Friday, November 25, 2011

Identity and English Language Learners

The Problem 
To what degree is English and/or a ‘global identity’ part of English language learners’ self-perceptions?

The Study
Peter Roger, an applied linguist based in Australia, interviewed seven Korean women who were advanced learners of English and had each spent a considerable amount of time in an English-speaking country. His questions were aimed to get at the participants’ perceptions of themselves, their L2 (English), and the place of their L2 in a larger context. With regard to cultural associations, the participants predominantly linked English with Anglophone countries, especially the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, instead of viewing it as a global lingua franca. When asked whether they considered themselves global citizens, approximately half of the participants identified as such; the same participants felt that English was a vital part of their identity. The other half categorically denied these self-perceptions.

The Take-Home Message
As applied linguists/language teachers, we often believe that students do or should have language-related identities that they do not necessarily have. We are well aware of the expanding roles of English (English as a lingua franca, World Englishes, etc.), but English language learners may not see things through the same lens as us. Also, we might assume that EFL (or ESL) learners have incorporated English into their identities, but this might not be the case. In fact, some would be offended by this description, as they feel this would dilute their own identities (i.e., national, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and so forth). Therefore, instead of assuming or ascribing identities to our students, it may be more beneficial to open up a dialogue with them or have them write about how they feel about their target language. Journaling about their relationship with English (or another L2) could be especially insightful because both the student and teacher could observe changes over time. 

Article Citation
Roger, P. (2010). Reluctant and aspiring global citizens: Ideal second language selves among Korean graduate students. TESL-EJ, 14(3), 1-20.

Entry by Meghan Moran

Keep on Chatting

The Problem
Anyone who has worked in a computer lab with second language learners knows how challenging it can be. Many students would prefer to browse or check their email and Facebook rather than do a language assignment. So, is it possible to use online chatting in the classroom to improve our students language learning?

The Study
Faculty at a two universities in Iran found out that students can improve their language through the interaction that occurs when students are engaged in chat. Online chatting is like speaking in that it is real-time, back and forth. But unlike speaking, students can benefit from having more processing time and from being able to refer back to the text to help them learn from it. The teachers in the study gave students of different proficiency levels activities like problem solving and free discussion. After recording and analyzing all the ways the students interacted with each other, they found that students often helped each other with questions related to vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. Later when the students were given post-tests individually designed based on the questions they initiated during the chat sessions, it was found that the students learned a lot through the chat session. Furthermore, the benefits of online chatting were found for learners of both proficiency levels.

The Take-Home Message 
Thinking about and planning activities of this type is exciting. Student motivation might be enhanced because of the use of technology and a way of communicating that many already spend free time using. The other good news is that a teacher does not have to arrange L2 learners with a native speaker partner. Having the learners in your class or from several classes pair up works great! Using this type of activity, teachers (and even students) can also get printouts of chat sessions to see what language is produced and to assess areas of difficulty. Finally, although the choice of materials needs to be motivated by the lesson/activity objective(s), there are numerous opportunities where chat can be used effectively in the L2 classroom. Here are a few suggestions you can try. Or try just modifying one of the activities you already use:
- A “spot the difference” task using two slightly different pictures.
- A “solve the mystery” task, where each student has information that the other one doesn’t.
- Propose a solution to a specific problem (local, national, or global) that you give.
- Have students work together to collectively decide the best motel (or artwork, automobile, apartment, etc.) out of five available options and explain their choice. 

Happy chatting!

Article Citation
Shekary, M., & Tahririan, M. H., (2006). Negotiation of meaning and noticing in text-based online chat. The Modern Language Journal, 9, 557-573.

Entry by Rebecca Javorsky

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Introducing L2 Matters

I'll start by saying something both controversial and uncontroversial: Research in applied linguistics and second language acquisition (SLA) has little relevance for second language (L2) teaching and practice. I think all of us (applied linguists and L2 teachers) can agree on this, right? No controversy there. What is controversial is the fact that somehow the research in our so-called "applied" social science has been largely unable to speak to the needs and concerns of the L2 classroom. This condition is beyond controversial, though. It's disheartening to realize that the lack of dialogue between these contexts and the stakeholders in them--usually L2 researchers and teachers as well as others like language program directors, administrators, legislators, and so forth--prevents research findings from reaching any form of classroom application. Moreover, not only are our efforts of questionable value outside of academia, but I think those of us who do research with "real world" application have an ethical responsibility to make our findings both available and accessible to those who might be able to use them. In other words, sharing our work beyond the walls of the academy is one of our major duties. Unfortunately it's also been one of our major failures. 

This space is a platform for sharing the findings of applied linguistics research with second and foreign language practitioners and professionals. Contributors, all applied linguists, will choose one or more empirical studies with relevance to pedagogy and write entries that relate their findings in a way that is both accessible and (hopefully) useful to L2 instruction. I (Luke Plonsky) will curate entries. 

I should mention that there are several other websites and blogs with similar goals such as The LingEducator Blog and FL Education in the 21st Century. This focus of this site, though, is different in that posts here will be (almost) exclusively devoted to conveying results from empirical studies as opposed to more general teaching tips and discussion of professional issues. 

Last, a note to two groups of people who might have stumbled upon this site: 

To scholars and students of applied linguistics: If you would like to contribute, please send me an email with your name, affiliation etc. and a citation of the study you'd like to write about. 

To L2 Instructors: I would love to hear from you on topics you think should be covered! Please email me: