Friday, October 3, 2014

Let's hear it for LLT

Sometimes you just have to remember the good things that are not news, but they keep on going... good!
Language Learning & Technology is one of those good things. Now on Volume 18 - yes, technology in language learning has been studied seriously for at least 18 years - it remains a journal of quality and distinction - and FREE!
Supported by the University of Hawai'i National Foreign Language Resource Center (NFLRC) and the Michigan State University Center for Language Education and Research (CLEAR), LLT recently moved its founding editor Mark Warschauer to the advisory board. He has been replaced by Trudi Heift and Dorothy Chun who was previously assistant editor.
This issue included two articles in particular that caught my eye. Hee-Jung Jung of Chosun University in Gwangju in South Korea set out to discover what might make ubiquitous learning successful. His study identified that the factors of omnipresence, context customization, interactivity, self-directed learning, and perceived enjoyment of technology and the factors of innovation and computer self-efficacy in learners were significant in a student population of 376 learners.
Huifen Lin, of the National Tsing Hua University of Taiwan, carried out a meta-analysis of (quasi-) experimental research studies into the efficacy of computer-mediated communication on language learning. "Results from 59 primary studies show a positive and medium effect from CMC interventions" (from the abstract), with no significant difference between synchronous and asynchronous communications. Interestingly, this result is still tentative due to the typically small number of respondents and participants in the studies under review. Despite at least 18 years of serious research, I think it is still important that we remember that very few substantial studies exist that can reliably make claims about technology in language learning - which is why Jung's article, and many others in LLT, are so important.
That is the thing about LLT - in every issue there are always articles that catch my eye, and add a welcome perspective on the use of technology in language learning. It adds serious, academic research to an area of study that is regularly populated by hope, hype, unreliable studies and blind faith.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

41st ISFC & X Congreso Latinoamericano de Linguistica Sistemico-Funcional, Mendoza: SFL & Language Education

Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, is host to the 41st International Systemic Functional Congress in conjunction with the 10th Latin American SFL Congress. You can see more of Mendoza, a city at the foot of the Andes, here:

I am fortunate enough to have my abstract chosen by the committee, and this is the prezi for my paper called 'The Evolving Contribution of SFL to EAP":
More information is available from the conference website.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Emery & Moore (eds.) Teaching, Learning and Researching Reading in EFL

Published by TESOL Arabia in 2014, "Teaching, Learning and Researching Reading in EFL" has produced a number of well-researched papers on reading, many of which were produced in the Arab world. The images here show the cover and the contents pages.
Here is the introduction, written by myself and my co-editor Helen Emery, for the volume to give a flavour of what is included, and an indication of some of the significant insights the book provides.
This volume presents the reader with a thorough discussion of a wide range of issues all related to the teaching of reading in contexts where English is taught as a foreign or second language. The majority of papers present original research while others provide an overview of key topics. While the majority of contexts are located in the Arab-speaking world, a good proportion of other countries and contexts are also presented. This introduction aims to provide the reader with a general guide to the papers and attempts to highlight some of the key themes and significant contributions.
The papers in section one focus on the language learner as a reader. The approach taken by Helen Donaghue and Jason Thompson in the first paper is to elicit from students what they do to practice and improve their reading skills, as part of an evaluation into the innovative reading programme implemented in a college of higher education in the U.A.E. As interesting as the results is Donaghue and Thompson's assertion that by taking the time to listen to our students and respond more directly to their needs, preferences and practices, we can significantly improve the way we teach reading. Tariq Alkhaleefah and Nilüfer Demirkan-Jones look at how the type of text affects the use of reading strategies by university undergraduates in Saudi Arabia through a carefully controlled study. In doing so, they construct an impressive range of reading strategies that will be of great value to students, teachers and researchers alike. Victoria Tuzlukova, Fawzia Al-Seyabi, Ahlam Al-Rawahi and Abeer Al-Owasi also investigate the reading strategies of their students in an Omani university foundation programme, as well as their attitudes towards reading, and are consequently able to offer clear directions for syllabus planners. In the final paper in this section, Sasan Baleghizadeh and Mohammad Dehghan use two instruments to investigate the issue of reading anxiety in university students in Iran. Both instruments help to reveal the importance of reading anxiety and how it can significantly impact students' reading performance through their selection of reading strategy.
The papers in section two take the classroom as the focus of research and investigation. In the case of Helen Emery and Halima A'Thehli this involves investigating students' attitudes twoards the reading component of the Omani national curriculum and resulting issues connected to the teaching of reading using the course book English For Me. Their survey of teachers' attitudes, beliefs and practices highlights the central role that appropriate reading materials take in producing a successful reading programme. In an innovative study, Marwa Hegazy and Muhammad Abdelatif show how the practice of repeated reading in Egyptian prep schools can make a significant difference to students' ability to read fluently. Selma Deneme's paper reports on a research project that compared students' experiences of learning how to write summaries in universities in Jordan, Spain and Turkey. Across all three countries, it is evident that students recognise that they do not receive enough training in how to read for summary-writing or in how to prepare summaries. Based on a project in Indonesia, Handoyo Puji Widodo provides suggestions on how to plan and prepare materials for Vocational Education using a social semiotic approach. The next two papers, by Melanie Gobert and by Salma Al-Humaidi and Abdullah A'Riyami, both look into the use of graded readers in U.A.E. and Oman, respectively. While Gobert's study indicates significant gains made by students who were provided with relevant titles, the study in Oman offers interpretations as to why the graded reading materials offered by the Ministry of Education did not make a lot of difference to student progress or motivation. The final two papers in this section examine the assessment of reading. The very practical paper by Beth Wiens, Christine Coombe and Peter Davidson offers step-by-step guidance on how to prepare a reading test. In the final paper in section two, Nick Moore, Gillian Knight and Claudia Kiburz describe an assessment tool for reading that, despite the many changes that they describe, continues to develop a wide range of reading habits, particularly for students that start below the required standard of reading to gain entry into undergraduate studies in a U.A.E. university.
The aim of the final section is to take the attention of our readers to issues related to reading that are situated outside the classroom walls. The topic of leisure reading in both English and Arabic is investigated in a study by Melanie van den Hoven, Gillian Westera and Samia El Bassiouny that uses multiple perspectives to seriously challenge the notion that young Arab students are not readers. The data they gathered on the reading habits and attitudes of trainee teachers at a college in the U.A.E. reveals a complex picture of biliteracy that enables effective action to be taken. In a second study that looks into reading habits in both English and Arabic, Josephine O’Brien and Jill Cook examine in detail the reading abilities of their students in both languages to discover that there are, in fact, significant similarities across languages. That is, their Emirati students' reading strategies show considerable consistency across English and Arabic reading tests. In the next paper, Amanda Howard provides a detailed overview of research into reading from across the Middle East. The survey highlights that common themes in research into reading include discourse analysis, vocabulary and the use of the first language. The innovative programme Reading to Learn is described by Claire Acevedo in the next paper. The paper focuses on the repeated success that the programme has had in closing the performance gap between the stronger and weaker readers, detailing the results in Sweden where a large proportion of the previously-underperforming students were foreign language learners. The final paper in this collection questions the traditional notion of literacy. In describing some recent research into multiliteracies, Guy Merchant provides a valuable framework to interpret the role of different technologies in the teaching and learning of literacy in its more traditional guise and in other modes of meaning-making enabled by easy access to digital tools.
The majority of papers in this volume address the relatively un-researched notion that students in the Arab world do not appear to be good readers, especially by the time that they reach tertiary education. What all of the papers also show, however, is that there are many approaches to understanding this notion, to challenging the attitude that Arab students can not or do not read, and that for students that are struggling with reading in English, there are many solutions to guide them towards fluent reading. It is the hope of the editors and contributors to this book that, through the papers presented here, teachers and students will discover ways to bring more success in reading to all EFL learners.
The editors would like to thank all of the people involved in this project, including the TESOL Arabia Executive and the publications officers (past) Peter Davidson and (present) Peter Maclaren. They are especially grateful to all of the contributors whose hard work, kind nature and dedication to this book project have been inspiring.

The book should soon be made available to order online from TESOL Arabia publications. There are also plans to make the book available online, but these are likely to take some time.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bartlett: Analysing Power in Language - A practical guide

"Analysing Power in Language" starts very positively for a book on linguistic analysis. Bartlett tells the reader that they already know a lot about discourse analysis, but what his book will try to do is to put that knowledge into focus and provide a framework that allows the reader to discuss discourse in a principled way.
The framework is systemic functional linguistics (SFL), and Bartlett's approach is to reveal only as much of this rich framework as is required to deal with the interesting range of texts that are analysed in the book. This is done carefully through a step by step approach.
The tone of the book throughout is very friendly, and reads like you are having a chat with the writer, which may make it easier for some to cope with the range of concepts and labels in SFL, but may also make it harder to use as a reference book. The sections in the book are often quite long and may include a range of ideas and terms. More subsections would make it easier when the reader wants to return and find a point or cross-reference one idea to compare with another. Ironically, the very feature that makes this book reader-friendly - the friendly, narrative tone - is the feature that makes it more difficult to read as a textbook, because it is difficult to re-locate ideas that you half-remember or did not really understand the first time round. If you can find it, the explanation will be good. The trouble is finding it.
That complaint aside, the book is very practical. The text analysis does what it says on the tin (or the cover, at least) - it shows how different aspects of language are used in various contexts (Martin Luther King's famous'I have a dream' speech, Lord Coe's final address to the IOC, and Bartlett's own fieldwork research in Guyana, among others) to exercise power through language.
Overall, Bartlett makes a valuable and unique contribution to the range of books attempting to introduce people with different concerns to the model of discourse analysis provided by SFL. If you are the kind of person that likes to learn by talking ideas through with a friend, this book is as close to a personal guide as you will find.

As with my other reviews, this is also posted as a Goodreads review.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Open Academics

I was recently alerted to Martin Haspelmath's blog call to use technology to release academics from the
stranglehold of publishing houses - not the first and not the last to do so (Thanks to Beatriz Quiroz). As he puts it,
Publishers normally expect that the manuscript of your book is not freely downloadable from your website, so by“publishing” a book, you actually make it less public. While not published yet, it’s freely available on your website to anyone in the world, and after publication, it exists as a paper copy in a few dozen libraries in the rich countries – this is what I call absurd.
In one of the responses, Sebastian Nordhoff points out
reviewers (paid by the state) work for a publishing house (a private company), which then sells the product (the reviews) back to the state. Since reviewers work pro bono anyway, there is no reason why they could not work pro bono for a non-profit enterprise as well.
Clearly an absurd situation!
So what to do?
Well, as it happens like there is for so many things today, there is an open source solution. And then some. Haspelmath's response is to set  up an author-led publishing company called Language Science Press using open source publishing software. All you need to do is learn LaTeX - a formatting language, not unlike html or the early versions of WordPerfect that some may remember, where all formatting in a document is coded.While that may sound like a challenge to most linguists, I know a great many engineers that write more comfortably in LaTex than in "normal" trousers text (sorry couldn't resist that one!).
This brings us to the tasty bit of this post. Instead of going to all the trouble of setting up software to help with the publishing and printing, Haspelmath and  Stefan Müller (FU Berlin) used the open source OMP - Open Monograph Press. This allows you to edit, publish and maintain books:
Open Monograph Press is an open source software platform for managing the editorial workflow required to see monographs, edited volumes and, scholarly editions through internal and external review, editing, cataloguing, production, and publication. OMP can operate, as well, as a press website with catalog, distribution, and sales capacities. - See more at:
But, wait, that's not all. Surely, if you can do that for books you can do it for journals as well? Of course they can. The PKP (Public Knowledge Project hosted by Simon Fraser University) also offers an open source journal management system called "Open Journal Systems" (so, no surprises there, then). Does just what it says on the tin!
And, if that is not enough, there's more. Yes, what else do academics do alongside publishing? Running conferences was the answer that I was looking for when I asked the question that I already had the answer for (Yes, academics do that more than anyone else, too). So, does PKP have a free, open source solution to advertising, administering CFPs and delegates, registrations and preparing proceedings? You bet your plenary speaker they do.And it's called OCS. That stands for Open Conference System, in case your imagination switch had been turned off. What exactly does it allow you to do?

  • create a conference Web site 
  • compose and send a call for papers electronically 
  • accept paper and abstract submissions 
  • allow paper submitters to edit their work 
  • post conference proceedings and papers in a searchable format 
  • post, if you wish, the original data sets 
  • register participants 
  • integrate post-conference online discussions (See more at: 

Just in case you're still not impressed, one more job that SFU want to take away from the privateers is the aggregating of citations and publications. They have produced a system called OHS. You are not going to guess what that stands for. No, really you won't. It's Open Harvester Systems which will allow you to create a searchable index of metadata from Open Archives Initiative-compliant archives (see here for more info).