Native-speakerism and authenticity are two subjects that have been written on extensively in the field of English language teaching, but the links between the two have yet to be explored in any great depth. In this presentation, based on our paper in Applied Linguistic Review we will outline where the connections between these two concepts, both practical and theoretical, may lie. We will first briefly introduce the concepts of Native-speakerism and authenticity separately, and then present the theoretical framework we have developed to explain the connections between the two. Following this, we will move on to explain how these connections manifest in the ELT industry to influence the lives of ‘non-native speaker’ teachers in terms of student perceptions, self-perceptions, and professional discrimination.
This course offers an insight into how best to select and adapt authentic materials to use with students as a way of exposing them to other cultures and ways of thinking. It has been shown that authentic materials are more motivating for students (Peacock, 1997) and thus the class will feature practical demonstrations of ways in which authentic materials can be used to help motivate students. In the class, participants will look at, observe and demonstrate tasks which utilise authentic materials and participants will also have the chance to a adapt materials and design their own tasks in a hands-on workshop.
The teaching never stops: reflections on teacher roles, transportable identities and social networks
To be(friend) or not to be(friend), that is the question. Some teachers encourage their students to befriend them on social networking sites (SNS), others are understandably wary. SNS can be a very effective way of connecting with students outside the classroom, engaging their real lives and identities. It can also create opportunities for authentic and motivating communication, not just between classmates but also with other learners and speakers around the globe. It could also be an ethical minefield, a social ‘can of worms’ and a recipe for disaster. When people interact in different social contexts, they utilise Transportable Identities (Zimmerman, 1998). As teachers, we are not merely teachers; we each have various identities which both compliment and contradict our professional teacher identity. A quick look on my Facebook page and one can learn that I am a husband and father, a few more clicks and someone could discover what kind of music I like, who my sisters are, where they live and whether or not they are in a relationship. It would also be easy to find embarrassing pictures of me or to read a post which expresses some kind of strongly worded opinion. When I accept students as friends on Facebook, I do so knowing that this is uncharted territory, and as such I have taken pains to learn about online security and how to keep track of my so-called Digital Shadow. I have also tried to become aware of the phenomena known as ‘oversharing’ (Agger, 2012). In this presentation I will draw on both published research and personal experience to reflect on the place of these types of online interactions and the inevitable consequences they pose.
Situated identities, which are explicitly conferred by the context of communication, such as doctor/patient identities in the context of a health clinic or teacher/student identities in the context of a classroom;
Discourse identities, as participants orient themselves to particular discourse roles in the unfolding organization of the interaction (e.g. initiator, listener and questioner);
Transportable identities, which are latent or implicit but can be invoked during the interaction, such as when a teacher alludes to her identity as a mother or as a keen gardener during a language lesson. (Richards, 2006; Ushioda, 2009, 2011)
Agger, B. (2012). Oversharing: Presentations of self in the internet age. New York: Routledge.
Glatthorn, A. A. (1975). Teacher as person: The search for the authentic. English Journal, 37-39.
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor (Random House).
Richards, K. (2006). ‘Being the teacher’: Identity and classroom conversation. Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 51-77.
Sacks, O. (2013). Speak, Memory. The New York Review of Books, February 21.
Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Zimmerman, D. H. (1998). Identity, context and interaction. In C. Antaki & S. Widdicombe (Eds.), Identities in Talk (pp. 87–106). London: Sage.
Authenticity in the language classroom is approached from a social and existential perspective. In this poster I attempt to reconceptualise authenticity as a dynamic component of language as a complex system, which interacts with motivation, autonomy and self at multiple levels. I propose that authenticity be reconceptualised as a continuum, incorporating contextual and social dimensions. This represents an attempt to shift the focus of authenticity away from a culturally embedded definition to a more dynamic model which focuses on relevance to learners. The authenticity continuum features a stronger emphasis on society, self and identity, thereby attempting to empower learners and strengthen the link between authenticity and motivation.
Here is my poster from the CAES Faces Of English conference in Hong Kong
I appreciate all of your comments and questions at the poster presentation time between 1-2 on Friday 12th of June. Please see previous posts such as this one and this paper for more information about the Authenticity Continuum.
This is the session summary/repository for my two talks at the Japan Association of Language Teachers Computer Aided Language Learning Special Interest Group conference at Kyushu Sangyo University June 5-7 2015. My supervisor Ema Ushioda is giving the Keynote Speech, and the conference theme is Language Learning Technologies & Learner Autonomy. Looks set to be a great conference!
Accept or Decline? Some teachers encourage their students to befriend them on social networking sites (SNS), others are understandably wary. SNS can be a very effective way of connecting with students outside the classroom, engaging their real lives and identities. It can also create opportunities for authentic and motivating communication, not just between classmates but also a web of connections with other learners and speakers around the globe. It could also be an ethical minefield, a social ‘can of worms’ and a web of disaster. When people interact in different social contexts, they utilise Transportable Identities (see Ushioda, 2011 for explanation). In this presentation I will draw on both published research and personal experience to reflect on the place of these types of Web 2.0 technology and the inevitable consequences they pose.
Ushioda, E. (2011). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210
Session Two: Paper Presentation
A Reflexive Narrative of one Teacher’s Professional Digital Literacy
I have always combined my interest in technology with my work as a teacher, thereby developing my own digital literacy to the extent that it has been a very influential factor in my professional development and teaching beliefs. Whilst working in London in 2007, I began teaching IT skills classes to pre-masters students and at the same time I became the eLearning coordinator for a large chain of language schools with over 40 international locations. I was responsible for maintaining an online self-access centre and virtual learning environment with over 10,000 registered users. I created my own consultancy which offered technology training specifically for language teachers. Since moving to Japan in 2011, I have continued to utilise educational technologies in my work. My story may not be particularly unusual, and therefore in presenting a reflexive narrative of my experience I hope to open up a discussion with other practitioners who have similarly developed their digital literacy in order to improve their teaching and career prospects. I will also discuss my views on EFL teacher digital literacy in general, as well as my experience of student digital literacy. This presentation takes the form of a narrative inquiry (Barkhuizen, 2013), based on data collected through the process of reflexive practice (Edge, 2011). I encourage others to utilise narratives as a way of improving their practice.
Barkhuizen, G. (Ed.). (2013). Narrative Research in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Edge, J. (2011). The Reflexive Teacher Educator in TESOL: Roots and Wings. London: Routledge.
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The reason I was asked is that I am doing a PhD in which I am (attempting) to look at the connection between authenticity and motivation. I am also currently working on a book about authenticity which will be available next year (all being well).
Authenticity in language teaching is a thorny issue, and especially in English language teaching because of the nature of English’s use worldwide as an international language, with many diverse varieties. What do you understand by the term authenticity? For most language teachers, the word authentic is part of our daily vocabulary. It is stamped onto the backs of textbooks, it is mentioned when describing a particularly motivating task, and it is often used alongside other words like motivation and interest. So, just what do we talk about when we talk about authenticity?
Shadow-boxing with the definition
In his now famous article, Michael Breen (1985) identified that language teachers are ‘continually concerned with four types of authenticity’, which he summarise as:
Authenticity of the texts which we may use as input data for our learners.
Authenticity of the learners’ own interpretations of such texts.
Authenticity of tasks conducive to language learning.
Authenticity of the actual social situation of the language classroom.
Following Breen, I created a visualisation of the domains of authenticity, mainly just because I like diagrams.
This is basically what Breen was talking about, and as one can see there is a lot of overlap and yet authenticity can relate to four very different aspects of the work we do in the language classroom. What is fundamentally important here, is that a teacher could bring in an example of a so-called ‘authentic’ text and use it in a way which is not authentic. For example, a teacher could bring an English language newspaper to class and tell her students read the text and underline every instance of the present perfect aspect or passive tense, then get them to copy each sentence out into their notebooks. Is this authentic? Although for many people the newspaper is a classic example of an authentic text, what is happening in this class is anything but authentic language learning.
Authentic materials are often defined as something not specifically designed for language learning, or “language where no concessions are made to foreign speakers” (Harmer, 2008, p. 273). In the Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics, the definition of authenticity is covered in a short entry, and boils down to materials “not originally developed for pedagogical purposes” (Richards & Schmidt, 2013, p. 43). Are there any problems with this definition? When I speak with other teachers, this is generally the definition they come up with, unless we are in the midst of a particularly philosophical discussion, which, don’t worry, I will come to shortly.
Henry Widdowson is one of the biggest names associated with the authenticity debate, and I had the honour of meeting him in Tokyo last year in November 2014. Widdowson made the famous distinction between materials which are authentic and materials which are genuine (1978). Basically, genuineness relates to an absolute property of the text, in other words realia or some product of the target language community like a train timetable or the aforementioned ‘classic’ newspaper. Authenticity, however, is relative to the way the learners engage with the material and their relationship to it. Hung and Victor Chen (2007, p. 149) have also discussed this, problematizing the act of taking something out of one context and bringing it into another (the classroom) expecting its function and authenticity to remain the same. They call this extrapolation techniques, which they criticise heavily for missing the wood for the trees. In other words, simply taking a newspaper out of an English speaking context quite often means you leave the real reason for interacting with it behind, which seriously impairs its authenticity. Another very big problem with this definition is that it seems to advocate the dreaded ‘native speaker’ idea, which as we all know is an emotive argument that has been discussed widely in recent years, particularly with the rise of English as a Lingua Franca and Global English. When Widdowson made his arguments it was during the rise of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), and as part of this methodology there was an explosion in the debate around authenticity. In particular, people writing about authenticity wanted to distance the concept from the evil ‘native speaker’ definition. But what about learning aims? What about the student’s needs? How was the debate made relevant to the actual practice of teaching?
In his famous and fascinating paper, Suresh Canagarajah (1993) discusses the way students in Sri Lanka were not only ambiguous towards, but at times detached from the content of their prescribed textbooks, based on American Kernel Lessons. The students had trouble connecting the reality presented in the textbooks with their own reality, which was markedly different to say the least. Canagarajah notes that some students’ textbooks contained vulgar doodles, which he thought could perhaps have been “aimed at insulting the English instructors, or the publishers of the textbook, or the U.S. characters represented” (1993, p. 614). This connects strongly with What Leo van Lier (1996) calls authentication; the idea that learners have to make the materials authentic by engaging with it in some way on an individual level. Van Lier’s reasoning is that something can’t be authentic for everyone at the same time, but the important thing is to try and get that balance.
As I think this article has already shown, the concept of authenticity is not easy to define. Alex Gilmore, in his State-of-the-Art paper identified as many as eight inter-related definitions, which were:
the language produced by native speakers for native speakers in a particular language community
the language produced by a real speaker/writer for a real audience, conveying a real message (as in, not contrived but having a genuine purpose, following Morrow, 1977)
the qualities bestowed on a text by the receiver, in that it is not seen as something already in a text itself, but is how the reader/listener perceives it)
the interaction between students and teachers and is a “personal process of engagement” (van Lier, 1996, p. 128)
the types of task chosen
the social situation of the classroom
authenticity as it relates to assessment and the Target Language Use Domain (Bachman & Palmer, 1996)
culture, and the ability to behave or think like a target language group in order to be validated by them
Adapted from Gilmore (2007, p. 98)
In order to simplify these definitions I have developed a diagram to show how they overlap and contradict each other. I will use this diagram later as the basis for a continuum of authenticity in language learning.
Another way of thinking about authenticity is from a wider perspective, something that encompasses not only the materials being used and the tasks set to engage with them, but also the people in the classroom and the social context of the target language. To better illustrate this, I proposed that authenticity be seen as something like a continuum, with both social and contextual axes (Pinner, 2014b).
The vertical axis represents relevance to the user of the language or the individual, which in most cases will be the learner although it could also be the teacher when selecting materials. The horizontal lines represent the context in which the language is used. Using this continuum, materials, tasks and language in use can be evaluated according to relevance and context without the danger of relying on a pre-defined notion of culture or falling back into “extrapolation approaches”.
As you can see, although the word Authenticity is used all the time in staff rooms and to sell textbooks, if we actually drill down into it we get into very boggy ground.
Dogme ELT and Authenticity (and motivation)
Most readers will probably be familiar with the idea of Dogme ELT, which basically tries to get away from “the prevailing culture of mass-produced, shrink-wrapped lessons, delivered in an anodyne in-flight magazine style” (Meddings & Thornbury, 2003). This movement in ELT has strong connotations for authentic language teaching and also provides a very real connection between authenticity and motivation.
In essence, the Dogme approach places a premium on conversational interaction among teacher and learners where communication is authentic and learner-driven rather than pedagogically contrived and controlled by the teacher. Choice of learning content and materials is thus shaped by students’ own preferred interests and agendas, and language development emerges through the scaffolded dialogic interactions among learners and the teacher. Relevant to our concerns here is the value Dogme places on students’ own voices and identities in these conversational interactions. Ushioda (2011, p. 205)
In essence, Ushioda is noting that Dogme is both authentic and potentially motivating because it places the emphasis on the learners as people.
If we take a moment to see where we are with the issue of authenticity, we will realise that the definition of authenticity, although a tangle of concepts and resistant to a single definition, what it seems to be pushing at is essentially something very practical. If something is going to be authentic, it needs to be relevant to the learners and it needs to be able to help them speak in real (as in not contrived) situations. In other words, when they step out of the classroom, what they did in the classroom should have prepared them to speak and understand the target language. In order to achieve this, what they do in the classroom has to be as authentic as possible, and by implication it needs to be engaging. Essentially, authentic materials should be motivating materials.
Authenticity is a good thing. It sounds like a good thing and by association, anything labelled as inauthentic must be bad. However, I think that the word authenticity is complicit with many of the problems in English language teaching. Authenticity is still too often defined in a way which, either directly or indirectly, infers the privilege of the native speaker (Pinner, 2014a, 2014b). However, if we can get away from that, authenticity can be a powerful concept to empower both learners and teachers, because authenticity connects the individual learner to the content used for learning. So, in summary ‘keep it real’.
Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language testing in practice: Designing and developing useful language tests (Vol. 1): oxford university press.
Breen, M. P. (1985). Authenticity in the Language Classroom. Applied Linguistics, 6(1), 60-70.
Canagarajah, A. S. (1993). Critical Ethnography of a Sri Lankan Classroom: Ambiguities in Student Opposition to Reproduction Through ESOL. TESOL quarterly, 27(4), 601-626. doi: 10.2307/3587398
Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 40(02), 97-118. doi: 10.1017/S0261444807004144
Harmer, J. (2008). The practice of English language teaching (Fourth Edition ed.). London: Pearson/Longman.
Hung, D., & Victor Chen, D.-T. (2007). Context–process authenticity in learning: implications for identity enculturation and boundary crossing. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(2), 147-167. doi: 10.1007/s11423-006-9008-3
Whether you find yourself addicted or at a loss when it comes to things like Facebook and twitter, more and more people are using social networks for personal and professional reasons. For example, LinkedIn has active discussions about language teaching and various professional groups of teachers and applied linguists. Many schools and institutions have Facebook pages which they use as an extension of the school’s social programme, and thousands of people stay up-to-date using information from twitter. These sites all have valuable applications for language teaching, not just in the ways described above, but as part of actual lessons as well. In this article I am going to discuss the reasons social networks can provide such rich and authentic language practise for students and explain ways to keep your own private life separate from your professional use of social media in class. I will also discuss some simple practical ideas which you could easily use in your own classroom.
Many teachers who use social networks in their personal lives may not know how they could be used for language teaching. If that is the case, what about those teachers who are not even comfortable using social networks in their personal lives, let alone in a professional context? In my work I have encountered many people who admitted they could see the value of social networks for connecting to other learners and speakers of the English. This is especially true for teachers in an EFL context where the students do not get many opportunities to interact with people outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, there are two major problems with social networks for language teaching. Firstly, many teachers may not wish to mix up their own personal lives with their professional lives (such as adding students as friends on Facebook) and secondly, teachers might feel uncomfortable about advocating for their students to make contact with strangers through a social network, especially if you teach younger age groups. A third complication could be that some teachers are unfamiliar with social networks even for personal use, and as such feel that they could not possibly recommend them to students.
These are all valid concerns. In order to avoid these problems it is important to start off with security in mind. The way social networks function is by having users enter personal information about themselves, which is then searchable by other users. All this personal information is stored in a database and much of the information provided is available for anyone to see and search. If users are not careful then it is possible to gain phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and even find out where people are going to be at a particular time. It is often possible to get all this data simply by looking at the information that comes up when you view someone’s profile. For this reason, I recommend you take one of the many quick privacy reports before even attempting to use social networks with your class. You can also view recommendations about how to improve your privacy settings there and improve your privacy rating. Once you are comfortable about your own online privacy you can turn to your students to ensure they do the same.
If you are planning to add your students as friends it is highly recommended that you make your profile as private as possible because your students and your friends will get mixed together and that could lead to issues. A possible solution is to have two accounts, or if you are uncomfortable having your students as ‘friends’ on Facebook then simply don’t accept their requests. You can still utilise social networks in your class without adding your students as friends.
Here are a few tips for teachers to remember when using social networks with your students.
Don’t get caught with your pants down. If you do have deeply personal content in your profile or on a site, request that it be removed or remove it yourself – this is good general practice. Alternatively, you could avoid getting into these situations in the first place, whichever is easier…
Test the sites are accessible from the students’ machines. If you plan a lesson involving the use of a site such as Facebook, always check that you can access the pages you intend to visit from the students’ machines, preferably using a student login otherwise your entire lesson could be ruined.
Keep the class together. You can create a group or page which is especially for your class, so you can keep members organised and together. If you create a group, you can also connect with students without having to add them as friends, thus ensuring privacy for you and for them. This is also how many institutions manage their students on social networks.
Each of these may require a little bit of work in terms of learning your way around whichever particular site or social network you have chosen to use, but the knowledge will help you maintain your professional image online.
For anyone unfamiliar with the term, netiquette is etiquette for the internet. Your students will hopefully have a good idea of what it means, but it never hurts to go through the list with them for good measure.
make contact with people you don’t know or have never had previous contact with unless there is a good reason.
accept connections with people who you don’t know or have never had previous contact with unless there is a good reason.
post offensive materials or comments which may offend other users or result in you being banned from the site
reply to other people’s public posts about topics which are of interest, even if you don’t know the person this is ok. For example, if you are fans of a celebrity who has a public fan page, or members of a particular group online, it is fine to chat and respond to people’s posts on these public areas because the nature of the discussion is open. This is not the same as sending a friend request to someone you don’t know.
check back on the site in your free time and see if someone has responded to your post.
The above rules of netiquette are by no means extensive, but if you go through them as a brainstorming activity with your students before attempting any of the following practical ideas I am sure you will compile a comprehensive list.
Some Practical Ideas
Below are a few lesson plan ideas which you may wish to use. They use a variety of different sites but hopefully the general ideas could be exploited in other ways for more variations.
Agony Aunt / Problem Page Lesson
This lesson works well if you have been learning about ’giving advice’ in class and you would like to give your students some authentic, meaningful interaction with other English speakers. Although you may need to screen the pages you use carefully, you could take your students to a site which allows people to write in with problems or ask for advice. First your students could create their own posts asking for advice (make sure they only write about something they are comfortable sharing with the class, such as the feeling that they are not learning fast enough or have no one to practice with. If they can’t think of anything they could write it on behalf of an imaginary friend). After that they should follow the thread and also try to reply to some other people who are having a problem which they think they can help with. Although it may sound risky, I have done this lesson a few times with mature classes and students always get a lot out of it. If you explain that the class will be sharing the posts then people generally do not post up anything too personal or that they are uncomfortable sharing, and my students are always respectful of other people. The real advantage of this lesson is that it goes beyond authenticity and is actual real world use of the target language. This really gives such a class the edge over any contrived language practice lessons. A lot of rich, real language also comes out of these lessons, which students can ask about and share in class later. This project can span several classes and provide a great deal of rich authentic language interaction.
There are lots of groups on Facebook and other social networks which are specifically for language learning. For example, the BBC has a learning English Facebook page which allows wall comments and photos. This is a great place to get your students commenting on things and replying to posts. They could ask questions about something specific on the wall or post a link to something they found useful. Although this might not take a whole lesson, it could be treated as a homework or used as a study suggestion. Alternatively, you could have students go and post something on the wall and search other posts for something interesting to share with the class. The Facebook page is also a great way to run services such as word of the day and to promote school excursions, or to run study-buddy pairing.
If your class enjoys a bit of competition, why not ask students to create a new twitter account and to see who has the most followers after a week, who can manage the highest number of tweets in a week, and who can manage to get a famous person to follow them. There could be a running commentary of the scores going on over the course of the week and the final lesson where the winners are announced should be quite exciting. Twitter is also a great media for the consequences game, where students contribute blindly to a story and read the final result at the end.
These are just a few ideas but as you can see, there is no need for privacy to be invaded or personal space encroached on just because you are using social networks with students. The key is to try a few of these things out yourself (perhaps in a language you are learning yourself) and then get the students to have a go.
Despite the precautions needed to ensure privacy for yourself and your class, there really is a lot of scope for using social networks as part of a class. In addition, the benefits for students in terms of meeting other people to practise with and retain contact after the course is finished make using social networks a very powerful tool at the language teacher’s disposal.
originally published in Modern English teacher, 20(3), 37-39. 2011.
It was a nice surprise to see that my own article had appeared on the RSS feed from Language Teaching Research as the advance online access is now available! I have had this RSS feed on my blog for several years and now finally I have a paper in this excellent journal, which is ranked 40 out of 169 journals in Language and Linguistics.
Seeing this made me take a snapshot and draw a smiley face (using a mouse hence very crudely) which I now wanted to share with everyone!
Here is a link to the article, which outlines my use of Self-Assessment to increase autonomy and motivation. The paper is practitioner research, using narrative inquiry and exploratory practice.
I would also like to share another article which was written by my good friend and colleague Robert Lowe which looks at the Shadow Education industry of Japan, specifically Juku or Cram Schools and their impact on ELT. The article is really interesting and I agree with his call for more research in this area. Here is the link.
Continuing the spirit of sharing, I would also like to note that the fantastic TEFLology Podcast has received a favourable review on Russell Mayne’s excellent Evidence-based EFL blog.
So, good news all round and here’s to a productive and insightful 2015!
This weeks’ TEFLology Podcast features a guest speaker – me! I was very flattered to be invited by the TEFLologists to their top-secret recording location where we discussed Steven Krashen, Teaching foreign languages at Primary schools and of course authenticity.
The main thing about the conference was that it was quite focused, intense and engaging. There were about 170 participants and the conference lasted three days. Each day I was travelling by bus to the campus early in the morning and returning late at night, mainly due to the excellent social events attached to the event and the many friends (new and not so new) that I was meeting and talking with as well. In this short write-up I will go over each plenary chronologically, mentioning any particularly interesting parallel sessions as well. However, in the interests of brevity, I will leave out the main content of each one. This is mainly because the entire conference was designed as a kind of ‘book launch’ for the edited volume by Dörnyei, MacIntyre, and Henry (2015) which is released by Multilingual Matters.
The first plenary was by Diane Larsen-Freeman, who talked about the field of motivation from an outsider (her own) perspective. This was an excellent plenary, and Diane was a great person to start the conference off because the main theme of the event was to see to what extent Chaos/Complexity Theory and Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) can facilitate a better understanding of the nature of L2 motivation. She gave a detailed and well-informed overview of the history of L2 motivation, and in particular highlighted elements that showed how well DST could complement the field. She put up quotes from Zoltán Dörnyei and others in which words like “complex” or “dynamic” or “interactions” were already being used to describe motivation and the way it changes and adapts over time. This was interesting, and provided an important starting point for the rest of the conference. Although Diane Larsen-Freeman’s plenary was excellent and provided a great tenet for applying DST to L2 motivation, I would have liked to have a bit more of an explanation about exactly what DST is and the basics of how it works. I have read papers about DST and Chaos/complexity theory, but I still felt a little lost at times when people spoke about attractor states and state-space landscapes. Dynamic Systems Theory is a complicated and technical theory, one which is used in physics and astronomy as well as multiple other disciplines. For this reason, although I have done some reading on the theory (De Bot, 2008; Larsen-Freeman, 1997; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008a; Martínez-Fernández, 2008), I still felt that some of the more technical aspects that occurred later in the conference (not so much in Diane’s plenary) were over my head. Luckily, this was addressed later on, on the last day of the conference during the panel. I will revisit this later, but during the closing panel Diane was asked to stand up and give her take on the conference. She said that for her “Complexity theory is a theory about teaching” and it reflected the interactions that take place in the classroom. All theories are tools for understanding, as Kim Noels later said, and Diane Larsen-Freeman certainly echoed that in what she talked about.
The second day was kicked off with a plenary from Zoltán Dörnyei. Before I mention his speech, I should also mention the wonderful introduction that was given by Marian Williams. Rather than introduce the man whose work we all knew so well, she told us that despite his fame he was not recognised by Microsoft’s spell check, and she read out the alternatives that it offered her. As she was talking about when she went to Hungary twenty years ago to meet Zoltán, a butterfly flew into the room. The butterfly was fluttering about during the whole introduction, and also parts of Zoltán’s talk. This seemed very apt to me and to others in the audience – it seemed to be a not just a reference to the butterfly effect which is an essential component of chaos theory, but also it represented the playfulness and joy that Zoltán himself exhibited throughout the conference. Zoltán’s plenary was a very interesting personal narrative of his experience from within the field as it changed and evolved from what it was in the early nineties to what it has become now. He talked about the paradigm shift that is taking place in applied linguistics and SLA in particular, and he regarded this as a good thing. He also criticised some of his own old models for being too linear, and he was visibly excited about complexity theory and the more dynamic representations of motivation it allows. However, in Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008b) the research methods which best fit DST are described unequivocally as being qualitative in nature, and obviously this could be a big problem for the field of L2 motivation, which has for a long time being marked by a preference for large-scale quantitative studies. This is something which Ema Ushioda has spoken about (and against) for some time (Ushioda, 2009, 2011). However, Zoltán Dörnyei pointed out that it would be counter-productive to ignore or forget all that has gone before. He concluded by advocating mixed-methods research as the best way to investigate motivation as a complex dynamic system, and he argued for research that focuses on the whole system and seeks for a holistic understanding rather than isolating certain components. This seems to be something that his students (many of whom were represented or presenting at the conference) have taken on already, and many of the papers being presented were mixed-methods. However, with this approach there is still a danger that the quantitative results are given precedence and that the qualitative data takes a back seat. This is not necessarily always due to poor research design, but this is a kind of washback effect of the field. For example when I was trying to get my MA thesis published I sent it to two journals, both of which came back with comments asking me for more focus on the questionnaire and quantitative elements of my study. I noticed too, that many of the parallel sessions I attended exhibited a preference to the quantitative data. Zoltán himself described such data as “nice” and describing a “perfect world” or “simple” view of it, although he also said that such quantitative data was failing in a big way to describe dynamic interactions. Zoltán highlighted the importance for journal editors and publishers to be more accepting towards qualitative studies. When somebody like Zoltán Dörnyei says such a thing, I think it really is indicative of a paradigm shift. Overall his plenary was excellent and provided a lot of food for thought, and made me very excited to see the book Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning. There was also a “random alligator” in his slideshow, which nobody knew why it was there. This was picked up on by many other presenters and became a kind of meme in the conference.
After that the first parallel sessions broke out. In the interests of brevity I will only mention the most notable sessions that I watched, and of course there were many great sessions that I watched, and even more that I missed. It really was painful sometimes choosing whose session to watch, since they all looked fascinating. Amy Thompson gave a very interesting talk about the anti-ought to self, in which she provided a very strong narrative of her research with very engrossing personal stories from two different learners. She talked about threatened or eliminated behaviour, giving the example of telling a child not to get a tattoo so the child gets one, and how this is a common cause of psychological reactance. She concluded that the anti-ought to self was initially a conflicting component of motivation, but that often it became complimentary, and she highlighted the small choices and chance decisions that contribute to people’s shallow and deep attractor states over time. Christine Muir gave a fascinating talk about Dynamic Motivational Currents or DMCs, and I also enjoyed Kay Irie and Stephen Ryan’s fascinating talk about learner’s self concept before and after study abroad programs, something which is certainly a big topic in Japan where I work. Their work used narratives and an interesting Q-methodology approach which allows for quantitative data whilst still prioritising qualitative methods and insights. Using narratives the authors were able to get their participants to reflect on powerful self-defining events which the students may not have realised the importance of until they were asked to provide the narratives.
After a short coffee break it was time for the third plenary by Kim Noels, who talked about Self-Determination Theory (SDT), using the example of an amoeba (self) and a paramoecium (L2). She also told us about an interesting project at the University of Southampton’s Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies (LLAS) which uncovered 700 reasons for studying a foreign language. Like many who subscribe to sociocultural perspectives, she argued that identity is negotiated through social interaction and that “SDT is a useful lens to understand dynamic systems theory”. She mentioned that all theories are tools and these tools are supposed to help us to understand reality. She also inserted a random alligator in reference to Zoltán Dörnyei’s early image and that got a lot of laughs. She ended by telling us all about the International Conference on Self-determination Theory which will be taking place next year.
After Kim Noels’ plenary I attended a parallel session by Tammy Gregersen and Peter Macintyre, which detailed their teacher training and empowerment sessions. It was presented brilliantly and featured a lot of practical ideas from their book (Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2013) which I ended up going and placing an order for since I was so impressed. The next session I attended was by Yuzo Kimura who talked about teacher motivation and self. He used retrodictive qualitative modelling in the form of an ethnographic narrative of one Chinese teacher of English. What he discovered when interviewing his subject that really struck me was that in his 7 year longitudinal study his participant talked about her “shame” in being an L2 Chinese teacher of English, even though this person was clearly fluent in English. This has confirms my own research findings (Pinner, 2014) and is the main impetus behind my advocating a more in-depth look at the concept of authenticity as it relates to the self and motivation. Kimura (2014) provides more detail about this in his chapter in The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning (Csizér & Magid, 2014) which I purchased from the Multilingual Matters stall at the conference. The next session I watched was by Julia You and Letty Chan about Imagery in the L2 Self. The looked at 164 participants and presented a mixed-methods study which showed how imaging the self is an essential part of the process of actualizing your ideal and ought to selves, and that in the process of imaging one’s self affects not only the self but also the process of learning.
The final plenary of the day, and for me the most exciting one, was Ema Ushioda. Ema was, as usual, an engaging and well-laid out speaker. Her talk focused mainly on research methods, and of course she was fundamentally advocating the need to consider person’s in context and see our research subjects not as subjects at all but as people, as individuals (Ushioda, 2009, 2011). But she was certainly aware of the impracticalities that doing such rich and in-depth research would entail, and I suppose the key word for her presentation would have to be “however”, since almost every methodology she looked at had its flaws. I was very intrigued when she mentioned something she called ‘trace data’, and I thought “that’s something I want to be doing”. I was very relieved when she came to the end of her talk and outlined the various and multi-modal methods of collecting such data and I found that I was already doing most of them for my PhD research, even the cool sounding trace data! It shouldn’t have been so surprising really, since she is my supervisor, but I was still happy to know I was on the right track, especially with my first panel meeting looming in the nearby future (the main reason I was in England). Trace data, for those interested, is data which is collected mainly through online interactions, and is an “unobtrusive approach to collecting naturally occurring data”. One example would be the interactions of a user on social networking sites or discussion forums, since these leave time-stamps and other identifying marks which makes them perfect as data snapshots, they are also naturally occurring and unobtrusive (provided you have the permission of the participants). The crux of Ema’s argument was the distinction between etic and emic research, and she mentioned Adrian Holliday’s term about the “small culture of a classroom” (Holliday, 1999), and her talk made me want to dive back into my classroom and carry on with my research, as well as filling me with confidence about my panel (which was a bit tough as it turned out!). Much of the methods she drew on came from Rodriguez and Ryave (2002), and when I pointed out to Ema that her recent work seems to be mainly dealing with research methodology these days and I wondered if she planned to write a methodology book, I was a little disappointed when she laughed the idea off. A gap in the market?
On the final day of the conference, Peter Macintyre’s final plenary was great as well, in which he provided insights into doing mixed-methods research, but one which focuses on events and context. He used the fascinating example of the Ryōan-ji garden in Kyoto, which contains 15 rocks but wherever you stand in the garden you can only ever see as 14, you can never see all 15 rocks at once. He used this to highlight the importance of perspective when doing research into motivation. He advocated an idiodynamic approach to motivational research, and he even has special software which can help. The method basically looks at general trends but also looks at outliers, and it does not discard the differences from the norm. That way, results are more about the whole picture rather than the generalisation. This was an excellent lead-in into the talk I attended straight after by Damon Brewster and Kay Irie, in which they presented a long longitudinal study spanning over 5 years – the entire length of their subject’s undergraduate degrees. It was an honour to be present at the talk in which they both finally seemed to gain a sense of closure on what had been a long and clearly invigorating topic in which they had used narrative case-studies to examine persons-in-context. Rather than summarise, I would simply mention two excellent papers of theirs in which they discuss some aspects of this research (Irie & Brewster, 2013, 2014). Next I watched fellow PhD student (also under Ema Ushioda’s tutelage) Gosia Sky in her enlightening discussion of Dynamics and Complexity in Teacher Motivation. Her research revealed some fascinating insights (which also corroborate my own research on the authenticity continuum) about how L2 teachers of English perceive themselves with regard to native-speakerism. Gosia said that she was not even looking for this type of finding, but that it arose naturally from interview participants as her line of inquiry developed. We were very interested to meet each other at the conference and excited to learn that much of our research interests converge.
Finally, there was the Panel which featured Martin Lamb, Judit Kormos, Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter MacIntyre (who could only attend the last part), Kim Noels and Ema Ushioda. It was chaired by Alastair Henry and for me this was the climax that the conference had been building towards. Each panel member gave an individual address and then took questions from the audience in which they chipped in as and when they felt moved to do so. I could easily write another 3,000 words on all that was said here, but below is a chart which summarises basically what each speaker said that stood out most for me:
Exciting new paradigm shift. What is the Ideal Future Self of Motivational Research? What is the feared future self of Motivational Research? Let’s look forward but not loose what came before.
Psychologists often study themselves. “Research is MeSearch”. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater (like ZD was saying)
Focus on the “applied” part of applied linguistics. What is the relevance to practice? How can Complexity theory help us understand rather than leading to an even greater level of abstraction? From an ethical point of view, we have a responsibility to make it practical. (note: Ema was the only panel member to receive a round of applause after her address)
Shared a very vivid view of the future by drawing a humorous but also serious sketch of the 5th International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and SLA which would be held in 2025 in a sunnier place than Nottingham. He said that 80% of the research would still be from tertiary settings, but he hoped that at least 20% would be from schools and other contexts, reflecting a more balanced array of context for research.
Asked the audience/presenters who had presented about participants with disabilities or from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. She, like Martin Lamb, hoped that these people would have more of a representation in future research. She echoed Ema’s comments about our responsibility as researchers.
Overall it was interesting to note that not all the scholars were yet willing to openly side with Complex Dynamics System Theory, there were many cautious voices. I thought this was a good thing, and again this represented the high level of criticality which demonstrated that Complexity, despite being a current buzz word, represents a true paradigm shift rather than just being another bandwagon that people wish to jump on. During the discussion Dianne Larsen-Freeman was asked to interject and she explained that for her, Complexity Theory is about teaching and that it makes sense to her as a teacher. For me, this again was essential and this is why I am very glad that I attended the conference and glad that I went to the effort to write up my notes in this post.
I would recommend for anyone interested in the conference or its theme to buy a copy of the book Motivation Dynamics in Language Learning around which the conference was themed and to look further into the various authors I have mentioned here. Overall I think that Complexity Theory has a lot to offer the field of Applied Linguistics, and motivation in particular. I would like to thank all the organisers (especially Christine Muir for her help with my mix ups and Laura and Tommi at Multilingual Matters) and speakers of the conference for a very enlightening and stimulating conference and I hope that there will be a follow-up very soon!
Csizér, K., & Magid, M. (Eds.). (2014). The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
De Bot, K. (2008). Introduction: Second language development as a dynamic process. The Modern Language Journal, 92(2), 166-178.
Dörnyei, Z., MacIntyre, P., & Henry, A. (Eds.). (2015). Motivational dynamics in language learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Gregersen, T., & MacIntyre, P. (2013). Capitalizing on language learners’ individuality: From premise to practice (Vol. 72). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Holliday, A. (1999). Small cultures. Applied Linguistics, 20(2), 237-264.
Irie, K., & Brewster, D. R. (2013). One Curriculum, Three Stories: Ideal L2 Self and L2-Self-Discrepancy Profiles. In M. T. Apple, D. Da Silva & T. Fellner (Eds.), Language Learning Motivation in Japan (pp. 110 – 128). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Irie, K., & Brewster, D. R. (2014). Investing in Experiential Capital: Self-efficacy, Imagination and Development of Ideal L2 Selves. In K. Csizér & M. Magid (Eds.), The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning (Vol. 79, pp. 171-188). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Kimura, Y. (2014). ELT motivation from a complex dynamic systems theory perspective: a longitudinal case study of L2 teacher motivation in Beijing. In K. Csizér & M. Magid (Eds.), The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997). Chaos/complexity science and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 18(2), 141-165.
Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008a). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008b). Research methodology on language development from a complex systems perspective. The Modern Language Journal, 200-213.
Martínez-Fernández, A. (2008). Revisiting the involvement load hypothesis: Awareness, type of task and type of item. Paper presented at the Selected proceedings of the 2007 second language research forum, Somerville, MA.
Pinner, R. S. (2014). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices. English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1), 9 – 17.
Rodriguez, N. M., & Ryave, A. (2002). Systematic self-observation: a method for researching the hidden and elusive features of everyday social life (Vol. 49). London: Sage.
Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.