PLL2016 Plenary presentations

Ways of seeing: The individual and the social in Applied Linguistics research methodologies

Phil Benson, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

There is now a long-standing opposition between so-called ‘individual’ and ‘social’ approaches to a range of issues in language learning research. This opposition is often viewed as an ideological or epistemological matter. There is also some consensus that the opposition might be resolved through concepts such as the ‘social individual’ or ‘person-in-context’. In this paper I will take a different perspective by asking how changing trends in Applied Linguistics research methodologies may have influenced our thinking on these issues. The title of the paper alludes to art critic John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (London: Penguin, 1972) and its opening comment: ‘Seeing comes before words…. It is seeing that establishes our place in the surrounding world’. Like works of art and their reproductions, research methodologies involve particular ways of seeing the subjects of or participants in research that exclude others. Our current interest in questions of individuality in social context, I will argue, is largely a consequence of new ways of seeing language learners that are inherent in a shift from quantitative to qualitative methodologies. Contrasting ethnographic with narrative approaches, I will argue that differing perspectives on qualitative research are also relevant to current debates on what exactly a social view of individuality in language learning means.

Towards seeing language learning and teaching as a ‘moral symphony’

Maggie Kubanyiova, University of Birmingham, UK

In reflecting on the advances in the psychology of language learning and teaching, the central theme of this conference, I have borrowed from William James’ ponderings on life which he calls “a genuinely ethical symphony”. In this talk, I will reflect on the extent to which this “life” is brought into the language classroom and on how or indeed whether we need to encompass it in both our theorising and our practice. To facilitate my inquiry, I will bring into dialogue two strands of research in applied linguistics: the psychology of language learning and research on language teachers and teaching. I will first draw on data-based examples from recent L2 classroom-based investigations of willingness to communicate and motivation in diverse sociocultural settings. These will be used to illustrate how language learning might be understood as learning to encounter the other and how one is transformed through that encounter. I will argue that this view of language learning necessitates re-envisioning the role of language teachers as moral agents. Building on tradition in research on teachers and teaching, I deploy the term moral to foreground the dynamism between the teacher’s (and the school’s and society’s) commitment to universalizing values, such as cosmopolitanism or social justice, and his or her here-and-now pedagogical and at the same time deeply personal investment in the moments of educational action. I will argue that although inquiry into the psychology of language learning and teaching has shed light on important facets of these learning-teaching encounters, a multidisciplinary approach may be needed not only to appreciate more fully the ‘moral symphony’ of classroom life, but, crucially, to enable both language learners and teachers to act on that understanding.

Psychology for language learning: Spare a thought for the teacher

Sarah Mercer, University of Graz, Austria

There is a wide body of research that shows how vitally important teachers are to successful learning processes. What they do, think, feel and believe are central to what happens in their classrooms and schools, and, essentially, what happens to their learners. It is perhaps therefore surprising that the field of language learning psychology has focused so predominantly on the psychology of learners with so little attention devoted to teachers in comparison. In this talk, I argue it is time that we take a much closer look at language teachers’ psychology in the same depth of complexity and diversity as learner psychology has been examined. With the notable exception of work on teacher identity, cognition and, to an increasing degree, motivation, teacher psychology remains relatively underexplored. In this talk, I begin by outlining the importance of teacher psychology, the links between teacher and learner psychology as well as the particular challenges facing language teachers during the past decades including increased stress, threats to their sense of self, and record levels of burnout. Reporting on research conducted to understand the daily lives, thoughts, feelings and motivations of language teachers across the globe, I present some of the initial findings and suggest that the field of language learning psychology needs to make understanding teacher psychology in its full complexity a priority. I conclude by considering some of the implications for teacher education and by setting out a possible agenda for future research in the area of language teacher psychology.