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.
This is a quick post to recommend a brilliant new podcast all about Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). If you think that a podcast about TEFL sounds rather dry and boring, you will be surprised at how listenable, upbeat and interesting the TEFLology podcast is. This will become apparent right from the catchy theme-tune, which is sung by one of the presenters and has TEFL-related lyrics! This is not a podcast for people who teach TEFL but have no interest in their work, or for people who go backpacking around the world and teach English as a way to pay for their air-fares. This is a serious but fun podcast for people who want to know more about the present and the past of language teaching. The TEFLology podcast deals with interesting and relevant issues as well as looking back at the history of TEFL and different approaches to teaching languages. It is done in a light-hearted and upbeat way by three “self-certified TEFLologists” who certainly know their business very well, but who focus more on discussion than academic debate or name-dropping.
The podcast is released bi-weekly and each episode lasts about half an hour. The episodes are split into different sections, including a section on TEFL news, TEFL pioneers and there is also a section in which the TEFLologists discuss various methods or teaching approaches. The three hosts of the show, Rob, Matt and Matthew, demonstrate an excellent balance of rapport, preparation and ad-libbing and I find listening to the podcast is always both fun and informative. I don’t know if this makes me a TEFL geek or a “TEFLolophile” but I just wanted to share the podcast with readers of my blog as I can highly recommend this as a download for your commute or as something to listen to on one of your numerous but short-lived coffee-breaks.
This is a quick post, composed between parallel sessions, about the BAAL 2014 conference which I am currently attending. Unlike many of the attendees I am no good at Live Tweeting since I am already multitasking in my own life so much that if I tried I would lose focus on what’s actually happening. However, I wanted to take the opportunity to post something as the conference is taking place, mainly regarding my own presentation which I delivered yesterday (4th September) entitled Authenticity in a Global Context: Learning, Working and Communicating with L2 teachers of English. I have uploaded the slides from the presentation, as well as the audio below for anyone who missed the session or (very unlikely) for anyone who was so entertained that they simply must listen to it again!
[below is the audio file]
When I return to Japan and get back to work I will be posting a full review of both the Nottingham 2014 International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and the BAAL 2014 conference. Until then please enjoy the rest of the conference, whether you are here in person or digitally auditing and come back soon for more updates.
I am delighted to announce that my piece for English Today entitled “The Authenticity Continuum– towards a definition incorporating international voices” has been accepted and is scheduled for publication sometime in the near future. The piece expands upon the need for a less culturally embedded view of authenticity in language teaching. I am very pleased to have been accepted in such a prestigious journal.
I have just attended the Anaheim open TESOL seminar, and I am on the way back, typing madly into my tablet so as to get as much transcribed as possible before I get home because as soon as I get back I have to slip into a yukatta and enjoy the hanabi summer fireworks festival with my family tonight.
The conference at Showa Women’s University boasted some big names in the TEFL world, not the least of which was Professor Rod Ellis, along with Hayo Reinders and David Nunan. Sadly for health reasons, David Nunan was not able to attend, and so he was replaced by Anaheim colleague Craig Lambert.
The first speech was from Showa Women’s University professor and long ago PhD student of Rod Ellis, Dr Tomoko Kaneko. She discussed the globalisation programs underway in Japan and in particular highlighted Showa Women’s University’s program which actively encourages study abroad. She talked about the decrease in Japanese students studying abroad, and explained how Showa Women’s University had been able to secure a grant from MEXT to support globalisation in education, called the Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development. MEXT explains:
The Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development is a funding project that aims to overcome the Japanese younger generation’s “inward tendency” and to foster human resources who can positively meet the challenges and succeed in the global field, as the basis for improving Japan’ s global competitiveness and enhancing the ties between nations. Efforts to promote the internalization of university education in Japan will be given strong, priority support.
What struck me was how excellent the exchange programs offered by Showa Women’s University seemed, and I was surprised to learn that Showa Women’s University has a campus in Boston, established in 1988, where students can go and live for various lengths depending on their programs. Whilst in Boston the students do various activities to help the community such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting old people’s homes and so on. However, I couldn’t help noticing that much of the globalisation attempts were based around what I would call a culturalist globalisation fallacy. For example part of MEXT’s imposed goals for the program were to increase TOEIC scores by a certain amount. This seemed to be part of the conditions for receiving the additional MEXT funding under the Global Human Resources project. Also the exchange programs required a certain TOEIC score. Although Dr Kaneko was able to demonstrate increases in student TOEIC scores and she did point out that this was only one kind of measure, I think that to acquaint TOIEC with globalisation is to miss the point a little. If this is part of MEXT’s imposed measures I feel it to be rather flawed, since TOEIC is not a particulry good measure of English ability, let alone a measure of Globalisation! At the end Dr Kaneko asked if we had any comments about how to motivate the demotivated students and I wanted to reply that perhaps reducing the emphasis on TOEIC would help. To get the rise in TOEIC obviously the university would have to teach compulsory TOEIC courses. If this is MEXT’s requirements for TOIEC, I feel that they have fundamentally misunderstood the idea of globalisation. Also, although Showa has programs with other international universities in countries such as Poland, much of the emphasis was on the Boston satellite exchanges. Boston is in the USA, and again for me this does not reflect globalisation, but just internationalisation. I think there is a difference here, and this is linked to what Yamagami and Tollefson (2011) observed in their examination of the media discourse in Japan around the use of the word globalisation. MEXT used to say kokusaika (internationalisation) but now globalisation has become the most favourable term. However, globalisation can be seen as a threat, so is often just paid lip service. Therefore I think that what really seemed to be happening was a rather watered-down version of globalisation; a native-speaker centric idea of globalisation and not a true representation of diversity that I associate with globalisation. This is not a criticism of Showa Women’s University or Dr Kaneko’s excellent speech, it is more a criticism of MEXT if in fact they are using TOEIC to quantify globalisation and use it as a gatekeeper for exchange programs (see also Jenkins, 2014 for further evidence of this). Another target (not met) was to increase the number of foreign faculty, which I took to mean native speakers as this is a common rhetoric in Japan. However, although it is easy to criticise a university’s attempts to be more international and more global by claiming them to be native-speakerist, I should point out that these efforts are well-meant and clearly taking a step in the right direction. I was very interested to see that as part of the program evaluation Showa Women’s University also administers a self-evaluation on globalisation, the rubric of which included cross-cultural communication, IT skills and critical thinking. This was a much better measure than TOEIC I thought. Overall, I was impressed with the programs Dr Kaneko outlined, despite my reservations about MEXT’s emphasis on TOEIC scores.
Next Dr Hayo Reinders came on and he was brilliant. Best speaker I’ve seen in a while, I really liked him and he was very charismatic. In a talk that rang bells with the EFL Teacher Journey’s Conference plenary speech by Bill Snyder about informal teacher development, he showed a picture of an iceberg and asked how much learning goes on in class and how much goes on outside of class. Dr Reinders said that very few formal studies have been done and we have an unclear picture. He talked about the problem of assessing learning and also the problem of research not reflecting learning, citing Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008, p. 131) who pointed out that research shows different abilities under different settings. He mentioned his forthcoming book with Philip Benson which attempts to understand learning beyond the classroom using as a continuum which includes Location, Formality, Pedagogy and Locus of control – see Benson and Reinders (2011) for earlier work on the subject. He added to this he complexity of intentional and incidental learning, and explained just how complex this issue was. Then he outlined seven areas for further research into this area, which he said had a ‘potentially powerful’ link if we as teachers can establish a connection between what we do in class to what the students do outside of class, i.e. in connection with their personal life and their different selves.
Dr Reinders cited a study he had done in New Zealand with Stella Cotterall (2001) on how much exchange students use English on study abroad programs. He cautioned the assumption that students who go on study abroad will use English all the time, in the study he cited the majority of learners reported that they only used the target language ‘sometimes’. It seems a common and rather reductive assumption in Japan that to get fluent you have to live abroad, which negatively impacts the work of language teachers in Japan and could lead to the fallacious belief that one can only get fluent by leaving the country, and also that learning in Japan will not help you achieve fluency. The final and most important of his seven research areas was on teachers promoting learning beyond the classroom, particularly what do teachers do to encourage learning beyond the classroom.
During the Q&A I asked Dr Reinders how the issue of authenticity relates to the two contexts he outlined (in the classroom and beyond the classroom). His answer was quick, and he basically gave a definition of authenticity using the words ‘relevance’, ‘personal’ and the idea that it ‘comes from themselves [learners]’. He clearly felt that learning beyond the classroom involved students engaging with authentic materials. He also mentioned that people used to complain learning a language was hard because they don’t have access to the TL, “of course that’s nonsense in 2014”. I liked that part very much.
The next speaker was Professor Rod Ellis, who spoke about individual differences. He explained that there are stable permanent differences and dynamic situated ones. Professor Ellis listed personality and language aptitude under the stable differences, but I found personality listed as a permanent trait to be rather problematic. Menezes (2013) explains that our image of self is constantly re-imagined, and several other studies also view self as a dynamic construct which adapts and evolves constantly (Mercer, 2011; Mercer & Williams, 2014).
He criticized several well-known handbooks for language teachers – Nunan (1991), Ur (1996) and Scrivener (2005) – for failing to adequately mention how to deal with individual differences in the classroom and how to incorporate them into teaching. He mentioned that Self-Access Centres were one good way, but he then mentioned that SACs rarely cater properly for individual differences in terms of the resoruces they provide, noting that Reinders (2012) had once referred to them as “walled gardens”. He then outlined three methods which teachers could employ which might help them to allow for individual differences. These were Individualization – allowing learners to work on tasks best suited to their learning style, Eclecticism – using a lot of different types of task and material, and finally Receptivity – characterised as “a state of mind that is open to experience” (Allwright & Bailey, 1991, p. 157). Ellis argued that, since each has its limitations Receptivity is probably the best option because it allows a degree of personalisation and can therefore lead to more motivating learning experiences. This connected with the idea of authenticity for me again, since my view of authenticity is that it is basically a process of personal and social validation, connecting with reality by making something relevant. Ellis then went on to talk further about motivation, criticising the common staff-room complaint that “my students are not motivated” as a lack of onus on the teacher. In his view, it is the teacher’s job to motivate students. Acknowledging individuality is an important part of the classroom learning and teaching process. He mentioned transportable identities (Richards, 2006; Zimmerman, 1998) and explained that students must be allowed to speak as themselves. This is exactly what Ema Ushioda calls for in her person in-context relational view of motivation (2009, 2011), and something that I find central to my beliefs about teaching and learning, a defining component of my view of authenticity.
During the Q&A, Jo Mynard of Kanda University of International Studies stood up to defend SACs and Professor Ellis acknowledged that he had already mentioned that Kanda had the best SAC he’d ever seen. Another participant asked about individual differences in the teacher (as oppose to the learner) and this was a very interesting point. Ellis mentioned the ‘chemistry’ that happens between learners and teachers and acknowledged that there had to be some kind of match between teachers’ beliefs and learners’ styles. This was identified as an important area for research.
The final speaker was Craig Lambert, who is based in Japan. He was interested in the concept of Engagement and cited several very interesting works on the subject. One of the most interesting of these was Maehr’s Theory of Personal Investment (1984) in which he implicates the importance of Meaningfulness, Investment and Performance as being essential factors in motivation. Lambert used these as justification for an approach to task design that prioritises learners being able to generate their own tasks through a process of personal engagement. I found this to be a very useful contribution to the discussions on motivation and personal involvement that had already surfaced earlier on in the talks by other speakers.
All in all it was a very engaging day of talks by some leading figures from Anaheim University’s Applied Linguistics programs. I was impressed and as I headed home to watch the fireworks with my family, there were already fireworks exploding in my head from the stimulating discussions of the Open TESOL seminars. Thanks to all those who made it so engaging, especially the organisers and presenters. I am particularly grateful to Mikio Iguchi for recognising me and saving me a seat and to Rob Lowe for telling me about the conference.
Allwright, D., & Bailey, K. M. (1991). Focus on the language classroom: An introduction to classroom research for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Benson, P., & Reinders, H. (Eds.). (2011). Beyond the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jenkins, J. (2014). English as a Lingua Franca in the International University: The Politics of Academic English Language Policy. London: Routledge.
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I have been busy lately. So busy in fact that I still have not written up my report of the lecture I went to see by Jenny Jenkins at Waseda University’s 3rd English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) International Workshop. Coming soon
One of the reasons I have been busy it that I recently completed a proposal for a large writing project which has been accepted to my great astonishment and delight. Again, I will post up more details at a later date when things are confirmed. I have also been sending proposals to international conferences and conferences here in Japan and I just wanted to share some of those here since I am hoping to meet the rare and wonderful people who read this blog and thank them for their support.
I am very excited to announce that I will be attending this year’s EFL Teachers Journey’s Conference which will be held in the historical city of Kyoto on June 22nd. My presentation will be in the category of Narratives of teacher development and change in which I will talk about my professional development and how this has shaped and evolved with my beliefs about teaching and learning. I am especially excited about this conference because here in Japan I feel sometimes out of touch with the wider EFL community, and this conference seems to share some of my passions for narratives and research which focuses on individuals and their beliefs. You can view the abstract here.
I will also be presenting at the British Association of Applied Linguists (BAAL) Conference in September. This conference is being hosted by the University of Warwick where I am a PhD student at the moment, so I am glad to be able to participate and present. My piece will be about a research project I conducted last year. I took the data from a teacher training session which is part of the Ministry of Education’s teaching licence renewal. I worked with Japanese high school teachers in Osaka and Tokyo and the research focuses on reactions to authenticity and an attempt to move away from the dominant culture of native speakerism by shifting the focus of authenticity into the realm of English as an international language. This will also be a published article which will come out later in the year:
Pinner, R. S. (forthcoming). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1).
Finally, I will also be presenting at the JALT conference in Tsukuba in November. This presentation will be similar to the one I’m giving at BAAL – I’m too busy to do three completely different presentations. Having said that, I have already given two presentations this year which I failed to mention on my blog. I spoke at the fantastic LiberLit conference (click here for the full schedule) and I also participated as a speaker and panel member at the International CLIL Research Journal Symposium in April.
So, I’ve been busy. The PhD, the teaching and being a father is taking its toll on my hair colour and sanity, but at least I’m still passionate and enthusiastic about my work and my professional identity. If you have any comments please feel free to share and also, let me know if you will be attending any of these events or can recommend ones I am missing!
Many times I’ve needed the help of The LinguistList, a free online discussion board and virtual community of practice. They helped me get data for my MA and I am sure I will need them for my PhD too. Now they need our help to keep running a free service. I see this as a duty to people like myself, who often make use of free sites but don’t always give much back in return. To be honest I tend to only dip in to the LinguistList when I am in the middle of a project. If I see a link to an online survey I will participate if I have time, but I am happy to help out now by posting this plea to support them.
Also, if you make a donation today you will be added to the prize draw which is funded by Multilingual Matters, one of the best linguistics publishers out there in my humble opinion!
Once again I am missing out on IATEFL 2014 in person, but have been able to participate virtually using the fantastic online tools provided by the conference. Today is the last day of the conference, but the online content usually gets more interesting after the conference. Check it out here http://www.iatefl.org/annual-conference/harrogate-2014
Today on a very rainy day in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of watching a softly spoken 85 year old man stand in front of a microphone, speaking and answering questions on such diverse topics as chimpanzees, bird songs, software programs that try to pass university entrance exams and the choice of whether to use a hammer to build a house or bash someone’s face in. The speaker was Noam Chomsky, the world’s most cited living author.
I knew I might not get to see the Chomsky lecture. Seats were limited to 700 places and they were likely to be gone quickly. It was being done on a first come first served basis. What I didn’t know was that they were available from 8 am. When a student told me this at around 10:30, adding they were almost all gone, I ran to the auditorium but of course too late. This preamble is necessary as it was only thanks to my friend and mentor Makoto Ikeda that I was able to get to see the lecture, and not only that but from a seat from which, if I had wished, I could have thrown a screwed up piece of paper and seen it bounce of Chomsky’s head.
In the language instinct, Stephen pinker (a former colleague of Chomsky’s at MIT) mentions something about Chomsky being a pencil and paper theoretician. So, despite having a very cool poster for the lecture series event and lots of screens, theses were all turned off at the start of the event. Chomsky delivered his lecture with only a few pages of crumpled notes.
Chomsky was introduced twice and then, to my surprise, stood up to deliver his lecture. For an 85 year old to make his way all the way to Japan and still be lucid enough to deliver such a deeply technical lecture was impressive, but to do it standing I thought was just downright cool. He was cool, as well. In truth, being an applied linguist myself rather than a linguist, Chomsky sort of orbits my world rather like an impressive comet. Going to see his lecture was kind of like going to a rock concert for me. I didn’t expect to enjoy it in the moment so much, I just wanted to be able to boast that I had been. It was the experience I was after.
He did raise interesting points. His citation range was very deep, mainly historical and philosophical. He talked about Darwin on language and the meaning of ‘foremost infinite’. He also quoted Galileo on the alphabet being “an achievement surpassing all recognition”. But he was also contemporary and contextual, citing an article which had appeared just that morning in The Japan Times about a machine which could pass the Tokyo university entrance exams. He did point out that the machine was pointless, saying once it got in to University it would be finished.
Other choice moments were when he said language allowed for innovation without bounds, as language can engender thoughts in others. He also mentioned Humboldt, who said language made infinite use of finite means.
Then it got a bit technical, and some heads began to nod. Chomsky was talking about X + Y merge into Z and he kept saying merge over and over again. So I decided to survey the audience quickly and take stock of the cross-cultural elements and simultaneous translations that were taking place to accommodate people from diverse linguistic backgrounds. This is a strength of Sophia University and one that makes me proud to work here. There were people doing simultaneous translations into Japanese which was being relayed by headphones wirelessly. Pretty good. But most interesting were two separate sign-language camps. People were sitting in these camps and watching signers who had a feed to Chomsky’s microphone. What made this doubly impressive was that Chomsky, as I mentioned, is a soft spoken man. His sentences contain a lot of asides and can get quite embedded. He’s a mumbler too. All of which is part of his endearing demeanour but I couldn’t help but think that Chomsky wasn’t the only impressive linguist in the auditorium that day. I especially wanted to make a point of mentioning those heroic people who made Chomsky’s talk accessible for others.
It was a very interesting talk, and I felt a great buzz to be in the presence of such a famous man who I respected (note, there are more famous people than Chomsky who I wouldn’t throw water on if they were on fire in the street – celebrity isn’t a big wow for me). Great lecture or not, clearly the Q&A was always going to be the most interesting part. Even if you evaluate it only on the purely quantitative basis of how many notes I took. Looking back over my notes, Chomsky’s entire lecture, which lasted almost exactly an hour, took up two and a half pages of my little notepad. The Q&A took up five pages.
The first question was, in my opinion, the best. A girl stood up, thanked Chomsky for the lecture and then asked him a long question basically about his view on how language is used for some ill purposes, such as propaganda or worse when people don’t speak out at all when they should. It was a heartfelt question and one which beautifully synthesised Chomsky’s two main areas – linguistics and human freedom. His answer was fantastic. He said:
“Language is like a hammer. It’s just there for you to use. You can use it to build a house or you can use it to bash someone’s head in.”
Now that I write this up I find it interesting that he used a tool as his central metaphor for language, which reminds me of Lev Vygotsky.
Other choice quotes which I scribbled down as close to verboten as I could manage include:
“The States don’t need a State Secret Act if people are so obedient and conformist that they don’t question what’s in front of their eyes.”
He also talked about, following George Orwell, how ideas can be supressed without the use of force by the media and their agendas, which often lie in the pockets of wealthy capitalists. The media mind-control experiment is quite sickening to behold on a global level. Especially in so-called developed nations where we have a notion of free-speech, because there are observable trends in which freedom is becoming endangered right under our noses because we are lulled into a fake sense of security. Chomsky also said:
“Our intuitions about the world are a starting point for inquiry, but we can’t rely on them.”
An excellent call for people to exercise critical thinking, starting with their own beliefs and prejudices.
As a language teacher and applied linguist though (and also wanting to keep politics out of it since that’s the theme of his lecture tomorrow) I was very happy when a fellow British member of the audience asked:
“Is there any way your theories can apply to second language acquisition?”
To which Chomsky replied:
“Well, that’s really for language teachers to decide.”
That got a few laughs, but it also confirmed something I already knew about Chomsky. He’s not a language teacher, he’s a linguist.
Also worth mentioning was the rather odd moment when a person in the audience got the microphone to ask a question and then asked if he could use Japanese. There was an almost audible groan from the audience, I could feel the prickles as people wondered “who would come to a Chomsky lecture and ask him a question if you can’t even frame it in English?” Chomsky was trying to use a special headset so he could get the simultaneous translation. There was a bit of feedback from the microphone. The audience awaited the offending question. It was asked. I really had trouble understanding it, and unfortunately I couldn’t catch what the guy asked. It seemed to be something about building a house. It seemed to be related the first question, asking about his politics. The curators were making signs to each other to move on to another question, which was done swiftly. The next question came from on of the signing groups which I mentioned earlier. The signer stood up and signed his question to the interpreter. She translated it from Japanese Sign Language into English with an effortlessness that was impressive, and the question was beautifully simple. The man just asked “Are you interested in sign language” to which Chomsky basically replied “yes”, although in a lot more words. Another question came about music and language, and that’s how the birdsongs came up. There was another question about signing and Chomsky mused “do signers dream in sign?” indicating a possible area for research. And then the questions were over and the auditorium filled with applause.
For me, the most impressive thing was that Chomsky’s lucid mind (which must have been jet-lagged as well) was able to listen to questions on such a wide range of topics, many of which outside his specialism, and answer each one with relevance and insight in a way which was truly inspiring to behold.
Sadly I won’t be able to attend the lecture on politics tomorrow because the tickets are all sold out. Despite working at Sophia I was too late to reserve my seat and, as I mentioned earlier, I almost didn’t get to watch it today either. But it was hands down a fascinating and inspiring experience. Thank you again to Makoto Ikeda for getting me the seat, thanks to Sophia and SOLIFIC for organising the event and thanks to Noam Chomsky for coming all the way out here to engage our minds.