How do Individual Differences in L1 Skills Impact L2 Achievement?

This month we published Exploring L1-L2 Relationships by Richard L. Sparks. In this post the author explains how he came to write the book.

My research has addressed L2 learning from a different angle, namely that first language (L1) and L2 learning are similar. Given my background, my approach to research for L2 learning described in the book may not be surprising. I am a L1 educator whose specialties are learning disabilities, reading disabilities (dyslexia), language learning, and assessment. My study of L2 learning, and later L2 aptitude, was serendipitous and began when I encountered US college students with difficulties fulfilling their L2 course requirement. For several years, I conducted studies with secondary level students with L2 learning difficulties, but soon expanded my research to include both high- and low-achieving L2 learners. I speculated that there would be strong connections between students’ L2 achievement and their L1 achievement, an intuition that was quickly validated by my research. These findings encouraged me to continue this line of investigation for the simple reason that despite longstanding research by L1 researchers that had revealed individual differences (IDs) in all aspects of students’ language development by preschool age, there had been little or no research on L1-L2 relationships.

The book brings a new and different approach to the study of L2 learning, one that has been largely neglected by L2 educators and researchers – how individual differences (IDs) in students’ L1 skills impact their L2 aptitude and subsequent L2 achievement. Early on, my late colleague, Leonore Ganschow, and I developed a hypothesis which claimed that L1 and L2 learning have a common foundation – language ability. My book takes the reader on a journey over 30+ years in which our studies, some lasting 3-10 years, provided strong support for our hypothesis about L1-L2 relationships by showing that:

  • L2 achievement is reflected in students’ levels of L1 achievement
  • L2 aptitude and L2 achievement run along a continuum of very strong to very weak learners, just like L1 achievement
  • L2 learning problems are, first and foremost, language learning problems
  • L2 aptitude (like L1 ability) is componential and comprised of different language skills
  • L2 aptitude and L2 achievement are constrained (moderated) by L1 achievement.
  • L2 anxiety is largely determined by students’ levels of L1 achievement, L2 aptitude, and L2 achievement

A valuable section of the book introduces the reader to evidence for the strong relationships between students’ L1 and L2 reading skills in alphabetic languages through the use of the Simple View of Reading model. This research supports L1-L2 connections for reading and demonstrates how to evaluate students’ L1 or L2 reading skills in English and Spanish through the use of accessible assessment tools. Another important contribution for L2 educators is the discussion throughout the book of the concepts of inter-individual and intra-individual differences, culminating in a new, heretofore unpublished chapter in which I review the extensive literature on IDs in L1 ability and provide a tutorial on how to understand IDs in, and the connections between, L1–L2 skills. The tutorial explains that there is variation – often substantial variation – between and within individual learners, and variation in IDs profiles across multiple characteristics. The tutorial also shows how learners’ inter- and intra-individual differences in L1 are manifested in their L2 aptitude and L2 achievement. The book concludes with presentation of my model of future directions for L2 research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Explorations of Language Transfer by Terence Odlin. 

Why Should Forced Migration be Considered in Research on Language Learning?

This month we published Language Learning and Forced Migration edited by Marte Monsen and Guri Bordal Steien. In this post the editors explain why it’s important to consider forced migration in language learning research.

When you listen to debates about migration in some European countries, you might get the impression that the rest of the world spend their life waiting for an opportunity to pack their bags and penetrate the European borders. As academics living in Norway, we are used to a discourse where adult language learners are portrayed as people who came to Norway voluntarily and need to meet strict Norwegian language requirements to prevent too many others taking the same journey. Researchers on second language acquisition also tend to view second language learning for adults as voluntary, and of course, many people both move across borders and learn new languages voluntarily for work, for studies or even just for the sake of new experiences.

However, many people experience that they are moved across borders with force. In Norway, the immigration policies are strict, so migrants coming to Norway from outside the EU will not be able to settle in Norway unless they are in special need of protection, such as UN resettlement refugees. Adult second language learners in Norway are thus usually forced migrants. In our work, we have met people who have been forced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, often by means of cruelty beyond our imagination. They have fled on foot to Uganda, where they have lived a rough life in a sort of limbo, as they know their life in Uganda is only temporary. Under these circumstances, many of them have learned new languages through communicating with people “in the streets”, and many of them have large language repertoires. After years in transit, sometimes decades, they have been resettled in Norway, where few or none of their current language resources are valued. Entering many countries in the Global North entails forced attendance of classes to learn the host language, as is also the case for Norway.

The language courses and language tests that the migrants will come up against in Norway and other European countries are based upon the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). A well-known critique of this framework is that it allows policymakers to easily use language proficiency levels as standards and gatekeepers, while the empirical foundation for these standards is weak, and while the descriptions of language proficiency in CEFR initially was developed to measure foreign language learning by students. Well used concepts within SLA that might further guide the language courses, like Selinker’s theories on interlanguage or various models of motivation or investment in language learning, are also based upon knowledge from students or voluntary migrants. This means that a large number of people that attend language classes in the Global North enter a system that lacks knowledge of their language backgrounds, their needs and their lived experience.

Because of the unique situation of refugees and other forced migrants, we believe we need a research agenda that takes into consideration the experiences of people who have been forced to cross borders. That is what we hope to initiate with our book Language Learning and Forced Migration.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated edited by Anne Golden, Lars Anders Kulbrandstad and Lawrence Jun Zhang.

What Affects the Uptake of and Access to Foreign Languages?

This month we published Discourses, Identities and Investment in Foreign Language Learning by Jennifer Martyn. In this post the author explains what inspired her to write the book.

The story of this book goes back to my own history of language learning. Access to other languages at an early age outside of the classroom context stands out as being crucial in not only developing my own plurilingual repertoire, but also in piquing my interest in the way in which language learning is socially situated and a fundamentally political activity that can draw in some whilst excluding others. 

A range of contradictory discourses surround foreign language learning (foreign language learning usually describes classroom-based learning of a language that is not generally used by the speaker in their wider community). At secondary school, languages can be perceived as difficult and inessential, but also assets in the jobs market. Language learning is sometimes also perceived as something that girls and women are better at, an ideology that stubbornly endures.

Although each person has some degree of agency in terms of whether or not they choose to study a language or which language to study, we are all very much influenced, whether we are aware of it or not, by the discourses of language learning that circulate in our communities and across wider society. Languages are talked about and represented in a myriad of ways, all of which mediate our perception of them and our learning experiences. Whether or not one has access to a language, both in the literal and figurative senses, can also determine language learning experience. Some of us have access to other languages from an early age, while others do not. Nor are all languages valued equally in the marketplace and in wider society.

As a socially situated activity, language learning, then, is far from straightforward. Structural barriers, gendered language ideologies, and discourses of elite multilingualism, for instance, coalesce to make language learning seem difficult, unnecessary, uninspiring, or simply ‘not for us’. In the Irish context, there is limited research on sociolinguistic perspectives on foreign language education, particularly at the secondary school level. By employing an ethnographic perspective, this book investigates what young language learners think about language learning, while locating their experiences and beliefs within broader societal discourses and practices. It is hoped that this book contributes to a discussion of the social forces that mediate the learning experience in Ireland and elsewhere.  

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Portraits of Second Language Learners by Chie Muramatsu.

L2 English Use Online and Its Effects on Language Learning

We will soon be publishing Second Language Use Online and its Integration in Formal Language Learning by Andrew D. Moffat. In this post the author explains what inspired the book.

Over a decade of teaching English as a second/foreign language, I was increasingly struck by the range of internet-facilitated, English-language encounters, that my students and the students of colleagues seemed to be having on a regular basis. Kids who were chronic homework-shirkers but avid Call of Duty players disrupting lessons with shouts of “FIRE IN THE HOLE!!”; adults who were shy in class – and not necessarily very ‘advanced’ from a formal perspective – but could be drawn into discussions about their participation in English-language Facebook groups – one chap was a keen amateur astronomer and moved in English-language astronomy spaces online; young adults working in global-facing companies that needed to use English in very ‘real’ situations. I was fascinated by these little windows into the L2 lives of my students, and in particular by the fact that they didn’t seem to do these things to ‘practice their English’ – these were not learning activities per se.

I also reflected on my own Spanish development while living in Spain.  I had some semi-formal one-on-one lessons and spent a fair amount of time doing grammar activities on the beach, but when I was actually interacting within the local community – renting an apartment, grocery shopping at the market, arguing with my bank about unfair account charges – I didn’t feel at all that I was a Spanish ‘learner’ in those moments.  I was just getting things done with my Spanish – pretty important things sometimes, like registering the births of my twin daughters at the Registro Civil. I wasn’t there to learn Spanish, and yet I distinctly remember the word ‘hembra’ – ‘female’ – lodging itself in my long-term memory after that particular experience.

It seemed to me that there was much more to language learning than the language classroom. I certainly felt that I grew the most as a Spanish speaker in those meaning-driven interactions, and I could see that same kind of development in the kinds of students mentioned above – even though I was fortunate enough to be living in an immersion environment and they were not. Could the internet be providing opportunities for the kinds of interactions and exposure more typically associated with ‘live-abroad’ learning? And what should I be doing about it as a language teacher?

These observations and interests came together in the research underlying Second Language Use Online and its Integration in Formal Learning.  The book explores L2 English use online, its effects on language learning, and how classroom practices can and must adapt to embrace learners’ online interactions. It reports on a survey undertaken in partnership with Cambridge University Press that garnered over 10,000 responses from L2 English users in 157 different countries, providing an empirical evidence base of unprecedented scope attesting to online interactions, concerns, and difficulties. This is partnered with a corpus analysis of the Cambridge and Nottingham E-Language Corpus, exploring the idiosyncratic ways in which English is used in different forms of computer-mediated communication. Together these form the basis for a needs analysis for the 21st century, hyper-connected English learner, and a proposal for addressing these needs in the classroom.

I’m hugely grateful to everyone at Multilingual Matters for facilitating the publication of this work, and genuinely proud to be able to contribute a volume to a book series that has provided so much inspiration for my own academic work and development.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba.

Nurturing the Vocabulary Studies Tree

We recently published Vocabulary Theory, Patterning and Teaching edited by Paweł Szudarski and Samuel Barclay. In this post the editors discuss their book’s contribution to the flourishing field of vocabulary studies.

Let’s step back in time. It is the 1940s and we are sitting in the back of an English language class. The teacher is standing at the front reading a dialogue aloud. After listening, we voice first one character and then the other before completing substitution, transformation, and chain drills. Forty-five minutes later we recite the dialogue perfectly and leave the classroom smiling.

Cut to thirty years later, the 1970s, and the teacher has embraced the communicative approach. We are interacting with our classmates, completing discussion and problem-solving activities. We are encouraged to focus on transacting meaning and communicating fluently, and after another, slightly noisier, forty-five minutes we stand up to leave.

These two scenarios represent markedly different views of language, learning, and learners and yet they are similar in one very important way: neither adopts a principled approach to the teaching and learning of vocabulary. In 2021, although many curricula may still lack a systematic process of vocabulary selection, instruction, and recycling, the picture looks, on the whole, lexically richer, at least when it comes to empirical findings and a growing interest in this area. Vocabulary plays an increasingly central role in language teaching, and research into lexical studies has flourished over the past few decades. The field then, is in a healthy state.

This situation has not come about by chance but rather is the result of the consistent endeavour of a handful of individuals. These researchers nurtured the foundations of the field, providing the roots upon which current research activity proudly stands, actively cultivating the field from an overlooked sapling into the position of prominence it holds today. One of these scholars is Professor Norbert Schmitt, in whose honour this edited volume is written. Anyone who knows Second Language Acquisition and Vocabulary Studies knows Norbert from his considerable research contributions over the last 30 years, and perhaps also the colourful Tigger t-shirts he wears to conferences. He has written about various aspects of the field – teaching and learning, formulaic language, assessment, theory – and, crucially, for a variety of audiences – from textbooks for students and introductory books for instructors, to research manuals and reports for those who are more research oriented. In doing so, he has helped to ignite and sustain research interest in vocabulary, while nurturing the next generation of scholars and ensuring that students of applied linguistics have a positive educational experience.

This volume is, however, much more than an extended thank-you letter to Norbert. It presents cutting-edge research from prominent scholars in the field. There are nine experimental chapters organised into three sections – theory and assessment, formulaic language, and teaching and learning. Each section also contains an opening chapter written by leading scholars in the field of Vocabulary Studies, where they offer their perspective on the reported findings, their place within the wider area of lexical and applied linguistic research, and also make suggestions for future studies. In this way, the volume acts as a microcosm of Norbert’s career; it contains thought-provoking and innovative designs and methodologies, but also seeks to foster future research activity. There is also a fascinating preface written by Michael McCarthy and a hilarious afterword penned by Zoltan Dornyei, both of whom were Norbert’s colleagues and collaborators during his career at the University of Nottingham. The volume represents, to continue the metaphor started above, that the vocabulary tree is strong and healthy. It has solid roots and is growing ever bigger, expanding in different directions, and becoming denser in certain key areas. Thankfully, the more it develops, the more ground it has the capacity to influence, the more nutrients its products feed into the educational ecosystem. The image on the front cover of this volume is this tree and we hope that the reported findings sufficiently contribute to the foliage. We may have stretched the metaphor a little too far now, so let us make one final point before wrapping up.

This volume would not have been possible without our gracious contributors. Specific thanks go to Ana Pellicer-Sanchez. Not only has she co-authored a chapter, but she also suggested we contact each other when first I (Paweł) and then I (Sam) called her to discuss an idea for an edited volume. What started as an innocent chat in a small café in London has now turned into an academic publication we are deeply proud of. It has been a great pleasure to have worked together on this volume for the past three years. It has not been all hops and barley, but our work as editors was made easier by the energy and positivity of all the collaborators. It is a sign of the esteem in which Norbert is held that each and every person we emailed about contributing to the volume replied enthusiastically. We hope that you are similarly enthusiastic about the volume and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Happy reading!

Paweł Szudarski and Sam Barclay

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

If you found this interesting, you might also like Perspectives on the L2 Phrasicon by Sylviane Granger.

How Can Language Education Be Adapted for Senior Language Learners?

We recently published Insights into Senior Foreign Language Education by Marek Derenowski. In this post the author explains the particularities of working with senior learners and how teachers might alter their approach accordingly.

World society is constantly aging and in the next three to four decades the number of people who are over 65 years of age is going to triple. Population aging should be considered as a story of success. However, we need to remember that the process of aging should be accompanied with security, dignity, respect, avoidance of negative stereotyping, and complete social inclusion. If these conditions are met, longer life creates a unique opportunity to pursue new activities such as further education (lifelong learning) or long neglected passions.

In some cases, seniors attend education in order to compensate for lost opportunities in their younger life, to avoid social exclusion (e.g. non-citizens, immigrants), overcome the feeling of loneliness, and prevent depression. Others see learning as a perfect way to ‘exercise’ their memory and strengthen their (cognitive) thinking abilities. Regardless of their individual motives, seniors are constantly increasing their educational activity. This in turn creates new challenges for educators who need to create sufficient learning conditions for their older learners.

Teachers who work with senior learners often find this experience exhilarating. Senior learners are wonderful partners in the educational process. They are equipped with a wealth of life experience and are willing to share it in the classroom. They come to the classroom full of positive energy. Furthermore, seniors present a mixture of increased motivation and anxiety. On the one hand, they are afraid to present their private opinions in public. On the other hand, they are extremely motivated to participate, never skip a class, or forget their homework.

Working with senior learners requires a different approach and often focuses on building their confidence and reducing potential stress. In order to do so, teachers may:

  • Create and promote a friendly and relaxed atmosphere
  • Provide senior learners with more time during activities
  • Avoid traditional testing and think of alternative forms of assessment
  • Find out more about their motivations and reasons for joining the course
  • Develop techniques based on positive psychology in order to create empathy
  • Focus on providing positive feedback
  • Cater for any problems they may have with active participation

The relationship created between teachers and learners is always unique, regardless of their age and teaching/learning experience. Senior learners appreciate teachers who are well prepared, provide their learners with clear guidelines, and use a variety of teaching techniques. Furthermore, senior learners appreciate approachable teachers who value their life experience and are sympathetic. It is important to notice that senior learners do not pay attention to the age of the teacher who is usually younger than their learners. As long as the educator pays attention to their needs, caters for their well-being in the classroom, and organizes interesting lessons, seniors are willing and ready to engage.

David Bowie once said: ‘Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been’.  We should not see the passing time as a reason to hurry up and try to make up for all the lost opportunities. We should look for new challenges, also educational, and enjoy every moment of our lives. In the words of 20th century American baseball player Satchel Paige: ‘How old would you be if you did not know how old you are?’

Marek Derenowski, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań/State University Konin, Poland
derenosiu73@gmail.com

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Third Age Learners of Foreign Languages edited by Danuta Gabryś-Barker.

Phraseology and the Foreign Language Learner

This month we published Perspectives on the L2 Phrasicon edited by Sylviane Granger. In this post Sylviane explains how interest in the study of phraseology has grown.

We do not speak in single, independent words. As soon as we select one word, the number of words by which it can be followed or preceded becomes severely restricted. For example, the gap in I’m staying at home today because I have a ___ cold will typically be filled by adjectives such as bad, nasty or terrible, not by large, big or considerable. Such word partnerships come naturally to native speakers of English, but represent a major difficulty for foreign language learners. However, for a long time the study of lexis was largely confined to the study of single words. Multiword units were considered peripheral features of language, and the only units that were given prominence in foreign language teaching were semantically non-compositional units, i.e. units whose meaning could not be deduced from the meaning of their parts, in particular figurative idioms (to spill the beans), proverbs (the early bird catches the worm) and phrasal verbs (to give in).

Interest in phraseology, which can be roughly defined as the study of multiword units of various kinds, took a sharp upward turn with the advent of corpus linguistics, i.e. the study of language on the basis of large electronic collections of authentic language and automated methods and tools to investigate them. This major development opened up a brand-new world, in which phraseology took centre stage. Corpus studies have shown that opaque, figurative units are fairly infrequent compared with other units, in particular collocations, i.e. strongly associated pairs of words such as bad cold, and lexical bundles, i.e. longer recurrent word sequences, such as you know what I mean in speech and as a result of in writing. Unlike idioms, these two types of unit pose no particular problem of comprehension. However, they are very frequent and constitute a major hurdle for productive purposes. The reason is that these units, being semantically compositional, tend to go unnoticed: learners are often not aware of their formulaic nature and tend to transfer the literal equivalent from their mother tongue to the target language.

This widening of the scope of phraseology led to a greater focus on non-idiomatic multiword units in reference and teaching materials. For a number of years now, large corpora of native English have been used to show the company that words prefer to keep, in particular collocations, and, on that basis, to ‘phrase up’ dictionary entries, word lists and vocabulary exercises. The problem is that this exclusive focus on native use tells us nothing about the difficulty that learners experience with these units. Does learner use differ from native speaker use and if so, in what way? Do some types of unit cause learners more difficulty than others? Is use of these units greatly influenced by the learner’s mother tongue? Does phraseological use vary with proficiency and if so, how? Does phraseology function differently in speech and writing? These types of question can only be answered by analysing authentic learner data.

The main objective of this book is to make the voice of language learners heard. It does so by relying on learner corpora, i.e. electronic collections of writing and/or speech produced by foreign/second language learners. Scholars started compiling learner corpora in the early 1990s with the twofold objective of, first, contributing to Second Language Acquisition theory by providing a better description of learner language and a better understanding of the factors that influence it and, second, of producing pedagogical tools and methods that more accurately target the needs of language learners. In this book, learner corpora are used to investigate the impact of a range of variables (target language, language background, proficiency level, spoken vs written mode, degree of exposure to the foreign language, topic, time span) on learners’ use of multiword units, mainly collocations but also lexical bundles and lexico-grammatical patterns. The multiword units are extracted automatically from learner corpora on the basis of their frequency and strength of association. The studies in the volume highlight the power of new phraseological indices to assess the quality of learner texts, thus offering great potential for language assessment and automated scoring. Altogether, the book provides a unique window on the learner phrasicon and prompts further studies in this exciting and important research field.

Prof. Dr Sylviane Granger
sylviane.granger@uclouvain.be

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language by Monica Karlsson.

Native Speaker Privilege and Linguistic Racism in ELT

This month we published The Role of Context in Language Teachers’ Self Development and Motivation by Amy S. Thompson. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book.

This book is the culmination of years of experience as a researcher/scholar in SLA, before which I was a language teacher. As a researcher, I’m oftentimes hesitant to ask for participants; I feel as if I am encroaching on others’ personal space and time. For the data used to write this book, some of the language professionals represented are personal acquaintances, and some were part of an IREX fellowship program. An unforgettable moment when collecting data for this project was when a dyad of the IREX teachers thanked me for taking the time to listen to and record their stories. During the fellowship program, these teachers, some of whom had over 20 years of teaching experience, had been repeatedly instructed on how to teach more effectively – how to incorporate the American way of doing things. This particular teacher dyad told me “thank you for listening to our experiences, as we also have something to offer to the teaching profession.” In all of the conversations with the teachers, not one of them indicated a desire to be a native English speaker; in fact, their bi-/multilingual identities played a strong role in forming their ideal teacher selves.

I have taught languages both in my L1 (English) and in my L2s (Spanish and French); thus, I have been on both sides of the native/non-native spectrum. Nonetheless, as a white American L1 English speaker, I have enjoyed privileges that others have not. For these reasons, and others, this book is personal. The experience that I had with this data collection made me even more determined to accurately depict the teachers’ stories. I learned all that I could about their contexts when working on the individual chapters and sent the willing teachers, and others familiar with the contexts, drafts of the chapters for feedback. I purposefully did not censor comments from the teachers relating to the impact of American politics on learning English; as academics, our jobs are to push boundaries, which includes breaking down white fragility. English speakers, particularly white English speakers, need to be confronted with their privilege. Linguistic racism is still prevalent world-wide today, and in order to combat it, we need to first acknowledge its existence, as well as the effects it has on language curriculum and policies.

Early on in my university education, I saw the privilege for native speakers of English; I was hired (“hired” being not really the case, as the work was as a volunteer) as an “assistante anglaise” during my study abroad year in Paris where I taught English classes at a public elementary school and at the high school “Henri IV.”  I was 20 years old and had absolutely no training as a language educator; I was hired because of my L1 English-speaking status. After graduation, I was officially hired (with the whopping salary of 743 euros a month) as an “assistante anglaise” in the small Pyrenean town of Bagnere-de-Bigorre.  Again, I had absolutely no training in language pedagogy.

My situation isn’t unique.  Places all over the world are hiring L1 English speakers (or those who can physically pass for L1 English speakers), sometimes ignoring those who have spent years training and have passed rigorous content and pedagogy exams.  My friend’s brother who was hired to teach in Chile; my student who was hired in China so they could put her face on the recruiting brochures; my own situation being hired to teach English in France; the Turkish government’s campaign to bring in native speakers to teach English all over the country – situations such as this undermine and undervalue the years of education of bi-/multilingual English teachers all over the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities overseas English teaching has afforded me; in fact, it was the start of my academic career in Applied Linguistics. Sitting in my small room in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, I remember thinking to myself that I had so much still to learn about language learning and teaching. Fast forward to today, I now have the experience of mentoring future language teachers and researchers. Like many Americans, talking about racism is difficult for me, but I push myself to read and have discussions about race and racism, including linguistic racism. Likewise, these issues are difficult to integrate into classroom discussions; however, these are not topics that we can continue to ignore, and we have the responsibility as language educators and researchers to ensure that our students, as future language researchers and educators, have the tools and resources needed to break down linguistic racism via curricular and/or policy change. What steps will you take today to help move us towards this goal?

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency edited by Hayriye Kayi-Aydar, Xuesong (Andy) Gao, Elizabeth R. Miller, Manka Varghese and Gergana Vitanova.

Exploring Usage-Based Approaches to Language Learning

We recently published Usage-Based Dynamics in Second Language Development edited by Wander Lowie, Marije Michel, Audrey Rousse-Malpat, Merel Keijzer and Rasmus Steinkrauss. In this post Wander explains the inspiration behind the book.

To the best of our knowledge, there is no single theory in applied linguistics that denies the role of input for language learning. Without input, as a source of frequent systematicity and a rich variety of language exemplars, children will not acquire their mother tongue (L1) and adults will not learn a second language (L2). It is on these premises of frequency, systematicity, richness and variety that usage-based approaches attempt to explain the exciting path of language learning. In this book, we take these constructs as a starting point to explore the many avenues of usage-based approaches to language acquisition, with a focus on L2 learning. Grounded in complex dynamic systems theory (CDST), the different chapters showcase how second language researchers investigate language learning from many different angles using a variety of methods for lab-based studies, for classroom interventions and to explore language learning in the wild. The volume thus clearly shows the many different research questions that benefit from usage-based approaches to language learning.

The home of the editors, Groningen University in the Netherlands, has been a centre for CDST-inspired L2 research for quite some time, generating cutting-edge publications from such a CDST perspective. This book forms a natural contribution to this line of research while at the same time being a celebration of the legacy of Marjolijn Verspoor, who has been a driving force behind the Dynamic Usage-Based approach in second language acquisition (SLA) research. Contributors to the edited volume have all been fortunate enough to be influenced by Marjolijn in some way: from her source of inspiration as a theorist, via long-standing colleagues and fellow pioneers within CDST – starting in times when generativists ruled the field of linguistics – and mid-career faculty presenting state-of-the-art methodologies, to young researchers that were formed by her as MA students or graduated under her supervision, as well as language teaching colleagues in the department who, inspired by her, implemented usage-based pedagogy in their classrooms.

We are particularly proud that the edited collection covers the wide variety of usage-based work, painting the dynamic picture of this field of SLA research in all its facets and, moreover, by colleagues at different career stages. Authors studied different source and target languages (e.g., Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian), explored language learning in instructed settings of adolescents in high-school as well as young adults at university, or even naturalistic contexts beyond the confines of instruction, for example in social media. Using quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods approaches, the research collected in this volume investigates both oral and written language development, both cross-sectionally but also adopting a longitudinal perspective where learners are followed over several years.

The result is a colourful illustration and celebration of the dynamic trajectory of usage-based research into second language development, building on the legacy of eminent scholars, such as Marjolijn Verspoor, while at the same time paving the way for a bright future of CDST-inspired classroom implementations.

For information, please contact Wander Lowie: w.m.lowie@rug.nl

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System edited by ZhaoHong Han.

How to Effectively Use Tasks in Language Teaching

This month we published Using Tasks in Second Language Teaching edited by Craig Lambert and Rhonda Oliver. In this post, the editors give a detailed overview of the work and explain who they hope will benefit from it most.

Many teachers want to use tasks in their teaching but are unsure how to do so effectively in their own teaching contexts, where they may work with low proficiency or low motivation learners, large classes and be under pressure to prepare for discrete point tests.

The challenge facing teachers and course administrators in using tasks in many second and foreign language contexts around the world is thus to find an expedient solution which balances institutional requirements, available resources, and learners’ dispositions with their own professional skill sets.

The present volume addresses these concerns. The research in our new book is based on the experiences of practitioners and researchers using tasks in different educational, cultural and geographical contexts. They demonstrate how tasks have been used effectively in teaching and provide a range of insights into the issues associated with using tasks successfully in challenging contexts.

We divided the book into three parts so that a broad audience of readers can draw on different elements of the book according to their needs:

  • Part 1 clarifies key issues when using tasks for second language instruction
  • Part 2 describes approaches practitioners have adopted when using tasks in challenging contexts around the world
  • Part 3 consists of studies which investigate the relationship between tasks and performance in a range of international contexts

Part 1 is made up of papers which clarify key issues facing practitioners in using tasks, including:

  • The choice of an appropriate instructional framework
  • Using tasks with low-proficiency learners
  • Designing tasks to motivate general-purpose learners
  • Using technology-mediated tasks
  • Challenges in using tasks in test-oriented contexts
  • The skill set teachers need to use tasks effectively

Part 2 then contains descriptive studies of how tasks have been used successfully by teachers and program designers in:

  • Rural Australia
  • Ukraine
  • Brazil
  • Mexico

Finally, Part 3 consists of studies on the effects of different approaches to task implementation in contexts including:

  • Japan
  • Iran
  • Chile
  • Spain
  • The United States

We hope that the different parts of the book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Many chapters reach out to pre-service and in-service teachers because of their content. This is particularly true of the initial chapters, which provide concrete advice about practical issues to address when using tasks in different contexts. Subsequent chapters then describe actual practices that have been used in various regions of the world, with different learners and through different media. On the other hand, later chapters in the book may be of more interest to second language acquisition (SLA) researchers and students in MA courses in that they provide observations from different regional contexts on the effects of implementing tasks in different ways on L2 performance.

This book will thus help teachers and course designers find useful solutions for incorporating tasks effectively given the expectations and constraints of the contexts in which they work. It provides a range of insights into the issues and constraints involved, how they have been successfully overcome, and the skills required by teachers to negotiate effective context-based solutions to using tasks effectively in their teaching.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Reflections on Task-Based Language Teaching by Rod Ellis.