Category Archives: learning

NeuroSciences Meet EduSciences Meet LangDidactics

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

evidence2015    global education

Invitation to the Webinar: “Focus on Evidence© 2015”

Date: Friday, December 11, 2015
Venue: Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany
Hosts: Kath. Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt & Freie Universität Berlin
Target group: Everyone – worldwide – interested in foreign-language education or those responsibly involved in it on all levels of the education system.
Goals: Based on five presentations (Friday, Dec 11) dealing with language-relevant aspects of e.g. memory, executive functions and literacy, delivered by internationally renowned neuroscientists, 60 experts invited from the fields of language learning and teaching, together with the five lecturers, will discuss ways to translate and transfer neuroscientific findings into an evidence-based impetus for foreign language teaching.
Format: Participants will be able to follow all presentations by virtual means – worldwide and through all time zones – as well as take active part in the discussion and offering statements via virtual seminar spaces.
Organizers: Prof. Dr. Heiner Boettger, Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt; Prof. Dr. Michaela Sambanis, Freie Universität Berlin
Registration: In order to  register for the webinar, please click here.

Eichstätt   ball   global education   Fu berlin

 

Denial of Assistance: Language lessons for migrants come too late and could be more effective

by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

In Europe, asylum seekers are taken care of by state agencies. They get accommodation and food, but that’s about it. Some of them have been living here in Germany for almost a year and they are still waiting for a final decision about whether they can stay or will be sent back. When I first met some of them, I found that even after several months of being in my country some knew only about a dozen German words and phrases. That means, there had been only very little contact with their German neighbours.

However, church communities and other people are now becoming aware of the problem and people like me who are retired and have some time on their hands have arranged regular meetings where they try to talk to them and teach them some German.

But here lies another problem. What is the most effective way of teaching real beginners who often come to us with mother tongues which nobody knows, for instance Tigrinya? There is absolutely no doubt about it that, for beginners, a bilingual approach where the teacher can use the learner’s mother tongue (or another language the learner is somewhat familiar with) is much more effective than a monolingual teaching-learning situation where only the target language can be used. Unfortunately the latter situation is often the case as present-day immigrants often speak only one of the lesser known “little” languages of Africa. So it seems that a monolingual German-only approach (also: direct method, Berlitz method) is the only possible way. So far as I can see, this has been the policy of the German courses sponsored by the government for those migrants who were granted asylum.  Learning German this way is an arduous task and painstakingly slow. It is a sink or swim method, leaving many learners frustrated in spite of coursebooks peppered with colourful pictures.

However, the situation could be effectively remedied, even in multilingual classes. Experts would simply have to agree upon, let’s say 30 dialogues of the type found in almost every coursebook and create an internet site for each of the European languages concerned. Then an appeal should be launched to those bilinguals well integrated in their respective host countries and ready to provide the same texts in their home language, perhaps even free of charge. Teachers, voluntary or professional, could study the dialogues with their classes and act them out in groups. This would be comparatively easy, because every client could fully understand what he is doing and saying. With our social brains and our emotional expertise we are naturally born performers. Learners can enjoy team work and create moments of excellence for themselves and their audiences. Moreover, reference to the learners’ mother tongues implies an appreciation of indigenous languages and cultures.

Comprehensible input is precisely the basic condition for language acquisition. But the outmoded pedagogic approach à la Berlitz, which is still the rule in many language courses worldwide, is an outright denial of assistance. See Butzkamm & Caldwell, The bilingual reform.  A paradigm shift in foreign language teaching (2009) and www.fremdsprachendidaktik.de.

 

 

Theoretical Approaches to Second/Foreign Language Acquisition and/or Learning

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

In a recent paper published in the Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (Herschensohn & Young-Scholten 2013), Florence Myles looks at “the major theoretical families that currently exist in SLA research” (2013: 46). Comparing the most influential linguistic, cognitive, and sociocultural frameworks and approaches to second language acquisition, she identifies a number of divergent trends and “a plethora of different and seemingly conflicting claims” (2013: 46), arguing that due to the complexity of language and language learning “a single SLA theory is currently beyond our reach” (2013: 70). I agree in principle but there remains the question as to “where all the different and sometimes conflicting approaches originate from” (2013: 70). According to Myles, most of the seemingly irreconcilable theoretical positions that are under discussion today originate from conflicting views of the nature of language and language acquisition, but she remains relatively vague in this respect (2013: 70). Here are my thoughts on this:

Theories of foreign or second language learning and teaching ultimately build on sets of ontological and epistemological assumptions about the very nature of reality and existence. Frequently, however, these core assumptions remain implicit and vague. There are two plausible reasons for this. (1) Basic philosophical assumptions about being and knowing may appear to be too abstract to be mentioned or discussed, because they go beyond falsification or verification. (2) Philosophical assumptions, orientations, or mindsets (see fn 1) may be viewed as being mutually exclusive, thus contributing to increasing, rather than resolving the many discrepancies inherent in contemporary research on learning and teaching foreign or second languages (often resulting in clashes between theoretical constructs such as nature versus nurture, mind versus body, the individual versus society, language as a system versus language in use, competence versus performance, acquisition versus learning, and focus on forms versus focus on meaning).

Generally, current theories of foreign or second language learning vary in the degree to which they specify their underlying ontological and epistemological foundations (for a more detailed discussion, see Kurtz, 2003). Nonetheless, since most theoretical approaches or models draw predominantly on concepts and propositions derived from or influenced by psychology and linguistics, they reflect the ontological and epistemological views and assumptions underlying theory-construction in these fields. As the history of research on learning and teaching foreign or second languages shows, this is, or can be, problematic. Mapping philosophical core assumptions, perspectives, or mindsets (e.g. empiricism) prevalent in one academic field of study (e.g. behaviorism and associationism in psychology) to another (e.g. audiolingualism and audiovisualism in foreign or second language pedagogy) can lead to serious theoretical ‘birth-defects’ and shortcomings, such as overemphasis of instructed language learning as habit formation and automatization. It can also cause serious problems in instructional design and practice, such as overemphasis of mimicry, memorization, repetition, and pattern drill.

This is largely undisputed today (see, e.g., Mitchell & Myles, 2004: 261). Yet, there are two competing orientations in foreign and second language learning research which dominate and (unnecessarily) polarize current international discussions: cognitivism and socioculturalism.

Grounded in a computation-representation paradigm, cognitive approaches to foreign language learning and teaching tend to place strong emphasis on the human being as a mental self. The overall focus is on aspects or factors such as the role and quality of linguistic input in instruction and learning, the mental processes involved in the conversion of input into intake, and the optimal conditions for the production of target language output in pedagogical interaction (for a brief overview, see, e.g., Mitchell & Myles, 2004: 95-130, 159-192).

However, in recent years, the underlying mind as machine-metaphor and the corresponding view that mental processes could be described in computational terms (input – output) have been criticized for over-theorizing and for exaggerating the importance of the cognitive processes involved in learning a foreign language, especially in instructed learning environments:

Cognitive metaphors of SLA have obviously been productive during the last 30 years. However, […], their intellectual scope is unnecessarily narrow. […] Cognition and learning are constructs that go beyond the individual. […] Individuals are members of larger ecosystems of contributing agents and technologies. This position contrasts sharply with the individualistic version of cognitive science that is still the norm in cognitive SLA. […] This individualistic perspective is excessively restrictive or, worse still, simply out of date (Markee & Seo, 2009: 40).

Sociocultural (or ecological) approaches to foreign language learning and teaching view the learner primarily as a social being and an interdependent self, placing much stronger emphasis on learning with and through others, and, ultimately, on learning as a transformation of participation (typically modeled in terms of Vygotskyan sociocultural theory and, interestingly, on former Soviet psychology):

The view of learning as changing participation is radically different from theories of second language acquisition that frame language learning as a cognitive process residing in the mind-brain of an individual learner […]. The view […] I wish to argue here for is, instead, of second language acquisition as a situated, co-constructed process, distributed among participants. This is a learning theory that takes social and ecological interaction as its starting point and develops detailed analyses of patterns of interaction in context. In this perspective, language learning is manifested as participants’ progress along trajectories of changing engagement in discursive practices, changes which lead from peripheral to fuller participation and growth of self-identity. (Young, 2007: 263).

However, a convincing theoretical framework which can serve as a basis for the design of sustainable curricular frameworks, for the creation of powerful language learning environments, and for the implementation of effective and efficient instructional procedures and techniques ultimately needs to integrate both, the internal (or mental) and the external (or social), modeling language and language learning from a code-focused as well as a usage-based perspective. Approaches to foreign language learning and instruction which set a sharp divide between the mental and the social, and between language form and function are, ultimately, too restrictive to account for their (seemingly) interdependent and complementary character.

It is perfectly clear that fundamental theoretical and methodological problems need to be overcome in order to develop such a unified theory of second and/or foreign language acquisition and/or learning. In terms of research methodology, we need more multi-perspective (classroom) research that is theory- as well as data-driven (i.e. top-down and bottom-up qualitative research). I terms of theorizing, we need to assume a pragmatic stance, without of course trying to pigeon-hole a domain-specific theory into a vague ontological and epistemological framework. Nor does it make sense to draw simplistic conclusions for domain-specific instructional design from such a domain-unspecific philosophical orientation. At any rate, in order to get to the core of things, we need to lay bare the central theoretical premises and priorities that guide our inquiries.

(Fn 1) Schuh & Barab (see 2007: 71-72) distinguish between objectivism, realism, empiricism, rationalism, idealism, relativism, and pragmatism, but not all of these broad philosophical orientations or mindsets have been or are of equal importance for theorizing about language and language learning.

Literature
Kurtz, Jürgen (2003): „Menschenbilder in der Theorie und Praxis des Fremdsprachenunterrichts: Konturen, Funktionen und Konsequenzen für das Lehren und Lernen“. Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung, 14 (1), Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, 149-167.

Markee, Numa & Seo, Mi-Suk (2009): “Learning Talk Analysis.” IRAL, 47 (1), Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 37-63.

Mitchell, Rosamond & Miles, Florence (2004): Second Language Learning Theories. London: Hodder Education.

Myles, Florence (2013): “Theoretical Approaches”. In: Herschensohn, Julia & Young-Scholten, Martha (eds.) (2013). The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: CUP, 46-70.

Schuh, Kathy L. & Barab, Sasha A. (2007): “Philosophical perspectives.” In: J. Michael Spector, M. David Merrill, Jeroen van Merriënboer and Marcy P. Driscoll (eds.): Handbook of Research on Educational Communication and Technology. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Young, Richard F. (2007): “Language learning and teaching as discursive practice”. In: Zhu Hua; Seedhouse, Paul; Wei, Li & Cook, Vivian (eds.): Language Learning and Teaching as Social InterAction. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 251–271.

Call for Papers: 25th DGFF Conference, Session 7: Textbooks and Classroom Interaction

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus-Liebig-University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The 25th Biennial Conference of the German Association of Foreign Language Research (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung, DGFF) will be held at the University of Augsburg, Germany, September 25-28, 2013. The conference theme is: SPRACHENAUSBILDUNG – SPRACHEN BILDEN AUS – BILDUNG AUS SPRACHEN. The main thrust of the conference lies in looking both at the training side of language instruction ( “Ausbildung” = making people competent in languages for further study and jobs) and the idea that learning a new or additional language leads to self-formation (“Bildung” in German).

The conference program is now almost complete and available in English here. Session 7, chaired by Hermann Funk (University of Jena, Germany) and me, will be devoted to FL/SL textbook research, more specifically, to FL/SL textbook analysis, critique, and development, focusing in particular on the role of the textbook in orchestrating classroom interaction. This is our session abstract (in its English translation):

“If quantity and quality of classroom interaction are crucial factors for successful language teaching and learning, the factors surrounding and influencing classroom interaction, then, deserve our attention. In this regard, classroom management by the foreign language instructor is at the center of interest in today’s research. Textbooks, however, have not received much attention in recent classroom-oriented research in terms of analyzing their relevance for interaction. For this section, papers investigating the ways in which textbooks affect classroom interaction, both positively and negatively, are welcome. The following questions could be addressed:

• In what way does the textbook, with its numerous additional print and digital teaching resources, impact foreign language classroom interaction?
• In which ways can textbooks as a whole or particular additional teaching material be used to facilitate learning-centered classroom interaction? Which textbook-related competences (concerning lesson planning, instruction and reflective evaluation) should be taught and developed in academic teacher training?
• How do future textbooks need to be designed in order to be up-to-date with the current standards of foreign language teaching and modern technology? In addition to this, how can this design meet the conditions of learning-centered classroom interaction in the age of increasing linguistic and cultural diversity and the hybridity of language learners?
• Which qualitative, quantitative and mixed research methods can help systematically illuminate the complex relationship between what textbooks have to offer (in this case e.g. types and sequencing of tasks and exercises), the usage of textbooks in the classroom and the textbook-related classroom interaction?”

The call for papers is still open. For further details, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Culture-sensitive Learning and Teaching in the Foreign Language Classroom

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

In the current age of globalization, migration and digital communication, developing intercultural and/or transcultural communicative competence has become a priority aim in university and school education. Over the past years and decades, ‘remarkable progress’ has been made in international research in terms of understanding culture and how it is encoded in language. However, looking back at the 6th UCCLLT conference held in San Diego in April this year once again (see my previous post), I feel that official guideline recommendations on ‘teaching culture’ in the foreign/second language classroom, issued by the American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL 1996), the Council of Europe (2001), the Modern Language Association (2007), and over here in Germany (KMK 2003; the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs) are partially unknown to interested researchers, teachers, and students depending on where they live, work, or study.

Inspired by Claire Kramsch’s brilliant keynote speech delivered a few weeks ago in San Diego, I would like to draw your attention to the important publications mentioned above (linked to this blog on the sidebar to make them more easily accessible). Since culture and language integrated learning in FL/SL classrooms is of interest to reseachers, frontline educators, and univerity students world-wide, I would very much get to know more about the current state of discussion on teaching language and culture in integrated ways in other countries and what teachers actually do to promote culture-sensitive learning in everyday practice around the globe.

Elevating Increased Monitoring and Testing to an Educational Imperative – Does this really make sense?

Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

On Monday this week I gave a talk to a small group of teacher advisors on the pros and cons of integrated skills development in EFL classroom environments near the city of Berlin. The focus was on developing oral skills in primary and secondary schools, more specifically, on fundamental issues related to the transition from primary to secondary EFL classrooms. In this context, I voiced my concerns about the current trend to think about (efficient?) foreign language education in terms of competence- and standards-based measurable outcome in Germany, arguing that this approach is difficult to bring in line with traditional conceptualizations of Bildung (foreign language education as a time-consuming process of self-formation; in the age of globalization, mobility and migration, cultural diversity and hybridity, etc.). This was followed by a lively discussion.  Since we did not have enough time to discuss all this in detail, especially the potential problems associated with conceiving of oral target language proficiency in terms of neatly defined, measurable sub-skills (or so-called competences and levels of oral competence), especially perhaps with regard to primary schools, I would like to add the following:

In my view, improving foreign language education in everyday classroom practice is complex and subject to the interplay of a wide spectrum of interacting factors. By importing and adapting reform strategies and measures that are largely based on values, goals and concepts which (arguably) have been proven successful in business, commerce, finance and industry, complexity may appear to be manageable. However, the price to be paid for injecting market pressure into secondary (primary?) school education, for turning foreign language classrooms into arenas of competition for the best test results, for coating instruction with more and more layers of assessment, for reducing educational ‘quality’ to a limited number of measurable performance indicators, and for conceiving of output or outcome as the linchpin of quality development, may be hefty and unacceptable. In many countries, concerns are continuing to grow that standards- and test-driven compliance pressures on teachers are likely to rise, and that, in consequence, foreign language classroom instruction may increasingly and largely be condensed, redesigned and repackaged toward improving isolated skills performance in standardized tests (see, for instance, Böttcher, Bos, Döbert & Holtappels 2008; Kurtz 2005, O’Day 2008).

Today I stumbled upon two highly interesting, and perhaps, highly controversial  articles (mentioned/written) in the New York Times that I would like to share with you. Please click here and there. :-)

References

Böttcher, Wolfgang; Bos, Wilfried; Döbert, Hans & Holtappels, Heinz Günter (eds.) (2008). Bildungsmonitoring und Bildungscontrolling in nationaler und internationaler Perspektive. Münster: Waxmann. [Education Monitoring and Control – Viewed from an international perspective; my translation].

Kurtz, Jürgen (2005). „Bildungsstandards als Instrumente der Qualitätsentwicklung im Fremdsprachenunterricht: Towards a Checklist Approach to Foreign Language Learning and Teaching? In: Bausch, Karl-Richard; Burwitz-Melzer; Eva; Königs, Frank G.; Krumm, Hans-Jürgen (eds.). Bildungsstandards auf dem Prüfstand. Arbeitspapiere der 25. Frühjahrskonferenz zur Erforschung des Fremdsprachenunterrichts. Tübingen: Narr, 159-167.

O’Day, Jennifer (2008). “Standards-based reform: promises, pitfalls, and potential lessons from the U.S.” In: Böttcher, Wolfgang; Bos, Wilfried; Döbert, Hans & Holtappels, Heinz Günter (eds.). Bildungsmonitoring und Bildungscontrollingt in nationaler und internationaler Perspektive. Münster: Waxmann, 107-157.

24th Biennial DGFF Conference 2011 in Hamburg, Germany: Workshop 8

by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany

The 24th Biennial Conference 2011 of the German Society for Foreign Language Research (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung, DGFF) will be held September 28 to October 1 at the University of Hamburg, Germany. The conference theme is: Globalization – Migration – Foreign Language Learning and Teaching (Globalisierung – Migration – Fremdsprachenunterricht). For a general overview, click here.

Workshop 8 (Jürgen Kurtz & Michael K. Legutke, Justus Liebig University Giessen) –  focuses on the following topic: “Enhancing Young Learners’ Developing Concepts of Self and Other in the Primary FL Classroom / Interkulturelles Lehren und Lernen im Fremdsprachenunterricht an Grundschulen“. Discussion will be based on this: Moderation AG 8 Hamburg 2011.