understand language anxiety through the fresh perspective that the book takes.

Christina Gkonou, University of Essex

cgkono@essex.ac.uk

For more information about this book, please see our website and keep an eye out for part three from Christina’s co-editor, Mark Daubney. If you found this interesting, you might also like Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. 


Part 1: Foreign Language Anxiety is Like Fresh Snow

27 April 2017

This month we published New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In the first of three posts, one from each of the editors, Jean-Marc introduces his theory on language anxiety being like fresh snow.

You may have noticed them: foreign language students hunched behind the broad backs of their comrades, avoiding eye contact with the teacher in order not to be picked to say something in front of everybody and reluctantly whispering their response to a teacher’s question when cornered. No questionnaire is needed to identify these students as suffering from Foreign Language Anxiety (FLA).

This complex phenomenon has been linked to a range of higher order personality traits (mainly Neuroticism-Emotional Stability, Introversion-Extraversion or Social Initiative, and – to a lesser extent – also Psychoticism, Conscientiousness, Openmindedness, Cultural Empathy) and a number of lower-order personality traits or psychological dimensions (Trait Emotional Intelligence, Perfectionism, Trait anxiety, Unwillingness to communicate, Risk-taking, Sociability and Self-efficacy) (Dewaele, 2017). These factors interact with a range of sociobiographical and situational variables and cause FLA in reading, writing, listening and – especially – speaking the foreign language (FL). It is important for teachers and students to realise that FLA is not a massive, granite-like, unmovable object blocking the path to communication in the FL. I’d rather compare it to a thick layer of fresh snow.

It is possible to dig through the snow, to ski over it and some comfort can be drawn from the knowledge that it will melt after a while. This turns the teacher into a (metaphorical) FL ski instructor for anxious students. Yes, the snow is slippery and there can be icy patches but there are techniques to avoid obstacles, to accelerate or to brake and to reach one’s destination unharmed. Everybody falls over at some point along the way, but the snow is soft and there is little risk of breaking a limb at low speed. The instructor and peers will help those whose skis got entangled and ended up looking at the cumuli in the blue sky. Back on their feet and feeling the rush of fresh pine-scented air, discovering the breath-taking mountain views, the memories of the fall will fade quickly. Finally, reaching the destination with the rest of the group will be exhilarating and the sense of achievement will boost self-confidence for future runs.

In other words, a FL teacher can create a classroom atmosphere where mutual trust exists between teachers and students and between the students themselves. Good teaching combined with respect, humour and kindness can create a strong sense of solidarity among students, which will be a potent antidote against FLA.

Dewaele et al. (2017) found that FL teachers’ behaviour had relatively little influence on British secondary school students’ average levels of FLA but that it was strongly linked to students’ FL enjoyment. FL students who enjoy themselves are thus more likely to overcome their fears, just like the beginner on ski slopes. Those still experiencing FLA can be cajoled into more active participation in FL tasks they can handle. The first slopes should not be too steep and too anxiety-provoking. These anxious students will learn that it is possible to control their FLA to the point that is ceases to have a debilitating influence on their performance.

Jean-Marc Dewaele

References

Dewaele, J.-M. (2017) Psychological dimensions and foreign language anxiety. In S. Loewen & M. Sato (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition. London: Routledge, pp. 433-450.

Dewaele, J.-M., Witney, J., Saito, K. & Dewaele, L. (2017) Foreign language enjoyment and anxiety in the FL classroom: The effect of teacher and learner variables. Language Teaching Research DOI: 10.1177/1362168817692161

Positive Psychology in SLAGkonou, C., Daubney, M. & Dewaele, J.-M. (eds.) (2017) New Insights into Language Anxiety: Theory, Research and Educational Implications. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

For more information about this book, please see our website and keep an eye out for parts two and three from Jean-Marc’s co-editors. If you found this interesting, you might also like Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. 


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

20 April 2017

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

28 February 2017

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.


L2 Learning, Teaching and Assessment

13 September 2016

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.


Positive Psychology in SLA

21 April 2016

This week we have published Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. In this post, the editors tell us a bit more about how the book came together.

Positive Psychology in SLAWe are proud of this book, and very pleased to see it in print. We think that the book will appeal to a variety of audiences, especially teachers and researchers. From a macro-perspective, the book opens up a treasure chest full of gold coins, concepts that language teachers and researcher will eagerly engage with – from grit and perseverance, to developing social capital through language, to new ways to look at the self.

This is not a pop psychology book. There are novel and well-defined concepts, rigorous research methods, and specific positive psychology activities that have received research support.

When one thinks about the concerns of teachers and learners, there are many good reasons to take a serious look at what makes people thrive and flourish in educational settings. Of course we still need to understand the way negative experiences such as anxiety can disrupt learning processes, but we also need to know how positive emotions such as enjoyment can promote and foster successful learning. The positive dimensions of learners have been somewhat neglected and under-researched in SLA, and this collection opens up a whole new area for reflection and empirical study of that which goes well. The authors have taken account of both the positive and negative, but are emphasizing the positive, drawing it into the conversation in a thoughtful way.

From a researcher’s perspective, a notable dimension of the collection is the mixed methods that appear in the chapters. It reminds us that right now Psychology itself  is facing something of a replication problem, where it is being argued that results of foundational studies are not able to be duplicated. In this respect, the applications of Positive Psychology in SLA are already well ahead of Psychology itself in that they embrace a more eclectic mixture of methods. The diversity of methods will allow us to avoid some of the replication problems that arise with strict reliance on a limited range of methods, and help to better contextualize the empirical results.

Another aspect of the collection that stands out for us is the blend we have been able to include of theoretical, empirical and practical papers. We have been privileged to work with a great collection of authors, researchers and teachers, who shared their thinking, research and real-world practical experiences, ensuring that the collection has far-reaching implications. With authors from around the globe, the collection includes a broad range of content relevant to practitioners and researchers in many different places.

When we started thinking about this collection, we did not know how many people might be interested and willing to contribute. We have been thrilled with the response. As it turns out, the volume seems to have hit a sweet spot for several authors. All of us are enthusiastic about the future potential of Positive Psychology in SLA, and ways in which we can understand, study and facilitate the flourishing of language learners and teachers.

If you would like to contact us about the book we can be reached by email:
Peter MacIntyre, peter_macintyre@cbu.ca
Tammy Gregersen, tammy.gregersen@uni.edu
Sarah Mercer, sarah.mercer@uni-graz.at

Gregersen-MercerIf you found this interesting, you might like to find out more on our website or take a look at the editors’ other books: Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality edited by Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre and Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams.


Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language Contexts

19 April 2016

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. 


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