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.

Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams introduce their new book “Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA”

Ahead of the publication of Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA next month, we asked its editors, Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams, a few questions about the book and their experiences working on the project.

Could you tell us a bit about where the idea for the book came from?

Sarah: I’ll perhaps respond to this as it is partly a result of my personal journey that has brought us to this point. Whilst I was doing my PhD on self-concept in foreign language learning, I became aware of the vast number of constructs in the field. In discussing my work with others, I often found myself having to explain the different nature of self constructs and ‘defend’ my choice of construct. However, the more I work in this area, the more acutely aware I become of the vastness of the self and, hence, the more humble I become about what I feel we can know and understand about learners’ and teachers’ sense of self in respect to language learning and teaching. Although we perhaps tend to have a preferred way of viewing things, we both feel it is important to respect a diversity of views on the self. Rather than feeling that one perspective is inherently superior or ‘more valid’ than another, we feel it is more important to appreciate how different perspectives can each contribute a piece of the puzzle towards a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of self in SLA. We thus felt a book was needed that brought different perspectives together.

Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA

What makes your book different from others that have been published before?

Marion: As Sarah explained, many books on the self consider it from a single particular perspective. Our aim with this book was to bring together multiple different perspectives in one volume to facilitate an overview and help make salient where interconnections between perspectives may exist and how they may complement each other. We were keen not to specify how or in what ways the self should be conceptualised and/or researched by the contributors, as we deliberately wanted to explore the diversity of perspectives on self. As we conclude in the book, the self is so complex and vast that we feel it cannot possibly be explained by one single theory or perspective. Instead, we believe that the field will ultimately benefit from engaging with multiple perspectives.

This is not the first book that you two have edited together, how did you first come to work together?

We actually first worked together back in 2007 when we worked on a symposium for IATEFL on language learning psychology. Building on our shared interests, we then went on to co-edit a book in 2012 together with our colleague Stephen Ryan entitled “Psychology for Language Learning” published by Palgrave Macmillan. It was the first time that the three of us had worked together and we found the experience positive and stimulating and we learnt a lot from each other in the process. So much so, that we are currently working on another book project together. Although other commitments prevented Stephen from joining us in editing this collection, we were delighted that he contributed a chapter to the book with a colleague and we are very grateful to him for his help in the indexing – a skill we knew he had from our last book together. We have found working in a team to be such a rewarding and enriching experience that we are sure it won’t be our last project together.

So, what is your next research (or other!) project?

We are already working on our next book, jointly with Stephen Ryan, again in the field of psychology in language learning. We mostly work with each other online with regular Skype sessions, but sometimes we find the chance to work together at Sarah’s house in the hills of Austria, which aides our productivity! We are also all involved in a conference Sarah is organising at her home university entitled “Matters of the Mind: Psychology and Language Learning”. Within the conference, we will be promoting this book and there will also be a symposium on the self in SLA run by Sarah and involving several contributors to the collection. So, plenty to keep us busy!

Marion Williams presenting copies of the book to Desmond Morris; we are honoured that he offered to let us use his image on the cover. The picture is entitled 'The Imaginer', which is the theme of one of the chapters.
Marion Williams presenting copies of the book to Desmond Morris; we are honoured that he offered to let us use his image on the cover. The picture is entitled ‘The Imaginer’, which is the theme of one of the chapters.

Finally, you have chosen an unusual piece of artwork for the cover – can you tell us a bit more about the artist and why you thought it relevant?

Marion: For some time I have been an admirer of the works of Desmond Morris, the UK’s renowned surrealist, with their strong colours and powerful images. I have attended his exhibitions in Oxford and talked to him about his work. When it came to choosing an image for our cover, I had the idea of asking this great artist if we could use one of his paintings as many of the themes link to psychology – indeed, he generously allowed us to use one of his paintings for our previous book. When I approached him again in respect to this book on the self in SLA, to my surprise and delight, he agreed again. We think the image makes a fantastic cover and we’re thrilled with it.

For more information on this title and for ordering information, please visit the book’s page on our website here. If you found this of interest, you may also like other titles recently published by us, such as Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality (by Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre), Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning (by Florentina Taylor) and Identity and Language Learning, 2nd Edition (by Bonny Norton).