AAAL 2011, Chicago

AAAL 2011, Chicago
Meral Güçeri

The American Association for Applied Linguistics, (AAAL) 2011 Conference was held in Chicago this year. The conference provided a forum to share research and to meet colleagues from around the world. The conference created an environment where/in which I was able to meet many people I already knew through their published work I was invited to the conference by one of the colloquium organizers as a presenter and had the opportunity to share my research findings and represent our university.

AAAL 2011 was not only a professionally stimulating conference but also intellectually challenging and socially warm and refreshing. The interactions that were formal as well as informal served to push the boundaries of our discipline forward as it has always been in the previous conferences of AAAL. Days were from 8:15am to 8pm, and the sessions were geared to deal with all aspects of applied linguistics in relation to areas as diverse as computer-mediated communication, disability, intercultural communication, language revitalization and literacy. In addition, a great number of issues related to language learning were explored. In her opening speech, the president of AAAL, Heidi Byrnes greeted all of the conference participants and emphasized the key role AAAL plays in developing a more active voice in the public arena on issues involving language.

I would like to share this unique experience starting with a brief summary of one of the most stimulating sessions that I attended.

Emancipation of the Language Learner

The winner of AAAL Distinguished Scholarship and Service Award 2011 was Diane Larsen- Freeman, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The purpose of this award is to recognize and honor a distinguished scholar for her/his scholarship and service to the profession, in general, and to the American Association for Applied Linguistics, in particular. Prof. Larsen-Freeman gave a lecture entitled ?Emancipation of the Language Learner? where she invited the audience to join her on a journey starting from her very first TESOL experience in Malaysia. She explored the answers to the following questions, explaining that they needed to be answered within a specific context:

– What is language teaching? Who is the language teacher?
– What is learning? Who are the language learners?
– What is language? What is culture?

Diane Larsen- Freeman visualized how learner profiles have changed from in her years of TESOL since 1960s.

Learner as a/an

? parrot?(in behaviourism, repeating after the teacher)
? cognitive being (in cognitivism, where the learner is seen to be figuring out the rules from the input)

(It was at this point in our history that the learner?s active involvement was acknowledged, which led to the establishment of the field of second language acquisition (SLA).)

? affective being (with feelings and emotions)
? social being (who learns from interaction with others)
? political being (global) (who is empowered by knowledge of another language)
? physical being (learners? bodies interact with the world, including non verbally)
? neural being (language acquisition involves regions of the human brain)

Prof. Larsen-Freeman then went on to suggest that there still existed at least one barrier to full learner emancipation. And that lies in our understanding of language (language İdeology (2004, Kroskrity). For instance, when language is seen as a closed system, described by static rules, then learning is seen as conforming to uniformity. This is not liberating. She then went on to suggest that Complexity Theory could offer us a new way of viewing language, which would emancipate learners.

She argued that patterns emerge through language use– by soft assembly and co-adaptation which lead to self-organization (Mitchell, 2003). Larsen-Freeman claimed that a complex system is dynamic rather than static. She said that complexity exists only in interaction and that organisms create their own environments (Lewontin 2000:54.)

She went on to show the creativity of language users/learners. She provided a list including ?refudiate?, ?watchale?, ?informations?, ? this data?, ?whoppingly small?, ?more clear?, ?researches?, and asked whether they were innovations or errors. Then, she provided examples in context and explained the intention of learners and explored why they could/not be errors.

Diane Larsen-Freeman continued her argument by saying that ?learning is patterning, an autopoietic process that involves a change not only in the language, but in the learner. (Emergentist processes contain within themselves, therefore, freedom (Osberg 2007). She added ?learners actively transform their worlds; they do not merely conform to it.?

Since learners create in learning multi-language repertoires, language learning should be viewed as boundless potentiality. Teaching should be recognized as guiding not leading; teaching should be observed as teaching adaptation and managing the learning process.

Do not get surprised if Diane Larsen-Freeman publishes a new article on ?complexity? sometime soon.

Language, Literacy, and Learning in a Digital Age

The very first plenary talk was by James Paul Gee from Arizona State University. Prof. Gee stressed the role of digital media and popular culture as tools to change language and literacy practices, as well as creating new forms of learning. He argued that these changes are transforming issues about equity, education, and language and languages in the modern world. He argued that digital media, as well as new forms of social organization facilitated by digital media, are giving rise to a great many new social languages or registers. Prof Gee als claimed that these social languages are often as complex – if not more complex ? than the styles of academic language that give many learners so much trouble in school. He extended his argument further and said that in digital communities of practice of a type that he called ?passionate affinity spaces,? we see new and powerful ways in which language, literacy, learning, participation, and problem solving were being integrated. He added that these changes were at the forefront of real ?learning reform? in a society like the United States today- not the more publicized efforts at ?school reform?. At the same time, they call for new forms of work in Applied Linguistics.

Identity vs Subjectivity: Different timescales, different methodologies

Claire Kramsch from University of California, Berkeley , claimed that there is some confusion regarding identity vs. subjectivity and said that ?the confusion between identity and subjectivity in applied linguistics needs to be explored and differences should be made clear.? She explained the differences first by providing definitions from the literature and then in research questions and methodologies in language learning. Here are some of her definitions that I noted down: ?Identity is the marginalization of minority, whereas, subjectivity is the marginalization of nation.? (Kramsch,2011)

Identity is not just psychological self-awareness but political consciousness (Norton 2000, Pavlenko 2005, Block 2007.) We understand others by understanding ourselves as others (Kristeva,1991.)

Becoming a multicompetent professional in an EFL context

Leo Van Lier of Monterey Institute of International Studies discussed how to become a multicompetent professional in an EFL context: a multi-layered narrative inquiry. The primary data of his study were detailed narratives from seven TESOL graduate students ; these provided deep understandings of Taiwanese English learning ecologies using three analytical lenses corresponding to critical sources of time, place, and people. Progressive focusing and dialogical inquiries were said to reveal complexity of development, challenging linear progress.

An empirical appraisal of the construction of nonnativeness

Lourdes Ortega from the University of Hawaii shared her recent research on an empirical appraisal of the construction of nonnativeness as deficit in applied linguistic discourses. Ample support was found for the claim that L2 users are frequently characterized as ?less? rather than ?more ? in applied linguistic research.

Effects of form-focused instruction on explicit and implicit L2 knowledge

Nina Spada of the University of Toronto argued about the effects of form-focused instruction on explicit and implicit L2 knowledge. With her graduate students Spada reported on quasi experimental classroom study with adult ESL learners in which the contributions of form-focused instruction are examined in relation to learners? explicit and implicit L2 knowledge, the former measured by an error correction task and the latter by an oral production and elicited imitation task.

Writing for the ?center?: Studies of Genre and Publishing in Science and Engineering

This colloquium aimed to explore the challenges faced by students and multilingual professionals in penetrating the inner circle of English writing and publishing in science and engineering. Written genres of science and engineering as well as the social practices and policies involved in publication were analysed. Fredricka Stoller of Northern Arizona University reported on analyses of chemistry research proposals, emphasizing how to prepare undergraduates to write for the discipline. Prof Stoller highlighted language of proposals as well as conventions related to audience, purpose, organization, writing and content.She shared the research findings as: basic language-related focus, chemistry genre vs. applied linguistics genre, organisation, discipline required genre, and audience consideration. A detailed handout with a reference list is available .

Seeking refugee: Language learning as a means to escape

Kubota Ryuko from the University of British Colombia argued that language learning is linked to not only sociocultural or psychological perspectives but also symbolic meanings such as desires, emotions, and values. Her qualitative research in Japan revealed how two Japanese women who experienced personal difficulties sought emotional refuge in language learning. She discussed issues of popular culture, gender, and race.

Language Learning Roundtable:Language Construction in Applied Linguistics

Suresh Canagarajah organised this roundtable where six applied linguists from around the world reflected on the state of the art. They analysed how social and philosophical changes in the context of globalization shape the discipline. They also outlined more inclusive discourses in an effort to accommodate the diversity of practices that characterize our field. Ben Rampton of Kings College, London, Dwight Atkinson from Purdue University, Lachman Khubchandani,CMSP, Kwesi Prah, CASAS, Huhua Ouyang Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Ulrich Ammon from Universitat Duisburg-Essen had very heated discussions on the issues raised above.

Meral Güçeri, Silvia Passa, Jodi Crandall, Naoko Taguchi

English-medium curricula in the global society: Opportunities and challenges for the development of functional English abilities

Naoko Taguchi of Carnegie Melon University and Jodi Crandall, University of Baltimore, organized a colloquium entitled English-medium curricula in the global society: Opportunities and challenges for the development of functional English abilities. This colloquium discussed the opportunities and challenges faced by English-medium universities/programs in five expanding circle countries: Akita International University in Japan, Sabanci University in Turkey, Carnegie Melon University-Qatar, Zayed University in Dubai and Sookmyung University in Korea.

Taguchi stressed the intricacy of opportunities and challenges for pragmatic development in Akita University, an English medium University in Japan.Taguchi?s presentation discussed a case study conducted at an English-medium university in Japan. The study revealed that academic proficiency and pragmatic competence in English did not develop at equal rates. Findings demonstrate an intricate interaction among institutional goals, teachers? and students? expectations, and patterns of social interaction at the institution.

I was the second speaker of our colloquium and shared the research study that I conducted on public speaking. My discussion was based on a case study which aimed to identify the differences and similarities in learners? use of strategies and sub-skills in L1 and L2 seminars and whether they transfer certain skills between the two languages. This case study analyzed 20 students’ oral performance in seminar presentations in Turkish and English. The study also attempted to explore the methods and materials used in the English and Turkish classes and their impact on students’ development of oral competence. Recordings of student presentations, field notes, classroom observation data of Turkish and English seminars, student peer feedback, and seminar presenter?s self-reflections were collated and analyzed. The study revealed that certain skills are transferred from one language to the other in public speaking and a range of variables, not limited to language abilities, affected students’ seminar performance.

Fredricka Stoller, Jodi Crandall, Naoko Taguchi, Silvia Pessao, Meral Güçeri

Silvia Pessoa, the third presenter, was from Carnegie Melon University in Qatar, and her presentation reported on two studies that examined the role of English-medium education on students? academic and personal development at an American university in Qatar. The findings indicated gains in English literacy, personal growth, and an understanding of the students? linguistic and cultural reality in which Arabic may be lost.

Then, Bryan Gilroy?s case study which was conducted at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was shared. Based on the data from government and private sector sources, this study addressed the standard of English being used across the Emirates as well as social attitudes towards English. The findings demonstrate that the UAE faces several academic challenges to improve English language standards (not least amongst males.)

Jodi Crandall of the University of Maryland gave the final presentation of this colloquium . Her research was entitled ?Integrating English in a TEFL post-graduate certificate program: Content-based, proficiency-oriented instruction.? Prof. Crandall explained how a post-graduate certificate program in Teaching English as a Foreign Language could address the need for English language proficiency in a number of ways: setting a very high English level for admission into the program; providing English language classes along with the content courses in second language acquisition, language teaching and testing methodology, or intercultural communication; or integrating the teaching of English into those academic content courses. The focus of this presentation was on the decisions made by a post-graduate TEFL certificate program at Sookmyung University in Seoul, Korea, as it has worked to both improve the English proficiency of candidates, as well as their language teaching knowledge and skills.

Last but not the least, I would like to summarize Schumann?s , UCLA, colloquium with his PhD students.

Exploring the Interactional Instinct and Language Acquisition

Prof John Schumann with Dina Anna L. Joaquin?s colloquium explored several issues that are raised by interactional instinct(II) theory: the relationship between first and second language acquisition, the manifestation of the II cross-culturally and in observed interaction, and its relation to other theoretical constructs (Pedagogical Stance, Willingness to communicate, and Interactional Hypothesis.)

The following photograph welcomes plenary speaker Charles Goodwin (UCLA) and Prof. Schumann and his colloquium team to our conference!

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