Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System was born out of an intense interest in contributing to the empirical basis in SLA of the new theoretical paradigm now known as Complex Dynamic System Theory (CDST) (de Bot, 2017; Larsen-Freeman, 2017; Lourdes & Han, 2017). Much of the work so far on CDST has remained rhetorical, and while a concerted effort has been made to push for empirical understandings, methodological insights are as yet incipient, though broad pointers are on the horizon. For example, the study needs to be longitudinal, and should focus on individual learners.
Many of the extant empirical studies have, however, tended to narrowly focus on one or a small number of linguistic elements, taking, a priori, each as part of a (sub)system, producing findings that are limited in scope and do not convincingly demonstrate, in one breath, the ‘complex,’ ‘dynamic,’ and ‘systemic’ nature of learner language.
This book seeks to help fill some of these gaps, by subjecting individuals’ systems to multiple lenses. Recognizing that revealing these properties necessitates a much larger undertaking than an individual study, the book has its five main chapters each target a particular aspect of interlanguage, traversing the domains of morpho-syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. The uniqueness of this approach lies also in employing the same longitudinal corpus involving two dyads interacting over a shared course requirement. The data analyses tracked both within-dyad and between-dyad similarities and differences, yielding both general patterns and idiosyncrasies. Together, the five sets of data analyses shed light on, and even go beyond, core claims of CDST.
For more information about this book please see our website.
This June, the third Psychology of Language Learning (PLL3) conference took place at Waseda University, Japan. Japan is one of our biggest markets and a country that we try and visit every few years in order to stay in touch with what’s happening in the Japanese academic book sector. PLL3 therefore gave me the perfect excuse to make my first trip over. As I have recently moved into my new job as Head of Sales, I am keen to learn all about the different markets in which we sell our books, how they differ and the challenges and prospects for each one. I structured my trip with the first part comprising sales meetings, and the conference making up the final (but by no means lesser!) few days.
The first part of the trip provided an ideal opportunity for me to meet our key contacts, ask zillions of questions and to get the kind of understanding of the market that it is impossible to do by email from our office in Bristol. As with several territories, we have a local Japanese rep, Koro, who looks after our key accounts on a day-to-day basis. Having been emailing Koro for the past 8 years, it was great to finally put a face and a personality to an email address. Koro arranged numerous visits for me during my stay, in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, and was a fantastic source of knowledge of the market. We also bonded over a love of music and fresh air and not panicking when we couldn’t find the right building for a meeting (Japanese maps are a complete mystery to me)!
We met with booksellers (including our biggest customers Kinokuniya, Maruzen and MHM), librarians, academics and subject specialists, in both linguistics and tourism studies. We have a number of exciting titles which were of specific interest to the contacts, most notably the forthcoming book on akogare (desire) by Japanese author Chisato Nonaka and the recently published 3rd edition of Sport Tourism Development which sparked interested because of the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and Tokyo 2020 Olympics. As well as meetings by day, we went out for drinks and dinner with a number of our contacts, at which I learnt a lot about Japanese culture, food and alcohol!
After the sales part of my trip, I took a day off to reset my brain from sales to editorial work and to enjoy the sights of Tokyo. Sadly, it was a wet break (the rainy season had just begun), but as I had been fortunate enough to enjoy some sunshine the previous weekend, I was not too disheartened to have to spend the day browsing cookware shops on the famous Kappabashi Street and enjoying tea and cake in various tea shops when I needed a break from the torrential downpours!
The PLL conference is now in its third meeting and I am fortunate to have been able to attend all three (you can also read about previous conferences in Graz and Jyväskylä on our blog) and to see the event evolve and thrive over time. This year, Waseda University welcomed 375 delegates from both across Japan and around the world. Stephen Ryan and his colleagues and students meticulously organised and hosted a conference that both lived up to and went beyond previous editions.
Among the highlights of the gathering were the plenaries which were always packed and stimulating. Richard Ryan opened the conference with a talk on self-determination theory and Ema Ushioda ended the first day with a thought-provoking talk questioning the social purpose of academic research. The plenaries of the second day saw Mimi Bong introduce her work on achievement goals and Lourdes Ortega asked how the field of PLL can address issues of social justice. On the final morning, Jean-Marc Dewaele gave a rousing introduction to the closing speaker, Zoltan Dornyei, who focused on the topic of perseverance within the domain of motivation. The final slot is always a tough one (especially the morning after the conference dinner!) but it certainly enthused and engaged delegates who hung around in the entrance foyer long after the conference was officially over.
The conference was also a good platform for the new IAPLL association to be launched and for delegates to hear more about the benefits of membership. With the new association and another successful conference gone by, the stage is now set for the continued development of this subsection of the field and I am already looking forward to PLL4, which is due to take place in June 2020 in Canada.
May is now upon us and as I sit here in the spring sunshine it’s easy to wonder where March and April went. My colleagues will be quick to point out that as well as the months travelling by, I have also been doing some travelling, together with Tommi and Kim.
The first appointment of our trip was with the University of Toronto Press Distribution (UTP), our North American distributor. We have had a long relationship with them and it was lovely to catch up with people we email almost daily but haven’t seen in person for a number of years. Smita and Dolores are our first points of contact at UTP and they oversee the processing of any orders to customers based in Canada and the US, be they purchases, review copies, desk copies or anything else. As well as discussing work, they and Bessie were able share their insider knowledge on Ontario, and recommended a trip to Niagara on our mid-trip afternoon off.
The next highlight of our trip was the annual AAAL conference, which this year took place in Toronto together with its Canadian equivalent ACLA. Kim flew out to join Tommi and me and the three of us manned the stand and went to sessions. The AAAL conference is always a lively and well-attended event and we are always proud to display a full selection of our recent publications to the field. It’s one of the rare occasions where we see all of our publications side-by-side and reflect on all the work that has been put in by our authors. Our SLA series had a bumper year, with 4 books in the series making our top 10 list of sellers and Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre and Alastair Henry topped the chart. Of our 2015 titles, Power and Meaning Making in an EAP Classroom by Christian Chun was very popular, as was the 2nd edition of Merrill Swain, Linda Steinman and Penny Kinnear’s work Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education.
We celebrated the publication of this new 2nd edition one evening together with the authors and some of their colleagues. Merrill Swain chose a superb French restaurant for the occasion and that was one of many evenings during our stay in Toronto when we were impressed with the cuisine that the city had to offer. We seemed to eat our way round the world as we enjoyed not only local Canadian cuisine but also that with influences from Japan, Iran, Italy and in one restaurant, Yorkshire, Kim’s home county in the UK. The chef was a little intimidated when he heard that a true Yorkshire lass was to taste his take on Yorkshire puddings!
As soon as AAAL was over it was nearly time for TESOL, but not before we had waved Kim farewell (she headed back to the UK for the iMean conference) and Tommi and I had managed to squeeze in a quick trip to Niagara Falls. The Falls were every bit as stunning as I had imagined and even noisier! TESOL was its usual busy self and the keynotes given by our authors Michael Byram and Jim Cummins pulled enormous crowds.
The final conference of my trip was the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in Chicago. It was the first time that I had attended AERA and it was a surprise to me to be at a conference with delegates with backgrounds other than language. However, even those who were there for sessions in another field of study were sometimes drawn to our books and A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker was often picked up for personal rather than research reasons. The most popular title of the conference was another of our books on bilingualism, the collection The Bilingual Advantage edited by Rebecca M. Callahan and Patricia C. Gándara.
That Zoltán Dörnyei and Peter MacIntyre would embark on a project of putting together an anthology of papers applying dynamic principles to the investigation of motivational phenomena is perhaps not surprising. For some time both had been shifting their research interests in dynamic directions. While in his 2009 book The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition Zoltán mapped out the ways in which CDST (Complex Dynamic Systems Theory) could provide an important, game-changing approach to the study of individual differences, Peter had begun work developing pioneering methodologies that could capture moment-by-moment fluctuations in motivation. Both were also very aware that while most of the cutting-edge theorizing in SLA took it for granted that the future lay along the dynamic path, empirical research had lagged behind and continued to follow traditional, non-dynamic research approaches. Quite simply the time was right for a collection of papers investigating the dynamics of L2 motivation and drawing on CDST principles in such research.
Testing the water, Zoltán first broached the idea of a CDST-inspired motivation anthology with Tommi and Laura at the 2012 AAAL conference in Boston. Buoyed by their enthusiastic response, the ball started to roll. Shortly thereafter invitations to contribute were sent out to over 40 researchers working with L2 motivation and here too responses were overwhelmingly positive. To keep the momentum for the project growing, Zoltán and Peter organized a well-attended colloquium at the 2013 AAAL gathering in Dallas where John Schumann provided an inspiring introduction and, in her role as discussant, Diane Larsen-Freeman assessed the contributions, arguing persuasively that motivation researchers should continue the journey now started along a CDST pathway. The energy generated by the symposium was sustained at a subsequent reception hosted by Multilingual Matters at the convention center where many of the book’s contributors met to enjoy a drink (thanks Tommi and Laura!) and to discuss ways forward.
However, while Zoltán and Peter were delighted at the enthusiasm generated by the project, privately they were concerned about the scope of the undertaking and the time investment that the putting together of such a large and pioneering collection of papers would demand. Realising that, unless the editorial team was expanded, they would be locked to their desks for next eighteen months, they invited Alastair to breakfast the day following the colloquium and, in true Godfather style, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
With Alastair on board and chapter drafts beginning to arrive, the following eight months saw the team working intensively with the submissions, hardly a week going by without flurries of email correspondence. At the most crucial moments, skype meetings were held early morning (for Peter in Canada) and late afternoon (for Alastair and Zoltán in Europe). Difficult editorial decisions were discussed among the three editors over skype. Whereas the quality of the papers was uniformly high, not all could be included in the volume. Not because Multilingual Matters had any upper limit (Tommi had even promised Zoltán that the book could stretch to two volumes if necessary!), but because early on the editors realised that for the book to be a success – i.e. that it could provide a series of research blueprints that would enable graduate students and established researchers alike to embark on CDST-inspired projects – it was imperative that only those papers that truly instantiated dynamic approaches could be included. Making these decisions was by no means an easy task and several high quality papers that have now been published (or are in press) in other forums were turned down.
After another intensive period of editing, the manuscript began to take shape. In the summer of 2014 a final draft was sent to Multilingual Matters. Not only had an impressive range of empirical studies been put together (many employing novel methodologies), but the manuscript also included a series of conceptual papers dealing with CDST concepts and terminology. Contributions from leading scholars such as Diane Larsen-Freeman, Kees de Bot and Marjolijn Verspoor map out some of the fundamental principles of CDST, such as the role of attractor states, timescales, initial conditions and context. These concepts will be new and unusual to some readers of the volume, so the 10 introductory chapters were designed to provide ‘one stop shopping’ for readers entering the CDST field.
The empirical section of the book features a dozen highly original empirical studies. Motivation-related concepts that are familiar to teachers and researchers alike are dealt with from a dynamic perspective. These concepts are studied with a series of innovative and creative methodological approaches that provide richly detailed information about motivational processes. Although there are a number of ground-breaking ideas that emerge from these empirical investigations, the fact that so many types of studies are possible surely bodes well for the future of the dynamic turn in SLA. The empirical studies included in the volume demonstrate how to do research under a CDST umbrella.
The book (which, much to the relief of MM remained a single volume!) is not just the product of the dedication and hard work on the part of the contributors. It is also a statement of intent. As one of the contributors put it, “once a researcher understands the complexity worldview, in a sense there is a transformation in thinking. Everything you observe and experience from then on – whether it involves personal relationships, parenting concerns, events unfolding in contemporary society, to say nothing of SL classroom phenomena – is nothing if not complex and dynamic”. The social world around us is dynamic and, even though CDST inspired research is more challenging (empirically and conceptually), once such a transformation in thinking has taken place, turning back it isn’t always that easy.
When Zoltán, Peter and Alastair set out on this project they set themselves a challenge; they could either initiate a robust research project that took well-established motivation constructs and, by applying dynamic principles to their investigation, produce convincing empirical evidence for the sustainability of the approach, or they would need to come to terms with the fact that the dynamic approach in SLA might be an attractive but ultimately unrealisable idea. The production of this volume has served as this testing ground. If nothing else, the research collected here is a sign that some researchers have found the CDS approach both ‘cool’ enough to explore in a research project and ‘hot’ enough to inspire new ideas.
Despite the fact that there is an abundance of self-related research studies nowadays, we think that our book managed to carve out a unique niche in the field of Applied Linguistics for a number of reasons. Firstly, we provide an up-to-date and easy-to-follow theorerical background to self-related investigations. Secondly, we contribute to the discussion by publishing original empirical studies on self-related topics concerning both students and teachers. Thirdly, we have included the results of several intervention studies that looked into the classroom and investigated in what ways students can be motivated to learn by developing their selves. Last but not least, we also provide insight into how the self-concept may be researched in the future by outlining the most promising avenues.
As the editors of this book, we were inspired to create a volume on the impact of self-concept on language learning by Professor Zoltán Dörnyei. This volume deals with the following major themes: 1. Second language learning motivation and its relation to vison and mental imagery. 2. The relationship of one’s self and one’s network. 3. The impact of self on self-regulation and autonomy. 4. Age-related differences in self. 5. The development of students’ identities in various contexts including Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia. 6. The dynamically changing motivation of teachers. 7. The strengthening of students’ ideal self and motivation through different intervention programmes.
We sincerely believe that our collection of chapters clarifies the meaning of various self-constructs in order to highlight how the self-constructs may be researched. It also specifically focuses on research that illustrates the effects of self-concept on language learning including the practical applications of the research findings in order to motivate language learners.
The University of Nottingham offered a fantastic location for the gathering – the conference facilities are new and custom built and the centre is set in the striking grounds of the university. The university is one of the most attractive university campuses in Britain thanks to the interest of Sir Jesse Boot, the founder of the Boots pharmacy chain and the university’s main benefactor, in green spaces and fresh air. The university has continued to embrace this and so the campus was a truly beautiful location for the gathering.
On paper the conference schedule looked rich and interesting, and the talks did not disappoint when they were delivered. The keynote speakers, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Ema Ushioda, Kim Noels, Peter MacIntyre and Zoltán Dörnyei, provided plenty of food for thought and the symposium was brought to a close with a panel discussion where the speakers were joined by Martin Lamb and Judit Kormos to answer questions from the delegates.
Alongside the academic programme, the social programme was also a real highlight. The conference dinner on the Friday night was a lively affair as we were treated to a string quartet, which not only played during the pre-dinner reception but also ran a musical quiz! They played samples of music from around the world and our job was to guess either the nationality of the composer or the film in which the piece appears. I struggled with a lot of the classical pieces but was pleased to at least be able to spot the Harry Potter theme tune!
I had the opportunity to talk at the conference dinner and I was really pleased to have the chance to speak a bit about the forthcoming book and to thank the editors and contributors for delivering a manuscript which is every bit as exciting as we had been promised. To my horror I saw that my speech had been billed as “rousing and life-changing” in the programme…while I don’t think it was either of those I was at least able to get the audience to give a rousing round of applause to thank the conference organisers for all their hard work in pulling off such a wonderful event!
After the conference had officially closed there was a trip to Southwell Minster and Sherwood Forest for those of us who didn’t have to rush off home. We were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a wedding coming out of the minster before we went inside, which made the visit even more special! We drove on through Southwell, and past the pub where King Charles I spent his last night before arrest and past the pub where the first Bramley apple was ever grown, to visit the Major Oak at Sherwood, where Robin Hood is rumoured to have met his band of Merry Men. The tree was every bit as remarkable as we expected, and there were many merry men and women aboard our bus as we reflected on a wonderful few days at the conference!
Over the next few weeks we’re going to be very busy at several conferences. If you’re going to be attending any conferences where we have a stand please come and say hello as we always like to meet people face-to-face and we’ll also have displays of our books available to buy at a special discount.
Following this, Laura will be heading up to York for EUROSLA while Tommi will travel to Warwick for the BAAL conference. Both of these conferences are regulars on our conference schedule and we wouldn’t want to miss them!
The following week in September Kim is heading to the Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication conference in Manchester. Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication is a biannual conference associated with the Linguistic Ethnography Forum, a Special Interest Group of BAAL. This is the first time we’ve attended this conference so we’re hoping to make some useful new contacts. If you’re going to be there, please come and say hello to Kim, she’ll be very pleased to meet you.
After all these conferences, we’ll all be back in the office for a while to catch up before heading to Germany in October for our annual trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Last week I was fortunate enough to travel to the Psychology and Language Learning conference in Graz, Austria. This conference was the very first of its kind and Multilingual Matters was honoured to be invited to attend. We have recently published several books of relevance to the theme of the conference so it was a fantastic opportunity to share our publications with a group of scholars dedicated to the topic.
The conference was hosted by the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz and seamlessly organised by Sarah Mercer and her efficient team of student helpers. The 3 day conference schedule included seminars, workshops and 6 plenary sessions related to the theme “Matters of the Mind: Psychology and Language Learning”. The sessions were sandwiched between Zoltán Dörnyei’s engaging opening plenary on the significant role of narratives in the psychology of language learning and Jean-Marc Dewaele’s closing plenary in which he presented a solid case for the defence of individual differences peppered with many entertaining anecdotes!
Outside of the sessions, I was kept busy in the book exhibit as our new books, Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA (edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams) and Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individual Differences (by Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre), were snapped up by the delegates. As ever with international conferences, it was a pleasure to meet some of our authors for the first time. I was particularly pleased to meet Kata Csizér who I have recently been working with as her book The Impact of Self-concept on Language Learning has just been approved for publication in September. She edits the book together with Michael Magid and I was amazed to hear that they have never met each other in person!
The conference also had a packed social schedule and I really enjoyed catching up with both familiar and new colleagues as we sampled typical Austrian wine and schnitzel! Having not been to Austria before I was glad that some of my expectations about the country were correct – the food really is delicious; the city was enchanting and the countryside absolutely stunning and my ability to speak German is just as rusty as I feared! I was also interested to learn new things about the country (and region in particular) that surprised me – pumpkin seeds (or their by-products) are served with almost everything; I actually do quite like Sauvignon Blanc (or at least that from the Styrian region) and Austria is one of a few EU countries where smoking is still permitted in some bars and restaurants.
At some point in the conference it was mentioned that, on average, each delegate sends 4 emails to the conference organiser before the event. For a conference of this size, that makes well over a 1000 emails demanding to be answered, on top of the usual correspondence involved in conference organisation and of course the continuing commitments of daily life. I think I echo the sentiments of all the delegates in saying how grateful we are to Sarah Mercer for arranging such a vibrant and successful few days. At the beginning of this post I referred to the conference as “the first” and I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that there will be a second “Psychology and Language Learning” conference in the future…
If you’d like to see more of the photos from the conference please visit our Facebook page and search the photos albums.
We are both teachers at heart, so in many ways this is the book we’ve always wanted to write as it combines a meaningful review of theory and practical applications for teachers. As university professors, we feel fortunate to have jobs (and the inner passion) that inspire us to combine teaching and research, to play with ideas for a living; it really is a match made in heaven. We have found that most teachers, at every level of the education system, are at their creative best when they play with ideas, apply theory to specific cases, look for new approaches to age old questions, and have enough background information to get their creative juices flowing. This process fires their enthusiasm, which ultimately engages learners even more!
This book offers a chance for teachers and learners to play, apply, discover and let their imaginations flow. We don’t get into esoteric theoretical debates or outline the historical positions within this or that school of thought. Our book is made for teachers who are curious about what makes their students tick. Parker Palmer, in his book The Courage to Teach, says that: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” After all, it is teachers who know their students best, and good teachers bring with them training in a background of theory and methodology to really apply and test concepts. We firmly believe that teachers who seek to actualize the potential of their students benefit from suggestions for activities to try, the reasons why they should work, and then the courage to go for it in real life, to succeed or fail with integrity. Master teachers are born to teach and their passion for reaching their learners at their deepest, emotional and individual levels emanates from their souls. Given the experimentation that goes on in every good classroom, we believe that all teachers are active researchers, open to new ideas and constantly asking “what if?”
Peter’s Journey: The writing process was more fun than most readers of the blog can imagine. When Tammy first asked me to join her in writing this book, I had said that I did not have the time – too many other items pressing for attention. But I was intrigued and wanted to help. So, initially I was a consultant of sorts, a sounding board for ideas. As we went along, usually talking at length over Skype or in exchanging documents, I came to see the awesome potential of the project more and more. Tammy’s approach to teaching and learning is very similar to mine – we both see students as individuals, with hopes and fears, dreams of the future and a collection of unique past experiences. The idea of the perfect teaching method, a ‘one size fits all’ solution in the classroom, is quite foreign to both of us. So as we went along sharing research and theory for this and other projects, and tossing around ideas about how to teach, how to find what students are capable of doing, it became very clear to me that at some point, I had already joined the project. I was hooked! So before too long the informal became formal and my wife Anne and I found ourselves near a lake in Northern Iowa, with Tammy and her husband, Mario, ready to sign a contract with Multilingual Matters. Signing the contract was easy – the book was already written!
Tammy’s Journey: Carl Jung once wrote, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Through our book, we may have provided a bit of what Jung called the “necessary raw material” but it will be up to you, our fellow teachers, to touch your learners’ human feelings and provide the warmth to grow their souls. Working (…well, more like “playing”) with Peter in the sandbox called Skype was a real hoot! Our collaboration never really felt like “work” to me. We often felt like we were in each other’s heads (a much more dangerous place for Peter than me!), tossing around ideas and laughing a lot. Not only do I think that the wedding of theory with practice was a match made in heaven, but so too was Peter’s psychological bent with my applied linguistics leanings.
Peter reminisced in his journey about the way that we – together with our spouses – got together in Iowa as a culminating event where we jointly signed our contract. I also have fond memories of the initiation of our first collaborative efforts when Mario and I traveled to Cape Breton. I will never forget lounging in the Governor’s Pub in Sydney, Nova Scotia with Peter and Anne, the evening we first discussed the idea of this book. “Busy Betty” was sitting at the next table intently (and yes, somewhat impolitely) listening, scrutinizing what Mario and Peter were talking about, bent over and scribbling equations on a piece of paper as they excitedly discussed the dynamic complexity and physics of emotion in language learning. To Betty’s L1 English ear, my husband’s accented English (he’s Chilean) sounded deeply suspect, so she strutted over wanting to know exactly what they were designing with all that math! Did they have sinister intentions? Were we all in danger? After a good laugh, she ended up joining our little party and gave us some great advice on what to put into our book! So here’s a big shout out to Betty and her insight!
This book has been one of the most tangible outcomes of our collaboration. Readers of the blog might also want to check out our virtual seminar for TESOL on December 4, 2013 called “Talking in order to learn.” We will be discussing some of the theory and activities found in the book. We hope you can join us live from wherever you happen to be. If you miss it, the webinar will be archived on the TESOL International site shortly after it is complete.
Finally, we must mention that we are so pleased and honoured that colleagues we deeply respect, Zoltan Dornyei and Andrew Cohen, agreed to help us by writing for the cover. Rebecca Oxford and Elaine Horwitz wrote a preface that told us we had found a sweet spot with the book. All of these people have earned their reputations as teachers and researchers; we thank them for their kind words and for taking the time to write them.
You can find further information about the book on our website.