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.

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

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

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

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

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.