PLL2014 Plenary presentations

Motivation, Vision and Life Narratives

Zoltán Dörnyei (University of Nottingham, UK)

In a seminal paper that has foregrounded the role of narratives in the social sciences, American psychologist Jerome Bruner (1987) concluded, ‘In the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we “tell about” our lives’ (p.15).It does indeed seem to be the case that we organise and understand our experiences and memories in the form of various narratives, such as stories, excuses, myths or explanations, and in this way, our autobiographical stories become the foundations of our selves so much so that we could almost say that we narrate ourselves into the person we become. Accordingly, narratives are powerful tools for crafting our identities – McAdams and Pals (2006) go as far as to propose that ‘integrative life narratives’ are one of the five main pillars of human personality.

Building on these bases, I will explain in this paper why I believe that there is a close link between autobiographical narratives and future self-images, that is, vision. Establishing this link also offers learners an avenue for constructing desired future language selves through getting them to write various forms of guided autobiographies. To illustrate the pedagogical implications of this link, I will look at three ways of engaging students in generating real or imaginary guided biographies: (1) by asking them to write about the future as if it were the past, (2) by reshaping life stories and (3) by identifying crucial, ‘self-defining’ turning points in their autobiographies.

The Interface of Styles, Strategies, Motivation, and Age in Second-Language Learning

Andrew Cohen (University of Minnesota, USA)

The aim of this presentation is to consider the psychological dimensions of language learner strategies in an effort to make the construct more accessible to those working In the field of language learning. The presentation will also call attention to issues of theoretical debate and demonstrate how case-study research can contribute to understanding the process of language learning. The case is made that viewing strategies in isolation is not as beneficial to learners and instructors alike as viewing them at the intersection of learning style preferences, motivation, and age in the performance of specific second-language tasks. The presentation draws on data collected by University of Minnesota undergraduates in self-study and study of their peers with regard to styles, strategies, and motivation, and on data collected by the presenter and his teacher of Mandarin with regard to the role of advanced age in the language learning process.

The Four Horsemen of Second Language Communication: New Questions and Answers from a Dynamic Systems Perspective

Peter MacIntyre (Cape Breton University, Canada)

With the increasing use of dynamic systems theory in the second language acquisition field, research questions can and should differ substantially from those that have been pursued in the past, even as we study the same processes. Communication in the second language is an ideal sandbox in which to play with the principles and concepts from dynamic systems theory. But to do so, we require methods that are specifically designed to investigate the processes as they unfold in real time, rather than methods that generate summary accounts of those processes. The complexity of communication emerges from multiple interacting processes co-occurring within the timescale of seconds and minutes. These processes are complex, dynamic, emergent, open, self-organizing, and adaptive. We have been using the idiodynamic method to support a new model of the “four horsemen” of second language communication: anxiety, motivation, perceived competence, and willingness to communicate. The model draws upon brain-based reactivity, cognitive processing, emotional reactions, self-concept, and interpersonal relationships to describe how communication difficulties unfold in real time. If prior research has taken a static approach to the four horsemen, dynamic methods keep these processes in motion as they are studied. It is akin to studying movies instead of photographs.

Human Motivation and Language Learning: Matters of Difference?

Ema Ushioda (University of Warwick, UK)

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Few could question the importance of motivation in the process of learning a second or foreign language. Yet motivation is similarly critical to all forms of conscious and intentional human learning and has been a major pedagogical and research issue across the field of education. A question we might therefore ask is whether learning a language represents a special case in the psychology of human motivation, giving rise to distinctive motivation theories and concepts specific to this domain of learning; or whether language learning motivation can broadly be explained in terms of general theories of learning motivation. As I will explore in this talk, the answer to this question has changed over the years, and tracing these changes offers a useful framework for examining evolving theoretical, research and pedagogical perspectives on language learning motivation.

Research on Beliefs about Language Learning and Teaching: Exploring the Possibilities of Narratives

Paula Kalaja (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

This plenary talk will describe research carried out in Finland on (subjective experiences of and) beliefs about language learning and teaching held by learners/students/future teachers of EFL or other foreign languages. What the studies share is, first of all, that they have been conducted within the contextual approach (Kalaja & Barcelos 2013), drawing either on Discursive Social Psychology or Sociocultural Theory; and, secondly, that they make use of narratives, either verbal/written or visual in mode; and, thirdly, that they exemplify various units of analysis, including metaphors, repertoires and narrative structures. In addition to summarizing the findings, methodological lessons learned from each study for the researching of beliefs will be discussed.

In Defense of an Individual Differences Approach to the Psychology of Foreign Language Learning (FLL)

Jean-Marc Dewaele (University of London, UK)

In this talk I intend to defend the Individual Differences (ID) perspective in FLL research, which seems to be under pressure from the growing popularity of the Dynamic System (DST) approach (Verspoor & Lowie, 2013).IDs “have usually been seen as background learner variables that modify and personalize the overall trajectory of the language acquisition processes” and are perceived to be “stable and monolithic learner traits” (Dörnyei, 2009). Dörnyei points out that ID effects interact with idiosyncratic features of the specific temporal and situational context (p.232) and that learner characteristics are complex (p.233).

DST approaches often privilege a qualitative approach “because SLA does not lend itself easily to quantitative investigations, because the number of confounding variables is extensive and some of them cannot be measured at the level of precision that is required” (Dörnyei, 2009, p.242).I argue that an exclusive focus on single individuals would risk discouraging the search for generalisable findings – as is the case in postmodernist research. Instead I suggest that we need to keep looking for new variables that could be linked to the phenomena we are interested in. No research design can include all variables, so any choice could be labeled as being “reductionist”. However, faced with an overload of variables, researchers risk getting discouraged, which might harm the future of the field.

In this talk, I welcome a DST perspective but defend a mixed-method approach, combining etic and emic perspectives (Dewaele, 2013). To conclude, I believe that the field of FL research needs theoretical, epistemological and methodological diversity in order to evolve and provide the teaching profession with useful input.